How the Founders Defined "Natural Born Citizen"

Mario Apuzzo, A Place….

The question which has gripped our nation is whether Barack Obama is eligible to be President and Commander in Chief. Article II, Section 1, Clause 5 provides that: “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; neither shall any person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.” The proper question under this clause is not whether Obama is a “Citizen of the United States.” Rather, the correct question is whether Obama is a “natural born Citizen” thereunder.

“It cannot be presumed that any clause in the constitution is intended to be without effect, and therefore such construction is inadmissible unless the words require it….” Marbury v. Madison. 5 U.S. 137, 174 (1803). In other words, the “natural born Citizen” clause of Article II must be given independent effect from the “citizen of the United States” clause of Article II itself and of the Fourteenth Amendment. All Presidents must qualify as Article II “natural born Citizens,” not as Fourteenth Amendment “citizens of the United States.” The two clauses have different and distinct meanings or they would not have their own independent life in the Constitution. Article II says “natural born Citizen” and the Fourteenth Amendment says “citizen of the United States.” If being a “citizen of the United States” had the same exact effect as being a “natural born citizen,” then the “natural born Citizen” clause would have no effect. Such a construction is not admissible. If we were not to give special meaning to the words “natural born” and conclude that “natural born Citizen” and “citizen of the United States” mean the same thing, the words “natural born” in the “natural born Citizen” clause of Article II would be superfluous. Our Supreme Court has consistently expressed “a deep reluctance to interpret a statutory provision so as to render superfluous other provisions in the same enactment.” Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare v. Davenport, 495 U.S. 552, 110 S.Ct. 2126, 2133, 109 L.Ed.2d 588 (1990); International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America, Uaw v. Johnson Controls, Inc, 499 U.S. 187, 111 S.Ct. 1196, 1204, 113 L.Ed.2d 158 (1991) . Hence, we have to give special meaning to the words “natural born.”

As so many scholars and commentators have asked, what does “natural born Citizen” mean? Why did the Framers distinguish in Article II between a “citizen of the United States” and a “natural born Citizen?” The Founders trusted the occupancy of the Office of President to those born on or inhabiting the soil of or to those who naturalized in the Colonies or new States, all of whom belonged to the original citizen class because, even though they were born subject to a foreign power, they had evidenced their loyalty and attachment to the United States by fighting for the American cause in the Revolution. Also, for those born “natural born subjects” of the British Crown, through the Treaty of Peace of 1783, England absolved its subjects of the natural allegiance that they owed to it. But the Founders knew that there would be other foreigners coming to live in America in the future. The allegiance and loyalty of these future foreigners would not have been tested or even absolved in some manner as had occurred under the Treaty of Peace of 1783. The Founders feared foreign influence infecting the administration of the government. It was the fear of foreign influence invading the Office of Commander in Chief of the military that prompted John Jay, our first U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice, to write to General George Washington the following letter dated July 25, 1787: “Permit me to hint, whether it would be wise and seasonable to provide a strong check to the admission of Foreigners into the administration of our national Government; and to declare expressly that the Commander in Chief of the American army shall not be given to nor devolve on, any but a natural born Citizen” (underlying in the original). Note that Jay wanted a “strong” check that would prevent a foreigner from becoming the Commander in Chief. Hence, any definition of “natural born Citizen” must provide our nation with the strongest check possible on foreign influence invading the Office of President and Commander in Chief of the Military. The Framers found the definition of “natural born Citizen” that would suit their purpose of protecting the future of and preserving the new nation not in the English common law and William Blackstone but in natural law and the law of nations as commented upon by Emer de Vattel, in his treatise, The Law of Nations, or Principles of the Laws of Nature, Applied to the Conduct and Affairs of Nations and Sovereigns, bk. 1, c. 19, sec. 212 (original French in 1758 and first English in 1759). This law became American common law. See my article entitled, ‘The Law of Nations or Principles of Natural Law’ as U.S. Federal Common Law Not English Common Law Define What an Article II Natural Born Citizen Is, found at

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5 comments to How the Founders Defined "Natural Born Citizen"

  • shamu10

    Y'all can Give Up on the Birther Cause!! The Republican Wussies will NEVER push the issue. If AnyThing EVER happens to The I/2 Black Messiah, the [Black]Natives, Already Restless, [as in "listen to the Drums, The Natives Are Restless Tonight!!"] will Revolt/Riot and start cutting the Heads off of The White Devil Slavemasters, like they did in the Miami Riots of the 80's!!

  • Ellen

    The founders defined Natural Born just the way that Blackstone and the common law defined it. It meant "born in the country.' It did not refer to the parents at all. Not single American writer at the time ever wrote that Natural Born referred to parents–only to the location of birth.

    • If this is right then all children (born here) of illegal immigrants are natural born citizens. Something has to be done to correct this.

      • Ellen

        This is right, and you can try to pass a Constitutional amendment to change the situation. Until then, the childen of illegal immigrants are both citizens and Natural Born, and hence they are Natural Born Citizens.

        Mustata v. US Dept. of Justice, 179 F.3d 1017 (6th Cir. 1999) (children born in US to two Romanian citizens described as “natural born citizens” of the US):

        "Petitioners Marian and Lenuta Mustata are citizens of Romania. At the time of their petition, they resided in Michigan with their two minor children, who are natural born citizens of the United States."

        Diaz-Salazar v. INS, 700 F.2d 1156 (7th Cir. 1983) (child born in US to Mexican citizen is “natural born citizen” of US):

        "Petitioner, Sebastian Diaz-Salazar, entered the United States illegally [from Mexico] in 1974 and has been living and working in Chicago since that time. *** The relevant facts which have been placed before the INS, BIA, and this court can be summarized as follows: The petitioner has a wife and two children under the age of three in Chicago; the children are natural-born citizens of the United States."

        • Sunshine49

          When I looked up the cases that you listed, it only listed the children as "natural born citizens" in the petititons. It was NOT the court declaring them "natural born" as you are trying to lead people to believe. There are other court petitions in other cases where the children are only listed as U.S. citizens — NOT "natural born" citizens!

          The 1866 Civil Rights Act was the first "Federal" citizenship law and it states that the child must be born NOT SUBJECT TO ANY FOREIGN POWER. The SAME framers that wrote the 1866 Act also wrote the 14th Amendment to the Constitution a few months later. WHY would the SAME people write one LAW and then turn around and add an amendment to the Constitution that means the reverse? DUH!