The controversy over President Barack Obama’s citizenship sharply divided America before the White House decided to release his long-form birth certificate Wednesday.
Some remain unconvinced he's a U.S. citizen. To many, the issue had already been settled. A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll last month indicated that three out of four Americans believe Obama was probably or definitely born in the USA. More than 40 percent of Republicans held opposite sentiments.
Often accompanied by accusations of racism, a common cry among those defending Obama is, “Did past presidents make their birth certificates public?”
An interesting question, for sure, so I decided to have a look back over the past 50 years. The short answer is yes, some indeed did. The long answer? Birth certificates for past presidents are squirrelly things and not the easiest to find.
That doesn’t mean they’re not out there hiding on the World Wide Web somewhere, just that I couldn’t find them online over the better part of the morning.
Birth certificates are a state function. The U.S. Census Bureau didn’t begin developing certificates until 1900, and standards weren't conceived until 1902. The responsibility was handed over to the U.S. Public Health Service in 1946 and now resides with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The standard certificates are reviewed every 10 to 15 years, and there have been about a dozen revisions to the standard certificate of live birth. I hate to bore you with birth certificate esoterica, so if you’re interested in a more complete history of our country’s vital records, you can check out this PDF.
For those wondering what a valid birth certificate should contain, the State Department requires that those used for passport applications contain your name, birthplace, birthdate, full parents’ names, a seal from the issuing office, a filing date within one year of your birth and the signature of an “official custodian of birth records.”
With all that in mind, here's a look at the nine presidents before Obama:
John F. Kennedy, born May 29, 1917, in Brookline, Massachusetts
Several people are offering copies of JFK’s birth certificate for sale, but it’s difficult to find an actual image. There's one photo of the King of Camelot’s birth record on eBay, but it’s too small to read.
Lyndon B. Johnson, born August 27, 1908, in Hye, Texas
LBJ’s certificate of birth is online but, oddly, contains no first name. In the "name of child" blank, it says only, “Johnson.” His birthdate, parents’ names and race, however, are consistent with history.
Richard M. Nixon, born January 9, 1913, in Yorba Linda, California
Nixon’s certificate of live birth is online, but the Los Angeles Times reported last year that it was filed in 1942, when Nixon was 29. Interestingly, there was a controversy in 1959 over whether the 37th president was born in his family home or in a local hospital, the Times reported.
Gerald R. Ford, born July 14, 1913, in Omaha, Nebraska
I couldn’t find Ford’s birth certificate online. Numerous sites indicate that Ford was born Leslie Lynch King Jr., named after his father, but his mother remarried in 1916, and the couple began calling him Gerald Rudolff Ford Jr., after her second husband. Ford apparently didn’t make the change official until 1935, when he also adopted the more common spelling of his middle name, Rudolph.
James Carter, born October 1, 1924, in Plains, Georgia
No luck finding the birth certificate of the world’s most-famous peanut farmer, but it seems widely accepted that he was the first president born in a hospital. Please let this in no way be construed as commentary on the 1959 Nixon controversy.
Ronald Reagan, born February 6, 1911, in Tampico, Illinois
Aside from Obama’s as of Wednesday, the Gipper’s birth certificate is the easiest to find. It’s online in a few places, and one blog contains a picture of it hanging in the presidential library. One curious aspect: It's signed 1942, more than three decades after Dutch was born.
George H.W. Bush, born June 12, 1924, in Milton, Massachusetts
Again, no luck, but Obama fans sick of the birther rants may be delighted to know the Internet is rife with conspiracies that the elder Bush was a Nazi spy and the inspiration for the mischievous cartoon monkey Curious George. I’d offer links, but it seems irresponsible to lend these sorts of conspiracies credence.
William J. Clinton, born August 19, 1946, in Hope, Arkansas
Struck out again, though several people claim to have seen it. On an interesting side note, there are conspiracies among astrologists over whether the 42nd president was born at 3:44 a.m. or 8:51 a.m. Apparently, this has horoscopic implications because savvy politicians are “known” to alter their birth data so opponents can’t use the stars against them. There is also a conspiracy about whether Clinton’s real father is named on the birth certificate. For the aforementioned reason regarding Bush I, I will leave you to find links on your own.
George W. Bush, born July 6, 1946, in New Haven, Connecticut
The Texas State Archives claims to have it on file, and The New York Times reports that it's on file at the George Herbert Walker Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas.
So there you have it, a mixed bag. Some presidents have their birth records online; others don’t.
In anticipation of a possible Transcriptgate, I checked around to see whether these same presidents' college grades were available online. I could find only George W. Bush’s Yale transcript.