This essay will discuss the eligibility of every President who had parents born abroad. As long as the parents had the future President on US soil after they became citizens, then that person is a natural born citizen.
Every President born before the adoption of the Constitution was eligible because of the grandfather clause of Article 2, Section 1 :
No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President;
The first President we must examine then was James Buchanan, 14th President of the United States. He was born on April 23, 1791 in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania. He just missed out on the grandfather clause as the Constitution was adopted on September 17, 1787, by the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Buchanan was also the only President from Pennsylvania and the only President never to marry.
His mother Elizabeth Speer was born in Pennsylvani. His father James Buchanan emigrated to the United States from Ireland in 1783. It was an interesting year for the United States as the Treaty of 1783 was signed between the US and Great Britain. Colonists chose to be United States citizens and by virtue of the Treaty, Great Britain recognized those former subjects as United States citizens.
Before the Constitution, United States citizenship was conferred on citizens by the States. When the Constitution was ratified, each citizen of a state became a citizen of the United States. No formal naturalization was needed.
On June 21, 1788 the Constitution was ratified. The Buchanans were citizens of Pennsylvania and therefore James Sr. was a citizen of the United States. When James Jr. was born in Pennsylvania he was therefore a natural born citizen, born on United States soil to two US citizen parents.
Johnson, our 17th President, was born in Raleigh, North Carolina on December 29, 1808. Wiki has this on his father:
Jacob Johnson was born circa 1778. Some sources indicate that he was born in Newcastle, England and sailed to America around 1795, but other sources indicate that he was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, and that it was his grandfather (and possible namesake) who sailed to North America from England. Historian Rev. Nash A. Odom writes that “In the year 1760, Peter Johnson, migrated from Kintyre, Scotland to North Carolina with his large family and settled in Cumberland County. The preaching instinct broke out again and a number of the Johnsons became ministers. One was the father of Jacob Johnson, who moved to Raleigh, North Carolina and was the father of President Andrew Johnson.” Author Billy Kennedy writes that Jacob’s father, named Andrew, a Presbyterian, came to North Carolina about 1750 from Mounthill, Ireland.
The weight of authority is that Jacob was born in the US. But even if the other sources were correct, he would have been in the US for 13 years before Andrew was born. The Naturalization act of 1795 called for a five year residence before Naturalization. The Act was modified in 1798 to a 14 year requirement, but then the Naturalization act of 1802 it was put back to five years.
Jacob Johnson also served as a militia Captain of Muster Division 20 and was the city constable. I can find no allegations that Jacob wasn’t a citizen when Andrew was born. (Jacob Johnson died from complications caused by his heroic saving of a friend’s life.)
Andrew Johnson’s mother was born in North Carolina in 1782.
So, Andrew Johnson - born in North Carolina to two US citizen parents, hence - natural born citizen.
[Chester Arthur would be next, but I shall save him for last.]
Born December 28, 1856 - the 28th President, born in Staunton, Virginia.
Wilson’s mother was from Carlisle, England. His father was a US citizen from Ohio. Wilson’s mother gained US citizenship when she married his father according to a congressional Act of February 1855, which stated,
“any woman who might lawfully be naturalized under existing laws, married, or shall be married to a citizen of the United States, shall be deemed and taken to be a citizen.” [Act of February 10, 1855, 10 Stat. 604, section 2]
This was called derivative citizenship. This act was enacted in 1855. Woodrow Wilson was born in December 1856. He was born in the US, both parents were US citizens - natural born citizen.
Hoover was born in Iowa, 1874. He was the 31st President. His father Jesse was from Ohio, a US citizen. His mother Hulda Minthorn was from Ontario, Canada. They were married in 1870. According to the 1855 act, which was in effect until 1922, Hoover’s mother became a US citizen automatically when she married Jesse.
So, Hoover was born in the US, both parents were citizens - natural born citizen.
CHESTER ARTHUR …or the strange lies of our 21st President
And here we have a very interesting story full of intrigue. Arthur became President when one of his supporters shot President Garfield with an exclamation of joy that Arthur would now be President.
