Ssssh, don’t tell anyone, but there’s a big grammatical boo-boo in the Constitution

Claire Morris-Dobie



In terms of sentence structure, syntax and spelling, the Constitution of the United States is perhaps the most flawless piece of writing in our nation’s history. With one exception.

The Constitution was adopted on September 17, 1787, by the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and ratified by conventions in eleven states. The first ten amendments are known as the Bill of Rights. The Constitution has been amended seventeen times (for a total of 27 amendments) and its principles are applied in courts of law by judicial review. (SOURCE: Wikipedia)

Just as a refresher, here are the opening lines of this great document:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

That said, the founding fathers did make one slip in grammatical structure that, technically, translates to the prohibition of ANYONE becoming president.

Here’s the proof. Read carefully.

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.

The operative clause is “at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution.” Its placement in the sentence, taken literally, means you would only be eligible if you met all the requirements at the time the Constitution was being written. That precludes a huge number of past and would-be presidents.

So then, all presidential wannabes, in a purely grammatical sense, you are all out of the race since you were not a citizen of the United States when the Constitution was formed. DON’T EVEN GET STARTED on the conflicted interpretation of a natural born citizen.

My rewrite is simple. Just re-cast the sentence so that it reads as follows:

“At the time of Adoption of this Constitution, we the undersigned decree that no person except a natural born citizen or a citizen of the United States, shall be eligible for the Office of the President.”

Watch your language. One little word or phrase can change the meaning of everything.

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