The citizens of each state constituted the citizens of the United States when the Constitution was adopted. The rights which appertained to them as citizens of those respective commonwealths accompanied them in the formation of the great compound commonwealth which ensued. They became citizens of the latter without ceasing to be citizens of the former and he who was subsequently born a citizen of a state became at the moment of his birth a citizen of the United States. Therefore every person born within the United States its territories or districts whether the parents are citizens or aliens is a natural born citizen in the sense of the Constitution and entitled to all the rights and privileges appertaining to that capacity. … [the balance of this paragraph is discussed below]
–William Rawle – A View of the Constitution (1829)
William Rawle, a confidant of Washington and Franklin, has impressive credentials. The preceding citation has appeared on this site a number of times in support of the eligibility of Barack Obama to be President of the United States, and the eligibility of anyone else born a US citizen within the country.
Rawle was a US Attorney and a noted jurist, and we may assume that he forms his arguments like a lawyer, and this looks like a logical argument because of the use of the word “therefore.” The most common argument form ending in “therefore” is like this:
1) All (a) are (b)
2) All (b) are (c)
Therefore: All (a) are (c)
Rawle doesn’t provide a second premise, but I think he intended one to be understood, because otherwise the argument doesn’t work. His conclusion doesn’t follow solely from his explicit premise.
In a formal argument, the first premise and the conclusion are sufficient to derive the second premise. Here’s Rawle’s argument substituted into the standard argument form:
1) All persons born in the United States are citizens at birth
2) All (b) are (c)
Therefore: All persons born in the United States are natural born citizens.
In the preceding (b) is “citizens at birth” and (c) is “natural born citizens.”
Therefore: the missing second premise, all (b) are (c), by substitution must be:
“All citizens at birth are natural born citizens.”
If Rawle’s statement is a logical argument in the standard form and there is a missing 2nd premise, then we have undoubtedly derived it. It is reasonable to assume that “natural born citizen” was a term generally understood in 1787, given the paucity of discussion about it, and if it was generally understood, the omission of an explicit second premise is justified and the assumption that Rawle’s argument follows the standard form is very likely. Indeed Rawle tells us as much, writing:
It cannot escape notice that no definition of the nature and rights of citizens appears in the Constitution. The descriptive term is used, with a plain indication that its meaning is understood by all, and this indeed is the general character of the whole instrument. …
Now let’s consider the balance of the paragraph opening of this article from Rawle:
… It is an error to suppose as some (and even so great a mind as Locke) have done, that a child is born a citizen of no country and subject of no government, and that he so continues till the age of discretion, when he is at liberty to put himself under what government he pleases. How far the adult possesses this power will hereafter be considered, but surely it would be unjust both to the state and to the infant, to withhold the quality of the citizen until those years of discretion were attained. Under our Constitution the question is settled by its express language, and when we are informed that, excepting those who were citizens, (however the capacity was acquired) at the time the Constitution was adopted, no person is eligible to the office of president unless he is a natural born citizen, the principle that the place of birth creates the relative quality1 is established as to us.
Rawle’s initial argument left a hole. What if being born in the country just makes one a citizen upon majority? Rawle says that this question is settled by the Constitution’s “express language.” How would it be settled if the phrase “natural born citizen” in the Constitution is defined by place of birth? By that definition, the Constitution says nothing more than that there exists citizens born in the country who at age 35, when they become eligible to run for President, are citizens. The only way the Constitution could settle the question of citizenship with its “express language” is for “natural born citizen” to be generally understood as “citizen from birth” thereby proving that people born in the country are citizens from birth.
Rawle says that the “relative quality” (which I take to be “citizenship from birth”) is established by place of birth (as he says clearly in the opening of the paragraph). Under the Constitution, the only way to be a citizen at birth is to be born in the country, but that is sufficient for his argument. However, under statute, there are other ways (as we saw in the Naturalization Act of 1790) to become a citizen at birth, but Rawle’s book is about the Constitution, not statutory law.
I believe that it was Rawle’s opinion that “all citizens at birth are natural born citizens” based on his writing in A View of the Constitution.