FLASHBACK: It’s time to defuse the ‘natural born’ time bomb

The following essay was written in 2015, long after Barack Obama’s re-election was a fait accompli, but in it I wrote that the issue of presidential eligibility was still alive and well, thanks to the ambiguity of the Constitution on the meaning of “natural born citizen.” As I noted then, the issue has nothing to do with race or with party. Most of the people whose eligibility has been questioned over the last two centuries were white and Republican.

The reason why Kamala Harris’s eligibility to be president is being questioned now has nothing to do with her race or party, but only with the meaning of the term “natural born citizen.” If, as some people believe, it means that both parents must be citizens, then Obama and Harris would both be ineligible, but so would Republicans Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal and many others. This is a matter of unresolved constitutional law and should be debated as any important issue — with logic and reason. (Essay included in Why We Needed Trump: Part 2.)


It’s time to defuse
the ‘natural born’ time bomb

March 29, 2015

By Frank Miele/Daily Inter Lake

“A foolish consistency,” Emerson warns us, “is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

I concur, but consistency is also the best defense against being called a hypocrite, which is why I wanted to take this opportunity to explain that the “natural born citizen” qualification for being president of the United States is not just something that was invented to make Barack Obama look bad.

The issue of who is a “natural born citizen,” and thus eligible to be president, has been repeatedly raised in campaigns and media reports for at least 135 years, probably longer. Among the most prominent controversies have been those involving the following candidates or potential candidates:

— Republican Chester A. Arthur, the 21st president, was rumored to have been born in Canada. He took office after the assassination of James Garfield, but even while he was president, his claims of being born in Vermont were questioned. In addition, his father was a naturalized citizen who was born in Ireland.

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—Republican Charles Hughes, who was defeated by President Woodrow Wilson in the 1916 campaign, was the American-born son of two British subjects.

—Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt Jr., the son of the president with the same name, entered Congress in 1949, leading to speculation that he might run for president. Although that never happened, there was considerable discussion about the fact that FDR Jr. was born at the Roosevelt summer home of Campobello Island in New Brunswick, Canada.

Republican Christian Herter, governor of Massachusetts, whose name was suggested for both president and vice president in the mid-1950s when President Eisenhower’s health was questioned, was born in Paris to expatriate parents and spent the first nine years of his life there.

—Republican Barry Goldwater, the 1964 nominee, was born in Arizona before it became a state.

—Republican George Romney (father of Mitt Romney), who ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination in 1968, was born in Mexico.

—Republican Lowell Weicker, who like Herter was born in Paris to American parents, made a brief run for the Republican nomination in 1980 but withdrew before any primaries were held.

—And (hold your breath!) Republican Sen. John McCain, who ran against Barack Obama in 2008, was born in the Panama Canal Zone while his father was stationed there as a Naval officer.

By my count, that gives us seven Republicans who have been challenged regarding whether they were natural-born citizens and only two Democrats — FDR Jr. and Barack Obama. It also gives us a count of eight white guys and one black man. Thus, we should be able to retire the charge of racism once and for all, as well as the notion that the “natural born citizen” issue was invented by Republicans simply as a way to hinder Democratic fortunes in the presidential election of 2008.

Indeed, this year, the issue is being raised once again to question the eligibility of Sen. Ted Cruz, the Republican firebrand from Texas, who is the first declared candidate of the 2016 presidential race. Unlike President Obama, who has a birth certificate from Hawaii but is still alleged by some people to have been born outside the United States, Sen. Cruz by his own admission and all the available evidence was indisputably born in Calgary, Alberta.

Does that mean he shouldn’t be president? I don’t know, and neither does anyone else, because the definition of a “natural born citizen” has never been resolved by the Supreme Court of the United States, nor by the Congress. That is why the issue is important, not because it helps or hurts one particular candidate.

Since natural-born citizenship is one of only three requirements for someone to become president, I have argued consistently that the matter must be settled officially, not for political reasons, but for legal reasons. Yet even though I was one of the few columnists in the country to ever bring up McCain’s citizenship status, the fact that I have also insisted that the nation has a right to verify Barack Obama’s eligibility to be president means that I have repeatedly been called a birther, a racist, or various other derogatory terms.

