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Was James Buchanan a natural born citizen?

James Buchanan

President Buchanan

Well of course he was, being born in the United States, in a log cabin no less! But was his father a citizen?

James Buchanan, Sr. was an Irish immigrant who arrived in the United States in 1783, between the American Revolution and the ratification of the US Constitution. James Buchanan, Jr. (the president) was born in 1791. If the father were a US Citizen, he would have to have been naturalized either in Pennsylvania before ratification of the Constitution or between March 26, 1790 (the date of the first federal naturalization act) and the birth of his son James on April 21, 1791.

The Pennsylvania Constitution, adopted September 28, 1776 provided for naturalization of aliens , meaning that Buchanan, Sr. could have been naturalized. But was he?

Every foreigner of good character who comes to settle in this state, having first taken an oath or affirmation of allegiance to the same, may purchase, or by other just means acquire, hold, and transfer land or other real estate; and after one year’s residence, shall be deemed a free denizen thereof, and entitled to all the rights of a natural born subject of this state, except that he shall not be capable of being elected a representative until after two years residence.

The names of persons who took the oath of allegiance to the state of Pennsylvania have been published. I reviewed Westcott, Thompson. Names Of Persons Who Took The Oath Of Allegiance To The State Of Pennsylvania Between The Years 1777 And 1789 : With A History Of The “Test Laws” Of Pennsylvania. Baltimore, MD, USA: Genealogical Pub. Co., 1965. (reprint). Available through Ancestry.com. No Buchanan’s whatever! (I looked at every name that started “BUC”.)

After the 1790 federal act,  individuals could go before any court of record in any county, state or federal jurisdiction.   They could apply in Federal District or Circuit Courts (National Archives) or before the State Supreme Court (Pennsylvania State Archives).  Therefore, if an individual was not naturalized in a county court one may need to check these alternate sources.  The law also allowed any court within the county to confer citizenship.  After an application for citizenship was filed, there was a waiting period while the court determined the good character of the applicant.

The argument is made that under the Treaty of Paris between the United States and Great Britain (September 4, 1783 with reference to the Provisional Articles signed November 30, 1782)  “colonists chose to be United States citizens and by virtue of the Treaty, Great Britain recognized those former subjects as United States citizens. This is certainly not the case. The decision in Inglis v. Trustees of Sailor’s Snug Harbor, 3 Pet. 99, 157 said: rather the treaty “ought to be co construed, as that each government should be finally deemed entitled to the allegiance of those who were at that time adhering to it.” It does not seem to me that someone arriving as the deal was being done should be considered an adherent to the United States and be excused from taking the oath required of all other foreigners. It must be said that the Americans agreed that those who were active in the Revolution before the Treaty of Peace were ipso facto citizens. But Buchanan Sr. arrived after the provisional peace accords were signed, and perhaps even after the Treaty of 1783. If someone would like to make an argument either way, I would like to see it.

I need to do more research, but the citizenship of Buchanan’s father at the time of the President’s birth is looking doubtful. Of course rather than prove a negative, the best approach would be to find out if and when he did naturalize.

12 Responses to Was James Buchanan a natural born citizen?

  1. avatar
    Scott Brown June 8, 2010 at 12:05 am #

    The ratification of the Constitution in 1788 made all citizens of states, citizens of the US with no formal naturalization necessary. While the Buchanan’s may have arrived after the treaty was signed, they were citizens of the state of Pennsylvania at the time the Constitution was ratified; therefore making Buchanan Sr. a US Citizen (his mother was born in Pennsylvania) and when Buchanan Jr. was born 3 years later on US Soil, both parents were also US Citizens making him a NBC and unlike Obama, eligible to be POTUS.

  2. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy June 8, 2010 at 12:34 am #

    Scott Brown : The ratification of the Constitution in 1788 made all citizens of states, citizens of the US with no formal naturalization necessary.

    You’re not paying attention. What the article clearly shows is that Buchanan Sr. did NOT become a citizen of Pennsylvania, since he didn’t take the oath required by the Constitution of Pennsylvania that I quoted.

  3. avatar
    misha June 8, 2010 at 12:41 am #

    Dr. Conspiracy: You’re not paying attention. What the article clearly shows is that Buchanan Sr. did NOT become a citizen of Pennsylvania, since he didn’t take the oath required by the Constitution of Pennsylvania that I quoted.

    Plus, my research shows that Agnew’s father was not a US citizen at the time of his birth.

  4. avatar
    dunstvangeet June 8, 2010 at 1:12 am #

    misha:
    Plus, my research shows that Agnew’s father was not a US citizen at the time of his birth.

    This isn’t so sure, Misha. The 1930 Census Record has Agnew’s father as being Naturalized in 1903.

  5. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy June 8, 2010 at 1:27 am #

    His father’s naturalization notwithstanding, Spiro would have been a Greek citizen anyway, right?

  6. avatar
    misha June 8, 2010 at 1:41 am #

    dunstvangeet: This isn’t so sure, Misha. The 1930 Census Record has Agnew’s father as being Naturalized in 1903.

