Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Where's Your Birth Certificate, Mr. President?

Before Barack Obama was born, before Kenya became an independent nation and before Hawaii became a U.S. territory, we had Chester A. Arthur.

Officially, Arthur was born October 5, 1829 in Fairfield, Vt., which is about a half-hour drive from the Canadian border. Unofficially, we don't really know.

Clouding things up is the fact that Arthur actually spent some time lying about his age and the fact that his father was an Irish-born and subject to the United Kingdom. Well, if his father was born in the U.K., that means he must have been born there as well, right?
Pictured, Kenyan-born father with U.S.-born son.
Someone actually went public with this, citing the theory that Arthur was possibly lying about his age to hide the fact that he was possibly not born in the U.S. Since his dad was from the U.K., then maybe Arthur was as well.

This turned out to be easy to disprove, and it was decided that Arthur was born in the U.S. Okay, maybe not in the U.S., but definitely born somewhere on this map which covers a pretty small area:
Somewhere near the two red dots.
Simple enough, except the northern dot is a few miles above the thick gray line which represents the U.S.-Canadian border. See, after leaving the U.K., Arthur's father emigrated to Dunham, Lower Canada (now Quebec) where he married Arthur's Vermont-born mother. They eventually settled 30 miles to the south in Fairfield, Vt. However, it's not that clear if this happened before or after Arthur was born.

Back to Arthur, lying about his age. He was born in 1829, but later pretended to be born in 1830. He says it was to appear younger. I'm not really sure how much difference a year makes with this sort of thing. One could say that he'd rather say he was born in the 1830s and not the 1820s, and I guess that makes a bit of a difference.
Just for Men — When you don't feel like outright lying about your age
It would make a bigger difference if, say, his parents had moved to the U.S. in that year. That would be the deciding factor of whether or not Arthur was actually eligible to serve as vice president or president.

That same guy who said that Arthur was born in the U.K. came forward with a much stronger case proving that Arthur may have been born in Canada, but nobody listened to him because of his last crazy theory about Arthur being from across the pond.

So, was Arthur's lie all a ploy to be considered for the vice presidency? Probably not, though I'm not actually basing that on anything. Arthur's birth date magically changed in the 1870s, within a decade before being elected vice president.

"Ploy afoot!" you may say. "Just as he was gearing up for the ticket, he made it appear that he was born here, thus making him eligible the vice presidency." Well, no. Not really. Arthur didn't really show any presidential aspirations. And as an attorney and former Collector of the Port of New York, he wasn't necessarily on track to being included in a national political race so soon.

The Republican Party was so split in 1880, they didn't want to nominate anyone too high up in the party ranks for fear of pissing off the other faction. That's why they nominated a moderately-known U.S. Representative as president — Garfield was the only president to be elected directly from the House of Representatives — and some guy he didn't even get along with as his running mate. The lower down on the party's chain the ticket, the better the chances the party had for winning the election.
Say what you will about the "elect some guy and some other guy" approach, it worked.

There's also the fact that no one seemed to care if Arthur was born here or not. There were rumors circulating, but no one — not even the Democratic Party — really forced the issue.

It's kind of a different story now. Maybe because too many people have seen this picture.
Kenya? The birthers were right? Oh, wait, I doctored that myself.

Interestingly enough, next week, we'll be hearing from Baxter Harris, who served as president in Scary Movie 3 and Scary Movie 4. He was played by Leslie Nielsen, who was actually born in Canada.

But that's next week. This week, we're looking at Lyndon B. Johnson vs. Chester A. Arthur, and if you haven't voted or commented yet, please do so.

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