Saturday, November 29, 2008
Setting Precedence for the Presidency
It's said that once you "let the cat out of the bag," or the "genie out of the bottle," it's hard to put it back in. Better said, it's difficult to undo precedence once set.
For example, consider Article 2, Section 3, Clause 3 of the US Constitution, signed by the Constitutional Convention delegates in 1787: "No Person shall be a Senator who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty Years, and been nine Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State for which he shall be chosen."
That's right - HE.
In fact, Articles 2, Sections 2 & 3, both refer to Representatives, Senators and even the President with the masculine pronoun. Now, was this a deliberate attempt at keeping women out of the seats of Power, or just a Constitutional "oops"?
The use of the masculine pronouns should also be no surprise. The real reason has more to do with the fact that English lacks a gender-neutral pronoun, and this is fortunate for women, the integrity of the Constitution, and our country.
Also, the Framers never would have thought that a woman might one day be elected to Congress and the Presidency because of the societal views at the time. When you get right down to it, the Framers didn't even think women needed to vote -- but, we did need the 19th Amendment in 1919 to fix this injustice.
No Amendment was needed, however, for Rebecca Felton of Georgia to be appointed as the first woman to serve as Senator in 1922, if only for 24 hours. Hattie Wyatt Caraway of Arkansas was appointed to be Senator after her husband, Senator Thaddeus Caraway, passed away in 1931. The feisty Hattie, however, holds the distinction of being the first woman Senator to be elected by voters to serve upon re-election in 1932 and 1938.
The proverbial "cat was out of the bag" by that point, and we are certainly a better nation for it.
By contrast, Article 2, Section 1, Clause 5 of the Constitution says: "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."
That was not a Constitutional "oops."
Our nation has had the opportunity to let this "genie out of the bottle," but has never done so. Since the first 10 Amendments were codified in 1791 into the Bill of Rights, the US has made 17 times additions or clarifications to the Constitution via Amendment. Modifying Article 2, Section 1 to read "foreign born" or "dual citizen" for president has not been one of them.
Amendments proposing to end the Constitutional requirement of "Natural Born Citizen" have been introduced in Congress subcommittee 26 times since the 1870s, only to have died in subcommittee -- EVERYTIME.
In 2004, a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll taken Nov. 19-21, only 31% favored an amendment to change the "Natural Born Citizen" requirement -- 67% OPPOSED it. Opposition dropped slightly, to 58%, when superstar Arnold Schwarzenegger's name was included in the question.
Why would the Framers insert such a clause?
Martin Van Buren, born 1782, was the first Natural Born Citizen (rather than a British subject) to become US President. Before he served in 1837, his seven presidential predecessors were eligible to serve because they were citizens at the time the Constitution was adopted.
As far as presidential requirements, America has stood by the Framer's words of:
1) a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution
2) attained to the Age of thirty-five Years
3) fourteen Years a Resident within the United States and
4) natural born Citizen
These "genies in the bottle" were decided on by the Framers for a reason. As far the 35 years of age requirement, the founders wanted to ensure the Commander in Chief would have the experience to deal with the nation's problems. With requirements 1 & 3 from the list above, citizens of the US and resident for 14 years inferred a concern for the President to have a high degree of loyalty to the newly-formed country.
The Framers were all citizens, and most had prior loyalty to the King of England, once being British subjects. Because the US was so new, they excluded themselves of requirement #4, "natural born Citizen" by writing themselves the grandfather clause of "at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution."
John Jay, who would later go on to be the first Chief Justice of the US in 1789, hearkened to George Washington in a letter just two years earlier, on July 25, 1787:
“Permit me to hint, whether it would be wise and seasonable to provide a strong check to the admission of Foreigners into the administration of our national Government; and to declare expressly that the Commander in Chief of the American army shall not be given to nor devolve on, any but a natural born Citizen.”
Without pause, when this came up for approval at the Constitutional Convention, it was adopted without debate by the time the convention ended on September 17, 1787
Why would the Framers approve such a clause in the Constitution?
To be exclusionary?
Lust, Greed and Power?
Because they were angry, white men?
Just having broken the bonds to the King of England, they still realized there were those who still had loyalties to him. George Washington himself was accused of still having loyalty to England by his critics at the time. By ratifying the Constitution, and through his deeds and contribution, his loyalty was not in question.
Some people at the time were scared of leaving England because they felt the US could not make it on its own. Others feared retaliation by British troops, a fear borne out in the War of 1812, when the British attempted to "take back" what they felt was rightfully theirs.
"What if" scenarios:
Some people don't like to play "what it" scenarios. However, looking toward the future is often best visualized by reflecting on the past.
If Woodrow Wilson's father had been born a citizen of Bulgaria, would US entry into WWI have happened? Would we have sent servicemen to Germany instead of France?
Were Harry Truman's mother a Japanese citizen, and Truman spent several years attending school there in his youth, would he have still dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Or would he have chosen a widescale invasion of his mom's motherland in an attempt to minimize Japanese casualties, but also risking the lives of additional American soldiers?
If Barbara Bush had been naturalized a US Citizen after forfeiting her Afghanistani citizenship following the September 11 attacks, would George Bush have been hesitant to pursue Osama Bin Laden in the mountains of Afghanistan?
If Roger Calero, the Socialist Workers Party candidate who appeared this year on as many as 15 state ballots for President, had to make a future military response to US attacks from Central America, including his born homeland of Nicaragua, would he?
The concept of "Natural Born Citizen" had merit in the 1700s, just as as it does today, or just as it might in the 23st century. Our nation's Commander in Chief must have no loyalties to any other nation. Although times and circumstances may change, our President, just as all Americans, need to "put country first."
That genie needs to stay corked.