Mario Apuzzo has filed a document from 1789 by a South Carolina physician and member of the Continental Congress, David Ramsay, with his appeal in Kerchner v. Obama. Ramsay’s most important contribution is generally seen as his role as a historian of South Carolina and of the American Revolution. Almost certainly Apuzzo filed the document for its publicity value since the appeals court will never consider it (it’s not relevant to the appeal).
The dissertation, Manner of Acquiring the Character and Privileges of a Citizen of the United States, was not a work of history but a political broadside written by Ramsay as part of a campaign to prevent the seating of his congressional opponent William Smith, whom Ramsay considered ineligible. Ramsay’s petition to Congress to unseat Smith was rejected 36-1, and even though he lost Ramsay kept beating his dead horse.
William Smith was born in Carolina before the Revolutionary War. He was orphaned age 11 and was studying abroad in Geneva when he came of age during the revolt against Britain.
While not central to the understanding of the Dissertation, one must have at least an awareness of the issue of slavery. Ramsay establishes this early on when he says: “Negroes are inhabitants but not citizens.” He wrote elsewhere: “…those who have grown up in the habits of slavery are incapable of enjoying the blessings of freedom.”
The immediate context is a political campaign for Congress. The Dissertation is a political pamphlet written to influence the congressional decision whether or not to seat Ramsay’s political opponent Smith. Ramsay is keen to deny the citizenship rights based on parentage to anyone whose parent was not a citizen of the United States or of someone who lived in the American colonies but died before they declared their intentions to side with the British or the Americans during the war. He says “citizenship is the inheritance of the children of those who have taken part in the late revolution; but this is confined exclusively to the children of those who were themselves citizens.” [Emphasis added.] Apuzzo would have us this apply this statement broadly, rather than just to those who are claiming citizenship by inheritance. However, the section title of this area of the dissertation is “birth or inheritance.” In the narrative, Ramsay only talks about citizenship by inheritance, repeating that word twice more covering the entire section. He left the topic of citizenship by birth tacit, although it did talk about this in another publication (see below).
The one sentence that I found that is most friendly to Apuzzo’s thesis is this: “The citizenship of no man could be previous to the Declaration of Independence, and, as a natural right belongs to none but those who have been born of citizens since the 4th of July, 1776″. [Emphasis added.] Ramsay may have used “natural right” as equivalent to inheritance, and his intention may or may not be related to the usage in the Constitution’s “natural born citizen” clause. However, there is no support for the de Vattel definition of “indegenes” because nowhere does Ramsay say that a citizen by natural right has to be born in the country. In all fairness, Ramsay may be seen to say that a person born in Kenya to one US citizen parent is eligible to be president of the US if he were educated in the United States and chose to live as an American at age 21.
One would certainly want to investigate the Smith / Ramsay controversy further and in particular the Congressional debate over the seating of Smith.
It is further interesting that contemporary newspaper coverage (Charleston City Gazette, November 22) to the challenge pointed out that it was not private citizens, nor the courts, who would decide the eligibility question, but Congress who according to the Constitution judged the qualifications of its own members (just as it determines the eligibility of US Presidents.) However, that same newspaper editorial (it appears by Ramsay) said (Mario, you owe me one): “the circumstance of birth in the country by no means make a citizen.” However, the statement did not mean to imply that parentage was the requisite addition, but rather “some positive act”. Ramsay seemed to consider citizenship something to be affirmed when someone becomes of age.
In his own defense (you can’t make this up!) William Smith quotes Emerich de Vattel:
The Doctor [Ramsay] says the circumstances of birth do not make a citizen–This I also deny. Vattel says: “The country of the father is that of the children and these become citizens by their tacit consent.” I was born a Carolinian [before the Declaration], and I defy the Doctor to say at what moment I was disenfranchised. The revolution which took place in America made me a citizen, though then resident at Geneva…. There was never a moment when I was a citizen of any other country.
Perhaps Obama denialists are channeling an early American letter writer who said: “Let Mr. Smith show, to the satisfaction of the public that he was a citizen, previous to his return here, and his work is done — he will not lose a single vote.”
And check out this anti-Smith letter to the Charleston paper by the anonymous Epaminondas:
…For that he [Smith] is a citizen now we may well admit, altho it may be denied by that principle of the British constitution, which says, “that the natural born subject of one prince cannot by swearing allegiance to another prince put off or discharge him from that natural allegiance, and that it cannot be deserted without the concurrent act of that prince to whom it was first due.” But now being an independent nation we make no appeals to the British constitution, but to the general law of nations [lower case] which should decide this point, should his allegiance ever be claimed by the Crown of Great Britain,…
[Doc recovers from coughing fit. Steady Doc. Breathe slowly; keep reading]
…what then do these laws say? They say, “that the first founders or states, and all those who afterwards became members thereof, are supposed to have stipulated, that their children and descendants should at their first coming into the world have the right or enjoying those advantages which are common to all the members or the state; provided nevertheless, that those descendants, when they attain to the use or reason, be on their part willing to submit to the government and to acknowledge the authority or the sovereign: but the stipulation of the parents cannot in its own nature have the force or subjecting the children against their will to an authority to which they would not themselves choose to submit. Hence the authority or the sovereign over the children or the members of the state, and the right on the other hand which these children have to the protection or the sovereign and to the advantages of the government, are founded on mutual consent. Nor if the children or members or the state upon attaining to the years of discretion are willing to live in the place or their parentage, or in their native country, they are by this very act supposed to submit themselves to the power that governs the state.” From this account or the matter, I think, two corollaries may be drawn: 1st. That no person does or can by birth become the absolute subject or any state; there is indeed an obligation on the sovereign or that state where he is born, to admit him as a subject, should such be his election, when he arrives at the age of discretion, but no obligation on his part so to elect. 2d. That a voluntary residence in the country where one is born, after he arrives to
years of discretion: (and a fortiori to years or maturity) completes his part of the contract, and establishes his civil connection with that state. This cannot be destroyed but by some overt act of a higher and stronger nature, either on the part of the sovereign, or on his own part. In the one case it may be a withdrawing or common protection, or a banishment or his person: in the other case a voluntary removal from that state, and the swearing of allegiance to and settling of himself in another. when either of these take place the connection is dissolved. If the first of these inferences be not true, then it remains that the honorable gentleman now offering as a candidate inherited an unqualified allegiance to the Crown of England from his father who died a British Subject.
This argument basically concludes that Smith, whose father always was a British subject, could not claim citizenship in the United States until he set foot in the United States after his age of majority and affirmed his citizenship. And that this affirmation was not 7 years before his election to Congress, but 5.
Ramsay was shot at Charleston, SC, on May 6, 1815 by a lunatic and died 2 days later. Smith served 2 years in Congress.