Presidential Eligibility

In the 2008 election both major parties nominated candidates whose eligibility is dubious. For Barack Obama the question was whether he was born in Hawaii, which is U.S. soil. For John McCain the question was whether the Panama Canal Zone, where he was born, was U.S. soil. It is not, and being born of parents both of whom were U.S. citizens did not make him a "natural-born" citizen, although a statute was later adopted naturalizing such persons at birth.

The U.S. Constitution provides as follows:

Article II Section 1 Clause 5:
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.
Amendment XIV Section 1:
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.

The main authority for the original meaning of "natural born" is William Blackstone, in his Commentaries on the Laws of England, Volume II, edited by St. George Tucker, a Founder, published in 1803, especially Chapter 10:

As to the qualifications of members to sit at this board: any natural born subject of England is capable of being a member of the privy council; taking the proper oaths for security of the government, and the test for security of the church. But, in order to prevent any persons under foreign attachments from insinuating themselves into this important trust, as happened in the reign of king William in many instances, it is enacted by the act of settlement,l that no person born out of the dominions of the crown of England, unless born of English parents, even though naturalized by parliament, shall be capable of being of the privy council.
... the king has also the prerogative of conferring privileges 53 upon private persons. Such as granting place or precedence to any of his subjects, as shall seem good to his royal wisdom:g or such as converting aliens,54 or persons born out of the king's dominions, into denizens; whereby some very considerable privileges of natural-born subjects are conferred upon them. Such also is the prerogative of erecting corporations;55 whereby a number of private persons are united and knit together, and enjoy many liberties, powers, and immunities in their politic capacity, which they were utterly incapable of in their natural. Of aliens, denizens, natural-born, and naturalized subjects, I shall speak more largely in a subsequent chapter;
The first and most obvious division of the people is into aliens and natural-born subjects. Natural-born subjects are such as are born within the dominions of the crown of England;
... the prince is always under a constant tie to protect his natural-born subjects, at all times and in all countries, for this reason their allegiance due to him is equally universal and permanent. But, on the other hand, as the prince affords his protection to an alien, only during his residence in this realm, the allegiance of an alien is confined (in point of time) to the duration of such his residence, and (in point of locality) to the dominions of the British empire.
Thus allegiance, then, both express and implied, is the duty of all the king's subjects, under the distinctions here laid down, of local and temporary, or universal and perpetual. Their rights are also distinguishable by the same criterions of time and locality; natural-born subjects having a great variety of rights, which they acquire by being born within the king's ligeance, and can never forfeit by any distance of place or time, but only by their own misbehaviour:
The children of aliens, born here in England, are generally speaking, natural-born subjects, and entitled to all the privileges of such.10 In which the constitution of France differs from ours; for there, by their jus albinatus, if a child be born of foreign parents, it is an alien.c

St. George Tucker, the editor, says this in a footnote:

Persons naturalized according to these acts, are entitled to all the rights of natural born citizens, except, first, that they cannot be elected as representatives in congress until seven years, thereafter. Secondly, nor can they be elected senators of the United States, until nine years thereafter. Thirdly, they are forever incapable of being chosen to the office of president of the United States. Persons naturalized before the adoption of the constitution, it is presumed, have all the capacities of natural born citizens. See C. U. S. Art. 1, 2.

Blackstone uses the term "subject" rather than "citizen", so are citizens the same as subjects for this purpose? We have from Ainslie v. Martin, 9 Mass. 454, 456, 457 (1813):

And if, at common law, all human beings born within the ligeance of the King, and under the King's obedience, were natural-born subjects, and not aliens, I do not perceive why this doctrine does not apply to these United States, in all cases in which there is no express constitutional or statute declaration to the contrary. . . . Subject and citizen are, in a degree, convertible terms as applied to natives, and though the term citizen seems to be appropriate to republican freemen, yet we are, equally with the inhabitants of all other countries, subjects, for we are equally bound by allegiance and subjection to the government and law of the land.

Before Blackstone, the leading authority for the meaning of constitutional language is Edward Coke, who explains in Calvin's Case, 7 Coke Report 1a, 77 ER 377 (1608), that a child born on the soil of England to a foreign national visiting the country who is not an invader is a "natural born subject" of England:

[A foreign national]... so long as he was within the King's protection; which [though] but momentary and uncertain, is yet strong enough to make a [natural bond] he hath issue here, that issue is a natural born subject; ... There be regularly ... three incidents to a subject born. 1. That the parents be under the actual obedience of the King. 2. That the place of his birth be within the King's dominion. And, 3. The time of his birth is chiefly to be considered; for he cannot be a subject born of one kingdom that was born under the ligeance of a King of another kingdom, albeit afterwards one kingdom descend to the King of the other. ... many times ligeance or obedience without any place within the King's dominions may make a subject born, but any place within the King's dominions may make a subject born, but any place within the King's dominions without obedience can never produce a natural subject. And therefore if any of the King's ambassadors in foreign nations, have children there of their wives, being English women, by the common laws of England they are natural-born subjects, and yet they are born out-of the King's dominions. But if enemies should come into any of the King's dominions, and surprise any castle or fort, and possess the same by hostility, and have issue there, that issue is no subject to the King, though he be born within his dominions, for that he was not born under the King's ligeance or obedience. But the time of his birth is of the essence of a subject born; for he cannot be a subject to the King of England, unless at the time of his birth he was under the ligeance and obedience of the King.

It may be questioned whether it is necessary to go back to 1608 to get the controlling law on the meaning of "natural born citizen" or of "natural born", however, legal terms of art, once established generally do not change, even if they are not used for centuries. "Natural born" is a term from English common law. It actually goes back even further than 1608, which was about the time that court proceedings, which had been done in Latin, began to the be done in English. The term goes back to ancient Roman law, usually as natus naturalis, or some variant thereof. "Natural born" was just a translation from the Latin.

The subject of whether jus soli or jus sanguinis applies to the United States came up in a debate in the U.S. House of Representatives, May 22, 1789, when James Madison said:

It is an established maxim, that birth is a criterion of allegiance. Birth, however, derives its force sometimes from place, and sometimes from parentage; but, in general place is the most certain criterion; it is what applies in the United States.

That was not on the point of presidential eligibility, but it does show which rule applies.

Drawing from Max Farand's Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, historian George Bancroft characterized the debate on qualifications for the Presidency in his History of the Formation of the Constitution of the United States (1884) (Volume 1 Page 346):

One question on the qualifications of the president was among the last to be decided. On the twenty-second of August the committee of detail, fixing the requisite age of the president at thirty-five, on their own motion and for the first time required that the president should be a citizen of the United States, and should have been an inhabitant of them for twenty-one years. The idea then arose that no number of years could properly prepare a foreigner for the office of president; but as men of other lands had spilled their blood in the cause of the United States, and had assisted at every stage of the formation of their institutions, the committee of states who were charged with all unfinished business proposed, on the fourth of September, that 'no person except a natural-born citizen, or a citizen of the United States at the the of the adoption of this constitution, should be eligible to the office of president,' and for the foreign-born proposed a reduction of the requisite years of residence to fourteen. On the seventh of September, the modification, with the restriction as to the age of the president, was unanimously adopted.

The questions centered on how persons became citizens, and how long they had been citizens, but the subject of parentage was never raised.

The Naturalization Act of 1790 stated "children of citizens of the United States, that may be born beyond the sea, or out of the limits of the United States, shall be considered as natural-born citizens.", but "considered as" does not change the definition of the term or the fact of the physical circumstances of birth, nor can conferring a privilege by statute change an eligibility requirement in the Constitution. The 1790 Act also provided that its terms only applied to the law then in effect, which was changed  with the Naturalization Act of 1795. They made a mistake, using sloppy language, and corrected it in the next act on the subject. It is also irrelevant. It is a naturalization act, and a statute cannot change the meaning of a term in the Constitution. For that one has to go back to the usage of the term before 1787, and that means usage by Coke and Blackstone, especially Coke, in Calvin's Case. That case controls the meaning for the Founders, who regularly referred to those authors when they were unclear on legal terms of art. The early Congresses often made constitutional errors. Then as now they did not always think everything through. For that matter, the Framers made some mistakes in the Constitution, but we are stuck with those mistakes unless or until we amend it. That error was corrected by repeal.It should be noted they were on their own titles naturalization acts, not "natural born definition" acts.

Sometimes miscited is Emmerich de Vattel, in his work Les Droit des Gens (Law of Nations), taking out of context the words from Book I:

§ 212. ... The natives, or natural-born citizens, are those born in the country, of parents who are citizens.

But this is not a precise translation from the French, which has no exact equivalent to "natural born", and the French word word "parens" can mean close family, not necessarily biological parents. He was writing of a modified form of the rule of jus sanguinis that was municipal law (not the law of nations), and only for some countries on the European Continent. A little further down, he explains:

§ 214. ... there are states, as, for instance, England, where the single circumstance of being born in the country naturalizes the children of a foreigner.

However, "naturalizes" is also not an exact translation, which in Anglo-American law has come to mean a statutory or administrative process, but which for Vattel meant "makes one a citizen", which could include natural circumstances.

