In this new series of articles, Tom Topol—passport expert, collector, and author of Let Pass or Die—chronicles the fascinating history of the U.S. Passport. So far the series has covered the earliest origins of the U.S. passport, significant events in the 1790’s-early 1800’s and in the years leading up to the Civil War. Here the author covers the passport’s many milestones during the Civil War and up to the dawn of 20th Century—including fee fluctuations, an oath of allegiance, rule standardization, treatment of non-citizens, and more.

Milestones of the U.S. Passport

  • On August 31, 1861, a significant event occurred in American history with the introduction of the oath of allegiance on passport applications during a time of civil war. This marked a pivotal moment in the country’s development, as citizens were required to declare their loyalty to the United States in order to obtain a passport.
  • As time progressed, there were changes to the passport application process, including the introduction of a fee of three dollars in 1862. In March of 1863, part of the 1856 act was repealed, allowing the State Department to issue passports to non-citizens who were eligible for military service but were leaving the country having paid a bond.
  • In 1864, the passport fee increased to five dollars, demonstrating a recognition of the growing importance of this document. However, by June 1865, people entering and leaving the United States were no longer required to present a passport.
  • Following the end of the Civil War, Congress passed a law in 1866 stating that passports could only be issued to citizens, reinforcing the idea of national identity. The State Department then issued the first General Instructions for passport applicants in 1869.
  • In 1870, oaths, affidavits, or affirmations needed in passport applications were required to be made under penalty of perjury. As part of a State Department reorganization, the Passport Bureau was created. In 1871, the five-dollar passport fee was abolished.
  • In 1873, the validity of passports was extended from one year to two years, and the oath of allegiance became a formal requirement under the General Instructions of September 1st. Additionally, it was made clear that the spelling of the applicant’s name had to be the same on the application and the naturalization certificate provided as proof of citizenship, particularly for naturalized citizens. The Passport Bureau was abolished, and the Bureau of Archives and Indexes became responsible for passport issuance.
  • By 1874, a five-dollar fee was reintroduced for passports. In 1886, the Secretary of State clarified that it was department policy not to issue passports to Mormons seeking to make proselytes. The State Department then created separate application forms for native citizens, naturalized citizens, and persons claiming naturalization through a husband or parent in 1888. The passport fee was reduced to one dollar.

US passport from the Legation in St. Petersburg, Russia, 1895

  • In 1892, the phrase “Good for two years from date” was printed on passports, further standardizing the passport application process. Throughout these changes, the passport remained a critical document, embodying the values and identity of the United States of America.

Great strides toward more standardized, formalized rules

In the late 19th century, specifically in 1896 and beyond, the United States government made significant strides in standardizing and formalizing the rules surrounding passport issuance. At this time, the “General Instructions for Passport Applicants” was renamed to the more formal and comprehensive title of “Rules Governing the Issuance of Passports.”

This change in nomenclature reflected a broader shift towards greater attention to detail and consistency in the passport application process. The new title emphasized the importance of adhering to a set of clear guidelines and regulations, which were designed to ensure the proper and accurate issuance of passports to eligible applicants.

By adopting this more formal and precise language, the government demonstrated its commitment to providing citizens with a reliable and trustworthy means of identification and travel. The renaming of the “General Instructions” to the “Rules Governing the Issuance of Passports” represented a crucial moment in the evolution of passport issuance, as the government sought to establish a more rigorous and consistent approach to the issuance of this important document. 

Up next: The next article in this series will describe how the U.S. Passport and its related fees and procedures changed as the country entered the 20th century.


The American Passport – Its History 1898, Washington Government Printing Office
The United States passport: past, present, future 1976 –US Dept. of State – Passport Office
The Passport In America – The history of a document, Craig Robertson, Oxford University Press Inc., 2010
U.S. Diplomacy & Passport History – A guideline for passport collectors by Tom Topol

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Tom Topol is a renowned passport expert, author, and editor of . He consults with museums, foundations, media, and collectors globally, offering expertise on passport history, current passport topics, border security, biometrics, and travel. He provides expert writing services and can be reached through his website, which features a comprehensive reference list.

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