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CBS Sunday Morning to air segment on Chester A. Arthur’s brush with birtherism in the 19th century

CBS notes that tomorrow (November 4) it will air a segment titled: “THE PRESIDENCY: Chester A. Arthur, the original ‘birther’ target: Was the 21st President of the United States actually born in Canada?” Mo Rocca investigates.

Recall that George Washington was actually the first President who was victimized by birthers.


Read the Transcript.

Strike out with the Bayard Papers

One of my particular interests is a story concocted by Leo Donofrio to explain away the fact that President Chester A. Arthur had a non-US-citizen father. In Donofrio’s alternative history, Arthur, knowing that he was ineligible, purposely hid the fact that his father naturalized after the President’s birth.

imageIn any case, the story leads to a Democrat lawyer named Arthur P. Hinman, who traipsed all over Northeast looking for proof that Arthur was really born in Canada, and wrote an 1884 book titled: How a British Subject Became President of the United States. Hinman’s argument had nothing about the father’s naturalization except for a curious letter that he wrote to New York Senator Thomas F. Bayard (pictured right).


This letter hints that Bayard knew about the Arthur naturalization and wanted to nail down any speculation that this would make the son a natural-born citizen. I got a copy of the book through interlibrary loan and scanned it. My copy was put on Scribd by someone.

What was intriguing is that the text of the Hinman letter is elided. I recently learned that the Library of Congress has a collection of the Papers of Thomas F. Bayard that includes correspondence for 1881, and I commissioned a search for the Hinman letter. It’s not there. The researcher suggested that the letter might be in some other collection besides that of the Library of Congress.


Coincidental comments

I found a couple of seemingly unrelated comments on the site this morning. The first was:

This has been a long enduring disagreement. For those that have not read it. The Dissent on the Wong Kim Ark case.

and the second:

President Chester A. Arthur in 1880 had a similar problem with questions of his citizenship, …

As many of you recall, Wong Kim Ark was born in the United States to Chinese parents at a time when the law precluded the Chinese from becoming citizens. Wong left the US and when he returned he was refused admission because of provisions in the Chinese Exclusion Act. Wong argued that the Act did not apply to him because he was a US Citizen. The Supreme Court agreed on a 6-2 vote, creating an enduring precedent of citizenship for the children born in the United States to alien parents.

The trivial connection between the two comments is the fact it that it was none other than President Chester A. Arthur who signed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. But I want to take a longer road relating the Dissent in Wong Kim Ark to questions about Arthur’s citizenship.

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Gentleman Boss

President’s Day is nearing its close, but I don’t want to let it pass unnoticed. The title of this article is the name of the definitive biography by Thomas C. Reeves of one American President, Chester Alan Arthur.

With many of our presidents, their term of office begins with high hopes and then realism sets in. There are no magic solutions to our problems, and sometimes the President is the scapegoat. Some of our Presidents were pretty crummy, while some still inspire us to this day.

Chester Arthur is one of these rare presidents who, while not great, exceeded expectations. It has been said of Arthur: “He would leave office with more respect than when he entered it.”

In the 19th century, machine politics ran much of American government. In this system a political boss doled out government jobs (patronage) in exchange for the office holders working to keep the boss and his machine in power. Viewed as a product of the New York City Republican Machine, Arthur was expected to reward his cronies, but once in office he worked to end corruption and begin to dismantle the spoils system and political patronage by aggressively filling vacancies on the Civil Service system and supporting reform.

Arthur is also credited with the revitalization of a crumbling US Navy. So I offer this tribute to Chester A. Arthur, a President who did a lot better than folks expected.

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There are just some things in the world that are discouraging: the number of unemployed, the number of children hungry, the number of people dying of preventable diseases, war, pain and birthers.

On a bad day it feels like the inmates are running the asylum. One can hardly find a political forum without birthers dumping stupid stuff on it. It appears that the Republican party is now the Republican Birther Party based on polls that indicate that more than half of them are birthers. That idiot Donald Trump flies around in his private 727 saying ridiculous and false things about Obama’s origins. Jerome Corsi, who is nothing but a hack propagandist, will most likely have yet another a best-selling book out shortly spreading misinformation about Obama and, I learned today, Chester A. Arthur. That’s right; he’s going to dig up the body of President Arthur and assassinate him.

Even if Barack Obama were to release his long form birth certificate, and the Supreme Court were to declare him a natural born citizen, it would make no difference.

It all just erodes my faith in my fellow countrymen. I understand a little better why Lincoln went to the theater so much — to escape the insanity.

Our Irish President

Barack O'Bama

“Irish President” was a phrase I found in a very old newspaper clipping about 19th century US President Chester A. Arthur. Arthur’s father immigrated from Ireland and only became an American citizen some time after the birth of our 21st President.

Equally unknown is the fact that Barack Obama is also Irish. It’s unknown in the United States, but not so much in Ireland, where the ancestral home of Barack Obama, Moneygall, can’t do enough tout the President’s Irish side, as reported by the Irish Press. The Irish know about birthers too, according to an article in the Independent yesterday.