A commenter here kindly sent me a newspaper clipping from the Boston Globe, November 9, 1903. The topic was the citizenship of George B. McClellan (pictured right), newly elected Mayor of New York City and son of the Civil War general with the same name. Just as is the case with more modern presidential hopefuls George Romney and John McCain, the younger McClellan was not born in the United States. He was born in Germany and a dual citizen of the one by law because of his US citizen parents, and the other because of his place of birth.
That McClellan was a US citizen at birth according to US law was unquestioned, but did he meet the constitutional requirement of being a natural born citizen?
Years ago in the public schools it was quite generally taught that a President of the United States must be a native born citizen of this country.
The Globe consulted a number of Boston lawyers and government officials seeking to answer the question of McClellan’s eligibility. Most thought that he was eligible, saying things like:
“Yes, he is eligible, as a natural born citizen means a citizen of the United States who became so at the moment of his birth. It not being necessary for Col McClellan to take out naturalization papers, It therefore follows that he is a natural born citizen. The law recognizes only the two classes, the natural born and the naturalized citizen.”
Others, however, disagreed. It’s interesting to read what Boston lawyers had to say on the subject over 100 years ago. The birthers, however, will not find any comfort for their position in the article. No one defined “natural born” as having to be both born in the country and to citizen parents.