April 2010
« Mar   May »

4 Supreme Court Cases define “natural born citizen”

I spend a good deal of time in political forums when I have time to spare. Inevitably comments regarding the qualifications to be a citizen of the USA and that of natural born citizen arise. What usually follows is a “knock down drag out” on Obama meeting or not meeting the “natural born citizen” qualification for President of the USA.

It is staggering how many people seem to believe Juan and Rosita Valdez from Mexico stepping across the border to have baby Juan Jr. now have a “natural born citizen” in tow.

Another comment that is common is “there is nothing defining natural born citizen in our original documents”.
There is information on the subject for anyone choosing to ferret it all out. The problem is few are willing to put in that effort.
The most prevalent logic seems to be that if no one has done anything about this situation there must be no problem.
Believe me I have asked the same questions.
Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck both with the best research teams have not found the information below?
I have heard Andrew Napolitano a Constitution expert say nothing about this.
I have to wonder why? There has been enough flap in the media over the Obama BC. Why no comments about this apparent breech to the Constitution from the people who claim to be fighting for the preservation of it?

Read below and judge for yourself.
Clearly with all of the controversy surrounding Barack Obama at some point (probably after he is voted out of office in 2012) this issue will be visited and settled again in another landmark case by the SCOTUS.

“Republished with permission of The Post & Email.”

by John Charlton

(Oct. 18, 2009) — The Post & Email has in several articles mentioned that the Supreme Court of the United States has given the definition of what a “natural born citizen” is. Since being a natural born citizen is an objective qualification and requirement of office for the U.S. President, it is important for all U.S. Citizens to undertsand what this term means.

Let’s cut through all the opinion and speculation, all the “he says”, “she says”, fluff, and go right to the irrefutable, constitutional authority on all terms and phrases mentioned in the U.S. Constitution: the Supreme Court of the United States.

There are 4 such cases which speak of the notion of “natural born citizenship”.

Each of these cases will cite or apply the definition of this term, as given in a book entitled, The Law of Nations, written by Emmerich de Vattel, a Swiss-German philosopher of law. In that book, the following definition of a “natural born citizen” appears, in Book I, Chapter 19, § 212, of the English translation of 1797 (p. 110):

§ 212. Citizens and natives.

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 the citizens, those children naturally follow the condition of their fathers, and succeed to all their rights. . . .

The French original of 1757, on that same passage read thus:

Les naturels, ou indigenes, sont ceux qui sont nes dans le pays de parents citoyens, . . .

The terms “natives” and “natural born citizens” are obviously English terms; used to render the idea convyed by the French phrase “les naturels, ou indigenes”: but both refered to the same category of citizen: one born in the country, of parents who were citizens of that country.

In the political philosophy of Vattel, the term “naturels” refers to citizens who are such by the Law of Nature, that is by the natural cirumstances of their birth — which they did not choose; the term “indigenes” is from the Latin, indigenes, which like the English, “indigenous”, means “begotten from within” (inde-genes), as in the phrase “the indigenous natives are the peoples who have been born and lived there for generations.” Hence the meaning the the term, “natural born citizen”, or “naturels ou indigenes” is the same: born in the country of two parents who are citizens of that country.

Vattel did not invent the notion “natural born citizen”; he was merely applying the Law of Nature to questions of citizenship. In fact the term first appears in a letter of the future Supreme Court Justice, John Jay, to George Washington during the Constitutional Convention, where the Framers were consulting 3 copies Vattel’s book to complete their work (according to the testimony of Benjamin Franklin).

Let take a brief look, now, at each case. For each case I include the link to the full text of the ruling.

The Venus, 12 U.S. 8 Cranch 253 253 (1814)
The first was decided in A.D. 1814, at the beginning of the republic, by men who were intimately associated with the American Revolution. In that year the following men sat on the Supreme Court:

Bushrod Washington, (b. June 5, 1762 — d. Nov. 26, 1829), served Feb. 4, 1799 til Nov. 26, 1829.

