Constitutional FAQ Answer #19
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Q19. "In Article 2, Section one, it states that
someone can be president if they 'have been a 14 years resident within the
United States.' Also, in Article 1, Sections 2 and 3, it states the years of
residency necessary to be a Senator and within the House of Representatives.
Are all of these years (14 years, 7 years, and 9 years) consecutive, or are the
years totaled together, if one has been in and out of U.S. residency throughout
his or her life? Does this include time spent out of the country before the
electee reached age 18?"
A. Actually, a Representative need have been a citizen for seven
years, and a Senator a citizen for nine. It does not mention time of
residency for either, only that you be a resident of the state you're running
For President, you need to either be a natural-born citizen of the U.S., or
a non-natural citizen as of the passage of the Constitution (those people are
all dead now). You can read more on the intricacies of what exactly
"natural-born" means on the Citizenship Topic
Page. The one other qualification is, as you note, the need to have been a
resident for 14 years. This was designed to ensure that a person running for
President have some sort of physical tie to the country. It was not enough to
have been born here and then left, gained popularity overseas, and return for a
triumphant election to the Presidency.
But even this seemingly simple requirement is subject to two possible
interpretations. The first is that residency must be consecutive, meaning that
before assuming the office of president, a person must have lived within the
United States for fourteen straight years. The second is that the fourteen
years can have been arrived at cumulatively. There are problems with both
As to the latter interpretation, if a child of 14 years leaves the U.S. and
returns at the age of 50, the person would be eligible to be president, because
the 14 years were accumulated at the beginning of the child's life. Was this
the Framers' intent?
As to the former interpretation, the requirement could disqualify many
people, including those doing diplomatic or military service, or those doing
business outside the country. Though the law can make exceptions for national
service, it seems unlikely that the Framers would have wanted to disqualify a
business person who lived overseas for a short time a dozen years ago.
Fortunately, we have precedent to help resolve the question. Herbert Hoover
was elected to the presidency in 1928 and inaugurated in 1929. If the
"consecutive" interpretation were correct, Hoover would have had to live in the
United States since March, 1915. Hoover, however, lived in London, England,
during that time frame. The Court Directory of London listed a London address
for Hoover from 1910 to 1917. If, therefore, the "consecutive" interpretation is
not the correct one (or, at least, is disproven by precedent), only the
"cumulative" interpretation remains.