The rule of jus soli goes back to at least 508 BC in Athens, when it was used to establish citizenship in districts called demes. The Romans mainly used jus sanguinis to organize the empire into national groups each with its own legal system (although they had to introduce the office of praetor peregrinus to adjudicate disputes between members of different groups). However, the Edict of Caracalla in 212 AD made jus soli the rule for the entire Empire. The rule was carried to France and England under Roman domination, and the Normans adopted it and spread it to Scotland, Wales, and Cornwall.

However, jus sanguinis prevailed in many Eastern and Central European countries at the time Vattel wrote, and spread to other countries on the European continent. It displaced jus soli in Britain in 1983 and in France in 1993, mainly in response to immigration of persons of different ethnicity.

On July 25, 1787, John Jay wrote to George Washington, presiding officer of the Convention:

Permit me to hint whether it would not 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 Command in chief of the American army shall not be given to, nor devolve on, any but a natural born Citizen.

There is no proof that deliberations took place at the convention on the subject of the letter. While the Committee on Detail originally proposed that the President must be merely a citizen as well as a resident for 21 years, the Committee of Eleven changed "citizen" to "natural born citizen" without explanation. The Convention accepted the change without further debate.

Sometimes miscited on this subject is the Supreme Court case, The Venus, 12 U.S. 8 Cranch 253 253 (1814), which commented in dictum on various views of citizenship and the rights of citizens in a case in which the issue was whether a ship or cargo belonging to a U.S. citizen may be seized as a prize if it was bound to a nation with which the U.S. was at war, even if the U.S. citizen did not know it was at the time, but the holding was not on the issue of what constitutes citizenship, much less natural born citizenship.

In his 1826 Commentaries on American Law, James Kent said:

Natives are all persons born within the jurisdiction and allegiance of the United States. This is the rule of the common law, without any regard or reference to the political condition or allegiance of their parents, with the exception of the children of ambassadors, who are in theory born within the allegiance of the foreign power they represent.

In an 1829 treatise, A View of the Constitution of the United States of America, William Rawle (1759-1836), formerly the U.S. Attorney for Pennsylvania (1791-1799), wrote that

The citizens of each state constituted the citizens of the United States when the Constitution was adopted. ... [He] who was subsequently born the citizen of a State, became at the moment of his birth a citizen of the United States. Therefore every person born within the United States, its territories or districts, whether the parents are citizens or aliens, is a natural born citizen in the sense of the Constitution, and entitled to all the rights and privileges appertaining to that capacity. .... Under our Constitution the question is settled by its express language, and when we are informed that ... no person is eligible to the office of President unless he is a natural born citizen, the principle that the place of birth creates the relative quality is established as to us.

The issue was examined by the U.S. Supreme Court in the dissenting opinion of J. Curtis (which should be read in combination with the dissenting opinion of J. McLean for a better understanding of the issues in the case) in Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U. S. 576 (1856):

The first section of the second article of the Constitution uses the language, "a natural-born citizen." It thus assumes that citizenship may be acquired by birth. Undoubtedly, this language of the Constitution was used in reference to that principle of public law, well understood in this country at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, which referred citizenship to the place of birth. At the Declaration of Independence, and ever since, the received general doctrine has been in conformity with the common law that free persons born within either of the colonies were subjects of the King that by the Declaration of Independence, and the consequent acquisition of sovereignty by the several States, all such persons ceased to be subjects, and became citizens of the several States, except so far as some of them were disfranchised by the legislative power of the States, or availed themselves, seasonably, of the right to adhere to the British Crown in the civil contest, and thus to continue British subjects.

The issue was examined by the U.S. Supreme Court in United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649 (1898):

It thus clearly appears that, by the law of England for the last three centuries, beginning before the settlement of this country and continuing to the present day, aliens, while residing in the dominions possessed by the Crown of England, were within the allegiance, the obedience, the faith or loyalty, the protection, the power, the jurisdiction of the English Sovereign, and therefore every child born in England of alien parents was a natural-born subject unless the child of an ambassador or other diplomatic agent of a foreign State or of an alien enemy in hostile occupation of the place where the child was born.

III. The same rule was in force in all the English Colonies upon this continent down to the time of the Declaration of Independence, and in the United States afterwards, and continued to prevail under the Constitution as originally established.

Justice Gray explained in that case:

A person born out of the jurisdiction of the United States can only become a citizen by being naturalized, either by treaty, as in the case of the annexation of foreign territory, or by authority of Congress, exercised either by declaring certain classes of persons to be citizens, as in the enactments conferring citizenship upon foreign-born children of citizens, or by enabling foreigners individually to become citizens by proceedings in the judicial tribunals, as in the ordinary provisions of the naturalization acts.