John Marshall (b. Sept. 24, 1755 — d. July 6, 1835), served Feb. 4, 1891 til July 6, 1835.

William Johnson (b. Dec. 27, 1771 — d. Aug. 4, 1834), served May 7, 1804, til Aug. 4, 1834.

Henry Brockholst Livingston (b. Nov. 25, 1757 — d. Mar. 18, 1823), served Jan. 20, 1807 til March 18, 1823

Thomas Todd (b. Jan. 23, 1765 — d. Feb. 7, 1826), served May 4, 1807 til Feb. 7, 1826.

Gabriel Duvall (b. Dec. 6, 1752 — d. Mar. 6, 1844), served Nov. 23, 1811 til Jany 14, 1835.

Joseph Story (b. Sept. 18, 1779 — d. Sept. 10, 1845), served Feb. 3, 1812 til Sept. 10, 1845

Nearly all these men either participated in the American Revolution, or their fathers did. Joseph Story’s father took part in the original Boston Tea Party. Thomas Todd served 6 months in the army against the British; and participated in 5 Constitutional Conventions from 1784-1792. During the Revolutionary War, Henry Brockholst Livingston was a Lieutenant Colonel in the New York Line and an aide-de-camp to General Benedict Arnold, before the latter’s defection to the British. William Johnson’s father, mother, and elder brother were revolutionaries, who served as statesman, rebel, or nurse/assistant to the line troops, respectively. John Marshall was First Lieutenant of the Culpeper Minutement of Virginia, and then Lieutenant in the Eleventh Virginian Continental Regiment, and a personal friend of General George Washington; and debated for ratification of the U.S. Constitution by the Virginian General Assembly. Bushrod Washington was George Washington’s nephew and heir.

Being witnesses and heirs of the Revolution, they understood what the Framers of the Constitution had intended.

The Venus case regarded the question whether the cargo of a merchantman, named the Venus, belonging to an American citizen, and being shipped from British territory to America during the War of 1812, could be seized and taken as a prize by an American privateer. But what the case said about citizenship, is what matters here.


In the Venus Case, Justice Livingston, who wrote the unanimous decision, quoted the entire §212nd paragraph from the French edition, using his own English, on p. 12 of the ruling:

Vattel, who, though not very full to this point, is more explicit and more satisfactory on it than any other whose work has fallen into my hands, says:

“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 indigenes are those born in the country of parents who are citizens. Society not being able to subsist and to perpetuate itself but by the children of the citizens, those children naturally follow the condition of their fathers, and succeed to all their rights.

“The inhabitants, as distinguished from citizens, are strangers who are permitted to settle and stay in the country. Bound by their residence to the society, they are subject to the laws of the state while they reside there, and they are obliged to defend it…

Shanks v. Dupont, 28 U.S. 3 Pet. 242 242 (1830)
In 16 years later the Supreme Court heard the case regarding the dispute over the inheritance received by two daughters of an American colonist, from South Carolina; one of whom went to England and remained a British subject, the other of whom remained in South Carolina and became an American citizen. At the beginning of the case, Justice Story, who gave the ruling, does not cite Vattel per se, but cites the principle of citizenship enshrined in his definition of a “natural born citizen”:

Ann Scott was born in South Carolina before the American revolution, and her father adhered to the American cause and remained and was at his death a citizen of South Carolina. There is no dispute that his daughter Ann, at the time of the Revolution and afterwards, remained in South Carolina until December, 1782. Whether she was of age during this time does not appear. If she was, then her birth and residence might be deemed to constitute her by election a citizen of South Carolina. If she was not of age, then she might well be deemed under the circumstances of this case to hold the citizenship of her father, for children born in a country, continuing while under age in the family of the father, partake of his national character as a citizen of that country. Her citizenship, then, being prima facie established, and indeed this is admitted in the pleadings, has it ever been lost, or was it lost before the death of her father, so that the estate in question was, upon the descent cast, incapable of vesting in her? Upon the facts stated, it appears to us that it was not lost and that she was capable of taking it at the time of the descent cast.

