It is very likely that the words “natural born citizen” in the US Constitution were prompted by future Supreme Court Chief Justice John Jay in a letter to George Washington around the time the words were added to the draft of the Constitution. What Jay wrote was:
Permit me to hint, whether it would be wise and seasonable to provide a strong check to the admission of Foreigners into the administration of our national Government; and to declare expressly that the Commander in Chief of the American army shall not be given to nor devolve on, any but a natural born Citizen. [underlining in the original]
In this brief missive the only contextual hint is that a natural born citizen requirement is something that checks the admission of “Foreigners.”
I’ve written about foreigners before in my article titled “The Framers on ‘foreign influence’” and the interested reader will do well to explore the citations in that article, as I am not going to plow that field again; however, I am going to add a rather important bit of information that I did now know when that article was written about one of the sources in it. Historian and Secretary of the Navy George Bancroft wrote in his History of the Formation of the Constitution of the United States (1884) (Volume 1 Page 346):
One question on the qualifications of the president was among the last to be decided. On the twenty-second of August the committee of detail, fixing the requisite age of the president at thirty-five, on their own motion and for the first time required that the president should be a citizen of the United States, and should have been an inhabitant of them for twenty-one years. The idea then arose that no number of years could properly prepare a foreigner for the office of president; but as men of other lands had spilled their blood in the cause of the United States, and had assisted at every stage of the formation of their institutions, the committee of states who were charged with all unfinished business proposed, on the fourth of September, that “no person except a natural-born citizen, or a citizen of the United States at the the of the adoption of this constitution, should be eligible to the office of president,” and for the foreign-born proposed a reduction of the requisite years of residence to fourteen. On the seventh of September, the modification, with the restriction as to the age of the president, was unanimously adopted.
The new information is that Bancroft personally interviewed James Madison, the principal author of the Constitution, and the man whose notes provide much of what we know about the debates in the Constitutional Convention (this was in 1836Note 1). We see again here the idea that a “foreigner” cannot be president. I note the progression: 7 years not a foreigner (House), 9 years not a foreigner (Senate), all years not a foreigner (president). And the fact that begs us to look and take notice, is that the 14-year residency requirement here is “14 years” for the FOREIGN BORN!
To exclude anyone from the presidency according to originalist intent, they must be a foreigner, and to conclude that “natural born citizen” excludes foreign-born US citizens at birth requires labeling them as “foreigners” in the eyes of the Framers. Can anyone make that case?
H/t to Dave B.
1In his preface to the new work Mr. Bancroft says that hope of writing such a book was conceived many years ago. It must have been long after he had begun work on his “History,” for he says that in 1836 he paid a visit to Madison, the aged statesman being then nearing his end, and obtained from the privilege of examining the letters ha had written in the early part of his career, together with the valuable manuscripts in his possession of the debates in Congress and in the Constitutional Convention. At that time, says Mr. Bancroft of the venerable statesman, “his health was still so firm that he could pass the while day in conversation. He had taken pains to recover the letters written by him in his earlier public life; these he set before me, as well as his manuscripts of the debates in Congress and in the Convention. At my departure he assured me that he had carried his confidence with me further than he had done with any one….
Appleton’s Literary Bulletin, Volume 1. June 1882.