The obituary of James David Armstrong1 states that he was a lifelong Republican. The obituary also states that he had cast his first vote for the Whig candidate, General Winfield Scott. General Scott ran for president in 1852. We can forgive the two somewhat contradictory statement because the Whig Party collapsed after the 1852 election and was supplanted by the Republican Party.
But James Armstrong had only arrived three years earlier. After arriving at Castle Garden - the precursor to Ellis Island- on Oct 22, 1949. he settled in Mercer County, New Jersey. The naturalization law at that time allowed an immigrant to file a 'declaration of intent' after two years in the country and then three years later he could file a 'petition for naturalization'. He became a citizen at that time. This process could be completed in any federal court, state court, or county court. The two steps did not have to take place in the same court. Based solely on this law it would not have been legal for James to have voted in 1852. Although it would have been perfectly legal for a non-citizen to support a presidential candidate.
Knowing exactly when and where an immigrant was naturalized is tricky. Not all of the records are indexed so a search engine doesn't work. I spent an hour yesterday going image by image in the Mercer County Records. I looked at records from 1849 through 1852. But that doesn't mean he wasn't a citizen. I may be looking in the wrong court. I may be in the wrong county. I could be in the wrong state. It was late so I may have missed the image. It is possible that not all records were digitized yet. (Back on August 16, I wrote about another ancestor who declaration of intent was found in the Harrison County Genealogical Society's files.) But I am not giving up.
So was James David Armstrong an illegal voter? The jury is still out. I will keep looking and I will let you know if I find anything. .
1. “Passing of a Nestor” Pantograph, Bloomington, Illinois March 30, 1906