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While reading this answer, I noticed some odd wording in Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution (emphasis mine):

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.

Does this mean that, to be eligible for the office of President, one must have been a citizen when the Constitution was signed or otherwise 'adopted', presumably years ago? If not, what does "at the time of the adoption" mean in this context?

  • I think you're missing some parentheses. "No person except (a natural born citizen) or (a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this constitution)... – Kevin Feb 16 '16 at 18:21
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    corrigible = able to be corrected. negligible = able to be neglected. dirigible = able to be directed. eligible = able to be elected. This understanding of the word "eligible" seems largely forgotten. (This of course does not address the question, but it's relevant to understanding that part of the Constitution.) – Michael Hardy Jun 9 '16 at 23:44
  • The adoption of the Constitution happened at the time when it became ratified by nine states. That, as it turned out, is when New Hampshire ratified in in June 1788. – Michael Hardy Oct 23 at 21:38
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    I posted an answer that said: "The adoption of the Constitution happened at the time when it became ratified by nine of the thirteen states. That, as it turned out, is when New Hampshire ratified in in June 1788." It was deleted on the grounds that it doens't answer the question. Part of the question was "what does "at the time of the adoption" mean in this context?" How is this not an answer to that? – Michael Hardy Oct 24 at 17:35
  • @MichaelHardy I agree that your answer should not have been deleted d, but it is incomplete. "The time of adoption" is different in different states. Otherwise, people who had been citizens of the other 41 states when those states adopted the constitution would have been ineligible to be president. – phoog Nov 11 at 7:54
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No, it means the following are eligible:

  • Natural born citizens
  • Citizens of the United States, at the time of the adoption of the constitution

The second part was to allow people that were citizens of the US in 1788 (but were obviously not "natural born citizens", since the US didn't exist when they were born) to be eligible for the Presidency.

Check out Alexander Hamilton's draft of this clause:

No person shall be eligible to the office of President of the United States unless he be now a Citizen of one of the States, or hereafter be born a Citizen of the United States.

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    The second clause also allowed the US to have a President before 1823. Before 1823, no "natural born" citizen would meet the Article II requirement that the President had be at least 35 years old. – Just a guy Nov 10 at 20:59
  • @Justaguy Those born after the declaration of independence were natural born citizens of the US, and the first of these would have become eligible in July 1811. – phoog Nov 11 at 8:10
  • @phoog Duh! You are absolutely correct. Thanks for pointing that out. – Just a guy Nov 11 at 17:57
  • @phoog The US constitution, as we now operate under (plus amendments) did not exist until several years after that point, though. The Articles of Confederation were in effect before then. – zibadawa timmy Nov 11 at 23:16
  • @zibadawatimmy of course. The point is, however, that natural born citizens of the United States existed before the constitution did, and that if we want to determine when the first natural born citizen of the US reached the age of 35 years, we should take that into account. – phoog Nov 11 at 23:57
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The drafters of the Constitution and Bill of Rights did seem to wield commas like blunt instruments to smash into sentences (see the 2nd Amendment). The intention is clear if the comma after 'United States' is taken out:

"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;"

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