Recently a book was published that many would find controversial due to the nature of the topic. The book is Jerome Corsi’s Where is the Birth Certificate? The Case That Barack Obama is Not Eligible to be President. To the more liberal readers of this blog, you have to understand the reasoning for reading this book.  It was not due to any personal or political views towards the President or his policies. Or because of the thought that he was born in Kenya, and ineligible for the office of President.  It is the job of any government teacher to educate themselves in all the perspectives on a topic. A government teacher should read this book out of a professional and political curiosity to the perspective and the factual evidence presented: no more, no less. But in reading the book it provides an education on the original intent of our Founding Fathers when dealing with a very specific subject in the Constitution that many people take for granted: citizenship and kinds of citizenship.

It is always important to understand the original intent of the Founders when attempting the interpret the Constitution. Why? Not because original intent is meant as a hard, fast rule for interpreting laws or the powers of the government, but because we must understand what the Founders meant before we can even attempt to understand what those words mean for us today. So without further ado the Founder’s views and intent when dealing with citizenship.

Citizenship is not mentioned many times in the original Constitution. Its first mention is in Article I, Sections 2 and 3 when explaining the eligibility requirements for members of the Congress. Citizens elected to the House of Representatives must meet be a citizen for seven years; senators must have been a citizen for nine years. The article never mentions a specific distinction as the type of citizen. It is in Article II, Section 1 that the Founders make a clear distinction in citizenship when listing the eligibility requirements for the chief executive, the President of the United States.

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;

Why did the Founders want a natural-born Citizen as the chief executive?  It was their fear of foreign influences and it was critical that the President have completely undivided loyalty to the nation. The authority to negotiate treaties and command the military lies with the President.  It is essential to establish that loyalty at birth (Corsi 32-33). “The Founders wanted to exclude from foreigners from the presidency because they were distrustful of elevating to chief executive of the nation or commander-in-chief anyone who by birth might bear allegiance to a foreign nation” (Corsi 36).

The Founders never clearly defined, in the Constitution, what they meant by natural-born. The major reason (as with most misinterpreted passages of the Constitution) is that they knew what they meant and it was common knowledge at the time and not open to interpretation. The Founders got their view on citizenship, specifically natural-born citizenship, from their views of Natural Law. The Swiss philosopher Emerich de Vattel was one of the major influences of this view of natural law, especially in light of our discussion today, outlined in his book “Laws of Nations: or Principles of the National Law Applicable to the Conduct and Affairs of Nations and Sovereigns.” The view of natural-born citizenship comes specifically from Chapter 19, section 212. Any emphasis added is my own.

The citizens are the members of the civil society, bound to this society by certain duties and subject to its authority; they equally participate in its advantages. The natives or natural-born citizens are those born in the country of parents who are citizens. As the society cannot exist and perpetuate itself otherwise than by the children of the citizens, those children naturally follow the condition of their fathers, and succeed to all their rights. […] The country of the fathers is therefore that of the children, and these become true citizens merely by tacit consent. […] I say that in order to be of the country, it is necessary that a person be born of a father who is a citizen; for, if he is born of a foreigner, it will only be the place of his birth, and not his country.

I think most of us can understand what Vattel and the founders wanted as the original intent for understanding who constitutes a natural-born citizen. A child MUST be born of a person who is already a citizen, whether it be by birth or naturalization. It is reasonable to assume in our day and age that we could expand Vattel’s natural-born Citizen definition to include the mother, not just the father, as Vattel explains in this passage. Vattel could also not predict the massive amounts of immigration that would occur around the world in the next 200 years to the United States and to other nations. But the point is clear, natural-born citizens MUST be born of a citizen of that nation. Birthright citizenship only belongs to the children of people who are already citizens. To add further detail to the original intent, is capitalization of the term citizen in the text of the Constitution. In 18th century grammatical tradition, the noun of “Citizen” was being modified by the phrase “natural-born.”  Natural-born identifies of a sub grouping within the larger term of Citizen (Corsi 36-37).