It was also touched upon in Luria v. United States, 231 U.S. 9 (1913):

Under our Constitution, a naturalized citizen stands on an equal footing with the native citizen in all respects save that of eligibility to the Presidency.

The closest the U.S. Supreme Court has come to addressing eligibility to be president was in Perkins v. Elg, 307 U.S. 325 (1939):

There is no law of the United States under which his father or any other person can deprive him of his birthright. He can return to America at the age of twenty-one, and in due time, if the people elect, he can become President of the United States... [citing to Steinkauler's Case, which was an opinion given by Edwards Pierrepont, who was Attorney General for Ulysses S. Grant].

However, some who argue against Obama's eligibility bring up the issue of the citizenship of his parents, saying that even if he were natural born on U.S. soil, he would not be a citizen because he would not be "subject to the jurisdiction" of the United States, as provided in the Fourteenth Amendment. At the time of adoption of that amendment, that would have excluded the children of unassimilated indigenes (American Indians, or Amerinds), foreign diplomats, and foreign invaders, but not peaceable foreign visitors who enter legally, discussed in the opinion in Ankeny v. Governor, which although not a precedent, provides an excellent compilation of the arguments pertaining to this topic. Amerinds have since all been brought within the jurisdiction of the United States. There is no claim that either of Barack Obama's parents was a foreign diplomat or invader at the time of his birth.

The phrase of art "subject to the jurisdiction" did not exclude any "citizen of a foreign nation", unless acting at the direction or instigation of that foreign nation, making one a state actor. Consent to enter by an immigration official makes the entrant "subject to the jurisdiction" of the United States. This was emphasized in the case of Diaz-Salazar v. I.N.S., 700 F.2d 1156, 1160 (7th Cir. 1983) (noting in its recitation of the facts that despite the fact father was not a citizen of the United States, he had children who were "natural-born citizens of the United States"), cert. denied 462 U.S. 1132, 103 S. Ct. 3112 (1983). However, those who enter without official consent are presumptively "invaders" for this purpose, and their children would not be natural-born citizens if the fact of unlawful entry can be established.

Some mis-cite the opinion in Minor v. Happersett, but it only states, in dictum, that natural birth and U.S. citizen parentage would be sufficient to establish U.S. citizenship at birth, not that U.S. citizenship parentage was necessary for the child to be a U.S. citizen.

Justice Swayne was on the Court that decided Minor v. Happersett; as was Justice Field, who in 1884 wrote the Circuit Court opinion In re Look Tin Sing 21 F. 905. Look Tin Sing claimed the right to enter the United States "as a natural born citizen of the United States." The Court ruled in his favor, and Justice Field referred to Sanford's opinion in Lynch v. Clarke, saying, "After an exhaustive examination of the law the Vice-Chancellor said that he entertained no doubt that every person born within the dominions and allegiance of the United States, whatever the situation of his parents, was a natural born citizen; and added, that this was the general understanding of the legal profession, and the universal impression of the public mind. In illustration of this general understanding he mentions the fact, that when at an election an inquiry is made whether the person offering to vote is a citizen or an alien, if he answers that he is a native of this country the answer is received as conclusive that he is a citizen; that no one inquires further; no one asks whether his parents were citizens or foreigners; it is enough that he was born here whatever was the status of his parents."

Most of the confusion over the eligibility of John McCain seems to stem from the mistaken notion that "citizen at birth" has the same meaning as "natural born citizen". The meaning is not the same. A naturalization statute can make a person a citizen at birth, but that does not make him "natural born".

TITLE 8 > CHAPTER 12 > SUBCHAPTER III > Part I > § 1401
§ 1401. Nationals and citizens of United States at birth
The following shall be nationals and citizens of the United States at birth:
(a) a person born in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof;
(b) a person born in the United States to a member of an Indian, Eskimo, Aleutian, or other aboriginal tribe: Provided, That the granting of citizenship under this subsection shall not in any manner impair or otherwise affect the right of such person to tribal or other property;

These first two correspond to "natural born". The rest are all "naturalized by statute". The Code lumps both into the same section, which is not uncommon. Don't look to the U.S. Code for subtle distinctions. It is not, in general, the law. It is evidence of the law. The Code is derived from the statutes by an office in the House of Representatives, the Office of the Law Revision Counsel, established for that purpose. They don't include all the statutes, and don't always get it right.

8 U.S.C. §1101(a)(23) naturalization defined
(a)(23) The term ''naturalization'' means the conferring of nationality [NOT "citizenship" or "U.S. citizenship", but "nationality", which means "U.S. national"] of a state upon a person after birth, by any means whatsoever.

