The answer to this question depends on the answer to another question:
When did America become a country?
- Did America become a country when the Declaration of Independence was signed?
- Did America become a country when the Articles of Confederation (America’s “First Constitution”) went into effect in 1777 as the operational form of government (or when the Articles were ratified on March 1, 1781)?
- Did America become a country when the Treaty of Paris, which ended the American Revolutionary War, was signed in 1783?
- Did America become a country when the U.S. Constitution was ratified on January 10, 1791?
The date America became a country was the date that her people became American citizens and were no longer British subjects.
When the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, the colonists gave up their British citizenship and announced that they were no longer subjects of the King of England (and they were committing treason against Great Britain in doing so):
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by the Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States : that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved ; and that as Free and Independent States , they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and things which Independent States may of right do . And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor (emphasis added).
Excerpt from the Declaration of Independence
America became a country when the Declaration of Independence was signed. It was at that time that the colonists completely and publicly renounced their British citizenship, and instead became citizens of America. The Declaration of Independence is America’s true founding document.
( While the original Declaration of Independence was publically read on July 4, 1776 and is believed to have been signed on July 4, 1776 by John Hancock, the President of the Continental Congress, the copy containing 56 signatures was actually not signed on July 4 th , the day we celebrate as the “birth of our nation.”)
I’m going to put on my lawyer hat for a minute (please forgive me) to explain some of the reasoning behind this conclusion.
1. The Articles of Confederation and the U.S. Constitution established and were the blueprints for America’s form of government . These documents did not create the nation itself. The citizens of America, through their representatives, decided on and created the form of government outlined first in the Articles of Confederation and then in the U.S. Constitution.
2. The Paris Peace Treaty didn’t create America , it was simply an agreement to end the Revolutionary War, in which the King of England acknowledged the United States as a sovereign nation. Regardless of whether or not Great Britain acknowledged the United States as a sovereign nation, as far as the U.S. was concerned, she was already a sovereign nation, and this fact was made perfectly clear in the Declaration of Independence.
3. Look at the words of the Constitution:
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 (emphasis added) ….
Excerpt from Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution
The Constitution, on its face, refers to citizens of the United States. The plain language tells us that at the time the Constitution was drafted and sent to the states for ratification, the framers of the Constitution acknowledged that United States citizens already existed .
Martin VanBuren was born on December 5, 1782 , after the Declaration of Independence was signed, but before the end of the American Revolutionary War and before the ratification of the U.S. Constitution.
John Tyler was born on March 27, 1790 , which was after the war ended and the Treaty of Paris was signed, but before the U.S. Constitution was ratified.
Because VanBuren was the first U.S. president born after the signing of the Declaration of Independence and was therefore not a British subject, Martin VanBuren was the first U.S. President born an American citizen.
Copyright 2013 by Kendra Hazlett Armstrong, Attorney at Law
Read more about the presidents in our book, Common Sense and an Uncommon God .
Common Sense and an Uncommon God is available at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and other booksellers