Why does the President have to be "a natural born Citizen"?

The background to this question is pretty boring, but it involves Arnold Schwarzenegger’s claim that he’s never been unable to do something that he set his mind to, and observations that “furriners” who’ve come to the US and made good are often some of the most patriotic, pro-US people I’ve met.

Does anyone have an insight into why the framers of the Constitution would have thought that allowing a naturalized citizen to become president would be a bad idea? It’s not like a secret British Royalist could’ve snuck his way into the office and declared that the US was back under British rule - our founding fathers ensured that the Prez doesn’t have power like that.

Any help from the history buffs out there would be appreciated.


I’m not a history buff. I just came in because I wanted to say “Because the Constitution says so!” And here I find that you’re already prepared for this.


So, I’ll just offer some WAG speculation: perhaps the FF weren’t anticipating immigration and naturalization to become as widespread as they eventually did become. Perhaps they feared that someone would immigrate with a large store of personally-held wealth, spend a lot of it on becoming naturalized, and use more of it to buy scads of political power. The POTUS doesn’t write legislation, certainly, but he IS the head of state (signing treaties), and he IS required by the Constitution to propose a national to-do list to Congress each year. To be sure, the Congress didn’t turn out to be just a rubber stamp for the president’s wishes, but at the time of the Constitution’s writing, the FF’s could hardly be expected to know that, could they?

I wonder what the founding Fathers would have said concerning the qualification of:
–Alexander Hamilton, born in the West Indies.
–Barry Goldwater, born in Arizona three years before statehood.
–George Romney, born in Mexico in 1907 to parents who were American citizens.
–Daniel Inouye, born in Hawaii long before statehood (1959). He was a World War II hero–and even lost an arm in combat.
–Any other American citizen born in Alask or Hawaii–or a current territory, for that matter.
Also, John Quincy Adams married a London-born American woman; and he was on diplomatic missions in Europe much of his life. Suppose he had a child born in Europe at that time, who might have been a candidate for President? I wonder whether it might have been better for the FFs to give a clearer description of “natural born citizern.”

Children who are born to American citizens are American citizens by right of blood. There are two ways to be a natural-born American citizen. One is by being born on American soil. The other is by being born to American citizens.

Also, I could be wrong about this, but I think that when territories become states, the citizens of those former territories become American citizens retroactively, and so they would be qualified for the Presidency.

My WAG about the reason for the law is that the founders didn’t want a situation in the US that was common in Europe, which is that a foreign person who may or may not even speak the language of the country would be brought in as the ruler, simply because he/she was the closest in the line of succession.

People born in American territories are natural born US citizens. That includes Puerto Rico, Guam, USVI, and non-state mainland territories.


Hamilton was eligible because he was a citizen of the U.S. when the constition was adopted.

Article II, Section I of the constition states (emphasis mine):


People born in U.S territories are U.S. citizens. So, Goldwater, Romney, Inouye, etc. are all eligible for the Presidency (provided, of course, that they were born citizens and meet the other requirements). Besides, I don’t remember Inouye ever running for president.

Citizenship is determined by law. Someone recently posted the relevant sections of the U.S. Code. But, suffice it to say, children of U.S. citizens born abroad are U.S. citizens themselves.

Zev Steinhardt

People born in American territories are natural born US citizens. That includes Puerto Rico, Guam, USVI, and non-state mainland territories.

I think they dealt with that pretty effectively by ruling out any hereditary factor in the line of succession.

I thiink they’d say “those people are all very obviously citizens, as are all people born of American parents, or born in U.S. territories, or who were residents of the U.S. at the time of the Constitution’s adoption.”

That’s about the best thing I’ve come up with - that, since they didn’t necessarily have any real sort of naturalization or anything, they had to draw the line somewhere. It just seems sort of arbitrary.

As far as all the other stuff, they pretty much followed long-standing British law when they decided that children born overseas to citizens were, themselves, citizens. To the best of my knowledge, though, that’s a matter of national law rather than the Constitution. Am I correct there?

