Denizen “Legally” Defined

The following definitions for “denizen” are taken from Ballantine’s Law Dictionary (3rd edition), Bouvier’s Law Dictionary (6th edition), Black’s Law Dictionary (2nd edition), and Webster’s Dictionary (1828):

 


 

(Ballantine’s)

One is a middle state between an alien and a natural-born citizen, and who, though subject to some of the disabilities of the former, is entitled to many of the privileges of the latter [3 Am J2d Aliens § 1].
 

(Bouvier’s)

  1. An alien born, who has obtained, ex donatione legis, letters patent to make him an English subject

  2. He is intermediate between a natural-born subject and an alien. He may take lands by purchase or devise, which an alien cannot, but he is incapable of taking by inheritance [1 Bl. Com. 374]. In the United States, there is no such civil condition.

 

(Black’s)

In English law, a person who, being an alien born, has obtained, ex donatione regis, letters patent to make him an English subject – a high and incommunicable branch of the royal prerogative. A denizen is in a kind of middle state between an alien and a natural-born subject, and partakes of the status of both of these [1 Bl. Comm. 374; 7 Coke, 6].

  • The term is used to signify a person who, being an alien by birth, has obtained letters patent making him an English subject. The king may denize, but not naturalize, a man; the latter requiring the consent of parliament, as under the naturalization act, 1870 [33 & 34 Vict. c. 14]. A denizen holds a position midway between an alien and a natural-born or naturalized subject, being able to take lands by purchase or devise, (which an alien could not until 1870 do) but not able to take lands by descent (which a natural-born or naturalized subject may do) [Brown].

The word is also used in this sense in South Carolina [see McClenaghan v. McClenaghan, 1 Strob. Eq. (S. C.) 319, 47 Am. Dec. 532].

A denizen, in the primary, but not obsolete, sense of the word, is a natural-born subject of a country [Co. Litt. 129a].

 

(Webster’s)

DENIZEN, n.

  1. In England, an alien who is made a subject by the kings letters patent, holding a middle state between an alien and a natural born subject. He may take land by purchase or devise, which an alien cannot; but he cannot take by inheritance.

  2. A stranger admitted to residence and certain rights in a foreign country.

  • Ye gods, natives, or denizens, of blest abodes.

  1. A citizen.

DENIZEN, v.t.

To make a denizen; to admit to residence with certain rights and privileges; to infranchise.

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2 Responses to Denizen “Legally” Defined

  1. Matthew says:

    Two questions.

    He is intermediate between a natural-born born and an alien. He may take lands by purchase or devise, which an alien cannot, but he is incapable of taking by inheritance [1 Bl. Com. 374]. IN the United States, there is no such civil condition. <—- because all freed slaves are dead?

    The word is also used in this sense in South Carolina [see McClenaghan v. McClenaghan, 1 Strob. Eq. (S. C.) 319, 47 Am. Dec. 532].

    A denizen, in the primary, but not obsolete, sense of the word, is a natural-born subject of a country [Co. Litt. 129a]. <—–subject of a COUNTRY (meaning federal gov.) because of a 14th amendment situation?

    • sleepysalsa says:

      First, let me apologize for the typos in Bouvier’s second definition for the word “denizen;” it has been corrected.

      Now, answering your questions, to wit:

      1) I think that Bouvier’s was defining a primarily British legal term, especially if you also look at Webster’s and especially Black’s for that word. Bouvier’s second definition, particularly where it said, “In the United States, there is no such civil condition,” seems to suggest to my mind that American common law does not recognize the status of denizen. If I’m right, then this has nothing to do with what the Founders called the “peculiar institution” of race slavery, especially if you keep in mind that the 6th edition of Bouvier’s Law Dictionary was published in 1856, before the War Between the States.

      2) I don’t know. I’d have to go pull up the definition of the word “country” and then try to figure it out from there, but my initial attitude is that the context is still within British and not American common law. The reason I say that is because Bouvier’s, Black’s, and Webster’s all use the phrase “natural-born subject,” and in context, the phrase “English subject” is nearly always used, from what I can tell; however, the word “denizen” is used in the same sense as the British within South Carolina according to Black’s, so who knows? Maybe if your question wasn’t exactly the right one here, you may still be correct that there is something here that needs to be clarified.

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