ArtII.S1.C5.1 Qualifications for the Presidency

Article II, 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 Qualifications Clause set forth in Article II, Section 1, Clause 5 requires the President to be a natural-born citizen, at least thirty-five years of age, and a resident of the United States for at least fourteen years.1

Like the age requirements for membership in the House of Representatives2 and the Senate,3 the age requirement for the presidency set forth at Article II, Section 1, Clause 5 ensures that persons holding the office of President will have the necessary maturity for the position as well as sufficient time in a public role for the electorate to be able to assess the merits of a presidential candidate.4 In his Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, Justice Joseph Story stated: “Considering the nature of the duties, the extent of the information, and the solid wisdom and experience required in the executive department, no one can reasonably doubt the propriety of some qualification of age.” 5

The Framers appear to have adopted the requirement that citizens be natural born citizens to ensure that the President’s loyalties would lie strictly with the United States. By barring naturalized citizens from the presidency, the requirement of being a natural born citizen, as Justice Story explained, protects the United States from “ambitious foreigners, who might otherwise be intriguing for the office; and interposes a barrier against those corrupt interferences of foreign governments in executive elections, which have inflicted the most serious evils upon the elected monarchies of Europe.” 6 Article II, however, provided an exception for foreign-born persons who had immigrated to the colonies prior to the adoption of the Constitution.7 Justice Story explained that this was done “out of respect to those distinguished revolutionary patriots, who were born in a foreign land, and yet had entitled themselves to high honors in their adopted country.” 8

While the Constitution does not define “natural born Citizen,” commentators have opined that the Framers would have understood the term to mean “someone who was a U.S. citizen at birth with no need to go through a naturalization proceeding at some later time.” 9 British statutes from 1709 and 1731 expressly described children of British subjects who were born outside of Great Britain as natural born citizens and provided that they enjoyed the same rights to inheritance as children born in Great Britain.10 In addition, in the Naturalization Act of 1790, the First Congress provided that “children of citizens of the United States, that may be born beyond the sea, . . . shall be considered as natural born citizens . . . .” 11 Consequently, under the principle that “British common law and enactments of the First Congress” are “two particularly useful sources in understanding constitutional terms,” 12 it would appear likely that the Framers would have understood natural born citizen to encompass the children of United States citizens born overseas.13 Such an interpretation is further supported by the presidential candidacies of Senator John McCain of Arizona, who was born in the Panama Canal Zone; Governor George Romney of Michigan, who was born in Mexico, and Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, who was born in Arizona before it became a state.14

The Framers appear to have adopted the fourteen-year residency requirement to ensure that “the people may have a full opportunity to know [the candidate’s] character and merits, and that he may have mingled in the duties, and felt the interests, and understood the principles, and nourished the attachments, belonging to every citizen in a republican government.” 15 Justice Story further explained that the fourteen-year residence requirement is “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.” 16

U.S. Const. art. II, § 1, cl. 5. back
See ArtI.S2.C2.1 Overview of House Qualifications Clause. back
See ArtI.S3.C3.1 Overview of Senate Qualifications Clause. back
The Federalist No. 64 (John Jay) (describing the age requirement as limiting presidential and senatorial candidates to “those who best understand our national interests . . . who are best able to promote those interests, and whose reputation for integrity inspires and merits confidence” ). back
3 Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States § 1472 (1833). back
Id. § 1473. back
U.S. Const. art II, § 1, cl. 5 ( “No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution . . . .” ) (emphasis added). back
3 Story, supra note 5, at § 1473. Justice Story continued: “A positive exclusion of them from the office would have been unjust to their merits, and painful to their sensibilities.” Id. back
Neal Katyal & Paul Clement, On the Meaning of “Natural Born Citizen,” 128 Harv. L. Rev. F. 161, 161 (2015). See also C. Herman Pritchett, Constitutional Law of the Federal System 262 (1984) ( “[P]ersons born abroad to American citizen parents are considered natural-born American citizens” ); Edward S. Corwin’s The Constitution and What It Means Today (Harold W. Chase & Craig R. Ducat, eds., 1973) (noting that, “[a]lthough the courts have never been called upon to decide the question [of whether a child born abroad of American parents is ‘a natural-born citizen’ in the sense of the Qualifications Clause], there is a substantial body of authoritative opinion supporting the position that they are” ). back
7 Anne, ch. 5, § 3 (1709); 4 Geo. 2, ch. 21 (1731). back
Act of March 26, 1790, 1 Stat. 103, 104 (emphasis supplied). For additional discussion, see Weedin v. Chin Bow, 274 U.S. 657, 661–66 (1927) and United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649, 672–75 (1898). With minor variations, the “natural born citizen” language remained law in subsequent reenactments of the Naturalization Act until the 1802 Act, which omitted the italicized words. See Act of Feb. 10, 1855, 10 Stat. 604 (enacting same provision, for offspring of American-citizen fathers, but omitting the italicized phrase). back
Katyal & Clement, supra note 9, at 161 (citing Smith v. Alabama, 124 U.S. 465, 478 (1888) and Wisconsin v. Pelican Ins. Co., 127 U.S. 265, 297 (1888)). back
Id. back
See Katyal & Clement, supra note 9, at 164. back
3 Story, supra note 5, at § 1473. back
Id. Justice Story notes that a stricter construction would have barred U.S. citizens serving in the Nation’s foreign embassies or military or civil officers “who should have been in Canada during the late war.” Id. back