4 Supreme Court Cases define "natural born citizen"


by John Charlton

Emmerich de Vattel, c/o Online Library of Liberty

Emmerich de Vattel, c/o Online Library of Liberty

(Oct. 18, 2009) — The Post & Email has in several articles mentioned that the Supreme Court of the United States has given the definition of what a “natural born citizen” is.  Since being a natural born citizen is an objective qualification and requirement of office for the U.S. President, it is important for all U.S. Citizens to undertsand what this term means.

Let’s cut through all the opinion and speculation, all the “he says”, “she says”, fluff, and go right to the irrefutable, constitutional authority on all terms and phrases mentioned in the U.S. Constitution:  the Supreme Court of the United States.

First, let me note that there are 4 such cases which speak of the notion of “natural born citizenship”.

Each of these cases will cite or apply the definition of this term, as given in a book entitled, The Law of Nations, written by Emmerich de Vattel, a Swiss-German philosopher of law. In that book, the following definition of a “natural born citizen” appears, in Book I, Chapter 19, § 212, of the English translation of 1797 (p. 110):

§ 212. Citizens and natives.

The citizens are the members of the civil society: bound to this society by certain duties, and subject to its authority, they equally participate in its advantages. The natives, or natural-born citizens, are those born in the country, of parents who are citizens. As the society cannot exist and perpetuate itself otherwise than by the children of the citizens, those children naturally follow the condition of their fathers, and succeed to all their rights. . . .

The French original of 1757, on that same passage read thus:

Les naturels, ou indigenes, sont ceux qui sont nes dans le pays de parents citoyens, . . .

The terms “natives” and “natural born citizens” are obviously English terms; used to render the idea convyed by the French phrase “les naturels, ou indigenes”: but both refered to the same category of citizen:  one born in the country, of parents who were citizens of that country.

In the political philosophy of Vattel, the term “naturels” refers to citizens who are such by the Law of Nature, that is by the natural cirumstances of their birth — which they did not choose; the term “indigenes” is from the Latin, indigenes, which like the English, “indigenous”, means “begotten from within” (inde-genes), as in the phrase “the indigenous natives are the peoples who have been born and lived there for generations.”  Hence the meaning the the term, “natural born citizen”, or “naturels ou indigenes” is the same: born in the country of two parents who are citizens of that country.

Vattel did not invent the notion “natural born citizen”; he was merely applying the Law of Nature to questions of citizenship.  In fact the term first appears in a letter of the future Supreme Court Justice, John Jay, to George Washington during the Constitutional Convention, where the Framers were consulting 3 copies Vattel’s book to complete their work (according to the testimony of Benjamin Franklin).

Let take a brief look, now, at each case.  For each case I include the link to the full text of the ruling.

The Venus, 12 U.S. 8 Cranch 253 253 (1814)

The first was decided in A.D. 1814, at the beginning of the republic, by men who were intimately associated with the American Revolution. In that year the following men sat on the Supreme Court:

Bushrod Washington, (b. June 5, 1762 — d. Nov. 26, 1829), served Feb. 4, 1799 til Nov. 26, 1829.

John Marshall (b. Sept. 24, 1755 — d. July 6, 1835), served Feb. 4, 1891 til July 6, 1835.

William Johnson (b. Dec. 27, 1771 — d. Aug. 4, 1834), served May 7, 1804, til Aug. 4, 1834.

Henry Brockholst Livingston (b. Nov. 25, 1757 — d. Mar. 18, 1823), served Jan. 20, 1807 til March 18, 1823

Thomas Todd (b. Jan. 23, 1765 — d. Feb. 7, 1826), served May  4, 1807 til Feb. 7, 1826.

Gabriel Duvall (b. Dec. 6, 1752 — d. Mar. 6, 1844), served Nov. 23, 1811 til Jany 14, 1835.

