What Does it Take to Be POTUS?

The President of the United States (POTUS), sometimes referred to as “the leader of the free world,” is the highest elected position. Only 45 men in the entire history of the country have occupied the office. So what requirement must those who aspire to the presidency meet? Let’s look at the details, below. But first, let’s briefly examine how the presidency and its powers were conceived through the Constitution.


The office and duties of the President, head of the Executive Branch, were originally instituted under Article II of the Constitution. He is the Commander-in-Chief (CIC) of the military, and with the advice and consent of the Senate may:

  • Make treaties with other countries
  • Appoint ambassadors
  • Appoint Supreme Court Justices and judges to lower federal courts
  • Determine the heads of the various departments of the executive branch

Of course, exactly what “advice and consent” means has been a point of contention at times.

Historical Changes

Over the course of time, changes have been made through the amendment process. Originally, the person who garnered the most electoral votes was declared president and the runner-up was vice president. It’s easy to imagine the problems inherent in having one’s political adversary take that particular position. The 12th Amendment changed that process for the 1804 election and all elections that have come after. This ensures candidates for president and vice president run on joint tickets as running mates, giving us the political “ticket.”

The other major change was how long one person could serve. From the beginning, new elections were held every 4 years and the same person could theoretically be elected indefinitely. However, after Franklin Roosevelt won a third term, and most historians agree he would have secured at least a fourth if he had not died in office, the 22nd Amendment was put in place limiting a president to 8 years — or 10 years in rare cases. If a vice president takes over after the death or removal of a president with two or fewer years left in the presidency, he may still serve two additional terms as president, should he win elections.


Other than those who were here at the founding of the country, the requirement says one must be a “natural-born citizen.” There has been some debate over that phrase. Questions center on whether the progeny of American citizens born outside the borders (especially within the military and diplomatic services) qualify, or whether anybody born within the US (like a foreign ambassador’s child) would qualify.

Regardless of where anybody stood on the whole “birther” issue surrounding President Barack Obama, one glaring problem came to light. There was no mechanism in place to verify a candidate’s status before being placed on the ballot. Following this controversy, several states amended their laws to require proof of citizenship prior to placing candidates’ names on the ballot.

Additionally, to be eligible, one must be a resident for at least 14 years. Again, there has been some debate regarding whether this means the last 14 years continuously or whether there are exceptions for military and diplomatic service.


The Constitution specifically sets the minimum age requirement at 35 years old. There’s no maximum age limit. To date, at 42, Teddy Roosevelt was the youngest elected president, while the oldest serving president was Ronald Reagan, who was 77 at the time he left the office.

The requirements are generally inclusive of most of the adult population in the US, allowing for almost any naturally-born citizen over the age of 35, man or woman, of any race, religion or sexual persuasion to become president. As the grand sage of comedy, Johnny Carson, once quipped: “anyone can grow up to be president.” Adding, “And anyone who doesn’t grow up can be vice president.”

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