I have it on high authority that President Barack Obama is a Kenyan and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is a Canadian. By high authority, I mean that I read something on either social media or a forwarded email with horribly pixelated graphics and a dire threat of a calamitous future should I fail to forward the information on to others.

To be clear, President Obama was born in Hawaii in 1961. Ted Cruz was born in Canada in 1970. Both have been American citizens from birth.

The difference is that President Obama is clearly a “natural born” U.S. citizen. Cruz might not be.

The Constitution states that “No Person except a natural born Citizen” is eligible to hold the office of president of the United States. During the Constitutional Convention, John Jay wrote to George Washington suggesting that it would be:

[W]ise & seasonable to provide a strong check to the admission of Foreigners into the administration of our national Government; and to declare expressly that the Command in chief of the [A]merican army shall not be given to, nor devolve on, any but a natural born Citizen.

The common law definition was likely on the minds of the Constitution’s authors when they included the “natural born” requirement. In 1765, English jurist William Blackstone wrote: “Natural-born subjects are such as are born within the dominions of the crown of England.” That would suggest one needed to be born on British soil or in a British territory to be a British citizen.

The same Blackstone also noted that all children not born on sovereign soil…

…whose fathers were natural-born subjects, are now natural born subjects themselves, to all intents and purposes, without any exception; unless their said fathers were attainted, or banished beyond sea, for high treason; or were then in the service of a prince at enmity with Great Britain.

In short, even the common law seems to provide two routes to the “natural born” claim.

The Naturalization Act of 1790 is the only U.S. statute to use the term “natural born Citizens.” It provides that:

[T]he children of citizens of the United States [born on foreign soil]…shall be considered as natural born Citizens: provided, That the right of citizenship shall not descend to persons whose fathers have never been resident in the United States.

If courts use the common law to interpret the Constitution’s “natural born” eligibility requirement for president, Ted Cruz might indeed be disqualified. If they opt for the interpretation that “natural born” essentially means “citizen at birth,” then he’s likely in the clear. Either way, it’s past time to re-evaluate “natural born” as a constitutional qualification for president.

Before you get your hackles up, realize that America’s founders specifically exempted themselves in the text of the Constitution from the “natural born” requirement. They were quite suspicious of foreigners—other than themselves—who would seek the fledgling nation’s highest office to the advantage of some other nation. In the 18th century, those concerns might have made more sense.

Was George Romney a double agent for Mexico when he ran for President in 1968? No. Does John McCain have a secret Panamanian connection? No. Are we seriously concerned that Ted Cruz might be a Canadian plant? No.

Even if we eliminated the “natural born” requirement, a candidate for president would still need to be a citizen of at least 35 years of age who has resided in the United States for at least 14 years. At a minimum we ought to clarify the constitutional requirement to read that the president must be a citizen from birth.

While we’re at it, we should also consider whether we want to open up the presidency to naturalized citizens. Amending the Constitution shouldn’t be taken lightly, but we shouldn’t categorically eliminate presidential candidates without a good reason either.

The likes of Henry Kissinger (Germany), Bob Hope (England), Ayn Rand (Russia), and Madeleine Albright (Czech Republic) aren’t any less loyal to America because of their countries of birth. Other naturalized citizens like Elie Wiesel (Romania), who lived through imprisonment at the Auschwitz, Buna and Buchenwald concentration camps, carry an appreciation for America that weaves beautifully into the fabric of our nation.

Ronald Reagan famously stated that freedom isn’t passed “to our children in the bloodstream.” Neither is it passed along through the soil on which we’re born. Yet that’s where we find ourselves: deciding how much national devotion comes free with our dirt.

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