the last qualified president was Zachary Taylor

There has been lots of debate this week about whether various people are qualified to be president. Peter Shane once observed that the US Constitution, Art. II, § 1, ¶ 5, renders all the current candidates ineligible:

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.

It seems that to be president, you have to have been either a natural-born citizen or a citizen of the US on June 21, 1788, the date when the Constitution was ratified. Zachary Taylor was three-and-a-half years old at the time, so eligible. Millard Fillmore was born in 1800, so unqualified–along with all of his successors. It’s that second comma that makes it so. And we know that every jot and tittle of the Constitution is perfect.

(Those wacky Framers.)

About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.
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