According to the Constitution, to be eligible for the presidency (or vice presidency), a person must be a “natural born citizen” of the United States. The purpose of this restriction is to prevent a foreigner from becoming the nation’s chief executive.
How can people become U.S. citizens? There are just two ways; either they are born citizens or they become citizens later in life. In the first case, anyone who is a citizen by nature of his birth is a “natural born citizen.” In the second case, anyone who is a citizen of another country at birth, but is granted U.S. citizenship sometime afterward, is a naturalized citizen.
For example, John McCain, though born in Panama, is eligible for the presidency, because he became a citizen at birth. Similarly, had Gen. George Meade sought the presidency, he would have been eligible because, though born in Spain, he was a U.S. citizen by nature of his birth. Any non-naturalized U.S. citizen over the age of 35 with 14 years of residence can be President of the United States.
Sadly, this common-sense, logical approach does not dissuade some conservative pundits from inventing a new constitutional requirement for the presidency. Despite the plain meaning of the text, they claim that, to be eligible, a person’s parents must also be U.S. citizens. A few even assert that one’s parents must also be natural born citizens. I’ll spare you a recitation of their nonsense about “native born” or Emerich de Vattel or whatnot.
Now that Mitt Romney has become the presumptive Republican nominee, there is speculation that the junior Senator from Florida Marco Rubio will be his running mate. Rubio’s parents were from Cuba and did not become U.S. citizens until he was four years old. Voices from the fringe are claiming that this means Rubio is not eligible – and they’re wrong.
Marco Rubio was born is Miami, Florida. He is, therefore, a natural born citizen of the United States. Per the Constitution, the citizenship status of his parents (or grandparents or anyone but himself) is irrelevant.
Let’s look at U.S. political history for more proof. Were there other instances of a presidential or vice presidential nominee with a foreign-born parent? You betcha!
The first presidential nominee of the Republican Party, in 1856, was John Charles Fremont. He was born in South Carolina to an American mother and a French father. Jean Charles Fremon was born a French citizen, near Lyon, France. He was not a U.S. citizen at the time of his son’s birth and never did become a citizen. Abraham Lincoln campaigned for Fremont. All the founders of the Republican Party campaigned for Fremont. One would be hard-pressed to find any suggestion at the time that Fremont’s birth made him ineligible for the presidency.
The seventh vice presidential nominee of the Republican Party, Chester Arthur, was born in Vermont to an American mother and a foreign-born father. William Arthur was born a British citizen – in County Antrim, Ireland – who did not become a U.S. citizen until his son was 14 years old.
John Fremont, George Meade, Chester Arthur, John McCain, Marco Rubio – all eligible for the presidency. Republicans should not allow themselves to be distracted away from contesting the 2012 presidential campaign on the real issues.
A version of this article originally appeared on Michael's blog Grand Old Partisan.