The “Natural Born Citizen” Debate Completely Misses the Point

The history behind the inclusion of “Natural Born Citizen” in the Constitution was proposed by one man – John Jay.

Jay is described as “an American statesman, Patriot, diplomat, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, signer of the Treaty of Paris, and first Chief Justice of the United States (1789–95).” He was also the United States Minister to Spain from September 27, 1779 to May 20, 1782 where three of his children were born:

“The happy marriage of John and Sarah Jay produced six children: Peter Augustus, born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, in 1776; Susan, born and died in Madrid after only a few weeks of life, in 1780; Maria, born in Madrid in 1782; Ann, born in Paris in 1783, William and Sarah Louisa, born in NYC in 1789 and 1792 respectively.”

Alexander Hamilton’s original draft of the Constitution did not include the “natural born citizen” provision. It stated simply that “No person shall be eligible to the office of President of the United States unless he be now a Citizen of one of the States, or hereafter be born a Citizen of the United States.”

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This was not enough for Jay who on July 25, 1787 wrote the following letter to George Washington, the presiding president of the Convention:

“Permit me to hint, whether it would not 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 Command in chief of the American army shall not be given to, nor devolve on, any but a natural born Citizen.”

It’s important to note that if the Natural Born Citizen requirement had been applied as some are applying it today, James Wilson (born in Carskerdo, Scotland), Alexander Hamilton (born out of wedlock, raised in the West Indies), and Robert Morris (Liverpool, United Kingdom) would not have qualified since they were born abroad to parents who were not American citizens. They were by definition “foreigners.” This is why Article Two, section 1 includes an exception for their specific circumstances…


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