More relevant to our discussion is that during his Vice-Presidential campaign, Chester Arthur was accused by an attorney named Arthur Hinman of having been born abroad. But there was absolutely no merit to the charge. Hinman first accused Chester of being born in Ireland, then he switched his claim to Canada. Hinman, a new York lawyer, wrote an accusatory pamphlet under the heading, “How A British Subject Became A President of the United States.”
The definitive biography on Chester Arthur is “Gentleman Boss” by Thomas Reeves. It’s an exhaustive reference chock full of notes. Many of the blanks in Chester Arthur’s legend were filled in by this book which utilized interviews with family members and authentic documents like the Arthur family Bible. It was a necessary work since old Chester Arthur was a very wily protector of his strange history. Also, Chester Arthur burned all of his papers. (See page 2365.)
“Gentleman Boss” establishes, on page 4, that Chester Arthur’s father William was born in Ireland, 1796, and emigrated to Canada in 1818 or 1819. His mother Malvina was born in Vermont and his parents eloped to Canada in 1821. They had their first child, Regina in Dunham, Canada on March 8, 1822.
THE MYSTERY - When was William Arthur naturalized? I don’t know. The only reference historian I know who ventured a date said it was 1843, but that historian also said he got that from “Gentleman Boss” and I could not find such a reference in the book. I spent a few hours with the book today. I examined every reference to William in the index and also went over the early years with a microscope. No reference to the naturalization date.
By no later than 1824, the Arthur family had moved to Burlington, Vermont. Their second child Jane was born there on March 14, 1824. Chester Arthur was their fifth child, and he was born on October 5, 1829. Reeves established these facts (and the correct date of Chester Arthur’s birth) from the Arthur family Bible.
It gets interesting here because of the Naturalization Act of 1802. That act set the requisite of five years residence in the United States for those who wanted to become naturalized citizens. Doing the math, we know that William Arthur had moved to Vermont no later than 1824. Chester was born in October 1829. So if William had taken action on being naturalized in his first year, then he very well could have been a US citizen when Arthur was born. William studied law and taught school before he became a preacher in 1827, so he should have been familiar with the process of acquiring citizenship.
CHESTER ARTHUR’S FIRST LIE
From “Gentleman Boss”, page 5… regarding Chester’s birthday:
“…on October 5, 1829, Malvina Arthur gave birth to her fifth child. (The traditional date 1830 is incorrect. Arthur made himself a year younger, no doubt out of simply vanity, some time between 1870 and 1880…)”
Perhaps it was out of vanity, but perhaps he had a more sinister motive. Reeves establishes Chester changed his date in the decade of his most serious political career, 1770-1780. Chester was also a very skilled New York lawyer. If he had a problem with his father’s naturalization date, then moving back his birthday by a year might have fixed it. We will revisit this later. Suspend judgment for now.
CHESTER ARTHUR’S SECOND LIE
And this is where our villain Hinman returns. But was he a villain to Arthur? Hinman made a big stink in various New York publications alleging that Chester Arthur was born abroad as a British subject, much like those who are trying to say Obama is not a US citizen. It wasn’t true. Chester was born in Vermont. But this scandal had the effect of keeping public attention off of the issue of whether Chester Arthur’s father William was a British subject which would have made Chester a British subject “at birth” even though he was born in Vermont.
Does any of this sound familiar?
“…Hinman was hired, apparently by democrats, to explore rumors that Arthur had been born in a foreign country, was not a natural-born citizen of the United States, and was thus, by the Constitution, ineligible for the vice-presidency. By mid-August, Hinman was claiming that Arthur was born in Ireland and had been brought to the United States by his father when he was fourteen. Arthur denied the charge and said that his mother was a New Englander who had never left her native country — a statement every member of the Arthur family knew was untrue.”
His mother had lived in Canada with her husband and had her first child there. This was a blatant lie.
CHESTER ARTHUR’S THIRD LIE
In the the Brooklyn Eagle newspaper, an article interviewing Chester Arthur about Hinman’s accusations was published on August 13, 1880. In that article, Chester Arthur defended himself as follows:
“My father, the late Rev. William Arthur, D.D., was of Scotch blood, and was a native of the North of Ireland. He came to this country when he was eighteen years of age, and resided here several years before he was married.”
