Born to Rule

June 1, 2012

The Philadelphia Convention adopted the U.S. Constitution on September 17, 1787. According to 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.” Although the Constitution does not go on to define a “natural born Citizen,” the term is understood to mean a person born in the United States or born abroad to parents who are both American citizens.

This rather curious provision has created a movement called the “birthers,” who are challenging the legitimacy of Barak Obama to be president, claiming that he was not born in the US.  The birthers were not even silenced after he produced his birth certificate, and Donald Trump still claims that “many people do not believe this birth certificate is authentic.”  Trump is not the only loose cannon on the political scene.  Hard-core birthers in at least fourteen states have challenged Barack Obama’s eligibility to appear on their states’ ballots because they claim he is not “a natural-born citizen.”

It is necessary to go back to the founding of the Republic to understand why this provision was included.  Remember that the country had just fought a war of independence in which many Americans sided with the British.  Thus, loyalty to the new republic was a hot issue.  James Madison, popularly acknowledged as the “author” of the Constitution, gave his reason for proposing this clause.

It is an established maxim that birth is a criterion of allegiance. Birth, however, derives its force sometimes from place and sometimes from parentage, but, in general, place is the most certain measure. It is what applies in the United States; it will therefore be unnecessary to investigate any other.

This was a controversial issue among the founders, and Alexander Hamilton produced his own draft of this clause, which would have allowed citizens of one of the thirteen colonies to qualify to become president.  There was a degree of self-interest, as Hamilton was born on the British West Indian island of Nevis in 1755. Under his draft, he would have qualified, as he had moved to New York around 1770 and had been a resident ever since.  Hamilton failed to get his way. Some historians have suggested that the clause was specifically inserted by a group of powerful Virginians who feared and despised Hamilton for his mercantilist policies in order to prevent him from succeeding George Washington as president.

Putting aside the history of this clause, what happens if Mitt Romney selects Marco Rubio, born in Miami to two Cuban parents, as his running mate? What happens if Nikki Haley or Bobby Jindal, born in America to Punjabi parents, seeks the presidency in 2016? If Barak Obama is ineligible, then they are, too.

8 Comments for this entry

  • George Dawson says:

    Where is this guarantee that only “natural-born citizens” are fit to become president? When a baby is born in the US, does a magical, golden shower suddenly descend on it to imbue it with the ability to effectively lead the country?

  • QT says:

    It is astonishing to me that there are people on earth who still take Donald Trump seriously. The man is a walking caricature of himself.

  • Tom says:

    I’m not surprised that Americans doubt that Obama was born in the US. They don’t even believe he’s a Christian. According to one survey I read, just 34% this he is a Christian, while 44% say they don’t know and 11% say he is a Muslim! Such is the power of the right-wing propaganda machine.

  • Rebecca says:

    Birthers have proven themselves to be completely insane. The US Supreme Court has turned down every case brought forth refusing to even entertain their insanity. I must admit with the 5-4 Conservative rule, I am glad these rightwing nuts has not been allowed in our highest court.

    Since 2010 GOP/TEA has accomplished one thing – they have turned me against them to a point I will never vote Republican again on any level of government. Living in a Red State leaves me little to support, so I donate my money to Democratic campaigns in Blue states. This way I still impact the nation with my contributions.

    Obama/Biden 2012

    • Harry says:

      I understand your frustration. The problem, I believe, goes deeper than simple conflict between GOP and Democrats. A democratic system only works when both side accepts the judgment of the electorate, and accept the fact that the newly-elected majority or president has a mandate to govern. The right wing insurgency that we see in the US never accepted Obama election as legitimate, and the “birther” issue is just one manifestation of this.

      • Rebecca says:

        I never accepted the Supreme Court selecting W. Bush to be our President. It appeared illegal on so many levels. The birthers don’t accept Obama even though the race wasn’t even close. They hate him because they are racist. I know this for a fact because living in a Red State in the Deep South the haters do not even pretend to be anything, except racist.

        This country is so divided and I do not see us coming together behind Mitt either. Even the Gop doesn’t really care for Mitt – they are stuck with him. I know I will not vote for Mitt or any other Republican, but if they win, I will not spend the next 4 years bringing stupid lawsuits forth. And I won’t be saying just because he is a Mormon, he is not a Chritian. That is the difference between normal people and the insane GOP/TEA.

  • Lisa J. says:

    I must add that I was a bit disappointed when Pres. Obama agreed to finally release his long-form birth certificate. I felt that he was completely playing into the hands of “birthers” such as Donald Trump. I was ultimately proven correct. Immediately afterwards, Trump held a press conference where he crowed about how he got the President of the United States to do what he demanded. And “birthers” STILL don’t believe the form is authentic! Obama was damned if he did and damned if he didn’t, so why not just ignore them? By releasing the long form, Obama basically gave credit to this group’s paranoia. He should have told them that for people with common sense (like the posters of this blog), his birth certificate should be sufficient and that he’s got more important matters to deal with than trying to convince those who will never be satisfied no matter the mountain of proof in front of them.

    • Harry says:

      Sadly, the “birther” issue has entered the realm of conspiracy, in which it will never be possible to convince some people that they are wrong. After all the evidence to the contrary, there are still many that are not willing to accept JFK was the victim of a lone gunman. Behind many “birthers” is the simple fact that they don’t accept the legitimacy of Obama’s election and will latch onto any excuse to challenge it. These are the same people that trumpet the virtues of American democracy, yet when it throws up a result they don’t like they will do what they can to undermine the electorate’s choice and deny the ruling party the ability to make laws they don’t like (ie ObamaCare).

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