Minor v. Happersett , 88 U.S. 162 (1875)
This case concerned Mrs. Happersett, an original suffragette, who in virtue of the 14th Amendment attempted to register to vote in the State of Missouri, and was refused because she was not a man. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in that year, wrote the majority opinion, in which he stated:

The Constitution does not in words say who shall be natural-born citizens. Resort must be had elsewhere to ascertain that. At common law, with the nomenclature of which the framers of the Constitution were familiar, it was never doubted that all children born in a country of parents who were its citizens became themselves, upon their birth, citizens also. These were natives or natural-born citizens, as distinguished from aliens or foreigners. Some authorities go further and include as citizens children born within the jurisdiction without reference to the citizenship of their parents.

United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649 (1898)
In this case, Wong Kim Ark, the son of 2 resident Chinese aliens, claimed U.S. Citizenship and was vindicated by the court on the basis of the 14th Amendment. In this case the Justice Gray gave the opinion of the court. On p. 168-9 of the record, He cites approvingly the decision in Minor vs. Happersett:

At common law, with the nomenclature of which the framers of the Constitution were familiar, it was never doubted that all children, born in a country of parents who were its citizens, became themselves, upon their birth, citizens also. These were natives, or natural-born citizens, as distinguished from aliens or foreigners.

On the basis of the 14th Amendment, however, the majority opinion coined a new definition for “native citizen”, as anyone who was born in the U.S.A., under the jurisdiction of the United States. The Court gave a novel interpretation to jurisdiction, and thus extended citizenship to all born in the country (excepting those born of ambassadors and foreign armies etc.); but it did not extend the meaning of the term “natural born citizen.”

Finally it should be noted, that to define a term is to indicate the category or class of things which it signifies. In this sense, the Supreme Court of the United States has never applied the term “natural born citizen” to any other category than “those born in the country of parents who are citizens thereof”.

Hence every U.S. Citizen must accept this definition or categorical designation, and fulfil his constitutional duties accordingly. No member of Congress, no judge of the Federal Judiciary, no elected or appointed official in Federal or State government has the right to use any other definition; and if he does, he is acting unlawfully, because unconstitutionally.

© 2009, The Post & Email, Inc. All rights reserved internationally, unless otherwise specified. To read more on our copyright restrictions, see our Copyright notice on the subheader of every page, along the left margin.

34 Responses to 4 Supreme Court Cases define “natural born citizen”

  • This is such a great resource that you are providing and you give it away for free. I enjoy seeing websites that understand the value of providing a prime resource for free. I truly loved reading your post. Thanks!

  • Wow this is a great resource.. I’m enjoying it.. good article

  • Absolutely

    So much is out there. Every time I hear the idiots say BHO is a NBC because he was born in Hawaii makes me steam.

    You are not the first to cite Vattel or the Wong Kim case, but I have not before seen the other cases mentioned and they add additional support.

    There is also the widely quoted 1790 nturalization act, which although repealed, mentions “Natural Born Citizen” to the efect that it involves the status of a child of two US Citizens, confirming the understanding of the Vattel definition.

    Lastly, the exception clause itself is a telling key. Nearly all the founders were born in and were citizens of one of the component states of the US. Why if NBC meant native born would this execption be required? It was because they were born subjects to a foreign sovereign.

  • Hi Rob,

    I find this whole mess interesting and amusing at the same time.

    All of the fury of the Hawaii BC is frivolous and a distraction from the real issue.

    I also understand how what is now occurring in our country was a needed process to wake up “we the people”. So actually we can thank BHO or what he has done. We forget all that he has done can be over turned. Perhaps quicker then any of us understand today. The not so bright side of all this is … if he were booted today we would have Biden.

    So it is my belief when the dust settles Obama will be a disgrace (not that he cares) … the public will be more diligent on who gets into office … we will indeed end up with change that is good for the country.

    The bottom line is do we follow the Constitution and founding documents or do we follow some new regime by this renegade progressive group.

  • Hi there, I found your blog via Google while searching for a related topic, your site came up, it looks good.

