Opinion: The Natural-Born Citizen Clause

“No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President.”

National Archives

Section 1, Article 2, clause 5. This constitutional provision outlines who is qualified to serve as President of the United States. The passage details a couple of standard age and residency requirements, but also stipulates that only “natural born” citizens of the United States may serve in its highest office, but any amount of reflection begs a few questions:

Why was this stipulation created? Does it continue to serve any purpose? Does it have any place as a roadblock to political representation for immigrants in a nation whose foundations and future so fundamentally draw from the diverse backgrounds of its citizens?

The Founding Fathers crafted this requirement because they feared that noblemen from England or France or Germany would run for president and attempt to usurp American independence and return it to colonial rule. To prevent that from happening, they banned all but “natural-born” citizens from assuming the highest office in the land. Clearly, the concerns that the founding fathers harbored no longer apply. The redcoats are not coming. Those guys couldn’t even hold on to Canada. The only significant “British invasion” the US has dealt with in the past 200 years was actually pretty fantastic. No immigrant - British or otherwise - is trying to run for President and usurp control, so does this provision continue to serve any significant purpose?

Our electoral system ought to give any qualified individual the chance to at least run for any political office. It should be up to the voters to decide whether they agree with a candidate, not up to the Constitution to arbitrarily rule out any foreign-born leader, especially when so many are probably more than qualified for the job. Many nations have a much more open mind about allowing “foreigners” to lead their governments. Tony Abbott, an Englishman, is Prime Minister of Australia. Manmohan Singh, born in Pakistan, served as India’s. Shimon Peres, born in Poland, served for 7 years as Israel’s president. Madeleine Albright, born in the Czech Republic, was the United States’ first female Secretary of State, but she will never run for president. Albright, a political pioneer and seasoned leader, is barred from the presidency, but a reality TV show host is free to toss their hat in the ring simply because of where they were born. If that seems absurd, that’s because it is. Most Americans probably have no idea that Albright is foreign born, likely because her place of birth didn’t impede her ability to be an effective leader and diplomat.

Immigrants make up the bedrock of this nation and that is only growing more and more true as time goes on. Any American, regardless of origin, should have the chance to lead their country.

Image from the National Archives.