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Principles & Purpose of the Natural Born Citizen Limitation

by KrisAnne Hall, JD

 

Our Founders established the criteria of Natural Born Citizen upon our President for a very important reason. Natural Born Citizen meant, to our framers, a child born of two parents who were citizens of the United States at the time of the birth of that child.  If you are not sure of this, or perhaps disagree, please read this article based upon fact & history before you go on: https://goo.gl/sFkKUm

A person who is born of just one parent who is a citizen of the United States is a citizen by birth, but not Natural Born Citizen.  Someone cannot hold or have held dual citizenship with a foreign country and be a Natural Born Citizen.  The fact that we are confused by this qualification, or perhaps even wish to alter this qualification, must be because we do not understand WHY this qualification was established in the first place.  So, before we take a stand either way, we must consider the reasons why this qualification was established by the framers of the American Constitution.

The whole reason the president must be a Natural Born Citizen is because our framers had a history full of foreign kings imposing foreign law and foreign favor upon the people and they knew how dangerous foreign influence was to Liberty.  George Washington spent a great bit of effort trying to drive this understanding home in his Farewell Address of 1796:

“Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government.”

Washington knew from his history the real dangers of foreign influence.  Part of Washington’s British Constitution was a document called the Grand Remonstrance of King Charles 1,with a Letter in His Hands1641 in which the people of Great Britain listed many grievances against their King, Charles I.  They indicated that these grievance were indicative of a larger design to overturn and undermine Liberty of the people and the Law of the Land.  One of the grievances illustrates how foreign influence and foreign law have contributed to that destruction of Liberty:

“Such Councillors and Courtiers as for private ends have engaged themselves to further the interests of some foreign princes or states to the prejudice of His Majesty and the State at home.”

In another part of the British Constitution, this time the English Bill of Rights of 1689, the people of Great Britain actually require an oath of their King and his council to shun all foreign influence:

“And I do declare that no foreign prince, person, prelate, state or potentate hath or ought to have any jurisdiction, power, superiority, pre-eminence or authority, ecclesiastical or spiritual, within this realm. So help me God.”

Protecting the United States from foreign influence was very prominent in the minds of our framers, especially in the office of president.  At the time of the creation of the Constitution by the States there were no Natural Born Citizens so an exception was made until that qualification could be met.  Article 2 section 1 clause 5 reads:

“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;”

The exception to the Natural Born Citizen requirement was that the President must be a “Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution.”  Joseph Story in his “Commentaries on the Constitution, 1833” explains that this was to ensure that people who were “Patriots of the Revolution” could be considered for this office.

“This permission of a naturalized citizen to become president is an exception from the great fundamental policy of all governments, to exclude foreign influence from their executive councils and duties. It was doubtless introduced (for it has now become by lapse of time merely nominal, and will soon become wholly extinct) out of respect to those distinguished revolutionary patriots, who were born in a foreign land, and yet had entitled themselves to high honours in their adopted country.”

This is an important distinction that helps us understand WHY the Natural Born Citizen requirement is a must.  The President is the commander in chief of the military.  Our framers knew from their history that it would be extremely dangerous to allow someone of foreign influence to exercise power over our military.  Founder, John Jay wrote a letter to George Washington on July 25, 1787, expressing this very point.

“Permit me to hint, whether it would not be wise & seasonable to provide a strong check to the admission of Foreigners into the administration of our national Government, and to declare expressly that the Command in chief of the American army shall not be given to, nor devolved on, any but a natural born Citizen.”

The commander in chief could have no fractionalized loyalty.  The commander in chief must be loyal to the United States, first and only.  Prior to being a Natural Born Citizen, the candidate for president would have proven that loyalty by having been a “distinguished revolutionary patriot.”  Once time established the availability of Natural Born Citizen candidates, that unbroken loyalty would be proven in party by the fact that both parents were citizens of the United States and establishing that the candidate would have been raised in a home with loyalty only to the United States.

When a child is raised in a home where one or both parents are citizens of a foreign country, then that child will naturally be raised with an attachment to that foreign militarycountry out of love for that parent.  Our framers knew that in time of military crisis, our commander in chief must be free from all attachments and bias with a foreign country and mattered not if that bias was for or against the foreign country.  The president must not hesitate or haste in matters of war.  He must only act upon the best interest of the United States, free from internal conflict.  George Washington explains this fact in his Farewell Address:

“Excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other.”

Alexander Hamilton gives another perspective upon the Natural Born Citizen requirement.  He postulates why a foreign country might actually want to actually raise up someone to become president of the United States and the inherent danger in that possibility:

“Nothing was more to be desired than that every practicable obstacle should be opposed to cabal, intrigue, and corruption. These most deadly adversaries of republican government might naturally have been expected to make their approaches from more than one querter, but chiefly from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils. How could they better gratify this, than by raising a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the Union?”

Just as the birth of a child on US soil does not create citizenship in the parent, the birthplace of the child does not establish the status of Natural Born Citizen.  Throughout history citizenship has been based upon the criteria of the parents.  It has not been linked to the child.  This criteria of Natural Born Citizen does not deviate from that norm.

In summary, the entire reason for establishing the criteria for a president to be a Natural Born Citizen was to help to eliminate any possibility that the commander in chief of the military be influenced by love or hate of a foreign nation.  Because of this well established and historically justified reason, we should think very long and hard before we consider altering or diluting this established requirement through modern interpretation or modern court opinions.  Our framers did what they did on purpose and with a purpose.  We only endanger our Liberty when we assume they didn’t know what they were doing, and our advanced intellect means we can disregard their reasons for our own personal preferences.  We would do well to learn from this history, instead of dooming ourselves to repeat history’s mistakes.

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