Many say, and perhaps rightly, that the US Supreme Court has never stated what the definition of natural born citizen is and so they conclude that it is necessary for a court to make this decision before the legitimacy of Barack Obama as president can be known.
But, the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s presidency and the definition of natural born citizen has been thoroughly studied by the Abraham Lincoln’s Attorney General way back in 1862, and he rendered his opinion quite clearly and plainly.
United States Attorney General opinions are carefully reasoned statements based on law, and form the basis for practice in the Executive Branch. Unless there is a change in the law or a court ruling to the contrary, these opinions are reliable statements of the law. No court having ruled otherwise, the following opinion is still as valid today as it was in 1862. This means that Barack Obama is the legitimate president of the United States right now. You can all stand down, relax, and get on with your lives. You don’t have to thank me.
Attorney General Edward Bates, Opinion on Citizenship (1862)
The Constitution itself does not make the citizens, (it is. in fact,made by them.) It only intends and recognizes such of them as are natural–”home-born–”and provides for the naturalization of such of them as were alien–”foreign-born–”making the latter, as far as nature will allow, like the former. …
And our Constitution, in speaking of natural born citizens, uses no affirmative language to make them such, but only recognizes and reaffirms the universal principle, common to all nations, and as old as political society, that the people born in a country do constitute the nation, and, as individuals, are natural members of the body politic.
If this be a true principle, and I do not doubt it, it follows that every person born in the country is, at the moment of birth, prima facie a citizen; and he who would deny it must take upon himself the burden of proving some great disfranchisement strong enough to override the “natural born” right as recognized by the Constitution in terms the most simple and comprehensive …
And so strongly was Congress impressed with the great legal fact that the child takes its political status in the nation where it is born, that it was found necessary to pass a law to prevent the alienage of children of our known fellow-citizens who happen to be born in foreign countries. The act of February 10, 1855, 10 Statutes, 604, provides that “persons,” (not white persons,) ” persons heretofore born, or hereafter to be born, out of the limits and jurisdiction of the United States, shall be deemed and considered and are hereby declared to be citizens of the United States: Provided, however, That the rights of citizenship shall not descend to persons whose fathers never resided in the United States.”
Attorney General Edward Bates, Opinion of Attorney General Bates on Citizenship (1862).
A number of people have gone back to an 18th century Swiss philosopher for the meaning of natural born citizen. Emmerich de Vattel put forth a philosophy of “natural law” which he considered set by nature and universal. When applying natural law to the concept of citizenship, he defined two classes of citizen: one he called “natural born” meaning born a citizen according to natural law and one he called “naturalized citizen” meaning one made a citizen by the laws of man. See de Vattel, The Law of Nations Book 1, Chapters 212 (natives) and 214 (naturalized).
What is interesting is that Attorney General Bates shares this same division in citizenship between those who are who are natural born and those made citizens by law. He said: “We have natural born citizens (Constitution, article 2 § 5,) not made by law or otherwise but born“. (emphasis in the original). It is interesting to note the emphasis on the word “born” which matches nicely with the same emphasis in the John Jay letter to George Washington, written during the Constitutional Convention of 1787.
While the Swiss de Vattel believed that the universal law of nature impled that citizenship only follows blood, the British/American view of the universal law of nature implied that citizenship follows place of birth. For us “natural born” means born in the country.