Written by Paul R. Hollrah
In recent days I have been drawn into yet another debate over presidential eligibility, as specified in Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution. Given that Barack Obama has occupied the Oval Office illegally for more than five years, without so much as a whimper of protest from most American voters or the mainstream media, some may feel that any further discussion of this matter may be akin to “beating a dead horse.” Nevertheless, if we insist on referring to ourselves as a constitutional republic, and if we continue to insist that we honor constitutional principles and the rule of law, then we have no choice but to understand precisely what the Founders intended when they drafted our governing document in 1787.
What generated my recent exchange on the subject of presidential eligibility was an article in the January 31, 2014 edition of pegAlert, the newsletter of the Pennsylvania Business Council. The article in question was titled, “SANTORUM PREPPING FOR ANOTHER RUN IN 2016.”
In response, I asked the question, “Who keeps propping up Santorum’s ambitions... other than Rick Santorum? Unless I’m wrong, his father was still an Italian citizen when he was born. That makes him ineligible for the presidency.” To which a representative of the Business Council replied, “That might be so, but Santorum was born in the USA so that makes him a citizen.”
To that nonsensical assertion I replied, “… If Santorum was born in the US, which I assume he was, that does make him a ‘citizen.’ But that’s not what is at issue. What is at issue is his status as a ‘natural born’ citizen, which he must be if he wants to run for president. In order for him to be a ‘natural born’ citizen, both of his parents must have been US citizens. If Santorum’s father was still an Italian citizen when he was born, then he is not a ‘natural born’ citizen…”
The final response from the Pennsylvania Business Council brought us straight to the nub of the issue. The reply read, “Under (that) definition, none of our initial 6 or 7 presidents, would have qualified.” Bingo!! Without even trying, he inadvertently proved my point.
Once again I found myself confronted face-to-face with the harebrained notion that the terms “citizen” and “natural born Citizen” are synonymous… that to be a “citizen” equates to being a “natural born” citizen. That simply is not true. One would think that simple intellectual curiosity would lead those who share that mistaken belief to question why the Founders found it necessary to modify the phrase, “No person except a natural born Citizen,” with the phrase, “… or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution…”
Even the most unthinking and uneducated among us must agree that the use of the word “or”requires an implicit understanding that those who would seek the presidency had to be either “natural born citizens,” or “citizens of the United States” on the day that the Constitution became the law of the land.
On the day that the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776, every citizen of the thirteen original colonies became citizens of a new nation, the United States of America. And the very first child born to newly-minted US citizens on July 4, 1776, before the ink was dry on John Hancock’s signature, became the nation’s very first “natural born” citizen.
The Constitution required that, in addition to being a resident of the United States for at least fourteen years, those who would seek the presidency must be at least thirty-five years of age. There were a great many men who met those two criteria, but the country needed a president and the only “natural born” citizens available on June 21, 1788, the day the Constitution was ratified, were children under twelve years of age. To solve that problem, the Framers added a grandfather clause, making it possible for newly-minted US citizens, none of them “natural born,” to serve as president. This was necessary until such time as a body of individuals, born to US citizen parents after the Declaration of Independence, reached age thirty-five.
George Washington, our first president, was born at Wakefield, Virginia on February 22, 1732, forty-four years before the Declaration of Independence. He was a “citizen,” but not a “natural born” citizen because both of his parents were British subjects at the time of his birth.
John Adams, our second president, was born at Braintree, Massachusetts on October 30, 1735, forty-one years before the Declaration of Independence. He was a “citizen” because he was born in Massachusetts, but he was not a “natural born” citizen because both of his parents were British subjects at the time of his birth and owed their allegiance to the British crown.
Thomas Jefferson, our third president, was born at Shadwell, Virginia on April 13, 1743, thirty-three years before the Declaration of Independence. He was a “citizen” because he was born in Virginia, but he was not a “natural born” citizen because both of his parents were British subjects at the time of his birth.
James Madison, our fourth president, born in Virginia on March 16, 1751, twenty-five years before the Declaration of Independence; James Monroe, our fifth president, born in Virginia on April 28, 1758, eighteen years before the Declaration of Independence; John Quincy Adams, our sixth president, born in Massachusetts on July 11, 1767, nine years before the Declaration of Independence; and Andrew Jackson, our seventh president, born in South Carolina on March 15, 1767, nine years before the Declaration of Independence; were all “citizens” because they were born in what came to be the United States of America, but they were not “natural born” citizens because their parents were not US citizens at the time of their birth.
However, Martin Van Buren, our eighth president, was born at Kinderhook, New York on December 5, 1782, six years and five months after the Declaration of Independence. Unlike his seven predecessors, he was not just a “citizen,” he was a “natural born” citizen… the first president, at least thirty-five years of age, who was born to US citizen parents after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
What a great many patriotic, but ill-informed, Americas refuse to accept is the fact that, while the Founders intended that only “natural born” citizens should ever serve as president, there were no 35-year-old “natural born” citizens available during the first 35 years of our nation’s history. Accordingly, it became necessary to provide an exemption of limited duration covering those citizens born prior to July 4, 1776. All were “grandfathered” and made eligible under the phrase, “or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution…”
Every U.S. president since Van Buren… with the exception of Chester A. Arthur, whose Irish father was a British subject at the time of his birth, and Barack Obama, whose Kenyan father was also a British subject at the time of his birth… has been a “natural born” U.S. citizen, as required by Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution.
Barack Obama was born with dual US-British citizenship “by descent” from his Kenyan father and his American mother. However, under Chapter VI, Sec. 97(1) of the Kenyan Constitution of December 12, 1963, Kenyan Independence Day, Obama lost his British citizenship on August 4, 1984, his twenty-third birthday. However, his eligibility status is now complicated by the fact that, under Chapter 3, Section 14 of a revised Kenyan Constitution, adopted on August 4, 2010, he became a citizen of Kenya “by birth” and is required to obey the laws of Kenya, should he ever set foot in that country during or after his stay in the White House.
The Framers found it inconceivable that a president of the United States, commander in chief of the Army and the Navy, should ever be required to obey the laws of a foreign nation. Barack Obama provides, if nothing else, a definitive example of why the Founders insisted that the president must be a “natural born” citizen, untainted by any hint of foreign allegiances.
Although Democrats have successfully defended Obama’s illegal presidency, based largely on the fact that he is a black man, insulated from the rule of law by the color of his skin, we must insist that constitutional mandates apply equally to presidents of both parties, Democrats and Republicans. This means, of course, that conservatives such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Gov. Nicki Haley (R-SC), Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), and former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA)… all born to one or more non-US citizen parents… are not natural born citizens and must be eliminated from consideration for the 2016 GOP nomination.
In the days of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson, a man of Barack Obama’s background and qualifications would have received zero consideration for the presidency. Without question, he would have been declared ineligible. Yet, in spite of the fact that the Constitutional criteria for the presidency have not changed one iota since 1787, millions of Americans today insist that he is eligible for the office. By what tortured reasoning, what conceivable standard, they won’t say.
Liberals and Democrats being what they are, we can always count on them to expect to have things both ways. But conservatives and Republicans believe in constitutional principles and the rule of law and we simply cannot allow the bandwagon-riders in our party to circumvent the Constitution. So, sorry, Ted, Nicki, Bobby, Marco, and Rick… we love you all and you’re a great credit to our country, but you just can’t play in our presidential sandbox.