Joseph Story (b. Sept. 18, 1779 — d. Sept. 10, 1845), served Feb. 3, 1812 til Sept. 10, 1845

Nearly all these men either participated in the American Revolution, or their fathers did. Joseph Story’s father took part in the original Boston Tea Party.  Thomas Todd served 6 months in the army against the British; and participated in 5 Constitutional Conventions from 1784-1792.  During the Revolutionary War, Henry Brockholst Livingston was a Lieutenant Colonel in the New York Line and an aide-de-camp to General Benedict Arnold, before the latter’s defection to the British. William Johnson’s father, mother, and elder brother were revolutionaries, who served as statesman, rebel, or nurse/assistant to the line troops, respectively. John Marshall was First Lieutenant of the Culpeper Minutement of Virginia, and then Lieutenant in the Eleventh Virginian Continental Regiment, and a personal friend of General George Washington; and debated for ratification of the U.S. Constitution by the Virginian General Assembly. Bushrod Washington was George Washington’s nephew and heir.

Being witnesses and heirs of the Revolution, they understood what the Framers of the Constitution had intended.

The Venus case regarded the question whether the cargo of a merchantman, named the Venus, belonging to an American citizen, and being shipped from British territory to America during the War of 1812, could be seized and taken as a prize by an American privateer.  But what the case said about citizenship, is what matters here.


In the Venus Case, Justice Livingston, who wrote the unanimous decision, quoted the entire §212nd paragraph from the French edition, using his own English, on p. 12 of the ruling:

Vattel, who, though not very full to this point, is more explicit and more satisfactory on it than any other whose work has fallen into my hands, says:

“The citizens are the members of the civil society; bound to this society by certain duties, and subject to its authority, they equally participate in its advantages. The natives or indigenes are those born in the country of parents who are citizens. Society not being able to subsist and to perpetuate itself but by the children of the citizens, those children naturally follow the condition of their fathers, and succeed to all their rights.

“The inhabitants, as distinguished from citizens, are strangers who are permitted to settle and stay in the country. Bound by their residence to the society, they are subject to the laws of the state while they reside there, and they are obliged to defend it…

Shanks v. Dupont, 28 U.S. 3 Pet. 242 242 (1830)

In 16 years later the Supreme Court heard the case regarding the dispute over the inheritance received by two daughters of an American colonist, from South Carolina; one of whom went to England and remained a British subject, the other of whom remained in South Carolina and became an American citizen.  At the beginning of the case, Justice Story, who gave the ruling, does not cite Vattel per se, but cites the principle of citizenship enshrined in his definition of a “natural born citizen”:

Ann Scott was born in South Carolina before the American revolution, and her father adhered to the American cause and remained and was at his death a citizen of South Carolina. There is no dispute that his daughter Ann, at the time of the Revolution and afterwards, remained in South Carolina until December, 1782. Whether she was of age during this time does not appear. If she was, then her birth and residence might be deemed to constitute her by election a citizen of South Carolina. If she was not of age, then she might well be deemed under the circumstances of this case to hold the citizenship of her father, for children born in a country, continuing while under age in the family of the father, partake of his national character as a citizen of that country. Her citizenship, then, being prima facie established, and indeed this is admitted in the pleadings, has it ever been lost, or was it lost before the death of her father, so that the estate in question was, upon the descent cast, incapable of vesting in her? Upon the facts stated, it appears to us that it was not lost and that she was capable of taking it at the time of the descent cast.

Minor v. Happersett , 88 U.S. 162 (1875)

This case concerned Mrs. Minor, an original suffragette, who in virtue of the 14th Amendment attempted to register to vote in the State of Missouri, and was refused because she was not a man.  The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in that year wrote the majority opinion, in which he stated:

The Constitution does not in words say who shall be natural-born citizens. Resort must be had elsewhere to ascertain that. At common law, with the nomenclature of which the framers of the Constitution were familiar, it was never doubted that all children born in a country of parents who were its citizens became themselves, upon their birth, citizens also. These were natives or natural-born citizens, as distinguished from aliens or foreigners. Some authorities go further and include as citizens children born within the jurisdiction without reference to the citizenship of their parents.

