What might the phrase “natural-born citizen” of the United States
imply under the U.S. Constitution? The phrase has always been obscure
due to the lack of any single authoritative source to confer in order
to understand the condition of citizenship the phrase recognizes.
Learning what the phrase might have meant following the Declaration of
Independence, and the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment, requires
detective work. As with all detective work, eliminating the usual
suspects from the beginning goes a long way in quickly solving a case.
What Natural-Born Citizen Could Not Mean
Could a natural-born citizen simply mean citizenship due to place of birth?
Unlikely in the strict sense because we know one can be native born
and yet not a native born citizen of this country prior to the year
1866. There were even disputes whether anyone born within the District
of Columbia or in the territories were born citizens of the United
States (they were generally referred to as “inhabitants” instead.)
National Government could make no “territorial allegiance” demands
within the several States because as Madison explained it, the “powers
reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in
the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and
properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and
prosperity of the State.”