Article II, Section 1

 

The founders of our Nation wanted a nation for everyone, where ones status of birth would not limit their ability to succeed in almost any task that they could set their hearts and minds too.  Yet, they had put pen to paper to set aside only one aspiration from all citizens and to reserve that for a class of citizens whose members are called “a natural born citizen,” the office of the President of the United States of America.   

 

Article II, Section 1

 

No person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that office who shall not have attained to the age of thirty five years, and been fourteen Years a resident within the United States.

 

There are some interesting phrases here that all have significance to the mindset of the Founding Fathers.  The key phrase here is, “a natural born citizen,” as opposed to “a native born citizen,” “naturalized” or even “a citizen.” Before we look at what “a natural born citizen” is, let’s look at the other phrases, so the clear meaning of a Natural Born Citizen becomes clear.

 

Looking at the text of the Constitution there was a small window of opportunity for a class of citizens, who were just simply “a citizen” to become the President. This Grandfather clause expired with the death of the last citizen born before June 22, 1788.

 

or a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution,

 

Considering that all of the Founding Fathers were at least on July 4, 1776, British subjects, they needed to include themselves as possible Presidential candidates. These “original citizen” Presidents included, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson and the last “original citizen” President was William Henry Harrison.

 

If they had not included themselves, then the age requirement included in the qualifications for President would mean that America would have to wait until July 4, 1811 for the first “natural born citizen” to come of age. 

 

neither shall any person be eligible to that office who shall not have attained to the age of thirty five years,

 

Yet, they were not so liberal in just allowing any former British subjects to be President. Note that also the qualifications for President is included a duration of residency.  

 

and been fourteen Years a resident within the United States.

 

To understand why they choose 14 years, is to start to understand why they also penned the phrase “a natural born citizen.” Our Constitution was adopted on September 17, 1787 and if we subtract 14 years we come to September 17, 1773. Nothing significant happened on this date, but it creates a state where our first “original citizen Presidents” needed to be physically present at the start of and during the War of Independence, unless like Franklin they were overseas engaged in the business of the United States. This is born out in the Journal of the Senate of the United States of America (July 7, 1798), and this is also in many of the debates on ratification.

 

Because as stated there were no “natural born citizens” ready to be President, the age and duration of residency also created another significant point. Thirty-five minus 14 is also 21, the “age of majority.” This means that these “original citizen” Presidents would have needed to make a conscience adult decision to be an American and would have earned the right to be President, by willingly risking their lives simply by being present in the thirteen States, while this Nation fought for its independence. 

 

Yes, there is a small window of opportunity, when someone could have come to America and became President, without having risked their live in a War of Independence. This short period was from February 4, 1783 when Britain formally declared an end to the War of Independence until September 17, 1787. Our Founding Fathers were men of the highest principles and integrity, they said what they meant and meant what they said. In the same Constitution, that holds the qualifications for President, is written Article 1, Section 9, these same men wrote,

 

No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed.

  

They were not going to treat this 1783 to 1789 class of “immigrant citizens” guilty of being unfaithful to America by passing a law saying so.  A Bill of Attainder is a law that makes a group of citizens guilty of a crime without the benefit of a trial. Ex post facto law is a law passed after the fact to make something illegal or legal, at the time it happened. They chose instead to set a date, September 17, 1787 that allowed anyone who was an original citizen on that date regardless of place of birth to be President. If you became a citizen on September 18, 1787, it would have been too late for you to qualify to be President of the United States of America without being a natural born citizen.  

 

Returning to the phrase “a natural born citizen,” you can now see that the Founding Fathers made a conscience effort to insure that the office of the President of the United States of America would have been held by only those men who were loyal to the cause of the United States of America. They selected as criteria for themselves loyalty above all else. The President of the United States must be above all else loyal to this Nation, and the principles that it was established upon.

 

As they pondered the Constitutional office of the President, they knew that one day their generation would pass away. Those men who proved their loyalty on the field of battle would eventually sleep under the field. This pool of men with proven loyalty to the Nation would literally die out one day. Sensing this, they knew that they could only trust the power of the office of President to a group of citizens who would have the best chance of being loyal to the country, those who only know America and only knew what it was like to be American.

