Illegal President? Chester Alan Arthur

October 24, 2007

chester-arthur-picture.jpgChester Arthur became the twenty-first President  on September 19, 1881 when President James Garfield succumbed to his gunshot wounds.  Garfield was shot in a Washington, DC train station by Charles Guiteau on July 2, 1881. Arthur was elected Vice President of the United States on a ticket with Garfield in 1880. The Constitution of the United States requires that to be eligible to hold the office of Vice President or President one has to be born in the United States .

Below: Garfield assassination 1881.


His country of birth is very much in doubt. No birth certificate has ever been produced that proves he was American by birth.

His father immigrated to Quebec, Canada and raised his family there, before moving to Vermont. It is claimed that his son Chester was born in a cabin in Fairfield, Vermont in 1829. Fairfield is only a few miles from the Canadian/US border.

Many of his opponents accused him of not being eligible to be Vice President or President because he was a British citizen born in Canada. No undeniable proof has ever been brought forth either way. Arthur himself neither denied or defended his eligibility. He remained silent on the issue. The Arthur family bible held by the Library of Congress has family entries showing his birth as Fairfield, but this is not irrefutable proof. His father wanted him badly to be an American and that is why the family moved to Vermont. He also encouraged Chester in his political career.

Arthur Hinman, a New York lawyer, published a story in the New York Times of December 22, 1880 on then President-elect Arthur. Apparently Hinman was “employed by the Democratic National Committee to obtain evidence to prove that Arthur was an unnaturalized foreigner”. He later published a book, “How a British Subject Became President of the United States”. An article related to the content of this book was published in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle of June 2, 1884 which claimed:

“Chester Alan Arthur was born in Dunham Flats, Canada on {sic} March, 1828, and that he represented himself to have been born at North Fairfield, Vermont”

Another author, Thomas C. Reeves wrote a biography of Arthur, “Gentleman Boss: the life of Chester Alan Arthur, New York: Knopf, 1975”. He dismisses Hinman’s theory but admits that Arthur lied about his age. This would have had no effect on his eligibility for the Presidency though.

Perhaps we will never know the entire truth, but it was extremely easy to cross the border in 1829 and accurate birth records were not kept in either Canada or the U.S. Canada was a British Colony until 1867 so if he was born in Canada in 1829 he would technically be a British citizen, still ineligible to hold either the office of Vice President or President of the United States.

Chester A. Arthur was very likely an illegal President who should not have been allowed to hold the office. At the very least he should have been asked to prove his birth before being nominated in 1880 as his party’s Vice Presidential candidate.

Another historical mystery that remains unsolved.


The Library of Congress does indeed have the Arthur family Bible (Philadelphia, 1857, LC call number: BS185.1857.P5, Rare Bk. Coll., Bible Coll.). The birth record for the 21st President reads: “Chester Alan Arthur–fifth child & eldest son of William Arthur and Malvina his wife,–born Oct. 5, 1829, at Fairfield, Franklin
Co. Vt.” 

President Arthur had a fatal kidney disease. He knew he was dying during his presidency. He did seek the nomination in 1884 in an effort to hide his illness, but was unsuccessful. He died in 1886, just a year after leaving the presidency.

Presidential Primer #5 – Succession

October 19, 2007

485px-william_henry_harrison.pngTo maintain a stable democracy it is important to have a clear succession procedure in the event of the death of the president.  (Left: President William Henry Harrison, first President to die in office.) This also applies to a resignation or removal from office (impeachment). When these types of events occur it is usually a time of confusion and vulnerability for the government.

Again let’s look at what the Constitution of the United States laid out for these contingencies. Keep in mind that this is what was in the original Constitution.  Amendments were made later to clarify presidential succession. I will discuss those later on.

Article II, Section 1 states:

“In the case of the removal of the President from office, or of his death, resignation, or in ability to discharge the powers and duties of the said office, the same shall devolve on the Vice President, and the Congress may by law provide for the case of removal, death, resignation or inability, both of the President and Vice President, declaring what officer shall then act as President, and such officer shall act accordingly, until the disability be removed, or a President shall be elected.”

This section did not clearly state that the Vice President automatically became President on the death, removal from office, or resignation of the President. In fact it seems to say that the Vice President would only be an “acting” President until they could elect a new President. Very much subject to interpretation.

The first test of this took place when President William Henry Harrison died one month after taking office in 1841. His Vice President John Tyler was not liked and when he took it upon himself to take the “Oath of Office”, there was confusion and great controversy. Many in the Congress attempted to nullify the oath taking and appoint their own choice for President. Finally a vote in the House of Representatives confirmed him as President and his presidency was formally recognized.

What this did was effectively set a precedent in law. Constitutionally it was still foggy and should someone mount a serious challenge to a succession in the future it might succeed.

