The earliest settlers of Upper Canada were normally American immigrants, free to take up land and enjoy the privileges of British subjects upon giving an oath of allegiance to the Crown. Following the War of 1812, further immigration of Americans was discouraged by Governor Francis Gore, who refused to administer the oath of allegiance. Subsequently, the Colonial Office ruled that anyone might claim full naturalization by swearing loyalty after 7 years' residency on British soil. By implication those who had not gone through these proceedings were "alien," and exposed to dispossession, disenfranchisement and disqualification from office even though approximately half of the population fell into this category.
The confused status of the citizenship of American-born residents of Upper Canada reached a crisis in 1820-21 when Barnabas Bidwell and his son, Marshall Spring Bidwell, sought election to the provincial assembly and faced opponents who claimed they were ineligible to hold office because of American citizenship. If the Bidwells were aliens, so also were the majority of the province. The controversy was settled in 1828 when the government acquiesced to a new instruction from the Colonial Office retroactively correcting any defects in the citizenship of all Upper Canada office holders and landowners who arrived before 1820.