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Let’s Repeal the Natural Born Citizen Clause for U.S. President

natural born citizen
The American people should have the right to choose their leader, no matter where the candidate is born.

Everyone Should Have the Right to Run for U.S. President. We should remove the natural born citizen requirement, says Scott Benowitz.

 

The natural-born citizen requirement states that only people who are citizens of the United States by birth may become President. No matter how the public votes, if the candidate was not born an American, he or she cannot be President.

Article II of the Constitution states that all candidates for president be natural born U.S. citizens, and in 1804 the Twelfth Amendment extends the same requirement to all candidates for vice president.  When our constitution was written in Philadelphia back in 1787, as well as when it was entered into effect in December of 1791, we had recently seceded from British colonial rule, and there was actually very legitimate reason to fear that members of the European nobility might attempt to regain influence in the newly formed United States Of America by sending people here to run as candidates for various offices here.  This was still a legitimate concern in 1803 when the Twelfth Amendment was written, as well as the following year when it was entered into effect.

The natural born citizen requirement and the Equal Opportunity to Govern Amendment

There are quite a few issues which would be involved in eliminating the natural born citizen requirement, because there are no previous legal precedents for overturning any clauses of Article II of our constitution.

However, back in 2003, Senator Orrin Hatch proposed the Equal Opportunity To Govern Amendment, which was intended to replace the natural born citizen requirement for future candidates for president and vice president with a requirement that all future candidates merely have been naturalized citizens for at least 20 years prior to the time that they begin to run for president or vice president.

In 2004, Senator Hatch’s Equal Opportunity To Govern Amendment never got passed preliminary discussions and hearings in Congress, however no one proposed that this proposal would in fact be unconstitutional.  More recently, in 2015 a handful of members of both houses of Congress formed the Equal Opportunity To Govern Campaign, which is intended to continue to explore attempting to remove the “natural born citizen” requirement for future presidential and vice presidential candidates.  Democrats and Republicans are equally represented within the Equal Opportunity To Govern Campaign, as they feel that removing the “natural born citizen” requirement could potentially benefit both parties in future years, removing that requirement could in fact potentially benefit all Americans at some point in the future.

 

Politicians who acquired U.S. citizenship through naturalization

While the natural born citizen requirement was written in 1787, it was not actually entered into effect until December of 1791.  And yes, as far back as the 1790’s, some of our earliest politicians had been born in other countries, including our first Secretary Of The Treasury Alexander Hamilton (born in Charlestown, Nevis, West Indies in the 1750’s [the precise year of his birth is still not known]) and Hans Christian Febiger, who was the Treasurer Of Pennsylvania from 1789 through his death in 1796 (Hans Christian Febiger was born in Denmark in 1749.)

During his years as Secretary Of The Treasury, Alexander Hamilton had been one of the members of George Washington’s cabinet who had worked with Congress to establish the U.S. Mint as well as the First Bank Of The United states, which was the first Federal institution which would eventually become the predecessor to our Federal reserve system and our Federal Reserve Bank.

Proceeding into the nineteenth century, our country’s second Secretary Of The Treasury, Albert Gallatin had been born in Geneva, Switzerland in 1761, and he had first traveled to the U.S. in 1780.  Albert Gallatin, had stayed in the U.S., so by default he became a legal U.S. citizen in 1783 after the Treaty Of Paris was signed.  Albert Gallatin served as our country’s second Secretary Of The Treasury from 1801 through 1814.   While Albert Gallatin was serving as Secretary Of The Treasury, he actually struggled with a number of issues that would not look entirely unfamiliar to present day politicians. During the first decade of the nineteenth century, Albert Gallatin struggled to attempt to balance the annual budget and pay off the national debt, while concurrently financing the Louisiana Purchase, Lewis And Clark’s expedition as well as the construction of federally funded roads in many of the eastern states.  Although our Federal government was not able to pay off our national debt during the first decade of the 19th century,  Gallatin did manage to demonstrate that the U.S. government could keep our federal agencies functioning by reducing the federal deficit to a manageable size.  Albert Gallatin was also sent to Ghent, Belgium in 1813 as one of our diplomats who helped negotiate the treaty which ended the War of 1812.  After his last term as Secretary Of The Treasury ended, Albert Gallatin was our ambassador to France from 1813 through 1826.  Following the end of his term as our ambassador to France, Albert Gallatin left public office, and in his later years, he was one of the founders of New York University as well as The American Ethnological Society.

