History Mighty Heroes

The only 8 people to ever receive honorary American citizenship

The United States doesn’t offer knighthoods, but Congress and the President can confer the best gift of all: American citizenship.
winston churchill honorary american citizenship
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (1874 - 1965), American general Dwight Eisenhower (1890 - 1969) and Brigadier General Maxwell D. Taylor (1901 - 1987) reviewing the 101st Airborne Division at Newbury, Berkshire, England, March 23, 1944. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)

The United States doesn’t offer knighthoods, titles of nobility or other awards to anyone, let alone those who aren’t even Americans. But Congress and the president can confer the best gift of all: American citizenship. As the public law notes: honorary citizenship is and should remain an extraordinary honor not lightly conferred nor frequently granted.” Most of those who received it did not get the honor in their lifetimes, but two of them were still living to see themselves deemed worthy of their new adoptive country. 

Here are the 8 people who received honorary US citizenship

1. Sir Winston Churchill

In 1963, President John F. Kennedy declared that the former British Prime Minister who led his country (and, in some ways, all the Allies) through World War II, was “a son of America” and a steadfast friend of the United States. Kennedy made the proclamation in the White House Rose Garden, but an aging Churchill had to watch the broadcast from his home in London.

It was the first time the President of the United States and Congress had bestowed such an honor (the states of Maryland and Virginia gave honorary citizenship to the Marquis de Lafayette in 1788). The President specifically cited one of Churchill’s greatest achievements: “He mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.” 

2. Raoul Wallenberg

In 1981, President Reagan conferred honorary citizenship to Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who acted as an agent for the U.S. during World War II, traveling to Hungary (which was at war with the U.S.) to help save the lives of almost 100,000 Jewish Hungarians. 

While there, the Soviet Union captured Wallenberg and sent him to a prison, where he was never seen again. Congress called on the USSR to determine the whereabouts of Wallenberg and return him or his remains to freedom.

Raoul Wallenberg american citizenship
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY – 1944: Raoul Wallenberg – Swedish architect, businessman and diplomat, who saved thousands of Jews from the Holocaust in German-occupied Hungary. Pictured: Raoul Wallenberg while serving as Sweden’s special envoy in Budapest, Hungary, in 1944. (Photo by Laski Diffusion/Getty Images)

3-4. William and Hannah Callowhill Penn

William Penn was the founder of Pennsylvania during America’s colonial era. He would, of course, never live to see Pennsylvania become a state after the Revolutionary War (he died in 1718). Hannah Callowhill was Penn’s second wife, after his first wife, Gulielma, died at age 50. 

The reason Hannah was made an honorary citizen is because she actually made the crossing from England to Pennsylvania and administered the colony after William Penn died. Both were made honorary citizens in 1984.

5. Mother Teresa

Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, also known as Mother Teresa, was born in Skopje, in what was then-called the Ottoman Empire (today, it’s in North Macedonia). She died in Kolkata, India, 87 years later, after spending her life running homes for people dying of HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis. She also ran a network of soup kitchens, clinics, orphanages and schools, earning her the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize and the 1985 Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 1996, President Bill Clinton conferred Honorary American Citizenship on her. 

mother theresa with children
CALCUTTA, INDIA – DECEMBER 05: Mother Teresa accompanied by children at her mission in Calcutta, India. (Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images)

6. The Marquis de Lafayette

In 1917, when American troops paraded through Paris after entering World War I, they stopped at the grave of the Marquis de Lafayette. As they came to a halt, Col. Charles Stanton famously declared, “Lafayette, we are here!”

Somehow, it wasn’t until 2002, that the President of the United States and the U.S. Congress extended honorary citizenship to Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette. Lafayette is such an instrumental figure in American history that the American Flag still flies over his grave in Paris, and nearly every American military visitor stops to pay homage to the French nobleman who helped the U.S. win its independence. 

7. Casimir Pulaski

Almost as unbelievable as the Marquis de Lafayette’s wait was that of Casimir Pulaski, who wasn’t extended honorary American citizenship until President Barack Obama signed the legislation into law in 2009. 

Pulaski was a Polish nobleman who fought against the British in the American Revolution and remains a national hero in both Poland and the U.S. He saved George Washington’s life and became the “Father of American Cavalry” when his Pulaski Cavalry Legion reformed all of the Continental Army’s cavalry forces. 

Casimir Pulaski statue
Equestrian statues in Washington, D.C., between 1911 and 1942. Sculpture of Brigadier general Casimir Pulaski by Kazimierz Chodzinski. Creator: Arnold Genthe. (Photo by Heritage Images via Getty Images)

8. ​​Bernardo de Gálvez y Madrid

De Gálvez is a lesser-known foreign supporter of American independence than Lafayette or Pulaski, but his help was critical in maintaining rebel and French supply lines via the Mississippi River during the Revolution. He led Spain’s conquest of West Florida and eliminated the British Navy’s presence in the Gulf of Mexico. 

In 2014, President Obama signed a bill granting Bernardo de Gálvez honorary citizenship, making him only the eighth honorary citizen in our country’s 200-plus years of history.