Chester Alan Arthur: The Barack Obama of the 19th Century:

Thanks to some comments in my previous post on presidential aspirants and citizenship, I found some interesting facts about Chester Alan Arthur, who served as President in 1881-85, succeeding to the office after the assassination of James Garfield.

Arthur's father was an Irishman who moved to Canada. There, he eloped with an American woman from Vermont. Canada and Ireland were, at the time, under the government of the United Kingdom. The couple had several children, including Chester. The father did not become a naturalized American citizen until long after Chester's birth.

During the 1880 presidential campaign, Democrats hired Wall Street lawyer Arthur P. Hinman to investigate Arthur's background. Hinman released his findings to the Brooklyn Eagle newspaper during the campaign, and later wrote a book, How a British subject became president of the United States (1884).

Hinman contended that Arthur had been born in Canada, and was thus constitutionally ineligible to be Vice-President or President. (The Natural Born Citizen clause, however, applies only to who "shall be eligible to the Office of President." It does not, on its face, apply to the Vice Presidency. The clause of course reflects the original system of presidential elections, by which the electors cast two ballots, and whoever came in second became Vice President. The 12th Amendment changed that system, but did not revise the NBC clause accordingly.)

Arthur specifically denied the claim, and said that he had been born in Vermont. There was apparently no birth certificate, since such certificates were not used in many areas at the time that Arthur was born.

Later biographers have concluded that Arthur lied about his own age, and perhaps about various aspects of his father's life. The American people obviously made a political judgement, in electing Garfield-Arthur, that they either did not believe the charge of Canadian birth, or did not care about it.

Personally, I probably would have voted for the Democratic nominee, Winfield Scott Hancock, a man of impeccable integrity and great regard for constitutional rights. He lost the popular vote to Garfield by few than 10,000 votes. In 1881, Hancock became President of the National Rifle Association. (Following in the footsteps of Ulysses Grant, who served as NRA President after serving two terms as United States President.)

In any case, the existence of the Arthur controversy is an example of political opponents raising questions about whether a president was really a natural born citizen, and raising such questions for reasons other than racism.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Chester Alan Arthur: The Barack Obama of the 19th Century:
  2. Presidential aspirants not born in the United States: