On the spirit of eligibility

Randy Conover
“No person except a natural-born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of the Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of the 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.” (U.S. Constitution, Article II.1.5)

Thus the Constitution states the qualifications of a person for the office of President. Basically, only three requirements. Simple, right? Well, yes…and no.

Yes, there are the three requirements: “natural-born Citizen, or a Citizen…at the time of the Adoption of the Constitution…”; “attained to the age of thirty five years…”; and “fourteen years a Resident within the United States.” But, besides the differences in how our Founding Fathers’ writing styles differed from our current common grammar conventions, these three requirements must be read within the scope of the times and common experiences of those same Founders.

It must be remembered that these same men involved in writing the new Constitution had just fought through a lengthy war to win independence. They had just thrown off the rule of a nation governed by a king whom they regarded as a tyrant. That king (George III of England) was of German family (George I and George II, his great-grandfather and grandfather were German-born and unaccustomed with English ways, and spoke German, not English) and had never set foot in America. Thus, George III’s education was not just by English, but was strongly influenced by German heritage – quite differing cultures from that of the Americans they were ruling!

Founder John Jay (among other achievements, first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court) further explained concerns: “By excluding men under thirty-five…it confines the electors to men of whom the people have had time to form a judgment, and with respect to whom they will not be liable to be deceived by those brilliant appearances of genius and patriotism which, like transient meteors, sometimes mislead as well as dazzle.” What better reason could be necessary to require candidates for the Presidency (or any other national office) to fully open their birth records, their education records, their financial records, etc. to the public they propose to govern?

“There was no member of the Constitutional Convention who was held in higher regard than Benjamin Franklin. Nevertheless, he had been out of the country for twenty-five of the past thirty years. The members of the Convention noted on a number of occasions that the 81-year-old patriot, who had served his country so well in foreign lands, had missed some of the latest developments in political philosophy which had emerged during the past several years of experimentation with freedom. John Adams was particularly anxious about some of Franklin’s sentiments, and felt he might have lost some of the elderly gentleman’s friendship trying to persuade him differently.” (W. Cleon Skousen, et al, The Making of America, The Substance and Meaning of the Constitution, 2007) This, among the concerns of the Founders about several highly-regarded patriots, caused the inclusion of the residency requirement in the Founders’ thinking. If Ben Franklin was questioned, how troublesome was having someone else who had spent a significant portion of their life away from the U.S. attempting to become President?

During my lifetime, I’ve had numerous opportunities to meet and have discussions with people from a variety of foreign countries. Many times these discussions were quite lengthy, sometimes extending intermittently over several years. One thing I’ve noticed is that those who’ve grown up in another culture, not in America, especially those who have been educated in a foreign nation, consistently have a different way of thinking about America than does the typical person who has grown up within our nation and been educated here. While the immigrant may have taken classes during the formative years on American government, society, and history, they are invariably taught a foreign perspective which is never fully overcome. It is always there, always forming the foundational underpinnings of their belief system. Indeed, Biblical wisdom supports this: “Teach your children to choose the right path, and when they are older, they will remain upon it.” (Proverbs 22:6 NLT)

During our last Presidential elections (2008) the two major political parties provided us with candidates at least questionable as to eligibility for the Office: One was foreign-born of military parents stationed overseas serving our country. He felt the need to present the question before the U.S. Senate, which verified his eligibility. His opponent has been the subject of ongoing questioning as to eligibility. His birth records, education records, financial records, etc. remain closed to public scrutiny, except when the public and/or political pressure gets uncomfortably strong, when a few are released to relieve the pressure. One wonders, what is being hidden? What would the Founders have to say about this?

The formative years of primary, elementary, and middle school, is when a youth’s value and belief system is largely set for life. Here is where social norms are established, where cultural values are developed. Learnings about America are certainly a major part of this time… Think about it…Two candidates, one who has admittedly been schooled in a foreign nation (Indonesia, in Islamic schools) during these critical attitude and belief-system developing years. Is it not at least questionable as to the background behind which our national government decisions are currently being made? Is there any wonder why so many Americans feel that the two major political parties are letting our nation, its people, and its Founders down?

We can and must do better than this!!!

Randy Conover is a retired educator. He lives in Clermont County.