The person I have in mind is Barack Obama, who was born in Hawaii in 1961, two years after it became the 50th state in 1959.

Suppose he had been born in 1957 (my birth year) that is, before Hawaii became a state. Would Hawaii's subsequent statehood retroactively have made him eligible to run for, and be elected President even though that would not have been case when he was born?

Edit: In answer to the comments, the issue is not whether the parents were native born or naturalized, or even citizens. The issue is, if you were born on soil that "subsequently" became a U.S. state, does that retroactively make you a "native born citizen" like you would have been if you had been after statehood.

  • In the specific example of Barack Obama, yes, because his mother was an American citizen. But that's probably not what you meant. Commented Feb 21, 2022 at 21:55
  • @AzorAhai-him-: You got the "spirit" and not the "letter" of my question.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Feb 21, 2022 at 22:13
  • Here is the text from the constitution and what it says. "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"
    – Joe W
    Commented Feb 21, 2022 at 22:15
  • 1
    Well, yes, I was trying to suggest that using a specific example might be confusing. Commented Feb 21, 2022 at 22:17

1 Answer 1


Prior to becoming a state, Hawaii was a territory after the illegal coup of its monarch. This occurred in 1900, and to the best of my knowledge, citizens of territories were US citizens in all respects (setting aside all the racist bits of the history of US citizenship), so even in the specific example, there would not be a question of citizenship.

Specifically, the organic act that annexed Hawaii states:


SEC. 4. That all persons who were citizens of the Republic of Hawaii on August twelfth, eighteen hundred and ninety-eight, are hereby declared to be citizens of the United States and citizens of the Territory of Hawaii.

This does not seem to confer retroactive birthright citizenship, but I'm not a lawyer. The act granting Hawaii statehood does not mention citizenship.

For comparison, the Jones Act that annexed Puerto Rico explicitly does not grant retroactive citizenship (emphasis added):

All persons born in Puerto Rico on or after April 11, 1899, and prior to January 13, 1941, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, residing on January 13, 1941, in Puerto Rico or another territory over which the United States exercises rights of sovereignty and not citizens of the United States under any other Act, are declared to be citizens of the United States as of January 13, 1941. All persons born in Puerto Rico on or after January 13, 1941, and subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, are citizens of the United States at birth.

So in conclusion, if you were born before the annexation of a territory, you were probably not granted retroactive birthright citizenship habitually, although it might depend on the specific act annexing a territory. It would not surprise me if some act granted birthright citizenship for some political reason.

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