Having recently read the biography of Alexander Hamilton, it occurred to me that there is a possibility that the requirement, written into the Constitution, that the President be a "natural born citizen" was inserted by Alexander Hamilton's enemies to prevent him from rising to the office as a hero of the revolution, despite his West Indies roots? I've seen little discussion in the Federalist papers regarding the intent of the founders.

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    What research have you done? What do Wikipedia and Google say? Isn't the question explicitly addressed in that biography? (please cite biography to prove me wrong). – Mark C. Wallace Oct 22 at 16:49
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    I would caution that The Federalist Papers (largely written by Hamilton, btw) were more a work of mass marketing in favor of the freshly-minted Constitution than an impartial historical record of the actual primary rationale behind things. Sometimes, how things were being sold when people were voting on them is exactly what you'd like to learn (eg: if you are a legal professional doing research). However, if you want the real historical reason, they can occasionally be (intentionally) misleading. – T.E.D. Oct 22 at 18:04
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    Mark C. Wallace: Stop taking the fun out of history. If I did all of the research you think necesssary, there would be no need for me to ask any question. My question got some good answers. Someone who had gone to the play and knew nothing more now does. And, as far as I remember from reading Chernow's book, he didn't mention it. – Bruce James Oct 22 at 18:16

No, because it wouldn't have had any effect. The relevant clause reads "No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution..." Hamilton would have been a citizen at the time the Constitution was adopted.

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    Not only that, but it looks like this particular bit was in fact proposed by Alexander Hamilton. I suppose this might qualify, if you're one of those people who hold the opinion that the man was his own worst enemy. But more likely it was specifically written that way by Hamilton to ensure that he was eligible. – T.E.D. Oct 22 at 17:43
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    @T.E.D. it kind of had to be written that way. Most of those guys had been born as British citizens. Otherwise, none of them would have been eligible. – Seth R Oct 22 at 21:53
  • It didn't have to be that way.."natural born citizen" could have been made to mean natural-born citizen of one of the colonies if they had wanted it to mean that. It would have required defining that notion, though, so it wouldn't have been easy. And it would have left a lot of people out, but perhaps not Hamilton, depending on which colonies were included. ;) – C Monsour Oct 23 at 0:41
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    @SethR quite possibly, the clause clearly was written as it was to ensure that people who were not born in the USA but citizens of the territories that were becoming the USA would be qualified, and nobody else, thus disqualifying for example the British administrators and troops and thus preventing a scheme like the Russians used in the Crimea where just before an election they injected tens of thousands of their own citizens who then instantly became voters because of their status as residents. – jwenting Oct 23 at 11:43

First off, it should be mentioned that the provision would not have excluded Hamilton at any rate, since it explicitly does not apply to anyone who was a US citizen at the time the Constitution was adopted. That, in and of itself, does not of course mean that his enemies weren't the ones who pushed for its inclusion, just that if they were then they did not do so with an eye towards excluding Hamilton (unless, of course, they were just really stupid).

With that said, it is worth noting that Hamilton himself had included such a requirement in a draft proposal he submitted to the Constitutional Convention. The committee that was responsible for the proposal that eventually did make it in to the adopted Constitution indeed included some people who disagreed with Hamilton's preference for an expansive, powerful central government (most notably George Mason and especially Elbridge Gerry) and so could perhaps be called "enemies," but even those disagreements did not necessarily expand to personal enmity (Gerry would later support Hamilton's central-banking plan, for example).

  • I don't think the Constitution can be called "explicit" with the confidence you express. As noted in the topic "What was the original process for becoming a U.S. Citizen?", even James Madison found the Constitution vague as to who was a citizen. Not helpful is the second comma in the Constitution's "natural born" clause. The second comma implies that one had to be a "natural born Citizen at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution" and that there is some other beast called a "Citizen of the United States." Which was Hamilton? – Bruce James Oct 22 at 18:31
  • Hamilton's draft is better written. He says to be a citizen, you have to have been a citizen of one of the states at the time of the adoption, or born in the United States after the adoption of the Constitution. So then under Hamilton's view, we would look to see if, at the time of the Adoption, he was a citizen proper of the state of New York. That makes sense, unlike what the Constitution says. Unfortunately, I do not know the New York law at the time, does anyone? – Bruce James Oct 22 at 18:41
  • @BruceJames Note that neither Hamilton's draft, nor the actual Constitution specify that one must be born in the United States in order to be eligible for the Presidency. Someone born outside of the United States to a U.S. citizen, subject to certain residency requirements, is also considered a natural born citizen and potentially eligible for the Presidency. – 8bittree Oct 23 at 16:10

The reasons for the 'natural born citizen' clause are well-documented, and boil down to what you'd expect: to prevent 'ambitious foreigners' from seizing control of the US government.

Here's a really nice detailed breakdown of the background and reasons for the clause from the Harvard Law Review.

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