Natural-Born Citizen Clause

WWTJD_1306 Natural-Born Citizen Clause.jpg
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with insisting upon a native-born American to serve as the president of the United States.
— Clay S. Jenkinson portraying Thomas Jefferson

Tune in to your local public radio or join the 1776 Club to hear this episode of What Would Thomas Jefferson Do?

Listen to this week's episode.

Article 2, Section 1, Clause 5

No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty-five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.

The following is a rush transcript.

DS: 00:00 Good day citizens, and welcome to What Would Jefferson Do?, our weekly opportunity to discuss current American events with President Thomas Jefferson, who is seated across from me now. Good day to you, Mr. President. 

CSJ as TJ: 00:14 Good day to you, citizen. 

DS: 00:16 Mr Jefferson. We have a question from one of your listeners, a Sean Johnson. He asks that you would discuss the thoughts between article two, section one, clause five. He thinks it's outdated. Are you familiar with that sir? 

CSJ as TJ: 00:30 I did not write the constitution and in fact was not at the constitutional convention, but I think you're talking about the requirement that a president be native born and 35 years old. 

DS: 00:40 Yes sir. 

CSJ as TJ: 00:41 Well, I grew up in the British empire. I was born in the colony of Virginia in the British empire and we became the United States in 1776 and our constitution was ratified in 1788. Our second constitution. And that's the one with this clause in it. I think it's important that the president be an American born here. I understand immigration and we wanted immigrants in our time much more than you seem to want them in yours. We had an empty continent that we wanted to fill with people who love liberty as ardently as we do, but I do think that the president is the one official elected by all of the people. That's not true of a governor. It's not true of a senator or congressman. The president needs to have a deep connection to the heritage of this country. I think that person needs to have been born here, um, to qualify for that office. 

DS: 01:45 Well, it allowed you to become president, but there are those, uh, in memory who could not have been president. Mr Hamilton comes to mind. I don't think he would have qualified. 

CSJ as TJ: 01:56 I don't know if that has ever been fully resolved. You know, he was born in the Caribbean. He came to this country when he was 14 or so, sponsored by his well-wishers back in the Caribbean. He came to New York and he distinguished himself. He became one of the most important Americans. He was the de facto leader of the federalist party, including in a certain sense, the shadow president during the administration of my friend John Adams. I think that if Hamilton had stood for the presidency and won, which he could never have won by the way, but assuming that he won, I think we would have installed him. I do not think there would have been a constitutional test because he was born before the United States. He would be grandfathered in probably as somebody who became an American instantaneously in the fullest sense of the term on July second 1776 when we resolved independence from Great Britain. I know people talk about his eligibility, but I don't think that was the issue. Now let me say, thank goodness Hamilton was never president. Hamilton is a monarchist. He's a militarist. He's a corruptionist. He believes in industry, in banking and stock markets and so on. This is not a man that really understands our American scene. He admitted so himself in the last letter that he ever wrote before his famous duel, so I'm glad that he never stood for the presidency. If he had stood for it, I don't think he could possibly have won. He was too high toned a federalist to really have any popular support, but I do believe from a constitutional point of view, uh, his election could not have been prohibited. 

DS: 03:36 What about during my time sir? Do you think it still applies? I mean, we have such a connected world now as compared to during your time. We may be missing out on some very qualified people. 

CSJ as TJ: 03:48 Maybe, but I think that America is unique. Those who come here don't always understand us and the entirety of our, of our dream, our system, our exceptionalism. I don't think there's anything wrong with insisting upon a native-born American to serve as the president of the United States. Just remember from just a few years ago in your time how much difficulty you had thinking that the sitting president might possibly have been born in some other country and how that delegitimized him in the minds of millions of people. I think that this is an important principle to, to embrace and you know, there are plenty of other roles for, for recent immigrants. They can be in the US Senate, they can be in the House of Representatives, they can be governors, they can do all sorts of things in this country, but the presidency, in my view, belongs to a native born American. 

DS: 04:44 So keep only American born citizens in the White House is what you're saying. 

CSJ as TJ: 04:48 I am saying that; you make it sound illiberal, but I believe that it's the very heart and soul of what it means to be an American. 

DS: 04:54 Thank you very much, Mr Jefferson. 

CSJ as TJ: 04:56 You are welcome, sir.

More from the Thomas Jefferson Hour