I spent three hours last night reading obscure textbooks, popular guides to government, US Constitution legal commentary, collections of state constitutions and charters and debates held at the state level on ratification of the Constitution from the 17th and 18th centuries. I did not find one hint that “natural born citizen” meant anything more than “citizen at birth,” and further the idea of “citizen at birth” was expansive, including both those born in the territory, and those born of citizens anywhere.
What I found was very little to define “natural born citizen” and I am firmly convinced that everybody understood its intuitive and obvious meaning: citizen at birth. The Constitutional Convention mentions the addition of the phrase to Article II, but there was no debate noted, nor any explanation of the meaning there either. I found no record of any debate or definition on this item among records of state legislatures ratifying.
What I did find was that the definition of natural born citizenship when it did appear was expansive, including anyone born a citizen, including those born in the territory, those made natural born by law, and those born of citizens outside the territory. I found the Immigration Act of 1790 made (or affirmed) the children of citizens born overseas “natural born citizens”. And I found something else:
Charter of 1732 – Georgia
Also we do for ourselves and successors declare by these presents that all and every the persons which shall happen to be born within the said province and every of their children and posterity shall have and enjoy all liberties franchises and immunities of free denizens and natural born subjects The Federal and State Constitutions, Colonial Charters, and Other Organic Laws of the United States … By Benjamin Perley Poore, United States
When Georgia ratified the US Constitution, I believe that they would have interpreted “natural born citizen” in light of their own state Charter.
[For much more of what I found, see: The Great Mother of All Natural Born Citizen Quotation Pages.]