The qualifier "after birth" doesn't mean by an official act done after birth. It means from the moment of birth, or in other words, not before birth. A fetus is not naturalized by statute. Most statutes conferring nationality/citizenship at birth were passed before most of the individuals to whom they apply were born. Some, however, were retroactive. An example of that was the statute that made McCain a U.S. citizen at birth, passed after his birth. But that is naturalization, not natural birth.

The issue was indirectly addressed by the Supreme Court in Rogers v. Bellei, 401 U.S. 815 (1971), in whch we find:

Apart from the passing reference to the "natural born Citizen" in the Constitution's Art. II, 1, cl. 5, we have, in the Civil Rights Act of April 9,1866, 14 Stat. 27, the first statutory recognition and concomitant formal definition of the citizenship status of the native born: "[A]ll persons born in the United States and not subject to any foreign power, excluding Indians not taxed, are hereby declared to be citizens of the United States . . .This, of course, found immediate expression in the Fourteenth Amendment, adopted in 1868, with expansion to "[a]ll persons born or naturalized in the United States . . . .Thus, at long last, there emerged an express constitutional definition of citizenship. But it was one restricted to the combination of three factors, each and all significant: birth in the United States, naturalization in the United States, and subjection to the jurisdiction of the United States. The definition obviously did not apply to any acquisition of citizenship by being born abroad of an American parent. That type, and any other not covered by the Fourteenth Amendment, was necessarily left to proper congressional action.

One might think that while all citizens at birth may not be natural born citizens, all natural born citizens are also citizens at birth. However, it is possible for someone to be natural born without being a citizen at birth, or even being a citizen. Being a child of foreign diplomats or invaders is one way, but it is also possible that someone might be natural born on territory not incorporated into the United States at the time. For example, natural born citizens of Puerto Rico are not natural born citizens of the United States, eligible to be president, while it remains a protectorate or dependency. However, citizens of  the territories of Puerto Rico, the Marianas (Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands) and the U.S. Virgin Islands" These are not U.S. soil. They are protectorates. We administer them but don't own them. No one born on them is a natural born citizen. There are naturalization statutes that makes persons born there citizens at birth. See Insular Cases.

If Puerto Rico were admitted as a state, its natural born citizens would then become natural born citizens of the United States, eligible to be president, if otherwise qualified. If it later seceded (with the consent of Congress) its natural born citizens would cease to be natural born citizens of the U.S.

Natural born citizenship could also be lost by someone who was natural born on a territory initially claimed by the United States as part of its incorporated territory, but later ceded to the other nation that claims it. The boundary between the U.S. and Mexico was adjusted as the result of shifts in the path of the Rio Grande River, ceding some territory to Mexico that had some people living on it, who were given a choice whether to become U.S. citizens. There are also some disputed territories between the U.S. and Canada, although there may not be any people born or living on them. Other territories disputed between the U.S. and some other nation are not considered incorporated by the United States, but protectorates or dependencies.

There is nothing about the concept of "naturalization" that requires some "process", other than the enactment of a declaratory statute. A statute can make a person a citizen at birth of territory that does not include the location where one is born. That is the naturalization process. But it is not "natural birth", which depends only on the location of birth on a particular spot on the Earth. Whatever anyone might later want to call that spot or the territory surrounding it, the child is natural born to that spot. He is not naturalized to that spot. He may be naturalized to another spot, or territory that does not include that spot. That is a change of status, and it is called "naturalization".

The concept of citizenship is derived from denizenship, which requires a spot but not a government.

Citizenship of parents

There is a long tradition which holds that being born on the soil, while being necessary to being a "natural born citizen" was not sufficient. This requirement seems to be an attempt to go beyond the requirements of Calvin's Case that the parents must not be foreign invaders or diplomats, but may be denizens, such as unassimilated indigenes, which the Indians were considered to be through most of their history. This allowed for the children of legal foreign visitors to be deemed natural born citizens.

Eligibility for office

The burden of proof is on the claimant to office. The presumption must be ineligibility unless it is proved otherwise.

That direction of presumption is not, by the way, the same as for citizenship for individuals already on U.S. soil, for whom the burden is on someone seeking to deport them. On the other hand, one seeking to vote, or to re-enter the U.S. from outside, has the burden to prove citizenship, although it has historically been sufficient to do this by a notary who knows the individual. There is no constitutional authority to require anyone to present any particular form of identification, especially one issued by the government, that one is not constitutionally required to have, and there is no constitutional authority to require anyone to even have a name, much less any particular form of identification. Names are applied to us by other people. No one owns his name. All anyone can say is that "some people call me xyz". But other people can call anyone anything they please. That includes government authorities. And there is no authority to require anyone to know or say what other people call him. Not that government actors don't try anyway.