  • found your site on today and really liked it.. i bookmarked it and will be back to check it out some more later

  • I find this website by happenstance at a great time in my own reading.

    I would recommend reading the Dred Scott decision (Dred Scott v. Sandford). Although the reasoning appears faulty, the decision explores the meaning of the word “citizen” in-depth in determining if Scott has the right to bring suit in a federal court. It also touches on the “citizen” status of Native Americans.

    The crux is that as pointed out in having 4 (5 counting Dred Scott) is that the term citizen is not defined in the Constitution (likely as a matter of obfuscation to allow acceptance by federalist and Jeffersonian acceptance in that this would have allowed the States to individually define its citizenry with the understanding that federal definition would rely on State definition); but also that the term is pliable depending on contemporary understandings.

    I would also point out that contemporary US laws defining natural born citizenry includes Jus Sanguins as well as Jus Soli, so that it does not matter where Barack Obama was born as long as one of his parents (in this case his Mother) was a US citizen.

  • Hello Fred Dodge,

    Thank you for your great comment :)

    Yes I have read Dred Scott and just now re-read it and am posting the important point made by the court:

    “The question is simply this: Can a negro, whose ancestors were imported into this country, and sold as slaves, become a member of the political community formed and brought into existence by the Constitution of the United States, and as such become entitled to all the rights, and privileges, and immunities, guarantied by that instrument to the citizen? One of which rights is the privilege of suing in a court of the United States in the cases specified in the Constitution.”

    “It will be observed, that the plea applies to that class of persons only whose ancestors were negroes of the African race, and imported into this country, and sold and held as slaves. The only matter in issue before the court, therefore, is, whether the descendants of such slaves, when they shall be emancipated, or who are born of parents who had become free before their birth, are citizens of a State, in the sense in which the word citizen is used in the Constitution of the United States. And this being the only matter in dispute on the pleadings, the court must be understood as speaking in this opinion of that class only, that is, of those persons who are the descendants of Africans who were imported into this country, and sold as slaves.”

    You are probably already aware that this simply allows that Scott was a “citizen” … it does not proclaim him a “natural born citizen”.

    Your next comment:
    “(likely as a matter of obfuscation to allow acceptance by federalist and Jeffersonian acceptance in that this would have allowed the States to individually define its citizenry with the understanding that federal definition would rely on State definition); but also that the term is pliable depending on contemporary understandings.”

    If we take the rules already set down by the original docs. and SCOTUS so far … the meaning remains quite clear.

    In my mind the most important point:
    Bingham who penned the 14th and made clear definition of the term in Congress should be all we need. His statement clearly defines “natural born citizen” as 2 citizen parents. There is enough dialog recorded before and after to gather that no one in congress during that exchange objected or corrected his statement.

    That leads me to believe the term was well understood by the government (perhaps the citizens as well) at that time.

    It is my personal feeling if we took what was said by those who wrote the documents … at their word instead of trying to out guess them today we might be in better shape. It’s kind of like redefining “IT” when ”IT” no longer suits our fancy.

    If you have further documentation to the contrary by the SCOTUS I would love you to send it my way. I have yet to get any response from the Constitutional Scholars that I have written to on the matter.

    The only answers I come up with (from the no responses) would be either there is none or it’s to hot to handle in writing.

    I would imagine if we want to apply “contemporary understanding” to this term it will have to be done through SCOTUS which would have to overturn previous court rulings. Perhaps a new amendment that probably under these circumstances would not fly with all states.

    Should there be future ruling? It would not be retroactive.

  • Hi, I think your blog might be having browser compatibility issues. When I look at your website in Safari, it looks fine but when opening in Internet Explorer, it has some overlapping. I just wanted to give you a quick heads up! Other then that, great blog!

  • Justice Livingston did not write any part of any of the opinions in the Venus case. Justice Washington wrote the majority opinion, the only legally binding opinion, and he did not mention de Vattel at all.

    There is no page 188-89 in the Wong Kim Ark opinion. It starts on page 649.

