Citizen? McCain

Washington Post:

"On Wednesday evening, the U.S. Senate unanimously declared John S. McCain III a "natural-born citizen," eligible to be president of the United States. That was the good news for the presumptive Republican nominee, who was born nearly 72 years ago in a military hospital in the Panama Canal Zone. The bad news is that the Senate resolution is a non-binding opinion that fails to resolve one of the murkiest, untested areas of the U.S. constitution."

No McCain listed.

"Despite widespread popular belief, U.S. military installations abroad and U.S. diplomatic or consular facilities are not part of the United States within the meaning of the 14th Amendment. A child born on the premises of such a facility is not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States and does not acquire U.S. citizenship by reason of birth."

While some people will no doubt seize on the missing birth record as evidence that McCain was not born in the Canal Zone, my own view is that it is probably a bureaucratic snafu. The combination of the birth announcement in the Panamanian American plus the McCain birth certificate plus the memories of his 96-year-old mother persuades me that the senator was indeed born inside the Canal Zone.

But that does not entirely end the constitutional debate. The question remains: how did McCain acquire his U.S. citizenship, by birth or by naturalization. Even though the 10-mile wide Canal Zone was effectively under American sovereignty between 1904 and 1979, when it was handed back to the Panamanians, it was not "in" the United States.


Anonymous said...

What's the point with this natural born citizen crap? His father was in the Navy and on duty and he's a citizen.

What are you? The anti-Shaun Hannity?

Roadkill said...


This entire controversy is ridiculous and contrived, and the article in the Post is clearly designed less to enlighten than to becloud the issue. Let me set things straight:

The 14th amendment, adopted in 1868and designed to (among other things) codify citizenship for recently liberated slaves, is not the constitutional provision at issue in this brouhaha. It is, rather, Art II, Sec. 1 of the U.S. Constitution which sets forth requirements for the Presidency, to wit: "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 . . . ."

If the drafters of the Constitution had wanted to require that presidents be born in the United States, they could have done so. Instead, they invoked the then-standard idea of natural citizenship as reflecting natural allegiance to the king or the state.

At the time of the Constitution’s adoption, the definition of “natural born” was settled law in Anglo-American jurisprudence, and standard 18th century dictionaries and commentaries couldn’t have been clearer on this point. For example, Giles Jacob in The New Law-Dictionary (1743) and The Common Law Common-plac’d (1733) made clear who was an alien and who was a "natural born subject”:

“The Children of Ambassadors in a foreign Country, are natural born Subjects, and not Aliens.”

Also, the great English jurist Blackstone, in his “Commentaries,” (1765) writes:

“The first and most obvious division of the people is into aliens and natural-born subjects. Natural-born subjects are such as are born within the dominions of the crown of England, that is, within the ligeance, or as it is generally called, the allegiance of the king; and aliens, such as are born out of it. Allegiance is the tie, or ligamen, which binds the subject to the king, in return for that protection which the king affords the subject.

“And this maxim of the law proceeded upon a general principle, that every man owes natural allegiance where he is born, and cannot owe two such allegiances, or serve two masters, at once. Yet the children of the king's embassadors born abroad were always held to be natural subjects: for as the father, though in a foreign country, owes not even a local allegiance to the prince to whom he is sent; so, with regard to the son also, he was held (by a kind of postliminium) to be born under the king of England's allegiance, represented by his father, the embassador.

“To encourage also foreign commerce, it was enacted by statute 25 Edw. III. st. 2. that all children born abroad, provided both their parents were at the time of the birth in allegiance to the king, and the mother had passed the seas by her husband's consent, might inherit as if born in England: and accordingly it hath been so adjudged in behalf of merchants. But by several more modern statutes these restrictions are still farther taken off: so that all children, born out of the king's ligeance, whose fathers were natural-born subjects, are now natural-born subjects themselves, to all intents and purposes, without any exception.”

According to even the most technical meaning of "natural born" citizen in the 1780s, John McCain – born of American parents while they were stationed overseas at the bidding of the US Government – is a natural born citizen of the United States.

But if you are looking for reasons to question McCain’s qualifications for the Presidency, check out his legislative assaults on the First Amendment (via McCain-Fingold), or his hostility toward securing our borders against illegal immigration, or his involvement in the Keating 5 scandal. Those are some real problems with his candidacy.