So, once and for all, and to anyone who will listen — the debate has nothing to do with Barack Obama; and nothing to do with race. It hinges on the Constitution, and whether or not we are a nation of laws. If the Constitution says that a president must be a natural-born citizen, then we need some kind of mechanism to determine if candidates are indeed eligible under that rule, as well as under the rules that they must be at least 35 years of age and have resided within the country for at least 14 years.

Nor is this just some random academic exercise. It has come up repeatedly throughout the history of the United States, and this year will once again be relevant if either Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal or Marco Rubio should obtain the Republican nomination for president or vice president.

—Cruz’s mother was a U.S. citizen at the time of his birth in Canada, so he is definitely a citizen, but does that qualify him as a “natural born citizen”? We don’t know.

—Piyush “Bobby” Jindal was born of two Indian immigrant parents in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, so under the 14th Amendment, he is an undisputed citizen of the United States, but is he “natural born”? No one knows.

—Marco Rubio was born in Miami, Fla., of two parents who were both Cuban citizens. Again, no doubt that he is a native U.S. citizen, but that may not make him a “natural born citizen.”

The authors of the Constitution were silent on the meaning of the phrase, which probably means they all knew what it meant and therefore didn’t feel the need to define it. That has encouraged amateur historians to research the political climate and common law of the late 18th century and look for clues.

It appears likely the phrase was popularized by philosopher Emerich de Vattel, whose 1758 “The Law of Nations” is considered the pre-eminent text on rules of sovereignty in the 18th century. It is generally presumed that the authors of the Constitution were familiar with the work, and consulted it when drafting the Constitution. George Washington is known to have borrowed a library copy which remains overdue to this day! Samuel Adams, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton all wrote enthusiastically of Vattel’s influence on the Constitution. In 1775, Thomas Jefferson even sent his own copy of “The Law of Nations” to Ben Franklin, and received an enthusiastic thank you note.

Here is what Vattel had to say about the matter under discussion:

“Natural born citizens are those born in a country to parents who are also citizens of that country. Particularly, if the father of the person is not a citizen then the child is not a citizen either. Children cannot inherit from parents rights not enjoyed by them.”

Of course, Vattel’s text does not have the force of law, nor would it be politically correct today because of its inherent sexism, but there is very little else to go on when considering the meaning of the phrase in the Constitution. The point again is not to presume with certainty that someone is or is not eligible to be president, but to assert that the citizenship rule exists and should not be ignored. Up till now, it has only been discussed as a matter of curiosity, and no one seems capable of discovering a sure and sufficient means of enforcement.

But if this year, we have (as it appears we do) at least three potential candidates for the presidency whose eligibility has been questioned, then clearly it is time for the matter to be addressed directly and resolved. And no, it does not matter that the three candidates involved are Republicans, and for the most part Tea Party Republicans, and that I personally would put all three of them in my Top Five candidates for 2016.

It doesn’t matter to me whether they would make good or bad presidents; what matters is making sure they are following the law of the land. Hey Americans… It’s the Constitution! Love it, or lose it!

Someone needs to challenge one or all three of these candidates if they declare their intention to be president, and one can hope that if these Republicans do indeed love the Constitution, one of them will encourage a court to make a ruling and settle the matter for all of us.

You can call me a RINO (Republican in Name Only) for questioning the eligibility of Cruz, Jindal and Rubio. You can call me a racist for questioning the eligibility of Barack Obama. But one thing you can’t call me is a hypocrite. And be sure of this, I will follow the path of principle no matter what foolish names I am called.


Heartland Diary is solely operated by Frank Miele, the retired editor of the Daily Inter Lake in Kalispell, Montana. If you enjoy reading these daily essays, I hope you will consider purchasing one of my books. They are available through the following Amazon links. My new book is “How We Got Here: The Left’s Assault on the Constitution” and is now available in paperback and as an eBook. It is 536 pages long and chock full of research on the progressive movement and the patriotic heroes who have fought against it. My earlier books include “The Media Matrix: What if everything you know is fake?” and the “Why We Needed Trump” trilogy. Part 1 is subtitled “Bush’s Global Failure: Half Right.” Part 2 is “Obama’s Fundamental Transformation: Far Left.” Part 3 is “Trump’s American Vision: Just Right.” As an Amazon Associate, I may earn referral fees for qualifying purchases through links on my website. Also consider subscribing to Heartland Diary on YouTube by clicking here for News Every Conservative Can Use. My goal is to reach 1,000 subscribers.

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