Obama Presidential Eligibility - An Introductory Primer
IntroductionThe Philadelphia Convention adopted the U.S. Constitution on September 17, 1787 . Anyone born after that date must be a natural born citizen in order to be eligible to serve as President of the United States .
What is a natural born citizen? Even if President Barack Obama is a U.S. citizen by birth, is he a U.S. natural born citizen?
According to an article which appeared in the Michigan Law Review in 2008, we know two things for sure about the meaning of "natural born citizen":
- Anyone who is born in the United States, of parents who are U.S. citizens, is definitely, without doubt, a natural born citizen.
- Anyone who acquires U.S. citizenship through naturalization, after his or her birth, is definitely not a natural born citizen .
In 2004, Senator Don Nickles predicted that, if these questions remain unanswered, they will someday become "a real issue":
The definition of this term ["natural born citizen"] is an issue that has been debated in legal circles for years and has never been ruled on by the courts. Clarification is needed before this becomes a real issue. (Nickles)Senator Nickles' prediction has come true.
Barack Obama -- regardless of where he was born -- acquired British nationality (in addition to U.S. citizenship) at birth. His citizenship status, at birth, was "governed" by the British Nationality Act of 1948 (see Barack Obama's "fight the smears" website). In light of these facts, an increasing number of Americans are concerned that President Obama might not be a "natural born citizen" and therefore might not be eligible, under the Constitution, to serve as president .
Members of the mainstream news media generally believe that all persons born in the United States are "natural born citizens", regardless of their parents' citizenship. Although this belief is widely held, the Supreme Court has never accepted it. On the contrary, our nation's highest court has consistently used the term "natural born citizen" only in reference to persons born on U.S. soil, to U.S.-citizen parents.
In Scott v. Sandford (1856), the Supreme Court characterized, as unexceptionable (incapable of being criticized), the viewpoint that:
"natural-born citizens are those born in the country of parents who are citizens" (Scott v. Sandford, 1856)In Minor v. Happersett (1874), the Supreme Court defined two classes of persons. One class consisted of U.S.-born children of U.S.-citizen parents. The second class consisted of all other U.S.-born children. The Court used the term "natural born citizen" only in reference to members of the first class. Regarding members of the second class, the Court doubted whether they were even citizens, let alone natural born citizens. The Court distinguished "natural born citizens" from "aliens or foreigners", suggesting that a "natural born citizen" is one who is not a "foreigner" (foreign citizen) at birth .
The United States has had 44 presidents (including Barack Obama). Of these 44 presidents, 34 were born after 1787 (the year the Constitution was adopted) and were therefore subject to the "natural born citizen" requirement. With only two exceptions, every one of these 34 presidents was born in the United States, of parents who were both U.S. citizens (Natural Born Presidency). The two exceptions were Chester Arthur and Barack Obama. While running for office in 1880, Chester Arthur lied to newspaper reporters about his family history (and later burned most of his family records), thereby concealing the fact that, when he was born, his father (William Arthur) was British subject, not a U.S. citizen (Historical Breakthrough - Chester Arthur).
President Obama's "fight the smears" website, his published long-form birth certificate, and his autobiography identify his father as Barack Hussein Obama Sr., a Kenyan native who never became a U.S. citizen. When President Obama was born, he acquired British citizenship by descent from his father (FactCheck.org: Does Barack Obama have Kenyan citizenship?). The year 2008 was the first time in history that the United States knowingly elected a post-1787-born president whose parents were not both U.S. citizens. Moreover, 2008 was the first time that the U.S. knowingly elected a post-1787-born president who was a foreign citizen (as well as a U.S. citizen) at the time of his birth .
Since President Obama acquired foreign nationality (in addition to U.S. citizenship) at birth, his "natural born citizen" status is in doubt . This doubt is not based on the imaginings of tin-foil-hat-wearing conspiracy theorists on the lunatic fringe of society. This doubt comes from what the Supreme Court has said, as well as a variety of other historical and legal sources which are presented and discussed here.
In the following pages, we introduce the Obama eligibility controversy, in question-and-answer format, for a non-technical general audience. We've double-checked the facts presented here, cited their sources, and believe them to be correct. Please contact us if you find any material in this Primer that you believe to be inaccurate.
Contents1. What is a "birther"?
2. What are the eligibility requirements for president?
3. Why do birthers think Barack Obama might not be eligible to serve as president?
- 4. Where should we begin looking for the original Constitutional meaning of "natural born citizen"?
- 4.1 Modern-day word usage
4.2 U.S. Constitution and Early Naturalization Acts
4.3 U.S. Federal Law
4.4 English Literature
6. Does the birthers' viewpoint have historical or legal merit?
7. What was the original purpose of the presidential "natural born citizen" requirement?
8. What was the 18th-century meaning of the word "foreigner"?
9. What is the difference between "Constitutional" and "statutory" natural born citizens?
10. Wouldn't the most recent modern-day statutory meaning of "natural born citizen" take precedence over the original Constitutional meaning?
11. If Obama is not a "Constitutional natural born citizen", so what? Why should anyone care?
12. Why has every birther lawsuit been denied or dismissed?
13. What is a 14th Amendment natural born citizen?
14. What was the originally intended meaning of "jurisdiction" in the 14th Amendment?
15. Doesn't the Wong Kim Ark decision make Obama a "natural born citizen"?
16. Doesn't the Julia Lynch case show that Obama is a "natural born citizen"?
17. What was an 18th-century English "subject"?
18. What was Calvin's Case?
19. What was a "natural-born subject"?
20. Didn't Calvin's Case affirm the jus soli principle?
21. How did Calvin's Case define ligeance?
22. Who were "alien enemies"?
23. Were English-born children of alien parents "natural-born subjects"?
24. What did "actual obedience" mean?
25. What was an English "citizen" before the American Revolution?
26. Wasn't jus soli the "rule of Europe" when the Constitution was being written?
28. Did "natural born" imply exclusive allegiance at birth?
29. What was Vattel's "Law of Nations"?
30. What is the root of the "natural born citizen" debate?
31. What's the "beef" with President Obama's birth certificate?
32. Didn't the State of Hawaii recently verify that President Obama was born in Hawaii?
33. Doesn't the mere existence of Barack Obama's original Hawaiian birth certificate prove that he was born in Hawaii?
34. Do birthers actually believe that President Obama was born in a foreign country?
35. If President Obama's birth certificate shows conclusively that he was born in Hawaii, would it end the eligibility controversy?
36. Aren't Obama eligibility challenges merely partisan attacks by Republicans against a Democratic president?
37. What is "Quo Warranto"?
38. What can we do?
Appendix 1: Excerpts from Jus Gentium (1749)
Appendix 2: Methods of English Subjecthood Acquisition
Appendix 3: Comparison between English and European Political Theories
Appendix 4: Federal Quo Warranto Statute