The Presidency and the Meaning of Citizenship

71 Pages Posted: 28 May 2014

Date Written: 2005


Every American child has heard the stories: Abraham Lincoln was raised in a log cabin without the benefit of electricity and became the sixteenth President of the United States. Harry S. Truman was a failed shopkeeper and became President of the United States. William Jefferson Clinton was born fatherless in Hope, Arkansas and became President of the United States. We are told, as an expression of the openness of opportunity before us, the myth' that every American child can grow up to be President. Not every child can grow up to be President of the United States because Article II, Section 1, Clause 4 of the Constitution reads, "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."

Thousands of children born abroad and subsequently adopted by American citizens are barred from the presidency, despite their "automatic" citizenship by virtue of the Child Citizenship Act of 2000. Nor can naturalized citizens-like Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Jennifer Granholm -become President. There is even some question about whether the biological children of American citizens, born abroad, like Ted Cruz, can become President and whether American Indians, born on U.S. soil, qualify as natural-born citizens. On its face, the Constitution preserves the presidency for those born within the boundaries of the United States and, in this way, enshrines John Rawls's vision of a society that is truly "entered only by birth."

Although citizenship is not limited to those born into American society, that society exhibits deep-seated suspicions of the foreign born. Although naturalized citizens take an oath of allegiance to the United States and are required to renounce citizenship in other countries, strong notions persist that the foreign-born are not completely loyal to their new country. Immigration is viewed with suspicion, and many draw no distinction between legal and illegal immigrants. Similarly, society often draws no distinction between naturalized citizens and resident aliens, seeing only that both were born outside the United States.

Contrary to these societal notions, the United States Supreme Court has stated, "Citizenship obtained through naturalization is not a second-class citizenship." Yet there are countless ways in which our concept of "true" citizenship resides in blood and birth, not in legal acts like naturalization. The constitutional restriction on the Office of the President is just one, albeit a powerful one. As one commentator notes, "The natural-born citizen requirement embodies the presumption that some citizens of the United States are a bit more authentic, a bit more trustworthy, a bit more American than other citizens of the United States, namely those who are naturalized." This Article uses the issue of presidential qualification as a vehicle to examine the meaning of citizenship today, arguing that the Natural-Born Citizen Clause perpetuates a second-class citizenship that is inappropriate and inapposite in modern American society.

Suggested Citation

Seymore, Malinda L., The Presidency and the Meaning of Citizenship (2005). Brigham Young University Law Review, Vol. 2005. Available at SSRN:

Malinda L. Seymore (Contact Author)

Texas A&M University School of Law ( email )

1515 Commerce St.
Fort Worth, TX 76102
United States

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