by Paul R. Hollrah –
As a two-time member of the US Electoral College, I have researched the issue of presidential eligibility quite thoroughly and I believe I have developed an understanding of what the Founders intended that many in the political world still refuse to acknowledge.
Most significantly, 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 fear 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 which might cause him to reject the values and the principles embodied in the U.S. Constitution. That is why the Founders understood a “natural born” citizen to be a person who was born to parents, both of whom were US citizens at the time of his birth. It did not provide an absolute guarantee that we would not one day find a dedicated socialist in the White House… as we have witnessed in recent years… but it provided at least some insurance against such an occurrence.
A perfect example of “what might have been” is Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX). Born in Canada, his father was a citizen of Cuba who, as a teenager, was a member of the Cuban resistance headed by Fidel Castro. He made his way to the United States in 1957, enrolled at the University of Texas, and graduated with a degree in mathematics in 1961. Later, after being transferred to Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and acquiring Canadian citizenship, he and his wife became parents of a son, Raphael Edward “Ted” Cruz, the current junior senator from the State of Texas and a leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
During that campaign, the American people. were convinced that the Cruzes, father and son, were both solidly anti-Communist patriots. But that’s only what we were told. What if the exact opposite were true? What if the elder Cruz had been a dedicated Communist, a Fidelista in sheep’s clothing? And what if he had spent decades indoctrinating his own son in all the benefits of life in a socialist Utopia? His son, Senator Ted Cruz, a conservative firebrand in the United States Senate, would have become the perfect “Manchurian Candidate.”
But now, less than two years prior to the 2020 presidential election, we find that the tendency of Democrats to embrace style over substance rearing its ugly head once again. As they did in 2008, they are offering for our consideration a candidate who is not eligible to serve as president or vice president. I refer, of course, to the junior senator from California, Kamala Harris.
Harris’s mother, Shyamala Gopalan, emigrated to the US from India in 1960 and her father, Donald Harris, emigrated to the US from Jamaica in 1961. Under US law, an individual cannot apply for citizenship until they’ve held a “green card” for a minimum of five years. Kamala Harris was born on October 20, 1964. At best, her mother was a legal non-citizen resident of the US for just 4 years, 9 months, and 20 days when Sen. Harris was born. Her father was, at best, a legal non-citizen resident for just 3 years, 9 months, and 20 days when she was born. Neither parent could possibly have been a U.S. citizen when Kamala Harris was born.
What few Americans recognize is that there are only two (2) jobs in the entire United States… public sector and private sector combined… that require the incumbents to be “natural born” citizens. Those two jobs are President and Vice President of the United States. Ms. Harris can be Mayor of San Francisco, she can be Governor of California, she can be an Ambassador, she can be a Federal Judge, she can even be Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. None of those jobs require “natural born” status. But unless her parents were both US citizens when she was born, she cannot hold either the presidency or the vice presidency. If she was born on American soil, she is a US citizen, but just being born on US soil does not make one a “natural born” citizen. One must be born of two US citizen parents in order to qualify as “natural born.”
When the Founders met in Philadelphia in September 1787 to approve the final draft of the US Constitution, the physical scars of the War of Independence 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 the British surrendered at Yorktown, the Founders would have presented to the states for ratification a Constitution that would allow an individual with dual/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? Not likely. It is a preposterous notion on its face. To believe that they would have done so requires a willing suspension of reason. Nevertheless, the consensus among many in the political/legal world today is that the terms “Citizen” and “natural born Citizen,” as used in Article II, Section 1, Clause 5 of the U.S. Constitution, are synonymous. They are not!!
This issue is still being falsely characterized because liberals and Democrats simply cannot afford to have the “natural born” issue thoroughly examined. If it were, the American people would finally come to understand that, at birth, Barack Obama held dual US-British citizenship by descent from his father and his mother. To expose Obama’s lack of eligibility at this late date would create the greatest constitutional crisis in history and would likely tear the nation apart.
So, the question arises, is there proof of the contention that the Framers intended the terms “Citizen” and “natural born Citizen” to be mutually exclusive? The answers is yes.