United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649 (1898)

In this case, Wong Kim Ark, the son of 2 resident Chinese aliens, claimed U.S. Citizenship and was vindicated by the court on the basis of the 14th Amendment.  In this case the Justice Gray gave the opinion of the court.  On p. 168-9 of the record, He cites approvingly the decision in Minor vs. Happersett:

At common law, with the nomenclature of which the framers of the Constitution were familiar, it was never doubted that all children, born in a country of parents who were its citizens, became themselves, upon their birth, citizens also. These were natives, or natural-born citizens, as distinguished from aliens or foreigners.

On the basis of the 14th Amendment, however, the majority opinion coined a new definition for “native citizen”, as anyone who was born in the U.S.A., under the jurisdiction of the United States.  The Court gave a novel interpretation to jurisdiction, and thus extended citizenship to all born in the country (excepting those born of ambassadors and foreign armies etc.); but it did not extend the meaning of the term “natural born citizen.”


Finally it should be noted, that to define a term is to indicate the category or class of things which it signifies.  In this sense, the Supreme Court of the United States has never applied the term “natural born citizen” to any other category than “those born in the country of parents who are citizens thereof”.

Hence every U.S. Citizen must accept this definition or categorical designation, and fulfil his constitutional duties accordingly.  No member of Congress, no judge of the Federal Judiciary, no elected or appointed official in Federal or State government has the right to use any other definition; and if he does, he is acting unlawfully, because unconstitutionally.

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34 Responses to 4 Supreme Court Cases define "natural born citizen"

  1. Karl Llewellyn

    Sunday, June 5, 2016 at 1:54 PM

    These cases point to the fact that Cruz was not a Natural born citizen. He may have gained citizenship through his Mother however his Father was not an American and there for he was not a natural born citizen. Look at the cases listed above. To be a Natural born Citizen one must be born in this country to parents (as in both) who are Citizens. Cruz had an American mother but was born in Canada to a Cuban Father. He misses two of the criteria for natural born citizenship. He does not even have the excuse that McCain had of being born on a U.S. Military base.

    Obama is a far bigger concern. He had an American Mother. He may even have been born in Hawaii (though that is still very much in doubt). But His Father was a Kenyan national so as such he is not a Natural born citizen either. His election and his presidency has been fraudulent. and he Must be removed from office. Also any one who has gained office by his nomination since the nominations were fraudulent as well.

  2. Kjones

    Wednesday, April 20, 2016 at 11:29 AM

    There is still a question about Cruz’s mother for there are people who have her voting record. She first was either a person living with a British person or married to Wilson. She had a child with Wilson so there is some idea she was a British citizen. IF she was a British Citizen she would not have had to naturalize to Canada and would have been able to be a Canadian citizen and vote in their elections as a British Subject. Let me see if I can find the document I was reading and I will post it here.

  3. Sharon Rondeau

    Tuesday, April 19, 2016 at 7:33 AM

    Breitbart reports that she lived for more than five years in Canada: http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2016/01/08/ted-cruz-parents-canada-voters-list/

    The question still remains: where is Cruz’s U.S. documentation?

  4. Shavager

    Tuesday, April 19, 2016 at 1:43 AM

    FACT: Under Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952–Ted Cruz INHERITED his mother’s citizenship based her meeting EVERY legal stipulation to pass citizenship TO him–he did NOT require “naturalization” to be a citizen–his INHERITED citizenship gives him NATURAL BORN citizenship under Federal/Constitutional requirements. SHE was NEVER a Canadian citizen, NEVER applied for Canadian citizenship and lived ONLY three years in Canada–Canada itself REQUIRES at least FIVE years residency to qualify for citizenship. There is NO Constitutional limitation for Cruz to disown any “Canadian citizenship” that government awarded to him when they changed their citizenship Act in 1977–SEVEN YEARS after Cruz’s birth and FOUR YEARS after he was living in U.S. with his family. Canadian Citizenship Act LAWS prohibited Cruz from receiving any “dual citizenship” privilege until that year, 1977. Still, there is NOTHING within our U.S. Constitution prohibiting him from serving as president despite having a ‘dual’ citizenship.

