Amend the Constitution: We’re Ready for an Immigrant President
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
When John Jay lobbied George Washington to include this clause in the constitution, the world was a very different place. It was a world that still largely believed in the divine right of kings, and a world that often believed giving power to the people was a road to ruin.
The Framers were attempting to create something truly unique, a nation author Alexis de Tocqueville would later call “The Great American Experiment”. They sought to imbue the people with a level of personal sovereignty and power that had not trickled down to the common man since the Athenian democracy.
It was a radical idea inspired by radical thinkers like Locke, Hobbes, and Rousseau — an idea many expected to fail.
Jay and his contemporaries felt their enemies around the world would not be content to let the American Experiment fail, they were terrified about the possibility of foreign powers invading the Executive Branch and hastening America’s decline:
Permit me to hint, whether it would not be wise & seasonable to provide a strong check to the admission of Foreigners into the administration of our national Government; and to declare expresly that the Command in chief of the american army shall not be given to, nor devolve on, any but a natural born Citizen.
John Jay, Letter to George Washington (July 25th, 1787)
In the world of the late 18th century, the Framers were more afraid of strings being pulled from London or Paris than they were of excluding competent leaders from the presidency.
Some two centuries later America is a very different place. As we’ve grown our brand of democracy has served as a model for many nations around the world.
America is no longer an experiment, it is an institution.
A large factor in our growth and success has been the waves of immigration from every corner of the world that have created the diverse, plural society we now enjoy.
In the context of a nation’s infancy, born in a hostile world surrounded by super powers who would gladly swallow it whole, Jay’s Natural Born Citizen requirement made some sense. In a globalized world where we face few serious external threats, that same requirement feels outdated.
Countless barrels of ink have been spilled debating the eligibility of presidential candidates under the Natural Born Citizen clause. Ted Cruz may be the latest to endure these attacks, but it’s an absurd drama we’ve seen played out many times before — John McCain, Barack Obama, Chester A. Arthur, Barry Goldwater and many others have faced often insipid arguments about their provenance.
It’s become an expected distraction that diverts attention from the serious issues that require our consideration.
Our most widely recognized symbol, the Statue of Liberty, celebrates America as a nation of immigrants, and yet we would deny those immigrants the chance of running for president. As the Constitution is now written no matter how qualified or how loyal a candidate is to this country, if the happenstance of their birth placed them on the other side of an arbitrary line they cannot be considered.
Being born within these artificial borders no longer guarantees freedom from foreign influence. We now have the ability to interact with people from all around the globe, and we happily we invite nearly every country to invest in our nation and help expand the global economy.
The flip side is that as foreign ideas can flow in, so too can our ideas flow out.
America is more than a place, it’s an idea. An idea that for better or for worse, the individual should ultimately write their own destiny. It’s a system of values that you can embrace regardless of whether you were born in Topeka or Tikrit.
It would be a relief to put this anachronism behind us and move forward into a new century giving the power to the people to select who should be our leader regardless of where they were born, and in so doing consign these absurd arguments of eligibility to the dustbin of history.