    OK, then my source was wrong. And it was NOT Wikipedia.

    http://barackryphal.blogspot.com/2010/01/spiro-agnew.html

  7. avatar
    dunstvangeet June 8, 2010 at 2:10 am #

    Misha, no, you’re source is right. The 1920 Census record does list Agnew as an Alien. However, the 1930 Census Record lists him as a Naturalized Citizen (naturalization in 1903). Conflicting census records.

  8. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy June 8, 2010 at 8:02 am #

    dunstvangeet: The 1920 Census record does list Agnew as an Alien. However, the 1930 Census Record lists him as a Naturalized Citizen (naturalization in 1903). Conflicting census records.

    And despite this glaring historical discrepancy, a smoking gun of de Vatellian proportion, did anyone, anyone at all, even raise the question during the election?

  9. avatar
    JoZeppy June 8, 2010 at 11:13 am #

    Has it ever been established whether Mike “son if Greek immigrants” Dukakis’ parents became citizens?

  10. avatar
    Dave June 8, 2010 at 12:22 pm #

    Dr. Conspiracy:
    And despite this glaring historical discrepancy, a smoking gun of de Vatellian proportion, did anyone, anyone at all, even raise the question during the election?

    Well… the 1930 census wasn’t released for public consumption until 2002, 34 years after the election.

    Still, it’s interesting how many Presidential candidates we’ve had with immigrant and possibly alien parents, with minimal or no interest until this one.

  11. avatar
    Black Lion June 15, 2010 at 4:45 pm #

    Well as I had posted that article yesterday regarding the state senator that wants to prevent any children of illegal immigrants from becoming citizens, the Post and Fail has an article today that attempts to redefine the 14th amendment….Interesting to see how far some will go to change things, yet they claim to be Constitutionalists…

    http://www.thepostemail.com/2010/06/14/arizona-state-senator-pursues-denial-of-anchor-baby-citizenship/#comments

    The Fourteenth Amendment followed the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which reads, in part:

    Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That all persons born in the United States and not subject to any foreign power, excluding Indians not taxed, are hereby declared to be citizens of the United States; and such citizens, of every race and color, without regard to any previous condition of slavery or involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall have the same right, in every State and Territory in the United States, to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, and give evidence, to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property, and to full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of person and property, as is enjoyed by white citizens, and shall be subject to like punishment, pains, and penalties, and to none other, any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom, to the contrary notwithstanding.

    The section of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which deals with the issue of citizenship reads:

    Section. 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

    An analysis of the citizenship issue addressed by the Fourteenth Amendment states that “Congress’ intent in including the qualifying phrase ”and subject to the jurisdiction thereof,” was apparently to exclude from the reach of the language children born of diplomatic representatives of a foreign state and children born of alien enemies in hostile occupation, both recognized exceptions to the common-law rule of acquired citizenship by birth, as well as children of members of Indian tribes subject to tribal laws. The lower courts have generally held that the citizenship of the parents determines the citizenship of children born on vessels in United States territorial waters or on the high seas.”

    The Fourteenth Amendment also dealt with naturalized citizens who had returned to their home countries and voted in an election there, determining that such a person lost his U.S. citizenship upon so doing.

    A history of the Fourteenth Amendment and the reasons for its drafting and ratification can be found here. It was known as the “Reconstruction Amendment” and was written to give citizenship to former slaves and their children who had been born in the United States while in captivity. It does not mention anyone born to parents who had entered the U.S. illegally, as at the time there was “no formal immigration policy.”

    The phrase “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” appears to exclude people born in the United States but whose parents owed allegiance to a foreign country. The Slaughter-House case decision stated that “The first clause of the fourteenth article was primarily intended to confer citizenship on the negro race, and secondly to give definitions of citizenship of the United States and citizenship of the States, and it recognizes the distinction between citizenship of a State and citizenship of the United States by those definitions.”

    In 1856, ten years before debate began on the Fourteenth Amendment, the Dred Scott Decision had stated that “4. A free negro of the African race, whose ancestors were brought to this country and sold as slaves, is not a citizen’ within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States.” The Fourteenth Amendment was intended to bestow all of the rights granted by the Bill of Rights to former slaves, regardless of their state of residence.

    In the Supreme Court decision, Chief Justice Roger Taney “had conceded to members of the state communities all the personal rights, privileges, and immunities guarantied to citizens of this new Government.’…However, Taney had disregarded the plain meaning of the term the people’ by excluding blacks.“

    Another analysis of the “original intent” of the Fourteenth Amendment states that “Granting of automatic citizenship to children of illegal alien mothers is a recent and totally inadvertent and unforeseen result of the amendment and the Reconstructionist period in which it was ratified.”

  12. avatar
    SFJeff June 15, 2010 at 7:18 pm #

    You would think those folks who wrote the 14th Amendment would have been able to say “give citizenship to slaves and descendents of slaves born in America” if that had been their clear intention.

    One of the things I think that is amazing about the Constitution is that I think often the writers often wrote language that survives the ages. Perhaps the 14th amendment was intended for freed slaves, but the unequivocal language of the 14th amendment has served us well, and I think protected minorities from waves of Xenophobia.

    If the American people do not want the 14th Amendment to include the children of illegal aliens, then ‘we the people’ should amend the constitution. Personally, I would not be strongly opposed to the idea in concept, but I think the whole issue of ‘anchor babies’ is overblown and distracting from really addressing the Immigration policy issues our Country faces.