  5. Shavager

    Tuesday, April 19, 2016 at 1:31 AM

    YOU are all wrong–no matter whether YOU accept the premises of Wong v Ark, Minor v Happersett herein mentioned–the CURRENT viewpoint of our U.S. Supreme Court/Federal Court system recognizes TWO citizenship levels IN this country–NATURALIZED or NATURAL BORN. The Courts ACCEPT as NATURAL BORN–ANY CITIZEN BORN AN AMERICAN AT BIRTH–either by birth on U.S. soil OR INHERITED CITIZENSHIP!! “NATURALIZED” citizenship is NOT “natural” citizenship and is GRANTED by government rule–a ruling government can TAKE BACK, hence that’s NOT “natural born”. Arnold Schwarzeneggar CAN’T qualify for presidency because his citizenship is GRANTED by naturalization–Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal and Obama ARE considered natural born under current Federal/Constitutional interpretations. AND, there is NO prohibition contained WITHIN the U.S. Constitution to PROHIBIT a ‘dual citizen’ from serving as president–it’s simple as that!

  6. Henry L. Peterson

    Sunday, April 10, 2016 at 10:37 AM

    Cruz is not, in my understanding of the Supreme Courts definition of NBC, qualified to run for President. The Democrats will pounce on it.

  7. R. Ellison

    Wednesday, April 6, 2016 at 9:20 PM

    Agree with the information presented. Senator Cruz shouldn’t be running for President; he has too many disqualifications per the constitution. Fath: Cuban, Moth: USA-DEL; CRUZ born in Canada, have his BC. Understand Senator Cruz’s mother was not in the USA for the 5-year requirement prior his birth; this would also make him not qualified. As seen with Obama, now with Cruz, this law is being ignored intentionally? If elected and swears on a Bible to uphold the constitutional laws, what does that make him? Need to know how we force CONGRESS to enforce Art-2.1.5? Have Cruz stop running for president? It’s not his fault where he was born, but his birthplace stops him from qualifying for president only? Which is messing up the voters who believe he is qualified and can be elected? Maybe we have another Obama violation in progress, not being addressed? Why is Congress disregarding the constitutional requirement; what should be done; they have to know? Recently view Prof Kris Anne Hall’s (Constitutional attorney) response to Cruz qualification; she agrees. How do WE THE PEOPLE stop Cruz from violating our Constitutional 2nd amend?

  8. Sharon Rondeau

    Saturday, March 12, 2016 at 6:55 PM

    I have asked Canadian vital statistics authorities about obtaining naturalization records, but they are protected by law, as are certain records here. Cruz’s mother does not speak in public, although Cruz has stated at rallies that she did not assume Canadian citizenship.

    The political parties clearly are not vetting their candidates.

  9. Shirley

    Saturday, March 12, 2016 at 4:24 PM

    My big concern is several questions: why did Cruz seal his records, if he has nothing to hide?
    I have seen a copy of Cruz’s and his mother’s birth certificate and am satisfied with those.
    But second concern: know there was TALK that his mother had voted in Canada, and they had a business as well!
    That said, understand you have to be a Canadian citizen and could not have a dual citizenship in either of those
    If so and if Cruz was born, after his mother gave up her American citizenship, is he still considered born to an American Citizen? I would not think so, but cannot find this information out about his mother???

  10. Arlene

    Thursday, March 10, 2016 at 2:17 PM

    In 1968 and 1964 the courts decided that Mitt Romney’s father, George Romney was eligible to run for President. George was born in Mexico to American citizens. Barry Goldwater was born in Arizona Territory (before Arizona became a state). He was qualified to run for President. So, how do you explain that?

  11. Norman Davis

    Saturday, March 5, 2016 at 1:48 AM

    The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1790 by Congress tried to change the definition of NBC but in the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1795 they removed the definition. Essentially Congress in 1790 tried to amend the Constitution through this action but, apparently they realized that was not one of their powers. The only way this term can be defined legally is through an amendment to the constitution approved by the states.