Throughout the course of the 19th century, we would end up having 2 more Secretaries Of The Treasury who had both been born as British citizens, George Campbell (1814) and William John Duane, who had been born in Ireland in 1780, who had served as the Secretary of The Treasury in 1833.

George Campbell had served as Tennessee’s Representative from 1805 through 1809, and he was elected to serve as one of the U.S. Senators from Tennessee from 1815 through 1818.  During the years between his terms as Representative and Senator, George Campbell was one of the judges in the Tennessee Supreme Court from 1809 through 1811, and then he was our Secretary of the Treasury in 1814.  George Campbell was our ambassador to Russia from 1818 through 1821.

William John Duane had been born in Clonmel, Ireland in 1780, and his parents moved to Pennsylvania in 1796.  While living in Pennsylvania, William John Duane had worked with his family in newspaper publishing, and then he became an attorney.  William J. Duane was elected for several successive terms in the Pennsylvania General Assembly before President Jackson appointed him as our Secretary of the Treasury in 1833.  William John Duane served as our Secretary Of The Treasury for six months in 1833 before President Jackson replaced him.

Carl Shurz had been born in 1829 in Liblar, Prussia (Germany in the present day), and he first moved to the U.S. in 1852.  Carl Shurz went on to become a Union general during the Civil War, he served as one of the Senators from Missouri from 1868 through 1874, and he served as our Secretary Of The Interior from 1877 through 1881.  When Carl Shurz had first moved to the U.S., he lived in Philadelphia, then he and his wife moved out west to Wisconsin.  Carl Shurz had been an attorney, he’d advocated for abolition of slavery in the U.S., and he’d been an early advocate for women’s suffrage.  President Lincoln had sent Carl Shurz to serve as our ambassador to Spain in 1861.  After 1861, Shurz returned to the U.S., he joined the military and he was able to work his way up through the ranks relatively quickly because he’d had prior military experience fighting in Germany (Prussia) in the Revolutions of 1848.  As a Union General, he’d fought in the Battle Of Chattanooga (1863.)

I’m not going to attempt to defend some of Carl Shurz’ domestic policy decisions that he’d enacted while he was our Secretary Of State.  He did successfully keep the Office Of Indian Affairs (the agency which would become today’s Bureau Of Indian Affairs) out of the hands of the War Depatment (today’s Department Of Defense), which likely would have resulted in the “Indian Wars” being even worse than they were.  He did try to campaign against racism against Native Americans and he did clean out a lot of corruption in the Office Of Indian Affairs, but ultimately his policies did result in many tribes being relocated from their ancestral tribal homelands and sent to reservations on lands which were not well suited for agriculture.

Some of Carl Shurz’ foreign policy decisions are easier for me to justify.  Carl Shurz was instrumental in keeping Spain out of our Civil War, which likely would have prolonged the war, and he was also instrumental in opposing our annexation of Santo Domingo in 1869.

James Wilson had been born in Scotland in 1835, and he first moved to the U.S. 1852.  James Wilson served in  the Iowa House Of Representatives from 1867 to 1870.  He taught in the agriculture department at Iowa State University from 1871 through 1873, and then he ran for The [Federal] House Of Representatives in 1873.  James Wilson served one term in the House Of Representatives from Iowa from 1873 through 1877, and then he served as our Secretary Of Agriculture from 1897 through 1913.  He was responsible for modernizing many of the technologies that the Department Of Agriculture had been using during the early years of the 20th century, which ultimately enabled his successors to continue the processes of modernizing the technologies that office uses, a process which continues into the present day.

 

William Bauchop Wilson’s successor, our country’s second Secretary Of Labor was James John Davis, who had been born in Tredegar, Wales in 1873.  The Davis family moved from Wales to Pennsylvania in 1881, and James John Davis eventually served as our country’s second Secretary Of Labor from 1921 through 1930, and he served as one of the Senators from Pennsylvania from 1930 through 1945.

