Mailbag: Born American

Mailbag: Why you shouldn't sleep through those civics lessons about the U.S. government in school.

Published Mar 23, 2015

23 March 2015

Back in July 2014 we published an article debunking a claim that First Lady Michelle Obama, speaking at a naturalization ceremony, had demonstrated ignorance of the fact that signers of the Declaration of Independence were born in America. One reader wanted to take us to task over the topic and impress upon us that we were wrong, but unfortunately he committed the double error of not having carefully read either our article or the U.S. Constitution:

Michelle Obama stated that the signers of the Declaration of Independence were not "born in America."

The signers WERE born in America and your assessment is incorrect.

If the signers weren't born in the USA, they would not be eligible to become POTUS.


As explicated in our original article, Mrs. Obama hadn't said that the Founding Fathers weren't "born in America"; rather, she noted they were not "born American" — a clear distinction between geography and nationality. So starting off a message by asserting the former merely prompts us to flash back to the words of comedian Louis CK: "Did

you read the thing? It doesn't sound like you read the thing." And going on to remonstrate that if the Founding Fathers "weren't born in the USA, they would not be eligible to become POTUS" puts one squarely in our "People who need to actually read the Constitution" and "People who need to think things through" categories.

It is true that the founders who drew up the U.S. Constitution in 1787 imposed a requirement that only a "natural born citizen" of the United States would be eligible to hold the office of President of the United States. But the framers also imposed a requirement that a would-be President must "have attained to the age of thirty five years," which would have created something of a problem if only natural born citizens of the United States could ever have held that office: since the sovereign nation known as the United States of America didn't exist until 1776 (or 1783, or 1787, depending upon which benchmark one uses), the Constitution's framers would had to have waited about 25 to 35 years before someone natively born in the U.S. finally became old enough to serve as President.

The Founding Fathers were, of course, aware of this issue, which is why Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, which deals with the qualifications, selection, and duties of the POTUS, included the exception that if you were a U.S. citizen in 1788, you were eligible for the presidency no matter where you were born or what citizenship you might previously have held:

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.

Our nation's founders, as well as First Lady Michelle Obama, recognized the distinction between "born in America" and "born in the United States." Some of our readers still don't, though.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as back in 1994.

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