To this day, only eight key historical figures have had the privilege of receiving a merit of honorable U.S. Citizenship, solely through some great feat of historical accomplishment, fight for justice and equality, considerable social influence in the U.S., or just being plain awesome.
The person receiving the honor is decided by an Act of Congress or through a proclamation by the U.S. President which is authorized by the Congress.
Here are the lucky winners, in no particular order:
1. Raoul Wallenberg
Raoul Wallenberg was a Swedish diplomat, businessman, and architect who managed to save tens of thousands of Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary during the Second World War. His diplomatic rank in the Swedish Embassy ensured the life of many Hungarian Jews by issuing protective passports, as well as finding shelter for them in abandoned buildings.
Wallenberg used his diplomatic power for legal paperwork and looked for loopholes to save as many as he could, even after the Nazis had discovered his plans. It is not known what happened to him after his heroic deeds in Hungary, as he was never seen or heard from again.
Many speculate that after being captured in Budapest as a spy by the Soviet secret service, SMERSH (which was an acronym for “death to spies”), he died in 1947, possibly in a KGB Gulag. As of October 17, 2016, he is officially declared dead by the Swedish Tax Agency.
For his admirable non-violent courage, Wallenberg has been awarded countless honors, monuments, humanitarian awards, postage stamps, and of course, an honorary U.S. citizenship which was posthumously awarded in 1981, in hopes of exhuming any news of his whereabouts back then.
2. Casimir Pulaski
Kazimierz Michal Wladyslaw Wiktor Pulaski of Slepowron or simply put, Casimir Pulaski, was a Polish nobleman and a distinguished military commander worthy of any heroic honor. He fought for the Bar Confederation against the Russians during the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth wars.
Single-handedly reforming the American cavalry, his outstanding leadership and military prowess secured him a place among the greatest of tacticians, as well as a title, “Father of the American Cavalry.” He is also responsible for saving George Washington’s life during the Battle of Brandywine.
The Americans’ fight for Independence garnered his noble attention, and by the recommendation of Ben Franklin himself, he quickly set sail to join in the fight. A British grapeshot gravely wounded the Commander at the Battle of Savannah.
Pulaski’s courageous actions landed him a posthumous honorary citizenship in 2009, and the Congress decided to make October 11 “Pulaski Day.”
3. Mother Teresa
Mother Teresa of Calcutta was born as Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu in Skopje, now the capital of the Republic of Macedonia, and she is famous for her Catholic charity in Calcutta and worldwide. She founded the religious congregation, Missionaries of Charity in 1950, which boasts over 4,000 sisters who serve the good cause by providing a safe haven for the sick and dying.
Her views on abortion and dated medical treatment towards patients (even having accumulated enough wealth from the charity to modernize any medical equipment) have been a target for high criticism throughout the years.
Although being accused of religious hypocrisy and providing inferior conditions in her housing programs, which stands as a barricade for her beatification as a saint, she is remembered as a mother figure for the poor. Among her many humanitarian awards, charity accolades, and a Nobel Prize, lies a U.S. honorary citizenship which was given to her when she was still alive on November 16, 1996, almost a year before her death.
4. Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette
Also known as “the hero of two worlds,” Gilbert du Motier, or Marquis de Lafayette was commissioned as an officer at the age of 13. He is regarded as a key figure in the American Revolutionary War, the French Revolution of 1789, and the July Revolution in 1830.
Not only did the French military Officer lead the Continental Army (alongside with Casimir Pulaski) during the American Revolution to fight for the good cause, he also co-authored the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, alongside Thomas Jefferson. Basically, there wouldn’t be the United States of America, if it wasn’t for Lafayette.
Lafayette also had the honors of laying the cornerstone for Casimir Pulaski’s monument in Savannah, 1824, and there were speculations of a Masonic ceremony that was hosted by a high priest of Freemasonry in Georgia, sparking some conspiracies that claimed he too was a Freemason.
Upon returning to France, he received many honors and was appointed to the Assembly of Notables, as a member of the Estates-General, and receiving a high rank of commander-in-chief. He was arrested by French radicals while trying to flee through the Netherlands. After many years in prison, he was released by order of Napoleon, even though he did not agree with his politics, or with anyone else’s for that matter.
He bragged about receiving an American citizenship before it was cool, as Connecticut, Virginia, and Massachusetts already granted it for his praise-worthy military effort. His wish was posthumously granted when a Joint Resolution conferred his honorary citizenship on August 6, 2002. If only the famed General knew.
5. and 6. William Penn and Hannah Callowhill Penn
William Penn was an English businessman and real estate agent from the seventeenth century.
He was an early Quaker, credited as the founder of the Province of Pennsylvania (hence the name), as well as founding and developing the city of Philadelphia. Remembered as a staunch supporter of democracy, colonial unity, progressive politics, and for his sheer neighborliness, he signed very important treaties with the local Native Americans, the Lenape.
His wife, Hannah Penn, was placed as an administrator of Pennsylvania and when William was getting too old and crippled from strokes, Hannah “took the wheel” for 14 years. The Province of Pennsylvania was one of the most prosperous and stable at that time.
Amusingly enough, King Charles II owed debts to William’s father. To clear this debt, the King gave Penn a large piece of land which was present-day Delaware and Pennsylvania, to which he sailed and arrived in 1682. Not only that, but it is believed that he may have been the first pioneering philosopher to suggest a European Parliament.
His political principles served as a sole foundation of the United States Constitution, as a fundamental idea of uniting the States. They finally got their well-deserved honorary citizenship in 1984, by Reagan’s proclamation.
7. Sir Winston Churchill
To nobody’s surprise, Churchill’s historical accomplishment convinced Kennedy by authorization of the Congress to give him an honorary citizenship merit, even though his condition and age obstructed him to attend the ceremony.
Among his many military operations and fifty years of politics under his belt, the famous British Prime Minister also has a Nobel Prize for literature, which is overshadowed by his many other accomplishments.
Except for the Battle of Gallipoli, which was a disastrous WWI campaign with catastrophic tactical mistakes that landed him a demotion, Churchill is best remembered for his Anglo-Sudan War, seeing through Nazi Germany’s political intentions, The Iron Curtain issue, and of course, his trademark cigars.
8. Bernardo de Gálvez
Last but not least, Bernardo de Galvez, a Spanish General responsible for the Battles of Fort Charlotte and Baton Rouge, crucial events that greatly aided the Revolutionary War.
Aside from supplying the Continentals under clandestine operations and smuggling, he aided many colonies during their fight for independence.
He was also a colonial governor of Louisiana and Cuba and managed to recapture Florida for the Spaniards. Besides proving his bravery and forever cementing his status as an esteemed American soldier, he was the most recent war hero to receive his honorary citizenship in 2014. In addition to his award, many towns in the U.S. are carrying his name.
In all fairness, the State Department clearly states that “Honorary citizenship does not carry with it the rights and privileges of ordinary citizenship, and such status does not confer any special entry, travel or immigration benefits upon the honoree or the honoree’s relatives and dependents.”
Thus, the honorary citizens don’t exactly receive special treatment when it comes to being granted access or passport eligibility.
It is not clear whether or not the honor grants special rights or access of any kind for the person worthy of it.
Still, it is a very high merit and judging by the number of people that have been honored with this privilege, it takes a great deal of national accomplishment, a monumental feat of heroism, or perhaps just plain neighborly conduct.