Passports - An Invention of the Modern Police State

  England Passports (1)

Passports as we know them today did not really exist before 1915.

By the outbreak of war in 1914, British passports were printed on paper and included a photograph of the holder. The price of a passport was still 6d but there were more details included about the holder. The development of the modern passport system really dates from the First World War when a number of states started issuing passports as a means of distinguishing their citizens from those that they considered to be foreign nationals.

The first modern United Kingdom passport was issued in 1915 when the British Nationality and Status Aliens Act 1914 came into force.

American Passports (2)

According to State Department historians, except for brief periods during wartime, passports were not generally required for travel abroad and few obstacles were presented by foreign states' passport requirements until after 1914. An executive order made on Dec. 15, 1915, required every person entering or leaving the United States to have a valid passport

Canada (3)

Before 1862, Canadians, as British subjects, could travel freely to and from the United States without passports. To travel to Europe, however, a Canadian had to get a British passport at the Foreign Office in London. Those who were not British subjects by birth could still go to the United States with a certificate of naturalization, which was issued by local Canadian mayors mainly for voting in municipal elections.

During the American Civil War, however, authorities in the United States wanted more reliable certification from people living in Canada. In 1862, the Governor General, Viscount Monck, introduced a centralized system for issuing passports: for the next 50 years, a Canadian passport was really a "Letter of Request" signed by the Governor General.

When war broke out in 1939, the United States government announced that Canadians would need passports and visas to cross the border. At that time, about half a million Canadians travelled to the States each year without any documentation. Tensions rose at border crossings when American officials began searching Canadian travellers, culminating in a riot when a hearse was detained at the border. This led to the issuance of special wartime passports for Canadians travelling to the United States.

Australian (4)

The words 'Australian Passport' replaced 'British Passport' on the cover of an Australian passport in 1949. In 1950, 30,000 Australian passports were issued. Fifty years later in 1999–2000, this number had risen to nearly 1,450,000. Their production accounted for 37 tonnes of paper, 95,500 metres of thread, 69,000 metres of gold foil and 1,100 litres of glue.

Latvia (5)

The passport system originated in France. In 1672 Louis XIV forbade his subjects to leave France or foreigners to enter France without passports. When translated from French “passport” or from Italian “passo”, the word means “a step, a chance to go through”.

In the Russian Empire, the year 1719 during the reign of Peter the Great is regarded as a beginning of the passport system. In European countries the main task of the passport system was to ensure peace and order, whereas in Russia apart from the above functions the passport served also as a means to oversee the control of tax payments, military service and other duties regulated by the state

StarTribune (6)

The concept of passports goes back at least 600 years in western Europe. They're rooted in feudalism and based on control.

In the beginning, they were basically passes or licenses to travel, and only the upper crust could get them. The idea was that if you were a peasant or a serf, you were supposed to stay home.

That made it easier for governments to keep tabs on you, an idea that has persisted, in varying forms, since the Middle Ages.

In England, up into the 18th century, people were supposed to reside in their "native" parishes, the church districts where they'd been born. They could get temporary passes to take seasonal jobs, but they couldn't just up and move to London to look for work, lest they become beggars, vagabonds or criminals.

France and Russia had similar laws, and until the collapse of the Soviet Union, Soviet citizens needed internal passports just to travel around their own country.