But then what are the other classifications of citizens? There are two other sub-groups addressed in the book: native citizens and naturalized citizens. Native citizens is a term used to define citizenship for anyone born in the territory of the United States to a foreigner, alien, or immigrant, whether they are legally in the U.S or not. Under the views of the Founders these citizens by the rule of jus solis (by soil) would be considered citizens for the benefit of just being born with in our borders, but that still would not necessarily make them a natural-born citizen, according the original intent of the Founders. The constitution makes no distinct prohibition against this form of citizenship being invalidated. In fact, authority lies with Congress to make uniform laws for naturalization (Article I, Section 8, Clause 4).  Congress could easily confirm this form of birth right citizenship as valid for the U.S. But even if they did they could not authorize the idea that they would be natural-born citizens. This idea is still tied up in the principles of natural law, which the Congress cannot overturn by statue.

The other subgroup of citizen is a naturalized citizens. These are people who at one time held allegiance to another nation or state. These citizens go through the legal process to become citizens of another nation, usually also renouncing their citizenship of the foreign nation. All subgroups of citizens, natural-born, native-born, and naturalized, are all capable, under the views of natural law, to produce natural-born citizens, since all three are citizens.

But what about the 14th Amendment? Does not that guarantee that any citizen born under United States jurisdiction is a citizen? That is my next point.

The current view of citizenship in our nation is that if you are born within the territory of the nation, the child is automatically a citizen of the United States. This view comes from the wording of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Though as it will be proven this does not guarantee that the person is a natural-born citizen. Here is the pertinent passage in the 14th Amendment:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.

There is nothing within the language of the amendment that says a person is a natural-born citizen, nor does it take any steps to redefine the phrase “natural-born Citizen” (Corsi 49). The idea of a birthright citizenship is dependent upon an interpretation, that is in direct conflict with the author’s intent. The author of the amendment, Sen. Jacob Howard of Michigan, clarified its meaning during the 1866 debate on this amendment.

This amendment which I have offered is simply the declaration of what I regard as the law of the land already, that every person born within the limits of the United States, and subject to their jurisdiction, is by virtue of natural law and national law a citizens of the United States. This will not, of course, include persons born in the United States who are foreigners, aliens, who belong to the families of ambassadors or foreign ministers accredited to the Government of the United States, but will include every other class of persons (Corsi 50-51).

These views, shared Illinois Sen. Lyman Trumbull, said, “What do we mean by ‘complete jurisdiction thereof?’ Not owing any allegiance to anybody else. That’s what it means” (Corsi 51)” The Supreme Court also supported this view in the Slaughter-House Cases of 1783 and in Elk v. Wilkins in 1884. The phrase jurisdiction thereof “meant sole and complete jurisdiction of the United States” (Corsi 51). In the case of United States v. Wong Kim Ark in 1898 the Supreme Court ruled that Ark was a citizen of the U.S. even though his parent were Chinese citizens at the time of his birth. The court never clarified this distinction though that he was a natural-born citizen. If they “felt the interpretation of the 14th Amendment extended to confer… natural-born citizenship status, it would have said so” (Corsi 52-53).

The one practical implication for this view of citizenship according to the original intent of the Founder’s, the writers of the 14th Amendment, and the relevant court cases is that if children of illegal aliens are natural-born citizens, and eligible for election to the office of President of the United States. They are native-born, but they are not natural-born as required by Article II, Section 1.  The other practical implication of this topic goes into a greater discussion regarding President Obama’s citizenship; which is what Jerome Corsi’s Where is the Birth Certificate?  There is a draft in this blog summarizing this book.  The release of this review is still up in the air.  The responses to this article may have an impact if that review gets published.  If you feel strongly one way or the other about the title and posting the review, please feel free to comment.

Questions? Comments? Concerns? Class dismissed!