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February 23, 2004

Let's Explore Foreign Citizens As US Presidents

Arnold Schwarzenegger
wants naturalized Americans to be able to not only run for president but be able to become one. That would require a constitutional amendment.

Canadian-born Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm seems in no hurry for such an amendment.

There seems to be a run on these constitutional amendments these days from Republicans, what with Bush saying (don't get all parsing on me UPDATE 2-25-04: Now you can't even try) the country needs an amendment defining marriage (whoever heard of something so ridiculous by the way) as between a man and a woman. (Does this mean people who have had sex change operations would be precluded from marrying? Because I know a couple like that who are married.)

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; neither shall any person be eligible to that office who shall not have attained to the age of thirty five years, and been fourteen Years a resident within the United States.
So, why was the provision of exclusivity for natural-born citizens as president put in the constitution in the first place? (Article II, Section 1, clause 5) Also at Tom Delay's Senate site.

Of course, we didn't want the British becoming president any time after we gained our independence from them. Citizens of the United Kingdom had also experienced foreign-born royalty ruling over them; royalty who had attained that station by the simple act of marriage, convenience or not.
It is impossible not to bestow the imputation of deliberate imposture and deception upon the gross pretence of a similitude between a King of Great-Britain and a magistrate of the character marked out for that of the President of the United States. It is still more impossible to withhold that imputation from the rash and barefaced expedients which have been employed to give success to the attempted imposition.
(Federalist No. 67)

Schwarzenegger wants the entirely sensible provision of 20 years of residency as part of the equation. Sen Orrin Hatch, of neigboring Utah, has introduced just such a bill. If you just asked "Why would Sen. Hatch do such a thing?", please pat yourself on the back. And keep wondering and asking.

From the article linked above:
"There are so many people in this country that are now from overseas, that are immigrants, that are doing such a terrific job with their work, bringing businesses here, that there's no reason why not," said Schwarzenegger, who became a U.S. citizen in 1983.

"Look at the kind of contribution that people like Henry Kissinger have made, Madeleine Albright," he said, referring to two former secretaries of state who were born in Europe.

No reason? Has he thought this through? Well first of all, can we talk about accents? More seriously, though, what about the other provisions of that same clause.

Why 35 years old?

Why a resident of the US for 14 years? (In other words, if you are born in the US but then your family moves away while you are a baby and you then come back you can't run for president for 13 more years.

Why not ask for the removal of those provisions? I realize they do not have to be a package deal, but the reasons for those requirements are equal.

You cannot be William Pitt the Younger (Prime Minister of England at 24) or Edward the VI (King at 9 years old).

The clearest objection I see is that, the laws of other countries are different. To just pick an absurd, but clear, example: If candidate Jonesenegger committed murder in country AAA but it is not a crime there then how do we handle that, when murder is a felony crime in the USA, removing a person from eligibility from office.

What about a person who has taken a child bride in country AAA where it is perfectly legal? Like Sweden, at least for now.

What about a person who has been a former King or Queen in country AAA and had the full and unusual powers of the executive and/or head of state there.

Your immediate point might be - well that person in any of those examples would have no chance in hell of getting elected in the USA. But, I would retort, they have done nothing illegal and have, in the case of taking a child bride, participated in the norm of the other country.

There is more to the idea than just adding a residency of 20 years. What of a man (or woman) who has lived all his life on military bases and owns no property. His riches he keeps in cash or stocks or bonds. He is not landed, which was another of the original reasons for requiring age and residency requirements for US congressional office and president.

The House of Representatives discussed citizenship in 1790. Here.

The most germane excerpt is from Mr. Sedgwick:
The citizens of America preferred this country, because it is to be preferred; the like principle he wished might be held by every man who came from Europe to reside here; but there was at least some grounds to fear the contrary; their sensations, impregnated with prejudices of education, acquired under monarchical and aristocratical Governments, may deprive them of that zest for pure republicanism, which is necessary in order to taste its beneficence with that gratitude which we feel on the occasion. Some kind of probation, as it has been termed, is absolutely requisite, to enable them to feel and be sensible of the blessing. Without that probation, he should be sorry to see them exercise a right which we have gloriously struggled to attain.

However, the consideration of length of residency filled a great deal of time in the discussion.
Mr. Stone gave it as his opinion, that a person, who meant to qualify himself for becoming a citizen of the United States, ought to take the oath of residence and allegiance within six months, and be thereupon entitled to hold property; but that he should not be capable of holding an office, or electing others into one, for seven years.

Mr. Burke.--Unless some residence is required, it may be attended with confusion. In large cities, like Boston, New York, or Philadelphia, an election may be carried by the votes of the body of sailors who happened to be in port. If the French fleet was here at such a time, and a spirit of party strongly excited, perhaps one of the candidates might get the crews of every ship in the fleet, and after qualifying them, by taking an oath of no definite meaning, carry them up to the hustings, and place himself or his friend on this floor, contrary to the voice of nine-tenths of the city. Even a residence of one year is too short, it ought to be two, three, or four; but seven is too long.

There's more out there. It should not be a rash decision. As is mentioned in this AP article in the Salt Lake Tribune, from last year, Democrats have introduced similar bills.

The full text of Sen. Hatch's Equal Opportunity to Govern Amendment, introduced last year, speaks only of rashness and not of reason. A time there may be for such a change. Now is not that time.

The words Sen. Hatch used to introduce his amendment on July 10, 2003 are here (and not on the Senator's Web site)

See also this Washington Times commentary (though while reading I can't help thinking of the Rev. Moon and his aspirations.)

See also a few lighthearted comments here at a place called Blogcritics.org.

See also the Google search for "hatch citizen amendment"