A great deal is made in some quarters about a letter from John Jay of New York to George Washington in 1787 in which Jay suggested that the new US Commander in Chief should be a natural born citizen. What did Jay mean by that phrase? Did he adopt the words from the Swiss philosopher Emmerich de Vattel (with whom he was familiar) or did he perhaps adapt them from the laws of his own state of New York?
Prior to the American revolution in 1776 Americans were British subjects, but it seems clear from the following that natural born subjects were those born in the colony of New York, with no reference to who their parents were.
BE IT THEREFORE ENACTED by his Honor the Lieutenant Governor the Council and the General Assembly and it is hereby enacted by the authority of the same that the before mentioned several Persons and each and every of them shall be and hereby are declared to be naturalized to all Intents Constructions and purposes whatsoever and from henceforth and at all Times hereafter shall be entitled to have and enjoy all the Rights Liberties Privileges and Advantages which his Majesty’s Natural born Subjects in this Colony have and enjoy or ought to have and enjoy as fully to all Intents and purposes whatsoever as if all and every of them had been born within this Colony.
January 27, 1770
The Colonial Laws of New York from the Year 1664 to the Revolution Including the Charters to the Duke of York, the Commissions and Instructions to Colonial Governors, the Duke’s Laws, the Laws of the Dongan and Leisler Assemblies, the Charters of Albany and New York and the Acts of the Colonial Legislatures from 1691 to 1775 Inclusive By New York (State), Charles Zebina Lincoln, William H. Johnson, Ansel Judd Northrup, New York (State)., New York (State). Commissioners of Statutory Revision, Albany (N.Y.)., New York (Colony), New York (Colony). Charters, New York (N.Y.)., New York (N.Y.). Charters
Similar language appears in the Naturalization Acts of Massachusetts.