  12. Christina Jeffrey

    Monday, February 29, 2016 at 11:46 AM

    People, read the initial post carefully and you will not find a Supreme Court opinion that upholds Cruz or Rubio’s claims to natural born citizenship – it just isn’t there. Write me at SpartanburgShoemaker@Gmail.com, and I will give you the documentation for my research – below is the Executive Summary: Please read the short explanation of the problem and forward it to people who care about our Constitution. Besides trying to change the meaning of the plain language in the Constitution, the GOP, like Linus, is about to have the football pulled out from under them again as it falls into the trap I think the Left laid for it years ago, to wit, a 2016 “October Surprise.” You know, that’s the quadrennial scandal that pops up every four years during a Presidential election year if the GOP is competitive and sometimes during off-year elections to embarrass the GOP candidate and persuade ordinary people to vote against a dangerous SOB. Attached is the entire analysis (original, but I had help) documenting what I assert in the Executive Summary.

    Have the Eligibility Requirements to be President Changed?

    No, but now we have Republicans running for President who simply are not eligible –
    and here’s how that has happened and why they are still not eligible

    EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: A natural born citizen has two American citizen parents (If only one, there had better not be another parent who is not an American citizen); was born on land under U.S. jurisdiction, has reached 35 years of age and spent 14 years in the U.S. The intent of the natural born citizen requirement was avoidance of dual loyalty to protect the US from foreign influence. In 1787, no one looked at the mother because she automatically took the citizenship of the husband – that is no longer required and this change in our laws must be factored in. The would-be President should not have been raised by parents of different loyalties. As citizens, we should enforce this requirement by the way we vote and not depend on courts. Of course there is nothing wrong with bringing suits and contacting our Secretaries of State – we should try to get our Party, State and Federal officials to do their jobs, but we see how that turned out with the current pretender and should not rely on scared, politically correct officials. We can enforce the natural born citizenship requirement by voting for qualified candidates. That’s the beauty of our system and it will work if the sovereigns, that’s us, insist on our Constitution being followed by voting only for those who will follow it. We must believe in its importance and enforce its provisions.

    Christina K. F. Jeffrey, Ph.D.
    Independent Scholar
    Spartanburg, South Carolina
    February 29, 2016

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  18. James H. (Jim) Roberson

    Tuesday, November 3, 2009 at 3:05 PM

    Below is a Post that I recently made …

    Mr. Charlton replies: Mr. Roberson, thank you for your post and compliments; but as I don’t what the comment section to be misunderstood as a forum for commenting on other blogs, I have decided not to post what you said. I remain the good friend of every patriot, even if we do not always see eye to eye on every issue.

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  21. btw

    Monday, October 19, 2009 at 7:46 PM

    A Constitutional problem?

    If we consider together US Constitution (especially 14th Amendment) and The Oath of Allegiance, we’ll get the only inference:
    Natural Born Citizen (NBC) is a person that born in the country of parents who are citizens thereof.

    This inference has a foundation that only one (the US) jurisdiction is allowed for US Citizens (NBC or Naturalized) – because Naturalized citizens according The Oath of Allegiance are allowed to have only the US juricdiction; but citizens of both groups (NBC and Naturalized) have absolutely the same rights and protection according Constitution except only one thing: only NBC have a right to be POTUS (President Of The United States) . It means that according Constitution dual citizenship isn’t allowed for any citizen (NBC or Naturalized). Because of that Mr. Obama coudn’t be NBC. See details with a short introduction through


    or immediately here:


    One can say that there is in reality a practice of dual citizenship in the US that was allowed by laws accepted by Congress during a history of the US. I don’t see any other way to constitutionally reconcile both things – the inference from The Oath of Allegiance and a current practice of dual citizenship – than to state that in my opinion all this practice contradicts US Constitution (or The Oath of Allegiance contradicts Constitution – your choice); so (in my view) there is a great Constitutional problem that demands an attention of SCOTUS.

  22. smither

    Monday, October 19, 2009 at 3:45 PM


    FaxYourOpinion.com allows you to send a FAX to elected officials for $0.10 per single page FAX. There is also a single $0.40 transaction fee. A FAX to all US Senators (100 destinations) costs $10.40. This may be the least expensive such service available.

  23. antikarlmarxs

    Monday, October 19, 2009 at 2:07 PM

    What everyone is missing is Nancy Peolis “certified” that Obama is eligable to run for President as a Democrat. Our constituition may say he is not. But the legislative body “certified” him. Thus creating a constitutional crises. This is not ulike the Gore vs bush in the 200 election. In which the Legislative body disagrees with the Judical branch. THE RULING given in bush vs gore basically takes the supreame court out of the picture. So if Nancy Pelosi actually certified Obama knowing he was not a “natarual born ctizin” she did so with disregard to the constituition. This should eb where the pressure is mounted. Let ehr explain this.

  24. ramjet767

    Sunday, October 18, 2009 at 11:30 PM

    Is there a simple and expedient way to send via email or FAX your article to every Rep and Senator in the U.S. Congress? Is there a centralized service that would FAX or surface mail this essay to every member of Congress for a reasonable cost? I think email gets lost in the inbox and easily deleted. A FAX or hard copy letter would be the best, imo. Of course one could do both, email and FAX or mail a letter.


  25. Paul Wade

    Sunday, October 18, 2009 at 2:40 PM

    The main question is: why is congress allowing it to happen?

    The simple solution is: present your certified birth certificate.

    Why must you present a birth certificate to enroll your child into school or to get your driver’s license, but you can become president of the United States without one?

  26. Jack

    Sunday, October 18, 2009 at 12:09 PM

    Go to 32:50 into this radio program, sit back and listen, and you’ll understand why standing and jurisdiction IS THE BALL GAME against Obama (there’s no need ever to get to the merits):–


  27. Harry H

    Sunday, October 18, 2009 at 10:21 AM

    Good summation. I referenced Article II, Vattel, and Minor v. Happersett in a letter to my local paper, and an Obot wrote back that “more authoritative sources” are needed.

    People like that would tell John Jay himself to produce more reliable evidence. They say, in effect, it all depends on what the definition of “is” is. But some are educable, so we must keep educating.

  28. Fran

    Sunday, October 18, 2009 at 10:13 AM

    Dear Mr. Charlton,
    I hope this is not an innapropriate question to this article, but I think you have a large following and we need to know what next and that you have the knowledge and resources to inform us. Orly addressed the question awhile back and then I read a comment just recently from another scholar with a different answer. Now the question, Once the character in the White House is impeached or whatever the ruling will be to depose him, what will be the proceedure to replace him. Orly said something to the effect that Biden will be Pres for 3 months then a re-election. I hope my memory is not too far off. I apologize if it is. The other scholer said he believes that the Democratic House would have a vote and probably vote in Hillary. My education only took me as far as the Vice President takes over, but I can see that this entire administration is fraudulent so that seems unthinkable. Second, what happens to those in the Democratic National Committee, ie., Pelosi, that endorsed him as the candidate meeting Constituional requirements. We need to know how to prepare ourselves for this what I believe to be an eventual outcome. Would this be a good article to comment on? I thank you in advance for your response. Sincerely, Fran
    Mr. Charlton replies: Fran, I am not all knowing; I’ll leave this to the constitutional experts.

  29. Jack

    Sunday, October 18, 2009 at 9:30 AM

    It’s SLAM DUNK that Obama’s not a “natural born citizen” which requires 2 citizen parents. The federal judges know this and Team Obama knows this. That is precisely why jurisdiction and standing in any federal court IS the entire ball game against Obama.

  30. Jacqlyn Smith

    Sunday, October 18, 2009 at 8:43 AM

    Excellent job John!! :) :) :)

  31. natural born citizen party

    Sunday, October 18, 2009 at 7:57 AM

    Mr. Charlton replies: NBCP, this is not the place for news: its for comments. Send me an email.

  32. ELmo

    Sunday, October 18, 2009 at 6:56 AM

    Thank You John.
    Well Done.
    That clears things up a bit.

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