Q&A: Martin Van Buren first president born in independent United States

Presidents born in this country

I've heard that John McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone, but is considered a natural-born U.S. citizen — and allowed to serve as president — because it was a U.S. territory at the time. Have any U.S. presidents been born on foreign soil before?

No U.S. president has been born on foreign soil. However, several of the earliest presidents technically weren't born in the United States, since the country didn't exist at the time of their birth. They started life as British subjects in the colonies that later became the United States.

These men were still allowed to serve as president based on a clause in Article II, Section I of the U.S. Constitution. It reads: "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."

Eight of the first nine presidents — George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson and William Henry Harrison — were born as British subjects before the United States declared its independence.

The first president who began life in the independent United States of America was Martin Van Buren, who was born on Dec. 5, 1782, in Columbia, N.Y. The nation's eighth president served from 1837 until 1841.

Appointee to finish Senate term

How will the seat of John McCain or Barack Obama be filled in the U.S. Senate after one is elected president?

The governor of the state of the winner will appoint a person to finish the president-elect's Senate term. Both McCain and Obama are up for re-election in 2010.

The governor of Arizona is Democrat Janet Napolitano. State law requires her to select someone from the same party as the person vacating the seat.

The governor of Illinois is Democrat Rod Blagojevich. Unlike Arizona, Illinois has no law requiring same-party appointment.

Candidate endorsement

How does the Times make an endorsement for president, and who decides?

Tim Nickens, Times editor of editorials, answers: ''For recommendations for president, we study the candidates' positions and backgrounds. We talk to policy experts, other politicians who know the candidates and evaluate both their past performance and the effectiveness of their campaigns. We sometimes interview the candidates and attend campaign events in Florida, and we attend the political conventions.

''Then, we have a good feel for the candidates. The editorial board discusses the candidates and reaches a consensus. We don't take a vote. The Times has not recommended a Republican for president — yet. Each election is different and each set of candidates is different.''

Q&A: Martin Van Buren first president born in independent United States 11/03/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 4, 2008 7:31am]

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