Felix Frankfurter had been born in Vienna in 1882, and his family moved to New York City in 1894.  Felix Frankfurter had been one of the founders of the ACLU in 1920.  He served as one of our Supreme Court justices from 1939 through 1962.  Felix Frankfurter was one of the recipients of the Presidential Medal Of Freedom on 1963.  During his years in the Supreme Court, Felix Frankfurter was involved in many of the cases regarding desegregation in the schools, including Brown vs. The Board Of Education Of Topeka (1952 – 1954) and the subsequent initial Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward County (1955.)

Moving into the Cold War era, Henry Kissinger had been born in Furth, Germany in 1923, his family moved to New York City in 1938, and he became a U.S. citizen after he’d been drafted into the U.S. army in 1943.  Henry Kissinger had served as the Nixon administration’s National Security Advisor from 1969 through 1975, and he was our country’s 56th Secretary Of State, serving from 1973 through 1977.  I’m not going to make any effort to attempt to justify or  defend Henry Kissinger’s contributions to the Nixon administration’s decision to send our military into Laos and Cambodia in the late 1960’s, his reluctance to withdraw our troops from Vietnam during Nixon’s first term in office, nor his contribution to the Nixon administration’s role in installing Augusto Pinochet in Chile in 1970.  And while that is what many of us remember him for, he also made a number of other contributions to foreign policy during the Nixon and Ford presidencies, which still effect us today.

Henry Kissinger did end up receiving the Noble Peace Prize along with the Vietnamese politician Le Duc Tho, for their roles in negotiation the terms of the Paris Peace Accords.  During the early 1970’s, Henry Kissinger was instrumental in writing some of the terms of the ABM Treaty as well as the first SALT treaty.  He’d worked with President Nixon on re-establishing diplomatic relations with the PRC, and he also helped negotiate terms to end  the Rhodesian Civil War in 1976.

President Carter’s National Security Advisor from 1977 through 1981, Zbigniew Brzezinski was born in Warsaw, Poland in 1928.  The Brzensinski family moved to Canada in 1939, and Zbigniew came to the U.S. as a graduate student in the early 1950’s.  He became a naturalized citizen here in 1958.  President Carter’s Secretary Of The Treasury had also fled the Nazis during his childhood years.  Some of Zbigniew Brzezinski’s contributions were actually a continuation of some of the major cold war era foreign policy issues that President Carter had inherited from the Nixon and the Ford administrations; he had with President Carter in writing some of the terms of the SALT II treaty, and he also worked with President Carter’s negotiations with the Chinese government, which resulted in re-establishing full trade relations with the PRC.  Zbigniew Brzezinski was also instrumental in writing the terms of the Camp David Accords in 1978.

Werner Michael Blumenthal had been born in Oranienburg, Germany in 1926.  In 1939, his father was sent to Buchenwald, and the rest of the family fled to Shanghai to escape from Europe.  W. Michael Blumenthal traveled to San Francisco in 1947, and he became a U.S. citizen in 1952.  W. Michael Blumenthal worked in a few different advisor positions to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, including President Kennedy’s Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs, and President Carter appointed W. Michael Blumenthal as our Secretary Of The Treasury in 1977.

 

In more recent years, Madeleine Albright had served as our ambassador to the United Nations from 1993 through 1996, and then she served as our country’s 64th Secretary Of State from 1997 through 2001.  Marie Jana Korbelová was born in Prague (then Czechoslovakia) in 1937.  The Korbelova moved to London, U.K. in the early 1940’s, they moved to the U.S. in 1948, and Madeleine Korbelova became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1957 (she took the name Albright after she married 2 years later in 1959.)

Madeleine Albright had worked very closely with President Clinton and Vice President Gore to attempt to end the wars in the former Yugoslav republics as quickly as possible without amassing civilian casualties.

Madeleine Albright also worked with the Clinton administration to respond to the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.  In 2000, Madeleine Albright became the only American politician to have traveled to North Korea to meet with Kim Jong Il.  While no progress actually resulted from her meeting with the late Kim Jong Il, she did make an effort to attempt negotiations with North Korea on behalf of the Clinton administration.