It all revolves around the purpose and the meaning of the tiny word “or,” which precedes a “grandfather clause” in Article II, Section 1, Clause 5 of the Constitution
At the time the Constitution was ratified on June 21, 1788, there were three types of citizens:
1) The former British subjects who… having renounced all foreign allegiances and having pledged to each other their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor… became citizens of the United States when the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776;
2) 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 all less than twelve years old at the time the Constitution was ratified on June 21, 1788; and
3) A class of citizens comprised of those who emigrated to the United States after July 4, 1776, having taken a loyalty oath and having renounced all foreign allegiances.
To fully understand the significance of the words, “or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution…,” it is also necessary to recognize three significant dates:
1) July 4, 1776, the date on which the Declaration of Independence was signed, making all citizens of the thirteen colonies citizens of the United States;
2) June 21, 1788, the date on which ratification by the State of New Hampshire made the Constitution the official law of the land; and
3) July 4, 1811, the date after which the first “natural born” citizens… those born to U.S. citizens after the signing of the Declaration on July 4, 1776… became 35 years of age.
The Constitution requires that, in addition to being a resident of the United States for at least fourteen years, 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 US citizens… all residents of the United States 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 not U.S. citizens prior to the day the Declaration of Independence was signed… to serve as president. This was necessary until such time as a body of individuals, born subsequent to July 4, 1776, reached age thirty-five.
George Washington, our first president, was born at Wakefield, Virginia on February 22, 1732, forty-four years before the Declaration of Independence. He was a “citizen,” but not a “natural born” citizen because both of his parents were British subjects at the time of his birth.
John Adams, our second president, was born at Braintree, Massachusetts on October 30, 1735, forty-one years before the Declaration of Independence. He was a “citizen” because he was born in Massachusetts, but he was not a “natural born” citizen because both of his parents were British subjects at the time of his birth and owed their allegiance to the British crown.
Thomas Jefferson, our third president, was born at Shadwell, Virginia on April 13, 1743, thirty-three years before the Declaration of Independence. He was a “citizen” because he was born in Virginia, but he was not a “natural born” citizen because both of his parents were British subjects at the time of his birth.
James Madison, our fourth president, born in Virginia on March 16, 1751, twenty-five years before the Declaration of Independence; James Monroe, our fifth president, born in Virginia on April 28, 1758, eighteen years before the Declaration of Independence; John Quincy Adams, our sixth president, born in Massachusetts on July 11, 1767, nine years before the Declaration of Independence; and Andrew Jackson, our seventh president, born in South Carolina on March 15, 1767, nine years before the Declaration of Independence; were all “citizens” because they were born in what came to be the United States of America, but they were not “natural born” citizens because their parents were not US citizens at the time of their birth.
However, 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 seven 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 US citizen parents after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
A great many patriotic, but ill-informed, Americans refuse to accept the fact that, while the Founders intended that only “natural born” citizens should ever serve as president, there were no 35-year-old “natural born” citizens available during the first 35 years of our nation’s history.
Accordingly, it became necessary to provide an exemption of limited duration covering those citizens 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…”
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 of the Constitution.
The Framers found it inconceivable that a president of the United States, commander in chief of the Army and the Navy, should ever hold even partial allegiance to a foreign nation or be required to obey the laws of a foreign nation, as is the case with all dual citizens.
It is for this reason that the Constitution limits candidates for president and vice president to those who are “natural born” citizens, and to those who were citizens of the United States at the time the Constitution was adopted. There can be no exceptions.
Were that not the case, and had the Framers considered the terms “citizen” and “natural born Citizen” to be synonymous, Article II, Section 1, Clause 5 of the Constitution would now read, simply, “No Person except a Citizen of the United States 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.”
The Constitution of the United States is not set in stone. Within its pages it provides for an orderly process with which it can be amended from time to time, as the need arises.
However, we are a nation of laws with a Constitution that must be enforced precisely as the Framers intended. To turn our backs on the clear intent of even one single constitutional principle, for no better reason than political expediency, is an abomination.
In 2008, Democrats were able to craftily define the issue as one relating to Barack Obama’s place of birth, and to label those who insisted he lacked eligibility by reason of not being born on American soil as “birthers.” It became the deadly “third rail” of the 2008 campaign, effectively preventing any honest debate of the issue.
Thusly, on two occasions in our political history we have allowed the presidential eligibility requirements of Article II, Section 1 to be twisted and contorted to fit the political mood of the day. We cannot allow that to happen again. We cannot allow our Constitution to be amended by popular fiat.
|February 11, 2019
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.