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Obots in history! Zephaniah Smith

Joining the roll of eminent Americans of the “Obots in history!” series” today is Zephaniah Smith. Here is the biography of Congressman Smith from the Wikipedia:

He was born in Wareham, Massachusetts and moved with his parents to Lebanon, Connecticut. He completed preparatory studies and graduated from Yale College in 1778. He studied law, was admitted to the bar and commenced practice in Windham.

He served in the State’s House of Representatives serving as speaker in 1792, and clerk of the house for four sessions. Swift represented Connecticut in the U.S. House from 1793 until 1797 as a Pro-Administration candidate to the Third Congress and as a Federalist to the Fourth Congress (March 4, 1793-March 3, 1797).

He resumed the practice of law at Windham, and engaged in literary pursuits. He served as secretary of the French mission in 1800. Swift was a judge of the Connecticut Supreme Court beginning in 1801 and served as the Chief Justice from 1806 to 1819. He was a member of the Hartford Convention in 1814-15, and a member of the State’s House of Representatives 1820-1822.

One might think that the Chief Justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court would know a thing or two about the law, and it was he who wrote, 6 years after the ratification of the US Constitution, A system of the laws of the state of Connecticut: in six books (1795) which says:

The people are considered as aliens, born in some foreign country, as inhabitants of some neighbouring state in the union, or natural born subjects, born within the state.

It is an established maxim, received by all political writers, that every person owes a natural allegiance to the government of that country in which he is born. Allegiance is defined to be a tie, that binds the subject to the state, and in consequence of his obedience, he is entitled to protection…

The children of aliens, born in this state, are considered as natural born subjects, and have the same rights with the rest of the citizens.

Pg. 163, 167

Obots in HISTORY! George Bancroft

The subject of dictionaries came up in a previous article. As these remarkable coincidences go, I found myself at an estate sale this morning where I found, and purchased, the great granddaddy of dictionaries, The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary from 1971. Of course, after getting it home, I got out the high-powered magnifying glass and looked up “natural-born.” It has one definition that says:

Having a specified position or character by birth; used esp. with subject.

That was hardly worth lugging 20 pounds of books home, except, in addition to the definition, there were some examples of usage, and one of  particular relevance by George Bancroft. It’s not a name I was familiar with, but perhaps I should have been. From the Wikipedia:

George BancroftGeorge Bancroft (October 3, 1800 – January 17, 1891) was an American historian and statesman who was prominent in promoting secondary education both in his home state and at the national level. During his tenure as U.S. Secretary of the Navy, he established the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1845. Among his best-known writings is the magisterial series, History of the United States, from the Discovery of the American Continent.

It is from that latter work that the OED quotes:

Every one who first saw the light on American soil was a natural-born American citizen.

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Alexander Hamilton on Presidential eligibility

imageOne of the most prominent of the members of the United States Constitutional Convention in 1787 was Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton was a military leader during the Revolutionary War, member of Congress under the Articles of Confederation and would later serve as Secretary of the Treasury. Today, Hamilton is probably most recognized today as the face on the US $10 bill and by more serious-minded folk as one of the three authors of the Federalist Papers, a contemporary defense of the Constitution before its ratification.

Hamilton’s views on Presidential eligibility are found in a “Draft Constitution” that he wrote. It says:

Article IX

§. I. No person shall be eligible to the office of President of the United States unless he be now a Citizen of one of the States, or hereafter be born a Citizen of the United States.

There’s nothing about “parents” in that qualification and that’s how one Framer felt about the subject. That would be the end of the story, except for what happened a couple of centuries later.

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Obots in HISTORY! Edward S. Corwin

Edward S. Corwin was the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University in the first part of the 20th century. Corwin is author of several books including The President, Office and Powers in several editions. In the 1957 edition, he wrote (pp 32-33):

But who are “natural-born citizens”? By the so-called jus soli, which comes from the common law, the term is confined to persons born on the soil of a country; and this rule is recognized by the opening clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which declares to be citizens of the United States “all person born or naturalized within the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof.”

Corwin then goes on to discuss how later legislation extended citizenship to persons born outside the United States to US Citizen parent(s).

Obots in HISTORY! Charles Gordon

Charles Gordon was General Counsel of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, and adjunct Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center in 1968, when he wrote a very influential paper titled: Who Can Be President Of The United States: The Unresolved Enigma,  28 MD L. Rev. 1,1 (1968). I say influential because one journal repository noted its citing 23 times in other law journals, including the recent article by Gabriel Chin in the Michigan Law Review.

The paper is available on the Internet, but first, let me give the brief citation that qualifies Professor Gordon as an Obot:

Under the presidential qualification clause of the Constitution, only “natural-born” citizens are qualified for this highest office. It is clear enough that native-born citizens are eligible and that naturalized citizens are not.

Gordon does not waste his  32-pages on what is “clear enough” but rather discusses the question of whether those born citizens outside the United States are natural born citizens in the wake of George Romney’s (born in Mexico) candidacy for president. This is a well-researched article (244 footnotes!) and well worth reading. I’m not going to attempt to summarize it except to mention a few things that struck me among much material that is familiar. Continue Reading →

Obots in HISTORY! William Gaston (1778 – 1844)

William Gaston

William Gaston

William J. Gaston (for whom Gaston County, North Carolina was named) was a distinguished jurist, state legislator and US Congressman from North Carolina. Gaston served on the Supreme Court of North Carolina from 1883 until his death in 1884.

In the decision of the NC Supreme Court in State v. Manuel, 4 Devereaux & Battle 25-26 (N.C., 1838), Gaston concluded that free blacks were citizens saying:

All free persons born within the state are citizens of the state….

The term “citizen” as understood in our law, is precisely analogous to the term subject in common law, and the change of phrase has entirely resulted from the change of government. The sovereignty has been transferred from one man to the collective body of the people–and he who before was a “subject of the king” is now “a citizen of the state.”

This is important both in the invocation of the common law in the decision of a citizenship issue as well as the affirmation of the equivalence of “citizen” and “subject”.

Thus in North Carolina was affirmed the same principle that 6 years later appeared in the decision of Lynch v. Clarke in New York.

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