The Twenty-Fifth Amendment to the Constitution modified Article II, Section 1, but this was not ratified until February 23, 1967. After President Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963 lawmakers realized that a clearer succession procedure was needed to avoid any future confusion or doubt as to who the new President would be.

Amendment XXV, Section 1 states:

“In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.”

As you can see this is very clear. Further, it built in another safeguard by filling the vacant Vice Presidency that occurs when he succeeds to the Presidency. In some cases the office of Vice President has been vacant for almost four years. 447px-john_tyler.jpgExamples of this are when President Harrison died one month into his term, Tyler served virtually an entire term without a Vice President. (Right: John Tyler, first Vice President to succeed to the Presidency.) Then when President Franklin Roosevelt died a few months into his fourth term, Harry Truman served FDR’s remaining term (almost four years) without a Vice President. Fortunately nothing happened to either President, but certainly some uncertainty would likely have occurred when the Speaker of the House succeeded, for he would be the next in line. This eventuality was covered off by Amendment XXV, Section 2 which states:

 “Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.”

170px-gerald_ford.jpgThe first time this provision was used was December 1973. President Richard Nixon appointed Rep. Gerald Ford as Vice President when Spiro Agnew was forced to resign in scandal. Subsequent to that Ford succeeded to the Presidency after Nixon’s resignation to avoid likely impeachment. He then appointed Nelson Rockefeller to be his Vice President. The Congress ratified the appointments in both cases. (Left: Gerald Ford, first to be appointed Vice President under Amendment XXV.)

Finally there has always been confusion about what happens if a President becomes incapacitated and can’t discharge his duties. The primary point of contention has been at what point is he unable to do that and who decides that an “acting” President is needed.

Section 3 of the Amendment states:

“Whenever the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate (the Vice President) and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such powers and duties shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President.”

Several examples of this have occurred where Presidents have had minor surgery that required general anesthetic. Vice Presidents have been “Acting President for several hours.

If the President is unable to resume his duties and can’t notify Congress himself the Amendment states:

“the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue”.

Then after a vote in Congress if it is agreed that the President is unable to function:

“the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President”

So for example if a President slipped into a coma, the Vice President would only be “Acting President”.  Only on the President’s death would he officially become President.

Presidential Primer #4: How long does the President serve?

October 13, 2007


Above: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the only person ever elected President of the United States more than twice. He was elected to four consecutive terms starting in 1933 until his death in 1945.

The President’s term of office was defined in the Constitution, Article II, Section I as follows:

“He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years”

Notice that there is no mention of the number of terms the President could serve. There were no term limits in the original Constitution.

George Washington, the first President, felt strongly that one should only serve a maximum of two terms and he actually preferred only one term. He stood for election a second time only because he was told the country needed his leadership desparately in its first years.

Amendment XX was ratified January 23, 1933 to clarify the term of the President.  Section I of the Amendment states:

“The terms of the President and Vice President shall  end at noon on the 20th of January”

Previously their terms ended on March 4th of the year following the presidential  election, but this was not a constitutional requirement. March 4, 1789 was the date that the first U.S. Congress convened in New York City, so that was the date selected for terms to end every four years. As a result of the Amendment now every four years on January 20th at noon the sitting president’s term ends and a new one is sworn in. If the incumbant president has won re-election then he too must be sworn in for his second term.

The new President is constitutionally required to take the oath of office as follows:

“I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States”


Above: President Abraham Lincoln taking his second oath of office in 1865. He is standing in the middle of the photograph.

Many Presidents have served two terms. President Grover Cleveland even served two non-consecutive terms. Several have sought third terms, but were unsuccessful.

Finally after 151 years (1789 to 1940) a president was elected to a third term. This man was Franklin Delano Roosevelt who in fact even went on to a fourth term in 1944. This was unprecedented in American history.

As a result Amendment XXII was ratified February 27, 1951 to set term limits. This reads as follows:

“No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once.”

Further it went on to exempt the sitting President (at the time Harry Truman): 

“But this article shall not apply to any person holding the office of President when this Article was proposed by the Congress, and shall not prevent any person who may be holding the office of President, or acting as President, during the term within which this Article becomes operative.”

Truman had assumed the Presidency only one year into FDR’s fourth term (1945) so normally he would not be able to seek a second election. However, he was exempted by this Section. He did seek a second election but was unsuccessful.

That is why George W. Bush the sitting President as this is written, never again will be eligible to be elected President. The same holds true for the another recent two term President, Bill Clinton. Clinton is still relatively young but this amendment prevents him from trying again.

Update: Mountie Killer Caught

October 12, 2007

As an update to my post of a couple of days ago. The accused killer of Constable Worden was captured Friday October 12 in a low-income housing complex in Edmonton, Alberta. He was apprehended without incident and appeared unharmed as he was taken away in a police cruiser.

Now if the justice system will only work.

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