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George Washington, first in war, first in peace, and first presidential usurper

Did you know that George Washington, the man we were taught to call our first president, was actually not eligible for the job, and in fact was not the legitimate president? According to an article quoted in the Texas Law Review, this is exactly the case:

Usurper

Usurper

The constitutional text explicitly restricts eligibility to those persons who were “natural born Citizen[s], or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution. ” Article VII in turn provides that “[t]he Ratification of the Conventions of nine States, shall be sufficient for the Establishment of this Constitution.” The terms for adoption required by Article VII were satisfied when New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify on June 21, 1788. Although Virginia, New York, North Carolina, and Rhode Island would later vote to join the new nation, the Constitution achieved full legal birth with New Hampshire’s ratification; hence, only citizens of the nine ratifying states could be denominated “citizens of the United States” as of the time of the Constitution’s adoption. Because George Washington was a citizen of Virginia, he “was not a citizen of the United States at the time the Constitution went into effect under Article VII, and hence was ineligible to be President under Article II. Q.E.D.”

Who knew?

The purpose of this article is not to seriously suggest that George Washington was not a legitimate president of the United States, but rather to show what silliness results from a layman’s uninformed literalist reading of the Constitution.

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17 Responses to George Washington, first in war, first in peace, and first presidential usurper

  1. avatar
    ekimwar December 26, 2008 at 8:33 am #

    This is a sophistic study of a great man whose credentials were nothing if not impeccable.

  2. avatar
    Linda December 27, 2008 at 10:29 am #

    You’ve got to cut poor George a break! There was no such thing as a natural born citizen—that’s why the framers grandfathered themselves in, not just George. Everyone born on American soil at that time held dual citizenship, whether they wanted to be an American or not. The framers new the fragility of freedom from–as you put it upsurpers. Then again you already knew this, but I did find your article interesting.

  3. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy December 27, 2008 at 11:27 am #

    Linda, I never suggested that Washington was ineligible because he wasn’t a natural born citizen; I said he was ineligible because he was not a citizen at the time of the ratification of the Constitution; he was not eligible to be “grandfathered” in.

    I only included George Washington. The article I quoted systematically eliminates eligibility for virtually all of our presidents.

    The point of my article is that highly plausible sounding, but totally ridiculous arguments can be made (and are being made) on presidential eligibility based on a layman’s naive understanding of the Constitution.

  4. avatar
    bogus info January 2, 2009 at 12:24 pm #

    Here is a interesting comment from Doc Orley’s blog:

    smrstrauss replies:Today, 10:19:16 AM“This is a theory. There are two theories: (1) that the Constitution speaks in common language, meaning that “natural born” is the same thing as a US citizen at birth under the US citizenship laws, and (2) the other theory, that “natural born” is special language, requiring a higher standard than merely being a US citizen at birth.

    You subscribe to the latter theory, which appears to be very much in the minority among ordinary citizens, and, as far as I can see, constitutional scholars. The Chief Justice of the United States, for one, has given no indication (so far at any rate) that he would not swear in Obama as scheduled on January 20.

    Some who hold theory 2 say that not only must the candidate under Article II be born in the USA, but she or he must have two parents who also were born in the USA. If so, six presidents so far have violated this rule, and this includes Andrew Jackson, who had two parents who were not born in the USA.

    Granted, Jackson was grandfathered into eligibility because he was born in US territory before the Constitution. But the issue is not whether or not Jackson was eligible. It is whether the writers of the Constitution wanted to exclude persons whose parents were not born in US territory.

    In other words, if they had wanted to exclude persons whose parents were not born in USA, such as Jackson, they could have said they allowed “a Citizen of the United States at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution EXCEPT where the parents were not citizens of the USA.”

    And, the same holds for after the adoption of the Constitution too, of course. IF they had really meant that “natural born” excludes persons with one or two parents who were not born in the USA, then why not simply say: “a citizen of the United States born in the USA EXCEPT when two parents were born outside of the USA.” (Or if you want to be even more limiting, “except when one parent was not born in the USA.”

    The list of presidents who had one or more parents born outside of the USA that I have seen is:

    a) Thomas Jefferson (English mother)

    (b) Andrew Jackson (Scots-Irish parents emigrated from Northern Ireland);

    (c) James Buchanan (Irish father)

    (d) Chester Arthur (Irish father)

    (e) Woodrow Wilson (Scottish mother);

    (f) Herbert Hoover (English-Irish mother).

  5. avatar
    bogus info January 2, 2009 at 12:26 pm #

    Dr. C,

    Good point, and I have probably made some of those ridiculous statements myself. LOL

  6. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy January 2, 2009 at 1:20 pm #

    To which we would also add Vice Presidents since the 12th amendment who too must be “natural born”. Hubert Humphrey’s mother was Norwegian and John C. Calhoun’s father was Irish.

