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Reply to Cort Wrotnowski

Mr. Wrotnowski send me an email, and this is my reply.

We agree that de Vattel writes eloquently espousing his view of natural law. And we agree that de Vattel was known to and likely influential in the minds of the framers of the Constitution.

That said, it would not be at all reasonable that to conclude that de Vattel’s views based on the stable Swiss society would closely fit in every respect the ideas from a fledgling frontier immigrant-driven democracy like the United States. Switzerland and the United States in the late 18th century were not the same kind of place. One had a stable population. The other needed immigrants just to keep the population from declining because of disease (at least this was the case in the southern colonies).

It would be an error to jump from the statement that de Vattel was influential to the statement that de Vattel was influential on issues of citizenship. One needs some additional evidence to make that connection and I do know where you would find that evidence. Continue Reading →

Defining Natural Born Citizen

Hollister v. Soetoro

Natural born citizen

While coming tantalizingly close, no US Court  has ever decided the definition of “natural born citizen”. The term was not explained in the debates of the Constitutional Convention, nor the state legislatures when it was ratified, nor by individual framers in their speeches, letters or papers. Where do we go for a definition–to an 18th century Swiss philosopher–to an appeal to our shared prejudices?

The US Constitution is replete with terms that it doesn’t define: citizen, impeachment, felonies, treason, bribery, bankruptcy, warrants, grand jury and attainder. These are, however, familiar terms in the common law. The Supreme Court wrote in the case of Smith v. Alabama (1888) 124 U.S. 465:

There is no common law of the United States, in the sense of a national customary law, distinct from the common law of England as adopted by the several States each for itself, applied as its local law, and subject to such alteration as may be provided by its own statutes. . . . There is, however, one clear exception to the statement that there is no national common law. The interpretation of the Constitution of the United States is necessarily influenced by the fact that its provisions are framed in the language of the English common law, and are to be read in the light of its history. Continue Reading →

Town v. Town

Weighing the facts

The place was Connecticut; the year was 1886; the issue was money; the case: Town of New Hartford v. Town of Canaan, 5 A. 360 (Conn. 1886).

Lafayette Parrott was born in Massachusetts in 1836 to a resident alien father (the father later naturalized). Lafayette Parrott lived in various locations, ending up in in New Hartford, CT–where he fell on hard times. He claimed poverty and received financial support from the Town of New Hartford, but that town claimed that Mr. Parrott was really the responsibility of the Town of Canaan, and sued to recover its expenses.

Now it is not at all clear from the case description why the Town of Canaan was singled out as the “place of settlement” of Mr. Parrott, and that is not particularly relevant to our discussion here. What is relevant is that the Connecticut Supreme Court of Errors held that Lafayette Parrott was a citizen of the United States from his birth (even though he was of an alien father). Further the court said that the election of citizenship when a child with dual citizenship reaches majority, “relates back to the time of his birth”. The court provides a wonderful legal survey of the law regarding citizenship in the United States.

There is just too much here to summarize in a few words, so sit back for some extensive citations. Continue Reading →

Naturalization Acts of New York (1770)

newyorkA great deal is made in some quarters about a letter from John Jay of New York to George Washington in 1787 in which Jay suggested that the new US Commander in Chief should be a natural born citizen. What did Jay mean by that phrase? Did he adopt the words from the Swiss philosopher Emmerich de Vattel (with whom he was familiar) or did he perhaps adapt them from the laws of his own state of New York?

Prior to the American revolution in 1776 Americans were British subjects, but it seems clear from the following that natural born subjects were those born in the colony of New York, with no reference to who their parents were.

BE IT THEREFORE ENACTED by his Honor the Lieutenant Governor the Council and the General Assembly and it is hereby enacted by the authority of the same that the before mentioned several Persons and each and every of them shall be and hereby are declared to be naturalized to all Intents Constructions and purposes whatsoever and from henceforth and at all Times hereafter shall be entitled to have and enjoy all the Rights Liberties Privileges and Advantages which his Majesty’s Natural born Subjects in this Colony have and enjoy or ought to have and enjoy as fully to all Intents and purposes whatsoever as if all and every of them had been born within this Colony.

January 27, 1770 Continue Reading →

The Great Mother of All Natural Born Citizen Quotation Pages

Partial lists don’t carry the full impact of citations scattered here and there. This project is to collect everything accessible and to the point into one place If it takes much context or argument, a brief reference and a link is included. I promise you that the quotations will mean the same thing when you read them here than they mean if you read the larger context, and the larger context will be linked to the text. No tricks, no deception.

For additional citations, see The “Natural Born Citizenship” Clause (Updated) to whom this article is indebted for some of these citations. And for EVEN MORE citations see SCOTUS & “Natural Born Citizen” – A Compendium, Books on Google that define “Natural Born Citizen” and History of US citizenship laws.

Continue Reading →