As for the question posed in the thread title, the answer is, “because the Constitution says so.” I cannot see any reason why, in today’s world, it needs to be the case (presuming that we retain the 14-year residency requirement – I’d hate to see a situation where a foreign celebrity moves here and is immediately “pushed” for President the way Sen. Edwards is being pushed now). It might be an idea to submit this concept to the Senate Judiciary Committee for inclusion in an amendment in much the way the 20th and 25th Amendments covered several related topics.

It’s to prevent Kang and Kodos from becoming president!
Could a member of an extraterrestrial species be U.S. president?

I am posting this without reading the original language so bear with me. I just had a thought which I need to post, and if I take too long researching it, at my age, I may forget what the hell I meant by the time I find the answer.

Did anyone ever consider that the wording of “natural born citizen” could be interpreted as meaning that “natural birth” is vaginal? Perhaps the framers thought that Caesarian birth was “unnatural” and you had to be born the way most people were.?

While I am being a bit facetious, I truly wonder what would happen if such a challenge were made in court?

This is a serious question. Where is my reasoning incorrect?

Source: http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/data/constitution/article02/03.html#1

Source: http://www.usconstitution.net/consttop_citi.html

I suppose one could research Madison’s Notes of the Convention, or Farrand’s compilation, ust to see if the Framers actually debated the issue.

Farrand does mention this issue in The Framing of the Constitution of the United States. The Convention first seems to have debated the citizenship requirement in relationship to the two houses of Congress, and then the same reasoning was applied to the President, although with even stronger effect.

At pp. 137-138 of my facsimile edition, Farrand writes:

At p. 165, Farrand then notes that the President was to be a natural born citizen, or a citizen at the time of the adoption of the Constitution.

There is a significant difference between the congressional requirements and the presidential requirement: you don’t have to be a natural born citizen to be elected to Congress, just have been a citizen for a certain number of years. Presumably, the drafters decided that the rationale for a citizenship requirement for Congress applied with even greater force for the President.

If it bars that sausage-fingered Austrian twat from the presidency, then i’m in favor of it.

I’m not sure to whom nicky is referring, but the justification for the original clause was likely to prevent a situation comparable to the 18th-century British monarchy, in which the various King Georges were not actually British, but German in descent. George III in particular (1760-1820), afflicted by mental illness, provided a stellar justification not to let your head of state be a foreign devil.

Hey Bryan,

Buried in the boring background of the OP is a note that Arnold Schwarzenegger makes the claim that he’s never been unable to do something that he was determined to do.

This claim set off a conversation between my wife and I that some of the best US citizens we’ve met are people who have immigrated to the US as adults, and have “made it” here. Blah, blah, blah…so why did the Founding Fathers decide to exclude them?

Thanks for all the insight, folks (‘specially Northern Piper and Zev Steinhardt)! I knew I could depend on ya’!

Well, just how many potential Presidential candidates has the “natural born citizen” requirement deprived us of?

In recent memory, I can think of only two people, both former Secretaries of State: Henry Kissinger and Madeline Albright were both born in Europe. Now, I don’t think either would stand a strong chance of winning his/her party’s nomination, let alone winning the Presidency, so the point is pretty much moot.

In theory, at least, it wouldn’t bother me a whit if an otherwise well-qualified U.S. citizen of foreign bith wanted to run for President (I certainly don’t see how Madeleine Albright’s birth in Czechoslovakia would make her allegiance to the U.S. suspect). But since the rule affects so few people, there’s never been a great impetus to change the rule.

And until such time as an EXTREMELY attractive potential candidate is disqualified for his/her place of birth, I don’t expect there’ll ever be enough public outcry to change the rule.

It was George III himself who accurately said of his own national identity, ‘Born and educated in this country, I glory in the name of Briton’. No, the issue was a bit more complicated than that.

Lurking behind the clause is the requirement laid down in the English Act of Settlement of 1700 that,

Although it had been the Dutch courtiers of William III which had been foremost in MPs’ mind when they passed this in 1700, the concern they were expressing was a far older one. Over the centuries numerous European monarchs had employed foreign-born favourites - Mazarin is only the most obvious example - and few complaints had been more common than claims that such advisers were, in reality, foreign agents. What is so surprising about the restriction in the U.S. constitution is not that it was included but that it only applied to the presidency.