Just six weeks away from retiring the worst president in U.S. history, many Americans are justifiably concerned about what Barack Obama will do to occupy his time when he is no longer in the Oval Office. Is there any chance that he will pass quietly and gracefully into retirement as Republican presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush (41), and Bush (43) have done? Or will he follow the example of Democrats such as Carter, Clinton, and Gore, men who found it impossible to abandon the national spotlight?
As a presidential usurper who did great damage to our republic during his eight years in the White House, will Obama have the decency to simply accept his less than admirable place in history? Not likely. Instead, he will likely hang around Washington “like stink on a skunk,” offering up his opinions on every conceivable issue and burnishing his tarnished image.
Under that circumstance, it behooves Republicans… in Congress and in the White House… to give Obama something to think about. And since Democrats have resurrected the “birther” issue during the recent campaign… charging that President-elect Trump is somehow unfit to serve because he once raised questions about Obama’s birth certificate… we are left with a bit of unfinished business. What greater service could Republicans provide than to bring some much-needed clarity to the issue of presidential eligibility so that we will never again be confronted with the possibility of being governed by a bogus president? The most direct way of achieving that much-needed clarity is through the adoption of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Article II. Section 1, Clause 5 of the U.S. Constitution, states 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.” We know that Barack Obama, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Bobby Jindal were all at least thirty-five years of age, and we have sufficient evidence that they had all been U.S. resident for at least fourteen years, but were they “natural born” U.S. citizens? What is a “natural born” citizen, and why did the Framers limit access to the presidency only to “natural born” citizens?
When the Founders met in Philadelphia on September 17, 1787, to approve the final draft of the U.S. Constitution, the physical scars of the War of Independence from Great Britain were still visible all around them and a deep-seated animosity toward all things British colored every aspect of their daily lives. So is it even remotely conceivable that, just five years and eleven months after General Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, the Founders would have presented to the states for ratification a Constitution that would allow an individual with divided loyalties – e.g. an individual with dual US-British citizenship – to serve as president of the United States and commander-in-chief of the Army and the Navy? It is a thoroughly preposterous notion on its face. To believe that they would have done so requires a willing suspension of reason.
For example, in a July 25, 1787, letter from John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the United States, addressed to General George Washington, president of the Constitutional Convention, Jay expressed his concern over the prospect of allowing an individual with any form of potential foreign allegiance to serve as president of the United States and commander-in-chief of the Army and the Navy. He wrote: “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.”
Further expressing the prevailing concerns of the time, and as an expression of the fear of foreign influence that motivated and inspired the Founders, Alexander Hamilton wrote in the Federalist Papers, “These most deadly adversaries of republican government (cabal, intrigue, etc.) might actually have expected to make their approach from more than one quarter, 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?”
The Founders rightly understood that the most influential factor in a child’s upbringing is the parenting he/she receives as a child, and that the cultural, philosophical, political, and religious influence of a child’s parents fundamentally establishes the direction of his/her future conduct and intellectual development. Accordingly, what the Founders feared most, and what caused them to limit access to the presidency only to the “natural born,” was the concern that a future president… during his formative years and during the years in which he was developing intellectually… would be exposed to an environment or an ideology in which he might come to reject the values and the principles embodied in the U.S. Constitution.
Taking into account those concerns, it is easy to understand why the Founders produced a draft Constitution under which only two (2) jobs in the entire United States of America… public sector and private sector combined… require the incumbents to be “natural born” citizens. Those two jobs are president and vice president of the United States.
At the time the Constitution was ratified on June 21, 1788, there were three types of citizens:
- The former British subjects who, having renounced all foreign allegiances, became citizens of a sovereign American nation on July 4, 1776,
- The post-Declaration children of those who became U.S. citizens on July 4, 1776, the first “natural born” citizens of the United States, and
- A class of citizens comprised of those who were naturalized after July 4, 1776, having taken a loyalty oath and having renounced all foreign allegiances.
In addition to being a “natural born” citizen and a resident of the United States for at least fourteen years, the Constitution required that those who would seek the presidency must be at least thirty-five years of age. However, the only “natural born” citizens available on June 21, 1788, the day the Constitution was ratified, were children under twelve years of age. To solve that problem, the Framers added a “grandfather clause,” making it possible for newly-minted citizens… all U.S. residents for at least fourteen years and all at least thirty-five years of age, but none of them “natural born” because they were born to parents who were British subjects prior to July 4, 1776… to lead the nation. This was necessary until such time as a body of individuals, born to US citizen parents after the Declaration of Independence, reached age thirty-five.
For example, our first seven presidents… George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, and Andrew Jackson… were all “citizens” because they were born in what later became the United States of America, but they were not “natural born” citizens because their parents were all British subjects at the time they were born. All were “grandfathered” and made eligible under the phrase, “or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution…”
Were that not the case, and had the Framers intended that the terms “citizen” and “natural born Citizen” be considered synonymous, they would simply have written, “No Person except a Citizen of the United States shall be eligible to the Office of President…”
Martin Van Buren, our eighth president, was born at Kinderhook, New York on December 5, 1782, six years and five months after the Declaration of Independence. Unlike his predecessors, he was not just a “citizen,” he was a “natural born” citizen… the first president, at least thirty-five years of age, who was born to U.S. citizen parents after July 4, 1776. Every U.S. president since Van Buren… with the exception of Republican Chester A. Arthur, whose Irish father was reportedly a British subject at the time of his birth, and Democrat Barack Obama, whose Kenyan father was also a British subject at the time of his birth… has been a “natural born” U.S. citizen, as required by Article II, Section 1, Clause 5 of the U.S. Constitution.
For all of the above reasons, and to clarify and validate the original intent of the Founders, the Republican members of the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, Committee on the Judiciary, U.S. House of Representatives, should introduce a Joint Resolution for an amendment to the United States Constitution, as follows:
For purposes of Article II, Section 1 of this Constitution, the term “natural born Citizen,” as it applies to candidates for President or Vice President of the Unites States, shall mean an individual born to parents, both of whom were U.S. citizens at the time of the candidate’s birth. Nor shall any person be eligible to the office of President or Vice President who has at any time in his or her lifetime been a citizen of a foreign nation or a dual citizen of the United States and any foreign nation.
Inasmuch as millions of Republicans threw their support behind Senator Ted Cruz, Senator Marco Rubio, and Governor Bobby Jindal, without first assuring themselves of their presidential eligibility, congressional Republicans need not make the case that the amendment is intended to correct a great wrong that has been perpetrated against the American people during the Obama years. However, if Barack Obama and other Democrats take it personally, they have every right and every reason to do so. Only they can feel the guilt associated with having elected and served a usurper president who did nothing but take up space during his eight years in the White House. Only they can know the shame of having added a large asterisk to the history of U.S. presidents.
Paul R. Hollrah is a retired government relations executive and a two-time member of the U.S. Electoral College. He currently lives and writes among the hills and lakes of northeast Oklahoma’s Green Country.