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.

garfieldassass.gif

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.

Footnotes:

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.

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