    De Vattel never used the term “natural born citizen”. In US law, it’s derivative of the English common law term “natural born subject”.

  • “There is no page 188-89 in the Wong Kim Ark opinion. It starts on page 649”

    Are you looking at: United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649 (1898)?
    Thinking the 169 refers to page rather than Volume?

    Bottom line is simple. We can discuss until the cows come home the opinions of everyone. In the end the issue will land in the lap of the SCOTUS.

    Who is most knowledgeable on the meaning of “natural born citizen”?
    Would you agree John Bingham who penned the 14th? He clearly defines the term in Congress (1866) 1291
    Since no one challenged his definition they apparently agreed.

    I find it infinitely interesting how people today try and second guess the meanings of the framers of our original documents.

    You read the text from that congressional record and tell me what you think he meant?
    Is that statement somehow not clear to you?
    If not how so?

  • Bingham’s opinion did not make it to the final draft. The last word is the majority opinion in the Wong Kim Ark case.

  • That is exactly why it will again be addressed by SCOTUS.

    Wong Kim clarified that he was indeed a US citizen. Not that he was “natural born” nor that he met the natural born requirements. I further realize those supporting one parent would like for the world to interpret a spin on the wording otherwise.

    I believe a spade is a spade … you add nothing or remove anything from the wording.” I think today” leaves us with opinion that is meaningless unless challenged in court.


    You however did not answer the question.
    You read Bingham (I assume) what DO YOU THINK he meant?

    In any case this is not going away.
    Nor should it.

    Where this pertains to Obama?
    He WILL BE FORCED to turn over his records before he runs in 2012.

    I wonder why he has spent millions to cover them up don’t you?
    AHHH arrogance is an expensive foolish endeavor in the end.

    That leaves me to believe someone who is suppose to be smart is either a crook or infinitely stupid. Neither is a qualification for leader of our country.

  • There is no difference between being US born and being natural born in US law, except for diplomats.

    What Bingham thought, which in any case I disagree with, is irrelevant. It has no bearing on the law as it stands.

    It’s hard to see how the US Supreme Court will get a case on this with respect to the President. They are far more likely to get one with respect to an illegal immigrant’s child.

  • “There is no difference between being US born and being natural born in US law, except for diplomats.”

    You continue to say that. You do understand there is your side and the other side that does not agree with you? Therefore the legal challenges.

    So this boils down to: YOU DO understand what Bingham meant but YOU believe he SHOULD HAVE written things according to your definition?
    I get that arguing semantics is less difficult than amending and getting a ratification to the original amendment isn’t it?

    Just WHO do you think someone WITHOUT YOUR BIAS would side with?
    Maybe the person who knew what he was writing when he wrote it?
    That would be the logic I would track.

    I agree the challenge will certainly come in regard to illegal immigrant children. The thrust of that attack is going to be citizen or naturalized PARENTS. You honestly think when this is sorted out it will not overlap on Obama?

    You are well companied in wishful thinking this will all vanish into thin air.
    That company no doubt includes Obama himself :)

    Those pushing for this clarification ARE NOT going to allow it to rest?
    I am not talking about birthers I am talking about constitutionalists who feel liberals/progressives/marxists have run roughshod over our founding documents far to long.
    So fasten your seat belt bucko … my experience has shown me when things start to swing back in the other direction they swing pretty far before they stop.

  • I state the law as it is, and how it was derived from prior law. You state an opinion about how you would like to change it. Fine.

    But since the law is in fact how I put it, that’s how it applies to the President. Only a constitutional amendment would make the change you desire. It’s inconceiveable that such an aendment would be ratified prior to 2012.

    There are no court cases on the horizon that would address the issue. The efforts by various states, if enacted, and that’s a big if, could easily be decided simply on the basis of the Comity Clause without even reaching the natural born issue in the way you might wish. The court would note that Hawaii has provided an official record of the birthplace, and that would be that.