How Maskell got it wrong

Often cited in support for the proposition that "citizen at birth" is synonymous with "natural born" is the 2011 report by Jack Maskell of the Congressional Research Service, Qualifications for President and the "Natural Born" Citizenship Eligibility Requirement. He seizes on a quote from Blackstone:

[A]ll children, born out of the king's ligeance, whose fathers were natural-born subjects, are now natural born subjects themselves, to all intents and purposes, without any exception; unless their said fathers were attainted, or banished beyond sea, for high treason; or were then in the service of a prince at enmity with Great Britain.

The qualifier "to all intents and purposes" is important, because to confer by statute rights and privileges of a status is not the same as redefining that status. A statute could confer the privileges of a man on a woman but that would not make her a man, or redefine "man" or "woman".

A more complete quote from Blackstone is:

And this maxim of the law proceeded upon a general principle, that every man owes natural allegiance where he is born, and cannot owe two such allegiances, or serve two masters, at once. Yet the children of the king's embassadors born abroad were always held to be natural subjects: z for as the father, though in a foreign country, owes not even a local allegiance to the prince to whom he is sent: so with regard to the son also, he was held (by a kind of postliminium) to be born under the king of England's allegiance, represented by his father, the embassador. To encourage also foreign commerce, it was enacted by statute 25 Edw. III. st. 2, that all children born abroad, provided both their parents were at the time of his birth in allegiance to the king, and the mother had passed the seas by her husband's consent, might inherit as if born in England: and accordingly it hath been so adjudged in behalf of merchants.a But by several more modern statutes b these restrictions are still farther taken off: so that all children, born out of the king's leigance, whose fathers (or grandfathers by the father's side) were natural-born subjects, are now deemed to be natural-born subjects themselves, to all intents and purposes; unless their said ancestors were attainted, or banished beyond sea, for high treason; or were at the birth of such children in the service of a prince at enmity with Great Britain .... .

With this expanded context we can see that Blackstone was discussing the offspring of ambassadors, not private citizens, as closer examination of the statutes will reveal. What the statutes did was confer rights and privileges on individuals as though they were natural born. They did not expand the definition of what is "natural born", or change the historical fact of the physical circumstances of their birth. U.S. statutes today may confer the rights and privileges of the natural born on someone, but that does not make them natural born, nor can the privileges extend to eligibility for public office that specifies the candidate be natural born.

On one point he gets it profoundly wrong: "...the legal presumption is always of eligibility, and thus the initial burden of proof is always upon those who challenge a candidate's eligibility, and not on a candidate to "prove" eligibility". That contradicts the ancient principle of quo warranto whereby an official always has the burden of proof of his authority or claim to hold office. That duty is not confined to those who already hold office, but extends to those who seek it.

Maskell's report is just a legal brief contrived to support the eligibility of John McCain and Barack Obama, two powerful men that no CRS report could, politically, be expected to disqualify.

Some English statutes

Sometimes cited is a 1708 English statute that provides

the children of all natural-born subjects, born out of the ligeance of Her Majesty [Queen Anne], her heirs and successors whose fathers were or shall be natural-born subjects of the Crown of England, or of Great Britain, at the time of the birth of such children respectively ... ¦shall be deemed, adjudged and taken to be natural-born subjects of this kingdom, to all intents, constructions and purposes whatsoever.

But "deemed, adjudged and taken to be" natural-born subjects does not redefine what is a natural born subject. It only confers the privileges of a natural born subject. It is the meaning of the term that applies to eligibility to office, not a legislative act that grants privileges of such.

The argument has been made that many English statutes "redefined" "natural born", and that establishes precedent that the naturalization powers of Parliament, and therefore Congress, included the power to legislatively redefine "natural born", but none of the English statutes did that, and none of the U.S. naturalization statures have attempted to do that.

It is important to understand that by English law, the rights of subjects. natural born British subjects, and natural born subjects in the colonies were not the same. One of the great issues of the American Revolution was over this difference. Subjects born in the American colonies insisted on having the same "rights of Englishmen", but British jurisprudence treated them as having different and lesser rights, so when a British statute asserted that some subjects be "considered as" British natural born subjects, it was doing something of great legal significance to the subject, affecting rights of inheritance, due process, eligibility to elect their own members of Parliament,  and hold certain offices, especially military ones. So the phrase "considered as" was significant, even after the colonies asserted their independence.

Some other instances of usage of "natural born" before the Convention:

... And after:

Are "natural born" and "naturalized" mutually exclusive?