This was another blatant lie. His father emigrated from Ireland to Canada at the age of 22 or 23. William Arthur didn’t come to the United States until sometime between March 1822 - when his first child was born in Dunham, Canada - and March 1824 - when his second child was born in Burlington, Vermont. The youngest he could have been when he came to Vermont was 26. So, a third blatant lie.
I think we’ve discovered a bit of esoteric history tonight. I’ve not seen this analysis elsewhere.
It looks like Chester Arthur had something to hide. He burned all of his papers (but the family Bible survived). He moved his age back a year. I think vanity is a poor excuse. Only one year? He lied about his mother’s time in Canada. He lied about his father’s time in Canada.
By obscuring his parents’ past lives and time in Canada, he would have clouded all attempts at researching when his father naturalized. Think about the time period. He ran for Vice-President in 1880. His father, being a law student, and moving his family to the United States, would have probably naturalized as soon as possible. But it might not have been soon enough to make old Chester a natural born citizen.
As discussed above, the time frame between William Arthur’s five year residence requirement being met and the day Chester was born were probably very close.
Then when Chester runs for VP, Hinman comes along basically demanding to see Chester’s birth certificate to prove he was born in the United States. This causes a minor scandal easily thwarted by Chester, because Chester was born in Vermont…but at the same time the fake scandal provides cover for the real scandal.
William Arthur was probably not a naturalized citizen at the time of Chester Arthur’s birth, and therefore Chester Arthur would have been a British subject at birth and not eligible to be Vice President or President.
Regardless, Chester Arthur lied through his teeth about his father’s emigration to Canada and the time his mother spent there married to William. Some sixty years later, Chester lied about all of this and kept his candidacy on track. Back then it would have been impossible to see through this, especially since Arthur’s father had died in 1875 as a United States citizen. Had anybody been suspicious, Arthur having changed his age by a year could have protected his eligibility. And without knowledge of his father’s time in Canada, researchers in 1880 would have been hard pressed to even know where to start.
Because Chester Arthur lied about his father, any precedent he might have set for Obama is nullified completely as it appears Chester Arthur may have been a usurper to the Presidency. Eventually we will probably unearth William Arthur’s naturalization records.
While he did move around alot, he was a resident of Fairfield, Franklin County Vermont, between 1829 when Chester was born, and 1832 when Malvina Almeda was born. This is the most likely time period for his naturalization. The official word from Franklin County was a fast, “We don’t have naturalization records for William Arthur.”
I have a strong feeling we’ve uncovered the truth about Chester Arthur. Looks like he was the only ineligible President we’ve ever had. And he got away with it through his lies. But the light has a way of finding the darkness.
It’s no precedent to follow.
Leo C. Donofrio
December 5, 2008 at 7:31 am
Just wanted to let you know about a typo in the second paragraph under your analysis of Chester Arthur: “Hoover was accused by an attorney named Arthur Hinman of having been born abroad”. I think you meant Arthur not Hoover. You don’t have to post this. Just wanted to let you know so you have a chance to correct it. Thanks for very detailed information on this topic. Discussions on Chester Arthur’s eligibility has been flying around the chat rooms for several days now. You are a true patriot, Leo. Thank you for all you have done.
December 5, 2008 at 7:35 am
Pretty good work in short time, once you became aware of the exceptions. Elizabeth Speer was born in PA, though, not Ireland. Johnson’s father would have had to take action under the 1802 Act. Unclear that he did. The mothers were always going to be the easiest to work with. So, let me give you a new set of precedents to look at: VP Dallas, whose father was from Jamaica; VP Humphrey, whose mother was from Norway (but who is likely to be covered through the marriage to an American citizen before 1922); and VP Agnew, whose father was from Greece.
The last of them there is not much to be done about. Charles Curtis’s mother was ineligible to be a United States citizen, even though she married a resident of the Territory of Kansas. Indeed, he spent many of his childhood years living with her people.