 

So far, in the first one and a half decades of In the 21st century, we’ve seen a number of prominent state as well as Federal politicians who were born overseas.  California’s 38th governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was born in the city of Graz, Austria in 1947, and he first arrived in the U.S. in 1968, and he became a naturalized citizen here in 1983.

The former Chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ileana Ros- Lehtinen (2011 – 2013) was first elected to the House of Representatives in a special election in August 1989, after her predecessor Claude Pepper died in office.  Ileana Ros Ros y Adato was actually born in Havana, Cuba in 1952, and her family emigrated to Florida in 1959.  She had served in both houses of Florida’s state government prior to the August 1989 special election in which she was elected to the House Of Representatives (she changed her name when she married Dexter Lehtinen in 1984.)

In the present day, our current Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power was born in 1970 in Dublin, Ireland.  Samantha Power’s family moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1979, and she became a naturalized citizen here in 1993.  Our current Secretary Of The Interior Sally Jewel was born in London, U.K. in 1956, her family moved to Washington state in 1959.  Boris Bershteyn had served as the Obama administration’s general counsel for the Federal Office Of Management And Budget from 2011 to 2012, and in 2013, he was  The Administrator Of The Office Of Information And Regulatory Affairs.  Boris Bershteyn was born in Kiev in 1977, which at the time was one of the largest cities in the former Soviet Union, which was our Cold War era rival during his early childhood years.

As of 2016, we currently have one (1) U.S. Senator who was not born a U.S. citizen (Mazie Hirono, one of the Senators from Hawaii was born in Fukushima, Japan in 1947),  and in addition to Ileana Ros- Lehtinen  we currently have four (4) other Representatives who were not born U.S. citizens, including Ted Lieu (Representative from California, his birth citizenship was Taiwanese), Raul Ruiz (Representative from California, his birth citizenship was Mexican), Albio Sires (Representative from New Jersey, his childhood citizenship was also Cuban) and Norma Torres (Representative from California, her birth citizenship was Guatemalan.)

Joseph Cao was born in Saigon, Vietnam (then “South Vietnam”) in 1967, and his family moved to Texas in 1975 after the fall of Saigon.  Joseph Cao served as one of the Representatives from Louisiana from 2009 through 2011, and he may run Senate later this year.

 

It’s time to repeal the natural born citizen clause

In today’s world, when we have impressively little to worry about the families of the European monarchs or foreign aristocracy attempting to undermine the entire authority and legitimacy of our Federal government by sending people here with the intent that they will attempt to run for political office, why do we still have the natural born citizen requirement for our presidential and for our vice presidential candidates

Lastly, I would like to point out here that while the Equal Opportunity To Govern Campaign is comprised equally of prominent members of both the Democrats and the Republicans, as of March 2016, there are no members of any of the “third” parties involved in this committee.  Aside from potentially mutually benefiting both of our two major parties, removing the natural born citizen requirement for all future presidential and vice presidential candidates would effectively also benefit all of the “third” parties here too.

 

Immigrants serve our country everyday: in the military, in our communities, even in Congress. It’s only fair that we should give foreign-born Americans the same rights that we give everyone else. It’s time to repeal the natural born citizen clause.

 

 

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  • Agreed! The “natural born citizen” clause has far outlived its usefulness. The last time it was brought up was with that ridiculous “birther” movement. Even if Obama were born in Kenya, or Indonesia (which he wasn’t), who cares?! He’s not some African prince trying to turn America into a Kenyan monarchy.

    If we do this, it would need to be via constitutional amendment, and I’d want to be sure that it stipulates that President must be American citizens. I might require that they have been citizens for at least 4 years. That ensures that they aren’t hurriedly granted citizenship for political purposes.

About the author

Scott Benowitz

Scott Benowitz

Scott Benowitz is a staff writer for Afterimage Review. He holds an MSc in Comparative Politics from The London School of Economics & Political Science and a B.A. in International Studies from Reed College in Portland, Oregon. Scott lives in Rye, N.Y. photo credit: Liza Margulies