Much of the current debate over whether Sen. Ted Cruz is eligible is based on a rejection of the premise that the two terms are mutually exclusive. This debate has devolved into a dispute between those who maintain the remiss that "natural born" and "naturalized" are not exclusive, that a naturalization statute that makes one a "citizen at birth" also makes one a "natural born" citizen. A debate without agreement on the logical premises can never be resolved. The basis for that premise is historic legal documents that the two are exclusive.  If that premise is not accepted then we get the position that one can be made "natural born" by statute, and the entire meaning of "natural" is that it is not done by humans, but is something that is independent of human agency, as statutes are not.

It is important to recognize that "citizenship" itself is man-made. So we need to separate "natural born" from "citizen". The two are independent of one another. Naturalization statutes can make one a citizen, but not "natural born". That is solely about the physical  circumstances of one's birth, such as location. It has nothing to do with the citizenship of parents, which can change from one day to another, because such status is man-made.   Citizenship is not heritable, because inheritance itself is man-made.

It follows from that premise that no statute can make one "natural born", it can make one a citizen, but not a "natural born" citizen.

See also:


  1. Judicial. The first approach that most people try, concerned that someone not eligible might become president, is to sue in some court. But one would soon discover the limits on the power of courts to grant certain kinds of relief.
    1. It wouldn't work to sue for injunction to keep the ineligible candidate off the ballot, because the names that appears on ballots are not the actual candidates in that election, but the members of slates of electors pledged to vote for one of the names on the ballot, or perhaps not. The slate could be the Mickey Mouse slate, pledged to no one. The name is just a label, not necessarily that of an eligible individual. The eligibility qualifications of someone they might vote for is not the eligibility qualifications of the electors. It might be possible to challenge some individual elector candidates under state law, but that is unrelated to the eligibility of the one to whom the elector candidate might be pledged. The listed candidate could be "uncommitted", or even Mickey Mouse.
    2. It wouldn't work to sue for an injunction against voters who might vote for an elector pledged to an ineligible individual. The courts have no power to tell voters who to vote for, or not vote for.
    3. It would be unlikely to work to sue the secretaries of state of all or most states, in as many separate lawsuits, in their capacity as the counters of the electoral votes cast by the electors in each state, forbidding him to count votes of an ineligible individual. But a court would be loath to try to tell such an official how to do his job, and the window for an injunction would be only a few hours, before which the case would be dismissed as not ripe, and after which dismissed as moot. And while state law might make the secretary of state the primary official responsible for counting and reporting, there is nothing in the U.S. Constitution that prevents him from just turning the job over to the electors themselves, or to some citizen selected at random, none of whom would be subject to the personal jurisdiction of the court. A court would have no jurisdiction to tell electors not to vote for ineligible individuals. Electors may vote for anyone they please, eligible or not. They have no enforceable public duty to vote only for eligible candidates.
    4. It would not work to try to sue members of Congress for injunction to compel them not to count the electoral votes for ineligible individuals, because courts don't have the jurisdiction to tell members of Congress how to vote or what to do.
    5. It would not vote to sue to forbid anyone from leading an ineligible candidate in taking the presidential oath office, or witnessing it, because the candidate can take the oath by himself, in a public setting that would make witnesses of millions of people.
    6. It would not work to sue, perhaps on a writ of quo warranto, to remove him from office, because under the Constitution removal can only be done by Congress following impeachment. No judicial court has jurisdiction to do that.
    7. It might help to sue for declaratory relief, in which the judge would give his opinion on whether the individual is eligible, but he would have no power to order anyone to do or not do anything. The opinion might persuade some voters not to vote for an ineligible individual,  but there are probably not very many voters who would change their choices based on the opinion of some judge they don't know.
    8. About the only way to set up a Supreme Court challenge would be to get some state secretary of state to refuse to count electoral votes for the ineligible candidate. That would provide standing for the candidate and for opposing parties.
    9. Conclusion: Enough votes by voters will trump any constitutional restrictions on eligibility. That is also why ineligible candidates can ignore their lack of eligibility and proceed anyway, unless enough voters take the Constitution seriously, and are informed of these arguments.
  2. Political. If no relief is available in the courts, this is what we are left with.
    1. Don't vote for ineligible candidates, and persuade enough others not to vote for them. If the contest is close, that might provide the margin of defeat, and persuade the political class to back another candidate that has a better chance to win.
    2. Defeat in the next election the officials who counted electoral votes for ineligible individuals. If enough elected officials feel threatened with defeat, they might not count the ineligible electoral votes, again, enough to provide the margin of victory by eligible opponents.
    3. Refuse to cooperate with any official actions taken by ineligible officials. This is nullification. Might need to be backed by mass demonstrations to get enough people to do the same.
    4. Launch a revolution, or at least cause so much disruption that the political class may yield to avoid civil disorder, but you would have difficulty winning enough public support on an issue like this. (However, it is happening in Burundi as of 2015 on the intent of the president to run for an unconstitutional third term.)


