It was the summer of 1787. Most of the colonies had sent representatives to Philadelphia for the purpose of creating a central government strong enough to provide protection for the various states, yet limited enough so as to permit those states to retain their sovereignty. The Constitution created was the result of great deliberation and even greater compromise. However, one thing in particular was so clearly recognized to be “the right thing”, that it was adopted without debate.
That summer, John Jay, while serving as Secretary of Foreign Relations for the Continental Congress, sent a letter to the President of the Constitutional Convention. That letter contained a suggestion for which no man was in a better position to understand than its intended recipient, George Washington.
Jay’s letter, humbly suggested that the position of Commander in Chief of the Army fall upon none other than a natural-born citizen.
You see, George Washington, having served as the Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy during the Revolutionary War, our War of Independence, had a personal understanding of exactly why Jay’s suggestion should be adopted without question.
By serving as Commander in Chief, George Washington had committed the ultimate national sin. He was the leader who took up arms against the sovereign to which he owed perpetual allegiance. His willingness to engage in battle with England was also a personal choice to commit treason; a crime for which the punishment, if captured, was death.
As Chief Justice Waite opined in the matter of Minor v Happersett (a Missouri case, originating in St. Louis County);
[A]ll children born in a country of parents who were its citizens became themselves, upon their birth, citizens also. These were natives, or natural-born citizens…”
Some may still question the relevance and importance of the phrase “natural-born citizen”. However, for George Washington, it meant one very important thing. It meant that future Commanders in Chief (as soon as such would be attainable) would no longer have to make the decision of whether or not to commit treason against a foreign sovereign, to which they owe allegiance, while defending the United States of America.
The phrase “natural-born citizen” didn’t originate in England. It’s a term originating in the republics of Rome and Athens. It originated among “freemen”, not those who were subjects of a monarch. It was passed down/inherited among those who governed themselves.
By being born in the country, of parents who were its citizens, no other country could have a rightful claim to that person’s allegiance. The citizenship of that child was exclusive and conclusive.
As the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit stated in 1893;
“Every person at his birth is presumptively a citizen or subject of the state of his nativity, and where, as in the case at bar, his parents were then both subjects of that state, the presumption is conclusive.”
In support of the Court’s holding, they cited Minor v Happersett, and Vattel’s treatise on the Law of Nations (specifically page 101). Page 101 contains Section 212, which reads;
“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 society is supposed to desire this, in consequence of what it owes to its own preservation; and it is presumed, as matter of course, that each citizen, on entering into society, reserves to his children the right of becoming members of it. The country of the fathers is therefore that of the children; and these become true citizens merely by their tacit consent. We shall soon see whether, on their coming to the years of discretion, they may renounce their right, and what they owe to the society in which they were born. 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 there of a foreigner, it will be only the place of his birth, and not his country.”
Not only would it only be the place of his birth, and not his country; the father’s country (being a foreigner) would have a rightful claim to the child’s allegiance. Taking up arms, in defense of this nation, could also be considered to be a treasonous act against his father’s country.
Though Vattel’s work was not specifically cited by Justice Waite, the Judges of the Eighth Circuit knew the origin, and they had no qualms about identifying it.
We have recently seen some who are willing to consider the Fourteenth Amendment to have altered the natural-born citizen mandate of Article II of the U.S. Constitution. Such an alteration is not supported by the text of the Fourteenth Amendment, nor by a review of the congressional debates (legislative intent) leading up to the Amendment’s adoption. In other words; the attempts to change the text of the Amendment are the result of political expediency, not the result of full consideration of the Amendment or the original intent of the Framers of the Constitution or the subsequent Amendment.
Are we to let political expediency result in practical nullification of the national security measures put in place by the Framers of our Constitution? Are we to play the game without keeping score because we don’t want to acknowledge any differences among us? Or does there come a time when we take a step back and recognize that we can once again become the strongest nation in the world; respected as much for our strength, as for our dedication to the rule of law?
The qualifications set forth in our state and federal constitutions, and in our legislative acts, were mandated because of thoughtful consideration of what is best for our cities, states and our nation. Sure, we can move forward, but to do so, we should first step back and recognize why we did something in the first place. If the reason we adopted a restriction is no longer necessary, we have the ability to change it. But let’s change it via our laws, not by our emotions. Doing the right thing isn’t always the easiest thing.
—– If it was, everyone could do it.
“DEEDS NOT WORDS”
Learn About/Support the Florida and Other Ballot Challenges!