In 1904, Frederick van Dyne, the Assistant Solicitor of the US Department of State, published a textbook, Citizenship of the United States, in which he said, "There is no uniform rule of international law covering the subject of citizenship. Every nation determines for itself who shall, and who shall not, be its citizens.... By the law of the United States, citizenship depends, generally, on the place of birth; nevertheless the children of citizens, born out of the jurisdiction of the United States, are also citizens...."
Van Dyne pointed out that the Constitution, while mentioning citizenship, contained no definition of that term until the 14th Amendment was adopted in 1868. Prior to this time each state in the US applied its own law to determine citizenship, either by statute or common law (law based on previous judicial decisions rather than written statutes).
So what did the Framers and signers of the Constitution intend when they added the requirement that the President be a “natural born citizen”? Since many of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention, and almost all of the men who drafted the Constitution, were lawyers – trained in English common law – it is most likely that they intended the common law meaning of the term.
The leading commentary on English common law at the time the Constitution was drafted clearly stated that “Natural-born subjects are such as are born within the dominions of the crown of England.” The parentage of the subject is immaterial. Being born in England made you an English citizen. Being born in the colonies made you an English citizen (up until the Revolution). Being born in the new United States would have made you a natural-born citizen of the United States.
It’s true that you can find different interpretations of ‘citizen’ or ‘natural-born citizen’ from the 18th century or earlier, and it’s possible that at least some of the people who wrote, signed or ratified the Constitution intended the term to have a stricter meaning. However, the standard meaning of the term at the time the Constitution was written was that anyone born in the US was a citizen of the US without regard to the nationality of one or both of his parents.
I hope that answers the question of the “strict interpretation” of the Constitution’s requirements for the President of the United States. Before I leave this issue, though, I want to add one more post on it tomorrow. I have stated that my mission as a writer “is to help Christians think about what they really believe and then to act as if they really believe it.” So come back tomorrow when I will answer the question, “What does any of this have to do with acting like a Christian?”