    If you get your wish, however, I have no doubt whatsoever that the court would state the obvious, that native born means natural born since there is no precedent to the contrary, and there is no limiting language in the Constitution.

  • No honestly I get it … that is how YOU interpret the law. You are not alone.

    You stating your opinion over and over does not change what is going on does it? I am simply pointing out to you the logic behind the opposition you (as well as Obama) face.

    This is reminiscent of the Obama super-bowl interview Sunday. He says his ObamaCare is constitutionally sound O’Reilly says no.

    The courts will eventually sort that out as they should. As they will also sort out the “natural born citizenship” issue.

    2012 elections certainly are not that far off. It will be indeed interesting to see what goes on with this issue and others.

  • I must make a correction. I mistakenly referred to the Comity Cluase. I meant to refer to the Full Faith and Credit Clause. There.

  • Excellent information it is actually. Friend on mine has been looking for this content. I also like the design was this a free theme or a pay one?

  • The words of the constitution were not chosen lightly, thus the term “Natural Born Citizen” would mean whatever the contemporary meaning was at the time it was written. That definition in “The Law of Nations” seems crystal clear to me, and it’s definitely contemporary.

    Those who attempt to re-define for their own convenience, what is otherwise well defined, are simply not to be trusted…

  • My father was in the Army, 1n 1953 I was born in germany and my mother was german, she became a US Citizen in 1955, because it took that long. in 1954 the us Government issued her and me a US pasport and we returned to the US. fast forward to my 18th birthday I had to renounce my German citizenship and become a naturlized citizen of the US, the US does not allow dual citizenship. All my life I was told I could not become the presedent because my mother was German when I was born, and Naturaliazation papres insured I could never run for the office. As far as I am concerned Obama did not renounce his Keyna/British of Indeonisian citizenship to become a naturliazed citizen and is not a citizen at all. there are tens of thousands of us military brats that have this special place and full well know the truth.

  • Hello Rob,

    This subject has been studied now by the government elites for a while.

    It is becoming clear they are not concerned enough with Obama NOT BEING “NATURAL BORN” to do anything about it. Why I do not know.

    What I think is we all need to note who they are and systematically when they come up for re-election give them their walking papers.

    If they do not understand the Constitution they need to be gone from our governing system.

  • An important point that no one has brought up is that the constitution in Article VI declares itself the supreme law of the land. All laws to the contrary notwithstanding. With that in mind how could a supreme court decision that changes the meaning and intent of the founding fathers spelled out in the constitution be changed over time? The meaning of Natural Born Citizen can’t have a new meaning assigned to it effectively changing the qualifications to be president thereby amending the constitution without authority.

  • It can not and has not so far.
    That is the point.
    That is why SCOTUS has dodged the cases so far IMO

    If change is to be made there is a process of amendment. Everyone with more than 2 brain cells firing at one time knows that.
    But if the PEOPLE are too ignorant of the law to put up a fuss we have what we have now … corruption to the core.

  • Here is the URL to a document I wrote back in 2010:

    The information is available to any one who really wants to look for it. Even the 1790 law people cite to justify John McCain shows the term existed before then and gives evidence as to what it means.

  • Nice Piece Donald

    Thank you for sharing 😉
    We need to note the same rules apply to Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal.

    Perhaps that is why there was no real fuss from the GOP on the issue.
    And Cruz claims he is a Constitutional Conservative … LOL

    The key proof for me is John Armor Bingham’s statement to congress where he confirms “natural born citizen” understanding and the construction the framers used in regards to birthright and jurisdiction while speaking on civil rights of citizens in the House on March 9, 1866:”[4] [5] [6]

    “[I] find no fault with the introductory clause [S 61 Bill], which is simply declaratory of what is written in the Constitution, that every human being born within the jurisdiction of the United States of parents not owing allegiance to any foreign sovereignty is, in the language of your Constitution itself, a natural born citizen…. . . ”

    Bingham who penned the 14th clearly stated for posterity in our governmental archives. I did note no one leaped to their feet during that session to object or argue the point.

    Here is what I wrote about Bingham in late 2009:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *