A lot of time has been spent recently, mostly by folks who have nothing better to do with their time, arguing about the citizenship of Obama and McCain. While the accusations against Obama are completely without merit and were caused by a hoax, and gullible Republicans (hey, if you’ll vote for Dubya, you’ll pretty much buy into anything I guess), the questions about McCain’s status are unfortunately very real. Now this isn’t to say that I think McCain should be ineligible for the presidency. I’m pretty sure McCain bleeds red, white, and blue, and personally wouldn’t be upset if he was elected. He’s a fine citizen and would probably make a pretty good president. The problem, as always is Congress.

The problem with McCain’s questionable status stems from those crazy kooks on Capitol Hill, as John Adams reminds us in the musical 1776:

…one useless man is called a disgrace, …two are called a law firm, and …three or more become a Congress!

You see, back in 1790, Congress had the whole issue solved and cleared up. The United States Naturalization Law of March 26, 1790 stated that “the children of citizens of the United States that may be born beyond Sea, or out of the limits of the United States, shall be considered as natural born Citizens.” There we go, case closed, all with a simple easy to understand law that is hard to abuse. This could have been the end of the story, but no, we have a whole Congress of useless men in this country which meant that 5 years later, things got more complicated.

In 1795, Congress complicated immigration issues by issuing the United States Naturalization Act of January 29, 1795. This act, which says nothing of natural born Citizens, explicitly repealed the US Naturalization Law of 1790, throwing the question of who was a natural born Citizen back up into the air.

But don’t worry, the Act of 1795 isn’t in play any longer either, today we have 8 USC 1401 to define Citizenship for us, and with a name like “8 USC 1401″ you know it’s liable to be easy to understand! And simple and easy it is… if you’re a lawyer… maybe. 8 USC 1401 is written in essay format, and does not conform to the 500 word limit. To sum up the verbose law:


  • A person born outside the US whose parents are both US citizens is a citizen

    • IF one of them is a resident of a US State, Territory, or Possession prior to the birth.
    • OR one of them was physically present in a US State, Territory, or Possession for a period of no less than one year prior birth.

  • OR A person born outside the US whose parents include a citizen and a US national (but non-citizen)

    • IF the parent who is a citizen was physically present in a US State, Territory, or Possession for a period of no less than one year prior birth.

  • OR a person born outside the US whose parents include a citizen and an alien

    • IF the parent who is a citizen was physically present in a US State, Territory, or Possession for a period of no less than five years prior birth, at least two years of which must have been after the parent turned 14 years of age
    • PROVIDED that the citizen was honorably serving in the US Military, or working for the US Government those periods may be used to fulfill the five years if the person was born after December 24, 1952.

  • OR a person born outside the US whose parents were an alien father and a citizen mother, and the individual was born before May 24, 1934.

Clear enough? To make matters worse that just includes folks born OUTSIDE of the US. Aptly named 8 USC 1401 also covers every other case of citizenship, but makes absolutely no mention of what it means to be a naturally born Citizen.

I don’t know about you folks, but I thought the law of 1790 did a fine enough job defining things, why we need the obfuscated 8 USC 1401 is beyond me. Thanks to Congress we’ve eschewed a simple and fair law that would make it clear McCain is a natural born citizen, in favor of a confusing loopy law that leaves his status as subject to inane and stupid Internet debate.

-Angry Midwesterner