He is a president with a father born in another country. Whispers, and occasionally shouts, arise that he is not a fit candidate for the White House.
He overcomes those obstacles, but for a core group of critics the charge that he is an unconstitutional president never goes away. They spend time trying to convince their fellow Americans that a man with no legal ties to the nation he governs is serving as commander in chief.
Barack Obama? Well, yes.
But this was also true for President Chester A. Arthur (pictured above), a man whose father was born in Ireland, and who some of Obama’s fiercest critics are now invoking.
“America’s Two Unconstitutional Presidents,” thunders the web site.
Familysecuritymatters.org, which notes that Arthur “was the son of an Irish immigrant …(and) was not constitutionally qualified for the office of either vice president or president, and set a precedent by which it would happen again.”
Meaning with our current president, Barack Obama.
As the glow has worn off the Obama presidency -- most recently, he’s taking heat over the attempted bombing on an airplane by a terrorist on Christmas Day -- the so-called “birther” movement has sustained surprising momentum.
Birthers basically believe Obama was not born an American citizen, so is therefore an illegitimate president. Obama’s father, of course, was born in Kenya. Obama’s much-discussed birth certificate says that the future president was born in Hawaii. However, many birthers simply don’t believe the document is real.
Believe it or not, Chester A. Arthur -- who served from 1881 to 1885, and is generally considered one of the most unmemorable presidents -- had his own pack of birthers nipping at his political tail.
The story began in 1797, when Arthur’s father, William, was born in Antrim. According to the Encyclopedia of the Irish in America (which does not even have a separate entry for Arthur) William settled in New York than moved to Vermont. He married in 1821 and had seven children and became a Baptist preacher known for fiery sermons and abolitionist leanings.
The family then moved around New York state throughout the 1830s and 1840s, before finally settling in Albany in the 1850s.
There are other accounts, however, which suggest that William Arthur left Ireland and settled, first, in Canada. Some, in fact, believe that’s where the future president was born, rather than n Vermont, as Arthur claims. Were he born in Canada, Arthur would be British, rather than American! (Interestingly, Obama’s father also was technically a British citizen -- sorry, subject -- since Kenya, at the time of Obama’s father’s birth, was also a British colony.)
Of course, the U.S. Constitution states that the president must be a “natural-born citizen.” Arthur’s critics argued that since his dad was Irish-born, and since the president may have been born in Canada, he did not technically become a U.S. citizen until William Arthur gained citizenship status in 1843.
Chester Arthur, by then, was already a teenager, and thus, not “natural born” on U.S. soil.
The heat on Arthur did not die down even after he was elected president. In fact, one critic, A.P. Hinman, wrote a scathing book not-so-subtly entitled How a Subject of the British Empire Became President of the Unites States.
Either way, Arthur only served one term as president, and only then because he was vice president when James Garfield was assassinated. History has been kind to Arthur only insofar as it has largely forgotten him.
For the record, John Dumville, who runs historic sites in Vermont, where the (alleged) Arthur birth home is located, recently said this to the Associated Press about rumors that Arthur was not eligible for the presidency: "It's an old rumor that won't die, political slander.”
This also seems to be the case with Obama’s conspiracy critics, who seem to grow more vociferous as the president’s poll ratings drop.
Perhaps we should all calm down. Obama may end up a president as memorable as Chester A. Arthur.
(Contact Tom Deignan at firstname.lastname@example.org)