On Being “Natural Born”

Garrett Epps has a nice piece over at The Atlantic on the “natural born citizen” clause in the constitution:  Would the Founders Have Cared Where Ted Cruz Was Born?

The bottom line, as most know:

the Framers knew one thing about naturalization: It was the way countries shopped for kings.

[…]

That fear probably inspired the "natural born citizen" clause.

This is hardly an issue we currently face.

He also makes the following central points (one general and one specific):

The endless parsing of the Framers’ unspoken thoughts on this subject — as on so many others — does our politics a disservice. There’s no coded message in the "natural born citizen" clause.

Indeed.

FILED UNDER: Quick Takes, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Butch Bracknell says:

    Sure but wouldn’t it be wonderfully ironic if Cruz wound up on the business and of a leftwing birther movement?

  2. pylon says:

    No, but it woould be nice for RW birthers to explain the difference.

  3. JohnMcC says:

    Saw that Atlantic piece and thought it was pretty d@mn smart. It reminds us (as Dr Taylor’s recent piece did also) that the Founders were located in their own specific time and place.

  4. wr says:

    I thought it meant white.

  5. al-Ameda says:

    I l looked up the definition of “Schadenfreude,” and here it is as revised based on modern usage:

    “enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others Canadian-Cuban-Americans.”

    Not that I derive any enjoyment or pleasure over seeing a malevolent Canadian-Cuban-American politician from Texas experience discomfort or have his American bonafides questioned. That would be wrong.

  6. Gustopher says:

    Perhaps they just meant “no one born by C-section”, to avoid sudden plot twists like in Macbeth?

  7. sam says:

    Yeah, they were afraid of some crypto-royalist becoming a naturalized citizen and then…

    Since we’ve all been talking about amending the constitution, I’ve always thought that that part of the document cries out for amendment. Though I have to admit that the thought of a President Kissinger gives me pause.

  8. PJ says:

    Cruz was, since he was born in 1970, a British subject until 1977 when the Citizenship Act made him a Commonwealth citizen, which he still is.

    The Tea Party Nimrods wants to elect a former British subject whose father palled around with communists and terrorists…

  9. al-Ameda says:

    @PJ:

    The Tea Party Nimrods want to elect a former British subject whose father palled around with communists and terrorists…

    if I might …
    The Tea Party Nimrods wants to elect a former non-Black British subject whose father palled around with communists and terrorists (both previously thought of as friends of Bill Ayres.)

  10. grumpy realist says:

    Well, Taitz seemed to be attempting to parlay her fifteen minutes of fame for another minute. “I’m a Birther! I’ll oppose anyone who is running, white or black!” (She definitely does seem to have a bee in her bonnet about black men, though.)

  11. Fuzz T. Was says:

    The term natural-born citizen is not well understood today but was commonly understood in the 18th and 19th centuries. The term was first used in the legal treaties, “the Law of Nations”, by Swiss writer Emerich de Vattel in 1758. In chapter 19, Section 212, Vattel stated: “natural-born citizens are those born in the country, of parents (plural) who are citizens.” It was not defined in the Constitution nor in later statutes, because the meaning was self evident to everyone when it was written.

    Vattel’s book was well known to the founding fathers and they relied on it often.

    In 1775, Benjamin Franklin noted the importance of the Law of Nations to the founders by ordering 3 of the latest editions. Franklin in a letter to Charles Dumas in December 1775 stated:

    “…the Law of Nations….has been continually in the hands of the members of our Congress, now sitting, who are much pleased with your notes and preface, and have entertained high and just esteem for their author?”

    Another indication the founders relied on Vattel is found in Article I, Section 8, which grants Congress the authority to “punish…offenses against the Law of Nations.”

    The term natural-born citizen applied only to the President. Members of the House, Senate and the Courts were required to be citizens, but not necessarily natural-born citizens.

    The clause was first introduced for constitutional consideration in a letter from John Jay to George Washington. The letter, dated July 25, 1787, stated the following:

    Permit me to hint whether it would not be wise and reasonable 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.

    Jay and other founders wanted the President as Commander in Chief to have no other allegiance but to the United States. Non-citizen, foreign born parents might cause a President to have a second loyalty to his parent’s homeland. Additionally, only the President takes an oath to “Preserve, Protect and Defend” the Constitution. Other Constitutional officials take an oath to “support and defend” the Constitution.

  12. mantis says:

    @Fuzz T. Was:

    It was not defined in the Constitution nor in later statutes, because the meaning was self evident to everyone when it was written.

    Nonsense. First, almost no one in the colonies would have been familiar with obscure Swiss treaties. Second, it was self evident, but not how you mean. It was, and still is, implicit that the phrase means born a citizen, as opposed to being naturalized. There is no third, undefined category of citizenship.

  13. merl says:

    It’s been over 200 years since the Constitution was written, it seems to me that the Founder’s Intent should be obsolete by now. Those guys used quill pens, we have computers. Time marches on, things change etc.
    It’s like basing your faith in a Book that was written by Stone Age shepherds.

  14. merl says:

    @mantis: It’s been over 200 years since the Constitution was written, it seems to me that the Founder’s Intent should be obsolete by now. Those guys used quill pens, we have computers. Time marches on, things change etc.
    It’s like basing your faith in a Book that was written Stone Age shepherds.

  15. merl says:

    @mantis: I see you stopped reading after that quote. He cited a couple of the Founders references to the work.

  16. mantis says:

    @merl:

    He cited a couple of the Founders references to the work.

    And….?

  17. MarkedMan says:

    Repubs (as opposed to Republicans) possess neither the self awareness or the honesty to see their own hypocrisy on this or any other matter. Schadenfreude would require the other party to realize their self created dilemma.

  18. Kylopod says:

    I remember Orrin Hatch some years back pushing an amendment to remove the natural-born citizen requirement from the Constitution. That was around the time some Republicans had their Schwarzenegger crush (now of course he’s a flaming RINO).

    Truth be told, if you went back to before Obama reached the national stage and asked any Republican or Democrat what they think of this clause, I suspect the majority would answer that they don’t see much of a point to it and would be fine having a president who was born in another country and did not have American parents.

    Still, if I wanted to amend the constitution for the purposes of electoral reform, this would be well down my list of priorities.

  19. Pylon says:

    @merl: no he didn’t. He cited writings that used similar words, without reference toVattel.

  20. Pylon says:

    Correction: Franklin quoted Vattel. The others didn’t. And Franklin never said anything about relying on Vattel on this issue. One can guess Franklin read lots of authors on governance.

  21. Pylon says:

    I suspect a lot of Birthers wouldn’t agree with the majority of Vattel’s work.

    “The first general law that we discover in the very object of the society of nations, is that each individual nation is bound to contribute every thing in her power to the happiness and perfection of all the others.”