On Presidential Succession

Article II. Section 1 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.”

From the outset of Barack Obama’s quest for the presidency, liberals, Democrats, those in the mainstream media, and even a few conservatives and Republicans, have insisted that nowhere in the Constitution is the term “natural born Citizen” defined.  But that simply is not true.  The answer to the question is implicit in the phrase, “… or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution…”

Why did the Framers include those qualifying words?  They could have left those words out and the term “natural born Citizen” would have been construed as something entirely different from what they intended.  Instead, they specified that, in order to serve as President of the United States, one had to be EITHER a “natural born Citizen,” OR, a “citizen” of the United States at the time of the adoption of the Constitution.

Clearly, the Framers understood and intended that a “natural born” citizen is something more than a mere “citizen.”  Those words were included in Article II, Section 1 because, on the day the Constitution was ratified, June 21, 1788, there were no “natural born” citizens who were also 35 years of age and who had resided in the United States for at least 14 years.

The oldest “natural born” citizens living in the United States on the day that the Constitution was ratified… those born to U.S. citizen parents after the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776…  were only 11 years, 11 months, and 17 days old, not nearly old enough to serve as President of the United States.

Of course, there were many male “citizens” who met the age and residency requirements:

  1. Individuals who, because they were born in one of the original 13 colonies (states) on or before June 21, 1753, making them at least 35 years of age on the day the Constitution was ratified, or,
  1. Those born in Europe, or elsewhere, prior to June 21, 1753 and who became citizens at some point prior to the ratification of the Constitution on June 21, 1788.

These were individuals who were eligible to serve as president prior to July 4, 1811 because they were “citizens” at least 35 years of age with the necessary residency requirements.  After that date, only “natural born” citizens were eligible to serve as President of the United States.

Since the new nation needed a pool of individuals from which to draw candidates for the presidency until such time as the first “natural born” citizens reached the age of 35, the Framers included a “grandfather” clause which made it possible for our earliest presidents to serve without meeting the “natural born” standard.   For example, presidents Washington, J. Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, J.Q. Adams, and Jackson were all “citizens,” but not “natural born” citizens because they were born prior to July 4, 1776.  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…”  Martin Van Buren, born to U.S. citizen parents on December 5, 1782, became our first “natural born” U.S. president.

While all “natural born” citizens are “citizens” of the United States, the reverse is not true.  To be a mere “citizen” or a “native born” citizen does not mean that one is also “natural born”… which brings us to the current case of Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL).

Since the onset of efforts by mainstream media talking heads, pundits, uninformed conservatives,  and inside-the-beltway hangers-on to promote Florida Senator Marco Rubio for the 2012 GOP vice presidential nomination, little has been said or written about Rubio’s lack of status as a “natural born” US citizen.

The Constitution tells us that “No person except a natural born Citizenshall be eligible to the Office of President,” and short of a Constitutional amendment, that restriction is and shall remain the law of the land; there can be no exceptions.  Inasmuch as Rubio’s parents were both citizens of Cuba and did not become US citizens until 4 years after he was born, Rubio does not meet the basic qualification necessary to serve as president or vice president of the United States.

However, in their tireless effort to find a loophole big enough for Senator Rubio to slip through, some have correctly pointed out that Article II, Section 1 makes no mention of qualifications for the vice presidency.  Nowhere does it say that “No Person except a natural born Citizen… shall be eligible to the Office of President or Vice President.”  Some apparently take this to mean that candidates for the vice presidency need not meet the “natural born” standard.

While it is easy to see how some might arrive at that tortured conclusion, any reasonable man might question what could possibly cause the members of the Electoral College to elect a man or a woman to the vice presidency if… in the event the president was deceased or incapacitated… the vice president was unqualified to assume the reins of power.

The 25th Amendment to the US Constitution deals with presidential succession.  Section 1 of the Amendment provides that, In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.

Section 3 of the Amendment provides that, “Whenever the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such powers and duties shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President.”

In the unlikely event that a sitting vice president would be unqualified to assume the powers of the presidency, one must assume that the powers and duties of the president would then fall to the next in line to the presidency, the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

However, while the Constitution does not clearly specify that the vice president must meet the same qualifications as the president, it is clear from a reading of the Federalist Papers that that is precisely what the Founders intended.  Federalist Paper No. 68, by Alexander Hamilton, tells us, “… The other consideration is that, as the Vice President may occasionally become a substitute for the President, in the extreme executive magistracy, all the reasons which recommend the mode of election prescribed for the one apply with great if not with equal force to the manner of appointing the other…”

Because 8 of our 44 presidents (nearly 1 in 5) have either died in office or have been assassinated (William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield, William McKinley, Warren  G. Harding, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy), vice presidential succession has not been as rare as might be expected.  So while it is clear that some may wish to nominate a candidate for vice president who may possess political strengths sufficient to bolster a national ticket (e.g. Senator Marco Rubio)… regardless of that candidate’s lack of qualification to serve as president… that is not what the Founders had in mind when they drafted Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution.

While a great many activists on the political left are convinced that the US Constitution is a “living” document, meaning only what they would like it to mean on any given day.  And while a great many others simply prefer to ignore constitutional principles until such time as they find their own ox being gored, we cannot lose sight of the fact that the Constitution is what it is and it means exactly what it says…. nothing more, nothing less.

Senator Marco Rubio is not a “natural born” citizen and he cannot stand for the 2012 Republican vice presidential nomination.  If delegates to the 2012 Republican National Convention choose to ignore Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution, for no better reason than that the Democrats have done so successfully for the past three and one-half years, then they will have established a precedent that will legitimize the Obama presidency for all time.  That, we cannot allow.

If Senator Rubio were an honorable man he would do the honorable thing.  He would publicly announce that his name must be withdrawn from consideration for the 2012 vice presidential nomination because he is not a “natural born” citizen and does not meet the Article II, Section 1 requirements for the office of president or vice president.

If he fails to do so, then we will know that Senator Rubio is not the honorable man we thought him to be.

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