Reply To: Presidential Eligibility


You only heard one of my two appearances on that question: I later told Mike I needed to come on and correct what I had said the first time.

In an English translation of THE LAW OF NATIONS made in 1789, Vattel says, “The natives, or natural-born citizens, are those born in the country, of parents who are citizens.” There’s a bit of obscurity even in that, it seems to me, as we don’t know whether the plural “parents” is plural in reference to each native or is plural because it refers to plural natives; in other words, we can’t tell whether the plural means that a natural-born citizen must both be born in the country and have two citizen-parents at the time of his birth or just be born in the country of one parent-citizen at the time of his birth.

Note the date of the translation: 1789. By 1789, of course, the Constitution had not only been written, it had been ratified by 11 states. Clearly, then, neither the authors of the Constitution (usually called the “Framers’) nor its ratifiers in 11 of the states can have been relying on that translation.

There’s more: that was the first English translation. Prior to that translation, they’d have had to use a French edition. So what does that passage say in French? Nothing that could be translated “natural-born citizen.” Repeat: nothing translatable as “natural-born citizen.”

The problem of that plural is even more intense in the French. It reads, “Les naturals, ou indigenes, sont ceux qui sont nes dans le pays, des parens citoyens.”

My conclusion? We can’t say that Vattel meant that a citizen’s parents had both to have been citizens at the time of his birth. Not only that, but we can’t say certainly that “natural-born citizen” (a term we don’t see in the French) should be interpreted by reference to this passage from Vattel.

So … I’m out of this game.