 

On July 25, 1787 John Jay wrote to George Washington, “Permit me to hint, whether it would be wise and seasonable to provide a strong check to the admission of Foreigners into the administration of our national Government; and to declare expressly that the Commander in Chief of the American army shall not be given to nor devolve on, any but a natural born Citizen.

 

The common sense of this was immediately and unanimously incorporated into our Constitution. It cannot be said that this was without debate, there were a few who initially thought that excluding naturalized citizens might limit the number of affluent people with money to come to and invest in the new country. This small minority was afraid that the rich would not immigrate if their opportunities were limited. The fact that there was debate is significant because it signifies that this provision was not slipped into the Constitution, in the late hours of the night.

 

If they choose as a requirement for President for themselves, proven loyalty, and what they would choose for the next generation of Presidents would be “natural loyalty.” How they determined what natural loyalty is they looked toward nature. They did not need Congressional studies for a definition, as it was self-evident to them. A persons place in life comes from ones parents. This concept is found in nature, it is self-evident. Nature claims kinship, our most primitive and natural form of citizenship, from blood, while nations claim citizens from the soil, or their place of birth. The decided that the best way to protect the integrity of the office of President of the United States was a combination of the two.

 

The next time the term “natural born” would be used by the first Congress. Chapter III, of the Naturalization Act of 1790 stated that “a natural born citizen” was one whose parents were citizens of the United States, regardless of where they were born. They used the plural, and not singular. The majority membership of the first Congress was made up of both members from the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention. It is obvious that these men, who wrote the both the Constitution and first naturalization law seen that it was the parents who instilled a sense of belonging to their children. This sense of belonging would be deemed loyalty.

 

The fact that they wanted parents, in the plural to be citizens is because they wanted to limit as much as possible any political and emotional attachment to the “old world.” They wanted neither the mother nor the father to influence “a natural born” candidate for President, with a sense of foreign allegiance. They made the requirements for “a natural born citizen” to be from parents who were either born in the United States or made a conscience decision to become “naturalized citizens” of the United States. They observed in the law of nature that a child follows the condition of their parents, and if the parents were split in their loyalties, the child would be split in loyalty to America.

 

With the Naturalization Act of 1795, they amended the law that allowed a foreign-born child of American citizens to be called “natural born,” not because they believed they were wrong on the premise of the loyalty deriving from the condition of the parents. They were not, because they still granted “naturalized citizenship” at birth to these children. What they realized is that other nations were not following the law of nature, but were instituting feudal laws that were based on Roman law. These laws said, regardless of the parents’ citizenship, that any child born on the soil of the King, the King had the right to claim as a subject of the Crown, forever. Their intention was to insure that “a natural born citizen” would have only one natural loyalty, and could be legally claimed as a citizen of only one country.  

 

No one can deny that it was the intention of the Framers of the Constitution to protect the sanctity of the office of the President of the United States from foreign influence, either natural or legislated. They believed that the parents American citizenship, either natural or by choice would guard against the influence of foreign cultures. That birth within the United States of America by American citizens, made sure no other world power could ever make a claim for the allegiance of our President.

 

At the end of the war of Independence, England wanted to give Americans dual citizenship. In correspondence between David Hartley an British negotiator for the Treaty of Paris, and Benjamin Franklin, in which Hartley writes, “Neither shall the independence of the United States be construed any further than as independence, absolute and unlimited, in matters of government, as well as commerce. Not into alienation, and therefore the subjects of his Britannic majesty and the citizens of the United States shall mutually be considered as natural born subjects, and enjoy all rights and privileges as such in the respective dominions and territories in the manner heretofore accustomed.” While some may have considered this a good thing, the Founding Fathers reject this “last minute” act of generosity for the Trojan horse it was, that tried to subvert our Nation into a nation of dual citizens, whose citizens were ultimately subjects subservient to the Crown.

 

Article II, Section 1 is not about simply being born in the USA, it is about having only a complete and total loyalty to the United States of America, and no other. Any President who puts the interests of the United States of America second, has demonstrated that he is not “a natural born citizen” of this Nation, but is merely a puppet of worldly powers. Imperfect as some may believe, it is our legacy. A heritage paid for by the blood of patriots that is ours to either, guard and protect or to abandon for the always-changing temporary passions of the multitudes.