Our Constitution is a covenant running from the first generation of Americans to us and then to future generations. It is a coherent succession. Each generation must learn anew that the Constitution's written terms embody ideas and aspirations that must survive more ages than one. PLANNED PARENTHOOD OF SOUTHEASTERN PA. v. CASEY, 505 U.S. 833 (1992).
Covenant is a religious concept, originating in the ancient Near Eastern religions. Covenant is also a critical component of Christianity. Indeed, the very salvation offered through Jesus Christ is called the New Covenant. See, e.g., Luke 22:20. From Christianity, the idea of covenant was adopted by the American Founding Fathers: 'Viewing the United States Constitution as the critical expression of the American constitutional tradition, we move back in time, seeking the less differentiated, more embryonic expression of what is in that document. Our search takes us to the earliest state constitution, then to colonial documents of foundation that are essentially constitutional such as the Pilgrim Code of Law, and then to proto-constitutions such as the Mayflower Compact. The political covenants written by English colonists in America lead us to the church covenants written by radical Protestants in the late 1500s and early 1600s, and these in turn lead us back to the Covenant tradition of the Old Testament. The American constitutional tradition derives much of its form and content from the Judeo-Christian tradition as interpreted by the radical Protestant sects to which belonged so many of the original European settlers of British North America.' Donald S. Lutz, The Origins of American Constitutionalism 6-7 (1982). One covenant principle that we see plainly in scripture is that a covenant may not be added to without mutual consent. We see God Himself revealing this principle in His covenant with Israel: "Do not add to what I command you." Deuteronomy 4:2. Any judge or justice who makes up out of whole cloth a new fundamental right, or arrogates to himself authority or power not granted by the Constitution, certainly adds to our national covenant, and thus becomes a covenant breaker.
In his landmark book, The Origins of American Constitutionalism, political scientist Donald Lutz reminds us that the genesis of a society's political values predates its written political documents. Indeed, a society's deepest values are born in its people's most ancient, primal, and unspoken worldview: 'Essentially a people share symbols and myths that provide meaning to their existence together and link them to some transcendent order. They can thus act together and answer the basic political questions: through what procedures do we reach collective decisions? By what standards do we judge our actions? What qualities or characteristics do we strive to maintain among ourselves? What kind of people do we wish to become? What qualities or characteristics do we seek or require in those who lead us? Far from being the repository of irrationality, these shared symbols and myths are the basis upon which collective, rational action is possible. Since these myths and symbols are frequently expressed in political documents, they tend to structure the form, determine the content, and define the meaning of the words in these documents. . . . By studying the political documents of a people, we can watch the gradual unfolding, elaboration and alteration of the myths and symbols that define them.' Through detailed empirical research, Lutz traces the roots of the core American constitutional tradition back in time to earlier state constitutions, colonial charters, English church covenants, and, ultimately, the Old Testament. Viewed in this fashion, the U.S. Constitution is only the latest written expression of Western values that have been developed and modified over thousands of years.
The further back one goes in American history, the more saturated with Hebraic references and allusions one finds American culture to be. Ironically, it is this Hebraic milieu rather than one grounded in the Christian New Testament, which most fueled the fires of motivation and imagination among American Christian colonists and founders of the Republic. Thus, Cecil Roth could write that were we to 'deprive modern Europe and America of their Hebraic heritage . . . the result would be barely recognizable.'
As scholars of religion and American history have repeatedly shown, American national identity has been shaped by the biblical language chosen by the first settlers, leaders, and preachers to emphasize both covenant and apocalypse. Of particular appeal to early Americans - from the Puritans to the architects of the American constitution - was the text of Deuteronomy, outlining the covenant between God and Israel. Like the Israelites, early Americans understood themselves to be entering into the Promised Land. Following the covenantal pattern outlined in Deuteronomy of prescribed moral and legal obligations to be kept by the people of Israel in return for God's blessing, the settlers understood themselves to be obligated to do God's will in return for God's blessings
The Puritans and their covenantal documents have had a lasting influence on American political life. As Sacvan Bercovitch, a scholar of American literature, puts it, 'Their influence appears most clearly in the extraordinary persistence of a rhetoric grounded in the Bible, and in the way that Americans keep returning to that rhetoric, especially in times of crisis, as a source of cohesion and continuity.' Some scholars have gone as far as to argue that the covenantal model was foundational for American political theory and practice.
Since Biblical times, it has been common practice to preclude foreigners from serving as political leaders. The Torah dictates, 'Thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom YHVH thy God shall choose one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother.'
As Joseph Story observed in his Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States permitting a citizen, other than a natural born citizen, to be President of the United States was an exception to "the great fundamental policy of all governments, to exclude foreign influence from their executive councils and duties." III J. Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States Section 1473 (Boston: Little, Brown: 1833). This "fundamental policy," in turn, was derived from the law of Moses which prohibited anyone, but a natural born citizen of Israel, from being king. Deuteronomy 17:14-15.
The basis of a natural-born requirement traces back to the Torah, where Moses prophesied about the people of Israel getting a king. The whole notion of a natural-born citizen is designed for the purpose of making sure that the chief executive would not have politically divided loyalties.
The biblical text consistently affirms that God reserves for himself the right of choosing kings and prophets and of raising up judges (Dt 17:14-20; 18:18; Jdg 3:15). Deuteronomy 17:15 gives "firm yet emphatic permission" to Israel to have a king. YHVH's act of choosing a king serves as legitimizing him. The text stipulates that the king must be an Israelite and not a foreigner.
Natural Born status was a requirement to minimize international intrigue and prevent the highest office in the land being held by someone with foreign allegiances.
The Framers were all citizens, and most had prior loyalty to the King of England, once being British subjects. Because the U.S. was a newly formed nation, they exempted themselves from the natural-born citizen requirement by adding a grandfather clause. Martin Van Buren, born on December 5, 1782, was the first American President not born a British subject. Before he served in 1837, his seven presidential predecessors were eligible to serve because they were citizens at the time the Constitution was adopted. John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the United States, wrote a letter to George Washington on July 25, 1787, indicating that he feared the possibility that the commander-in-chief could devolve upon someone who was the subject of a foreign power at the time of the birth: "Permit me to hint, whether it would be wise and seasonable to provide a strong check to the admission of Foreigners into the administration of our national Government; and to declare expressly that the Commander in Chief of the American army shall not be given to nor devolve on, any but a natural born Citizen." Historians agree that fear that a foreign ruler might someday be imported to reign over the United States prompted Jay's letter.
According to James Kent the relationship of a person to a nation was, like the relationship between husband and wife, parent and child, "derived from the law of nature," not from positive law. II J. Kent, Commentaries on American Law 5 (Claytor's Pub. Unabridged Ed. 1827). Thus, a person born to parents whose covenant allegiance to a nation had previously been established was a "natural born citizen," born into the civil covenant, just like a child born into the marriage covenant of his father and mother. Such a person need not swear allegiance to become a citizen, for his allegiance is determined by birth. In contrast, a person born to parents in covenant allegiance to another nation could become a "naturalized” citizen, but only by swearing allegiance to another nation.