April 20, 2011 – Article II, Section 1, Clause 5 of the United States Constitution – Guest Essayist: James D. Best, author of Tempest at Dawn
Article II, Section 1, Clause 5
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 president of the United States must meet three eligibility requirements. He or she must be a natural born citizen, be at least thirty-five years old, and have resided within the United States for fourteen years.
The first eligibility requirement is that the president be a natural born citizen.
There is an obsolete way to meet the citizenship requirement. The office seeker could have achieved citizenship before nine states ratified the Constitution. With this proviso, the eight foreign-born delegates to the Federal Convention would be eligible. Before ratification could become a possibility, the Constitution had to make it out of the statehouse, so it was tactful to make every delegate eligible for the executive position.
If a modern candidate is less than two-hundred and twenty years old, he must be a natural born citizen. Someone born inside the United States is a natural born citizen. Although some disagree, persons born outside the United States to United States citizens are considered natural born citizens. The first Congress in 1790 declared that “the children of citizens of the United States, that may be born beyond the sea, or out of the limits of the United States, shall be considered as natural born citizens.” The only reason this did not close the argument is that a Congressional statute cannot alter or clarify the supreme law of the land, but it certainly can be used to determine intent of the framers.
What was the intent of the framers? It actually varied by individual, as it did on many issues. When they debated this clause, Benjamin Franklin said, “When foreigners after looking about for some other country in which they can obtain more happiness, give a preference to ours it is a proof of attachment which ought to excite our confidence and affection.”1
Gouverneur Morris disagreed. “As for those philosophical ‘citizens of the world,’ I don’t want them in public councils. I do not trust them. A man who shakes off attachment to his country can never love any other.”1
(The debates can enlighten on original intent, but in the end, it was the votes that determined what the Constitution meant.)
The president must also be at least thirty-five years old upon taking the oath of office. Today, thirty-five seems young. Theodore Roosevelt was the youngest president at forty-two, and John F. Kennedy was the youngest elected president at forty-three. In 1787, thirty-five was not young. Alexander Hamilton was still five years away from eligibility. His fellow delegates Jonathon Dayton, John Mercer, Richard Dobbs Spaight, and Charles Pinckney were all younger. Even the Father of the Constitution, James Madison, was only thirty-six.
The last eligibility requirement is that the president must have resided within the United States for fourteen years. Justice Story opined that “residence in the constitution, is to be understood, not an absolute inhabitancy within the United States during the whole period; but such an inhabitancy, as includes a permanent domicil in the United States.” Due to draft wording of this clause and the precedent-setting election of Herbert Hoover, it is generally accepted that the fourteen years can be cumulative.
It is also interesting what is not included in this clause. There are no religious, property, hereditary, or military service requirements. Also, Fifty-five men framed a constitution that requires no amendment for a woman president.
1 The Franklin and Morris quotes have been changed to first person from the third person used by James Madison in his notes.
James D. Best is an author who writes historical novels and contemporary novels with a strong historical theme. Tempest at Dawn is a dramatization of the 1787 Constitutional Convention.