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 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.
Bancroft’s 6-volume History (1876) is a remarkable work, and I especially want to read the section on the Federal Convention that wrote our Constitution, where he actually mentions the debate over presidential qualifications. However, the quotation from the OED is in the context of the United States in 1777, between the Revolution and The Articles of Confederation (the Constitution’s predecessor). Here is the quote’s larger context from Volume 5 and I invite you to enjoy this slice of American history as I did:
During the sixteen months that followed the introduction of the plan for confederation prepared by Dickinson, the spirit of separation, fostered by uncontrolled indulgence, and by opposing interests and institutions, visibly increased in congress; and every change in his draft, which of itself proposed only a league of states, diminished the energetic authority which is the first guarantee of liberty.
The United States of America included within their jurisdiction all the territory that had belonged to the old thirteen colonies; and, if Canada would so choose, they were ready to annex Canada.
In the republics of Greece, citizenship had in theory been confined to a body of kindred families, which formed an hereditary caste, a multitudinous aristocracy. Such a system could have no permanent vitality; and the Greek republics, as the Italian republics in after-ages, died out for want of citizens. America adopted the principle of the all-embracing unity of society. As the American territory was that of the old thirteen colonies, so the free people residing upon it formed the free people of the United States. Subject and citizen were correlative terms; subjects of the monarchy became citizens of the republic. He that had owed primary allegiance to the king of England now owed primary allegiance to united America; yet, as the republic was the sudden birth of a revolution, the moderation of congress did not name it treason for the former subjects of the king to adhere to his government only; it was held that whoever chose to remain on the soil, by residence accepted protection and owed allegiance. This is the reason why, for twelve years, free inhabitants and citizens were in American state papers convertible terms, sometimes used one for the other, and sometimes for the sake of perspicuity redundantly joined together.
The king of England claimed as his subjects all persons born within his dominions: in like manner every one who first saw the light on the American soil was a natural born American citizen; but the power of naturalization, which, under the king, each colony had claimed to regulate by its own laws, remained under the confederacy with the separate states.
The king had extended protection to every one of his lieges in every one of the thirteen colonies; now that congress was the successor of the king in America, the right to equal protection was continued to every free inhabitant in whatever state he might sojourn or dwell.
Funny, not a word about De Vattel. Nor about any third class of citizenship beyond natural born and naturalized.
An excellent find, Doc! You might want to go back to that garage sale …. before sunset! You may only find fary dust then. You may also iscover that teh house, before dawn today, had been abandoned for decades, or in fact not existed at all. Did the proprietor appear convincingly human? 😉
Bancroft is quite a figure, his name rings dusty bells. A history can be disregarded as opinon, not having the force of law, but it cannot be discounted as a voice from a point in time … and it’s references, sources, and footnotes can be pure gold.
Stitching a few together:
“It is well settled” … “every one who first saw the light on American soil was a natural-born American citizen.”
You’d think Soros would have had the sense to change his first name too when traveling back in time to plant that little nugget.
While this information might indeed be, well, informative on the topic of Natural Born – it won’t be accepted by my fellow denizens at the Free Republic. We know, thanks to David Barton – that the author of the declaration of the constitution of the pledge of allegiance was Jesus of Nazareth – the same Jesus who single handedly slew King George so Americans could be free to throw tea in harbors everywhere.
As you can see, competing against such an august and revered figure as our lord and savior, without whose mighty axe and blue ox we would have never mastered the mighty sacagawea river, this alleged naval officer George “Obot” Bancroft really isn’t anything close to authoritative.
But nice try. I’ll give that to you.
Yikes: Poe’s Law strikes again… I can’t tell if M. Heuss is a pretty good satirist mocking the lunacy of the Birfers, or if he is ‘on the level’ and badly needs anti-psychotic medication.
Wow, consider the historical context there, too. A six volume history published in 1876 must have been begun shortly after the Civil War.
That’s an awesome thing to write about the greatness of our society and our history, right after the violence and near-destruction of America in that war. Bancroft obviously isn’t describing our all-inclusive citizenship policies as a negative.
While he was writing those six volumes, the Reconstruction Amendments were passed and millions of new natural born citizens were acknowledged. While he doesn’t explicitly mention that, he sure doesn’t seem to disapprove.
There is a 1866 edition that has the quote in Volume 9 page 439.
And here I thought I was too over the top. No – I was attempting for the former, not the latter. My thought process was such that I thought this was a pretty solid article: interesting and informative. It provided links to assist those who were attempting to educate themselves, was to the point, devoid of hyperbole, and was well written
But it would be, if ever brought to the attention of a wild birther, breezily discounted without being more the cursorily glanced at. This thought saddened me. So inspired, I channelled my inner birther and let the crazy flow like raw sewage into the hudson, destined to pollute the oceans of reason with nonsensical references that I was pretty sure would play well to the birther crowd.
I don’t understand. Are you saying that Freemasons badly need anti-psychotic medication?
You know a good colorectal surgeon can remove that for you.
Here’s another tidbit for those of us don’t have access to Bancroft’s “History”. From the Gutenberg project…
Memorial Address on the Life and Character of Abraham Lincoln by George Bancroft
Here’s a digital copy of
History Of The United States Of America Volume I (1888), Bancroft, George
this is volume 1, but the rest are there as well, just search.
It was so over the top, it was like the cow jumping over the moon.
Actually it was started in 1834 according to the Wikipedia.
OK, this is really, really spooky!
Last night I thought I’d dig through my unshelfed book boxes and see if I had any old high school civics books that I had forgotten about. I didn’t find any, but I did find a forgotten book that I picked up at a garage sale years ago: It is “A History of the United States: Volume 1: The Birth of the U.S.A.” by R.B. Nye and J.E. Morpurgo.
So just now I tried a little research on this book. My copy is from Penguin Books and is the 3rd edition published in 1970, but the book is copyright 1955.
I looked up R. B. Nye on the internet and found his full name is Russel Blaine Nye, and he has written quite a few books. One of his books won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography in 1945. Now the spooky bit.
R. B. Nye’s 1945 Pulitzer Prize for Biography was won for the book George Bancroft: Brahmin Rebel.
Six Degrees of Bancroft—all publishing leads to Bancroft!
Here’s a review of Nye’s George Bancroft: Brahmin Rebel.
Or at least the first page of the review. The review critiques Bancroft and his History more than Nye’s biography of him, but that is just the opening paragraphs.
Russel Nye was particularly interested in popular and cultural history. I have his book “The Unembarrassed Muse: The Popular Arts in America.”
Yeah, well, as a U of Michigan fan (albeit as my 2nd team), I wasn’t going to bring up the fact that he spent his working life at Michigan State. Oh well, not everyone makes the right choices in life. My brother-in-law went to State, and he’s not a bad fellow.
It’s a huge mistake to conflate the inclusiveness of citizenship with the exclusionary nature of the presidential qualifications. In one of my recent essays I looked at the impact of the exclusions built into the requirements and chances of being President and concluded that only about 10% of the population were electable. That excluded an entire 50% of all Americans because they were female, then lop off another 25% who were men who were too young, and then added those who were unacceptable, including Jews, Catholics, Muslims, Asians, Blacks, Indians, southern and eastern Europeans, immigrants and their children, and naturalized citizens. And that doesn’t include the too fat, too ugly, too short, too old, or too dumb, which would have a negative effect on one’s appeal.
The door to the presidency could be characterized as being the opposite of the door of admission to America. And Bancrofts declaration about natural born citizens is nothing more than a baseless assumption. I say baseless because it’s only base was an opinion, an impression, but not a principle.