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Presidential Eligibility

Page history last edited by mberry 14 years, 4 months ago


So Who Gets to Become President?



     After centuries of rule under a harsh royal dictator, it was only reasonable that the Founding Fathers would institute some amount of restrictions on who could assume the most coveted position in the United States government. They highlighted the most obvious targets; age, background, and any tangible way to measure loyalty. Thus, the great framers enacted a clause in Article 2 Section 1, that states:


 "No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of 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." [1]


     This sounds great; establish an age requirement so the president has enough wisdom and experience in life, make sure they have been a resident for 14 years to prove their loyalty to the Union, and they have to be natural born. But wait... what is this "natural born" clause?


     G. Edward White, a distinguished professor in the College of Law at the University of Virginia, wrote an article expanding on this topic. Professor White asserts that although the Constitution never explicitly defined the "natural born" term, to the casual citizen, it seems fairly overt that the clause refers to people who are born inside the United States or to American parents. The early delegates chose to implement this restriction because, not surprisingly, they feared the impact the purely British born subjects may have. Yet this issue has since sparked much more debate, especially considering the extent to which we are an immigrant population and how we no longer need to fear any one country in particular.[2] 


     The interesting impediments to the office of the Presidency have done a great deal in dictating who actually became president. The stated clause above, of course, cannot stand by itself. Other issues in the constitution have been equally momentous. For example, neither women nor African Americans were guaranteed any political rights in the original constitution; this was not formally achieved until 1870 for Blacks (15th amendment) and 1920 for women (19th amendment). Prejudice against these minorities impeded full participation in electing the President until the late 20th century. Such a political atmosphere has resulted in an executive office that has been primarily occupied by white males. There is one notable exception - our current president, Barack Obama, clearly does not fall under any of these descriptors. 


     Race and gender are not the only determinants to the presidency. Another prominent one is religion. Our great country, as you may already know, was founded at the hands of starch protestants. It is no surprise, then, that we have only had one Roman Catholic president (John F Kennedy).

     To be sure, there is a great degree of diversity amongst our many presidents. We’ve had a former peanut wholesaler from Georgia (Jimmy Carter), an actor (Ronald Reagan), a CIA chief (George H.W. Bush), and a former managing director of a major league baseball team (George W Bush).  Thus, the notion f anyone can one day become president does to some extent ring true.




Table 3.1 The demographics of our presidents - their ages, parties, religions, and residential states. 


President Inauguration Age  Party* Religion State (Political)
George Washington 57 NA Episcopalian Virginia
John Adams 61 Federalist Unitarian Massachusetts
Thomas Jefferson 57 Dem-Repub. Episcopalian Virginia
James Madison 57  Dem-Repub.  Episcopalian  Virginia 
James Monroe 58  Dem-Repub.  Episcopalian  Virginia 
John Quincy Adams 57  Dem-Repub.  Unitarian  Massachusetts 
Andrew Jackson 61  Democrat  N/A  Tennessee
Martin Van Buren 54  Democrat Dutch Reformed  New York 
William Henry Harrison 68  Whig  Episcopalian  Ohio
John Tyler 51  Whig  Episcopalian  Virginia 
James K. Polk 49  Democrat  Presbyterian: Methodist  Tennessee 
Zachary Taylor 64  Whig  Episcopalian  Virginia 
Millard Fillmore 50  Whig  Unitarian  New York 
Franklin Pierce 48  Democrat  Episcopalian  New Hampshire 
James Buchanan 65  Democrat  Presbyterian   Pennsylvania 
Abraham Lincoln  52  Republican  raised Baptist  Illinois 
Andrew Johnson  56  Democrat  Christian  Tennessee 
Ulysses S Grant  46  Republican  Presbyterian: Methodist  Illinois 
Rutherford B Hayes  54  Republican  Presbyterian  Ohio 
James Garfield  49  Republican  Disciples of Christ  Ohio 
Chester Arthur  51  Republican  Episcopalian  New York 
Grover Cleveland  47  Democrat  Presbyterian  New York 
Benjamin Harrison 55 Republican  Presbyterian  Indiana 
Grover Cleveland 55 Democrat  Presbyterian  New York 
William McKinley  54  Republican  Methodist  Ohio 
Theodore Roosevelt  42  Republican  Episcopalian  New York 
William Howard Taft  51  Republican  Unitarian  Ohio 
Woodrow Wilson  56  Democrat  Presbyterian  New Jersey 
Warren Harding  55  Republican  Baptist  Ohio 
Calvin Coolidge  51  Republican  Congregationalist  Massachusetts 
Herbert Hoover  54  Republican  Quaker  Iowa 
Franklin D Roosevelt  51  Democrat  Dutch Reformed  New York 
Harry Truman  60  Democrat  Baptist  Missouri 
Dwight Eisenhower  62  Republican  Presbyterian  Kansas 
John F Kennedy  43  Democrat  Catholic  Massachusetts 
Lyndon B Johnson  55  Democrat  Disciple of Christ  Texas 
Richard Nixon  56  Republican  Quaker  California 
Gerald Ford  61  Republican  Episcopalian  Michigan 
Jimmy Carter  52  Democrat  Baptist  Georgia 
Ronald Reagan  69  Republican  Presbyterian  California 
George H.W. Bush  64  Republican  Episcopalian  Texas 
Bill Clinton  46  Democrat  Baptist  Arkansas 
George W. Bush  54  Republican  Methodist  Texas 
Barack Obama  47  Democrat  Christian Illinois 
Table 3.1: Some key distinctions are highlighted by the blue (for example, Reagan was the oldest). * The parties have drastically changed over time, so it is not wise to infer much with that information. For instance, the Republican ideals of Lincoln are nowhere close to the Republican values today.[3][4]

Did you Know? John F. Kennedy is widely recognized as the youngest president. So why was Theodore Roosevelt younger during inauguration?? Well...Roosevelt was not elected at that age because his predecessor, McKinley, was assassinated. Thus, Kennedy was the youngest elected president.



Previous Section: The Presidency                                                                                                              Next Section: Electing the President 





  1. http://www.usconstitution.net/const.html
  2. http://www.law.virginia.edu/html/news/2009_fall/white_oped.htm
  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_Presidents_by_age
  4. http://www.adherents.com/adh_presidents.html

Comments (1)

mberry said

at 12:16 pm on Nov 4, 2009

Great! I like the chart. You should separate the "Did You Know" section with some kind of cool font and/or color and/or border...so that it draws the eye. I've tried to show you...

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