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.