The Birth Certificate is a Red Herring

I’ve been a long-time fan of John Hawkins’ work at Right Wing News, but his recent piece on the Obama birth certificate controversy is unconvincing:

Since it is a constitutional requirement that the President be born in the United States, it’s understandable that some people have been concerned about where Barack Obama was born. Furthermore, when you consider the fact that Barack Obama is a shameless liar, that he grew up in another country, and that there has been a lot of conflicting information out there, it’s easy to see why so many people have become concerned about where he was born.

All that being said: Barack Obama was born in Hawaii. Granted, not everyone on the Right agrees with this assessment, but nevertheless, it’s so.

I agree with Hawkins and other conservative bloggers who’ve argued contra myriad conspiracy theories that Barack H. Obama was indeed born on August 4, 1961 at 7:24 p.m. in Honolulu, Hawaii. I accept this as established fact.

However, I disagree with Hawkins’ framing of the eligibility issue. The problem starts in his very first sentence. Hawkins says that “it is a constitutional requirement that the President be born in the United States.” This is incorrect.

The U.S. Constitution states in pertinent part that “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 (emphasis added). . .”

While some on the fringe right have claimed that Obama was born in Kenya or that his mother renounced her citizenship at some point, the question of Obama’s eligibility hinges entirely on the meaning of the term “natural born citizen.”

Elsewhere throughout the document, the Constitution referenced various other terms, including “person,” “inhabitant,” “citizen,” and “naturalized citizen,” but “natural born citizen” only appears in the section regarding eligibility for the office of the Presidency. Logically, it follows the term “natural born citizen” means something different than these other terms.

It is highly unlikely that the term “natural born citizen” simply mirrors the Britain common law understanding of “natural born subject.” The British used this concept to demand perpetual allegiance from, and exercise sovereignty over, persons born within any territory claimed by the Crown. This was the basis of British impressment of American sailors that led to the War of 1812. Indeed, American resentment over this odious British practice was one of the specific grievances against King George III listed in the Declaration of Independence: “He has constrained our fellow citizens taken captive on the high seas to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends and brethren, or to fall themselves by their hands.”

The term “natural born citizen” is derived from Emmerich de Vattel’s The Law of Nations, the leading treatise on the subject for over a century following its publication in 1758. The Framers were well acquainted with Vattel’s treatise and incorporated its concept of “natural born citizen” in framing the requirements for Presidential eligibility:

“The citizens are the members of the civil society; bound to this society by certain duties, and subject to its authority, they equally participate in its advantages. The natives, or natural-born citizens, are those born in the country, of parents who are citizens. As the society cannot exist and perpetuate itself otherwise than by the children of citizens, those children naturally follow the condition of their fathers, and succeed to all their rights. The society is supposed to desire this, in consequence of what it owes to its own preservation; and it is presumed, as matter of course, that each citizen, on entering into society, reserves to his children the right of becoming members of it. The country of the fathers is therefore that of the children; and these become true citizens merely by their tacit consent. We shall soon see whether, on their coming to the years of discretion, they may renounce their right, and what they owe to the society in which they were born. I say, that, in order to be of the country, it is necessary that a person be born of a father who is a citizen, for, if he is born there of a foreigner, it will be only the place of his birth, and not his country (emphasis added).”
— de Vattel, Emmerich (The Law of Nations, Book 1, Chapter 19, §212: Citizens and Natives)

See this article by Dr. Orly Taitz for an extensive discussion of Vattel’s influence on the Founding Fathers.

As the highlighted excerpt from de Vattel demonstrates, the requirement was clearly intended to safeguard against the possibility of divided or coerced loyalty. The Constitutional language makes this quite clear:

“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. . .”

If the term natural born citizen meant simply a person who acquired citizenship by birth, then the carve-out for mere Citizens when the Constitution was adopted would have been superfluous, as Washington and the other Founders were born in America. To prevent even the possibility of divided loyalty, the Founders insisted on at least two generations of American citizenship as a prerequisite for Presidential eligibility. The grandfathering the Founding Fathers’ generation was a necessary exception since few adults from that generation met the two generation requirement of natural born citizenship.

The biggest mistake in the controversy over Obama’s birth certificate is the focus on the birth certificate.

The birth certificate is a red herring.

It isn’t about the birth certificate. It isn’t even about Barack Obama.

It’s about Barack Obama’s British/Kenyan citizen father.

H/t to my good friend Luis Gonzalez at Boiling Frogs who’s been right about this issue from the beginning.

One Response to The Birth Certificate is a Red Herring

  1. boilingfrogs says:

    Wow…thanks for the hat tip.

    Part 3 is in the works.

    I think I found precedent to question Obama’s eligibility.

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