Chester A. Arthur was born on October 5, 1829, in Fairfield, Vermont.
That should be the end of the story, but it’s not. And it’s all thanks to a rumor started way back in 1880, which has occasionally led to speculation about Arthur’s true place of birth over the years.
We’ll explain the backstory, but let’s first talk about why a president’s birthplace matters in the first place.
Why Does It Matter Where a President is Born?
According to Article II, Section 1 of the US Constitution:
“No person except a natural born citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President…”
So there you have it. That’s why it matters–because the Constitution says so. The Constitution also says you need to be at least 35 years old, and a resident of the United States for a minimum of 14 years to be eligible.
Of course, the Constitution is intentionally vague and open to interpretation at times. So we should note that when the Constitution was adopted back in 1787, many men who were present for its creation would not have been eligible for the Office of President under a literal interpretation of the document. Anyone over 35 at the time would have been born a British citizen if they lived in the colonies.
So the Founders came to interpret it as any man who was born in the colonies and lived to see them become the United States was eligible as a “natural born citizen”. And anyone born elsewhere was not. That still didn’t address the whole 14 year US resident issue–the US was just 13 years old when the Constitution became the law of the land. But we digress.
Rumors About Chester A. Arthur’s Birthplace
With that in mind, let’s talk about our 21st President, Chester Alan Arthur. Though often forgotten about today, during his lifetime Arthur proved himself intelligent and competent when it came to politics. He would engage in Republican politics while practicing law in New York City, and eventually became part of the New York political machine.
Related post: The Most Forgotten US Presidents
When James A. Garfield won the Republican nomination for president in 1880, Arthur was nominated for vice president. And when Garfield died a few months into his presidency after suffering a gunshot wound, Arthur would ascend to the presidency.
However, his rise to the highest office in the land almost didn’t happen–all because of a petty rumor made by a political rival.
When Arthur was nominated for vice president in 1880, a New York attorney and political opponent named Arthur P. Hinman began pushing stories that Arthur was born in Ireland, and did not come to the US until he was 14 years old. And according to the Constitution, that would have made him ineligible for the vice presidency under the “natural born citizen” clause.
When this story didn’t really catch on, Hinman changed his assertion–Arthur was actually born in Canada to a British father and American mother.
Where Was Chester A. Arthur Actually Born?
After Hinman’s failed “birther” movement, the New York Sun did their own investigation, and published a complete refutation the day after Arthur took his presidential oath. By that time, most of the general public understood that Arthur was born in Vermont.
And while Canada is definitely close to Vermont, all reputable sources confirm that Chester A. Arthur was a “natural born citizen” of the United States when he took office.
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