    However, as smrstrauss will I suspect learn quickly as heaps of derision are flung his way over at the other place, the new definition of natural born citizen only requires two citizen parents, not two native-born parents. That trims down the list some, perhaps to just Chester A. Arthur and Charles Curtis (VP).

    Not that anybody much cared before the black guy with the funny name showed up.

  7. avatar
    Hitandrun January 3, 2009 at 5:06 pm #

    Doc writes (again):

    >Not that anybody much cared before the black guy with the funny name showed up.<

    Will the relentless race-baiting ever end?

    Hitandrun

  8. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy January 3, 2009 at 5:24 pm #

    I’m not sure what you mean by “race-baiting”. The phrase “black guy with the funny name” is shortened from “the skinny black guy with the funny name”, a phrase that Michelle Obama used to introduce her husband. The phrase is widely used on blogs and appears in network news coverage. Among Obama supporters the term is considered endearing.

    What we have found among some people is a complete reversal in reality based on the premise that Barack Obama is evil. It goes:

    Barack Obama is evil
    He must be stopped (www.stopobama…)
    He is a war criminal
    He is a terrorist
    He is a communist
    Therefore he must not be president
    Since he was elected he must be ineliglble
    Therefore all state secretaries of state are inept
    The Supreme Court is afraid
    The congress, to a person, is not doing their jobs
    All constitutional scholars are wrong about what natural born citizen means
    FactCheck.org are Obama contributors
    The supreme court decided US v Wong wrong
    Hawaiian officials are liars or afraid of death threats
    Ron Polarik is a real person
    Anonymous unsigned statements are admissible in court
    Chester A. Arthur was not really president
    Hawaii is not a state!

    Total insanity.

  9. avatar
    bogus info January 3, 2009 at 5:36 pm #

    You forgot to add Marxist and Socialist to the list and baby killer.

  10. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy January 3, 2009 at 7:04 pm #

    And War Criminal.

  11. avatar
    smrstrauss January 7, 2009 at 4:02 pm #

    Re “AS smrstrauss will I suspect learn quickly as heaps of derision are flung his way over at the other place, the new definition of natural born citizen only requires two citizen parents, not two native-born parents. That trims down the list some, perhaps to just Chester A. Arthur and Charles Curtis (VP).”

    Yes, I have noticed this. I could not find an actual list of presidents whose parents were not citizens. However, let me point out to you, that we are not really certain that all those presidents whose parents claimed to be naturalized really were nationalized.

    And the very idea that someone can be naturalized and that affects the next generation is strange and 17th or 18th century. IF in April my father was nationalized, and I am born in May–that is one thing. If in April my father was nationalized, and I am born in March–that is another thing.

    To be sure, one obeys the letter of the law (according to the natural birth theorists) and one does not. But, if we have to decide whether “natural born” requires two parents who are citizens, or pick the alternative, which is to follow Title 8 of the US code where it defines a “citizen at birth” musing about the actual effect of a naturalization would tend to push the decision towards Title 8–wouldn’t it?

    Besides the whole idea that my father’s allegiance at birth affects me as an adult is like saying that if he was a Baptist at the instant of birth, I am predisposed to be a Baptist and so, when I get to be 35, that still affects me.

  12. avatar
    bogus info January 7, 2009 at 4:25 pm #

    I agree 100%. Good post.

  13. avatar
    TRUTH January 7, 2009 at 5:32 pm #

    Does that go to an Eminem tune or Snoop Dog?

  14. avatar
    Hitandrun January 7, 2009 at 7:01 pm #

    But Doc,
    Wasn’t Washington a ‘citizen’ of Virginia even before ratification and therefore embraced by the phrase “Citizen of the United States”? And didn’t Virginia, among other states, agree to Article VII’s ratification threshold during the Convention?

    Hitandrun

  15. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy January 7, 2009 at 8:47 pm #

    The argument is that Virginia was not part of the United States when the constitution was ratified and hence Washington was not a citizen of the United States when the constitution was ratified.

    The point of the whole discussion is not that George Washington was one illegitimate president among many, but rather that one can make absurd arguments taking the constitution literally and in a vacuum. The actual flaw in the argument is that the United States existed before there was a Constitution or even before there was a constitutional convention.

  16. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy March 8, 2009 at 11:36 pm #

    It’s a rather Lamarkian view, that an acquired characteristic (naturalization) is passed on by blood to the offspring so as to make that person a natural-born citizen.

  17. avatar
    NBC March 9, 2009 at 11:42 am #

    Excellent paper which outlines how a literal reading of the Constitution leads to some unexpected results. What will be the lesson learned? I doubt that the birthers will recognize the similarities…