  1. To be "natural born" is to be born on a spot of soil somewhere, and that also makes one a citizen, of jus soli countries like the United States, if that soil is part of the dominion of that country, which in U.S. law is referred to as "incorporated" territory, as distinct from a protectorate, leasehold, or other merely "administered" territory.
  2. However, natural born citizenship may be denied to one if
    1. In some countries other than the United States, one or both parents is not "subject to the allegiance" of some other country, such as being citizens of that foreign country; or
    2. For the United States, one or both parents is not "subject to the jurisdiction" of the United States, which they are if they are merely foreign citizens who legally entered the country, even if they later became illegal by overstaying their visas, but not if
      1. One or both is a foreign agent of some other country, such as  a diplomat or a monarch, but it is possible for a U.S. citizen to serve as ambassador from, or be a monarch of, a foreign nation, without his U.S. natural born children losing their U.S. citizenship,
      2. One or both are  is an invader, that is, someone who has entered without consent of authorities , but U.S. citizens can be invaders, as well as foreign citizens, or
      3. They are unassimilated indigenes (members of "domestic nations" such as "Indians not taxed", but there no longer are any).
  3. In the United States, the citizenship of one or both parents of one natural born to U.S. soil has no effect on whether he is a U.S. citizen, but their activities or agent status may, regardless of citizenship.
  4. U.S. soil for the purpose of citizenship means "incorporated territory". That is, territory that is not a protectorate like Puerto Rico or Guam, or a leasehold like the Panama Canal Zone or Guantanamo. That does not include U.S. military bases or the grounds of foreign embassies abroad, but it does include U.S. territorial waters, or the space within U.S. flag vessels on or over international waters or Antarctica. A person born in Arizona, Hawaii, or Alaska before those territories became states would be eligible to serve as president, because it is "incorporation" and not statehood that makes a territory U.S. soil.
  5. "Citizen at birth" is not "natural born citizenship". Those are entirely different concepts. Many people are made citizens at birth by statute. That is what the statute did that retroactively made John McCain a U.S. citizen at birth, or the statute that makes persons born in Puerto Rico U.S. citizens at birth, or some provisions of 8 USC 1401, but those are naturalization statutes, and one can be naturalized at birth. It doesn't have to be done after birth, through a congressional "private bill", or through an application process. However, such a naturalization statute could be retroactively repealed, making all persons it naturalized non-citizens. Natural birth on the soil of a country cannot be repealed. It is a fact of history, not the work of legislators.
  6. No Supreme Court opinion has "defined" natural born citizenship for purposes of presidential eligibility. The cases cited were either dictum or concerned ordinary citizenship sufficient to vote or hold office, but not to serve as president.
  7. The evidence we have of the original meaning of "natural born" citizen (although they used the synonymous term "subject") come from the commentaries of William Blackstone based on a judicial decision, Calvin's Case, of Edward Coke. Vattel is not a correct source against this point, because in the paragraph usually cited he was writing as a Swiss about the rule used in Switzerland and some other countries on the European Continent, jus sanguinis, but as he writes two paragraphs later, the different rule is used in Britain and its colonies, jus soli.
  8. The burden of proof of eligibility is on the candidate, not on one challenging eligibility, and he must be presumed to be ineligible unless or until he can produce the proof.
  9. The image of the document that has been offered by Obama is clearly fraudulent, no matter who may attest otherwise, because the original image can be viewed in the tool used to produce it, Adobe Illustrator, which shows the separated edit layers that reveal the history of how it was composed using pieces of image from different sources.
  10. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) is not a reliable scholarly source. They are like Wikipedia, a place to start but not authoritative. The author of the paper supporting the eligibility of McCain and Obama was working for the CRS, which produces a lot of what historians call "law office history", heavily influenced by the interests of members of Congress.
  11. Although one could seek a declaratory judgment from a court, there is no point at which one can get injunctive relief, except in each state at the point presidential electors cast their votes. The only point at which eligibility can be effectively challenged politically is at the point Congress counts the electoral votes, but no court has jurisdiction to tell Congress how to do that. At that point it is up to the members of Congress to voluntarily comply with the Constitution. It does not work to try to exclude an ineligible candidate from the ballot because people are not voting for the candidate, they are voting for electors, and it is only the eligibility of the electors that matters at that point, not the person they are pledged to vote for as electors.

Lecture: 2013/08/20

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Maintained: Jon Roland of the Constitution Society
Original date: 2008/4/13 —