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Birther Precedents


I was doing some rather pointless research on Chester A. Arthur this morning. On his Wikipedia page, I found this:

William Arthur’s frequent moves would later form the basis for accusations that Chester Arthur was not a native-born citizen of the United States. After Arthur was nominated for Vice President in 1880, his political opponents suggested that he might be constitutionally ineligible to hold that office. A New York attorney, Arthur P. Hinman, apparently hired by his opponents, explored rumors of Arthur’s foreign birth. Hinman initially alleged that Arthur was born in Ireland and did not come to the United States until he was fourteen years old, which would make him ineligible for the Vice Presidency under the United States Constitution’s natural-born citizen clause. When that story did not take root, Hinman spread a new rumor that Arthur was born in Canada, but this claim also failed to gain credence.

Who knew the nation had a birther controversy before Obama’s implacable opponents made false claims about him being born in Kenya. And to say in 1880 that a Republican was born in Ireland was not something to take lightly, given the Know-Nothing immersion into the Republican Party wasn’t that old and the strong anti-Irish sentiment in the nation at that time.

So I became curious about whether our current birthers looked back to the Arthur controversy for inspiration. Turns out the answer is yes indeed. Here’s a birther lawyer’s site titled “Natural Born Citizen” which explored Arthur’s history for angles to fight Obama, a post not coincidentally written in December 2008. The claims against Arthur are about as absurd as they are against Obama. Here’s a similar crazy person.

Sean Hannity used the Arthur controversy against Obama as late as last March (If Arthur produced a birth certificate, why can’t Obama!). Even The View weighed in on the ability of the lamb-chopped one to serve in the Oval Office.

This is probably as relevant as Chester Arthur has been since he left office in 1885. I don’t know how I didn’t catch this hilarity before. But I’m glad today Orly Taitz’s can look back to luminaries of the past for inspiration. I next expect someone to use the “Warren Harding is black” controversy against Obama in some way.

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  • John

    “Warren G. Harding was a negro!” – John McLaughlin.

  • Until today I had never seen Charles Guiteau deescribed as a “fanatical Arthur supporter.” I really need to get out more.

    • Bill Murray

      I am a Stalwart of Stalwarts, Arthur is President now had nothing to do with Dudley Moore

      • It does sound better than “I was more or less a Half-Breed until Garfield wouldn’t make me ambassador to France, but now I’m outraged by the corrupt bargain of 1876! Stalwarts forever!”

      • John

        When Guiteau got caught between the moon and New York City, killing Garfield was the best that he could do.

  • Tybalt

    “Who knew the nation had a birther controversy before Obama’s implacable opponents made false claims about him being born in Kenya.”

    I’d venture to guess that most Canadians with an interest in U.S. history know/knew it. We’re pathetically eager for mentions of Canada generally.

    • If y’all had just let us take you over in 1813, you wouldn’t have that sense of inferiority.

      • dewces

        We didn’t want to deal with South Carolina

        • Fair enough. On the other hand, you could have more help dealing with Quebec. Unless you are from Quebec. Then choose whatever other annoying province you’d like and say the same thing.

          • Mike Schilling

            Fucking Manitoba.

            • Bill Murray

              Alberta is, I hear, chock full of the Canadian equivalent of the Tea Party

              • redrob

                Alberta is full of people who desperately wish they were Texan.

  • A Canadian!? No wonder he sucked.

  • DrDick

    Come on now folks! These are conservatives and new ideas are totally anathema to their philosophy.

  • xpara

    Speaking of birtherism, why was George Romney considered an eligible candidate for the presidency (even though a far more reasonable and sympathetic character than his synthetic son) since he had been born in Mexico?

    • Mike Schilling

      Parents were US citizens, just like McCain’s being born in the Canal Zone.

      • rea

        My recollection is that some claim was made that the polygamous grandfather had renounced his citizenship after being driven out of the country.

    • Bill Murray

      his parents were American citizens — the Congressional Research Service investigated this http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R42097.pdf

      Although the eligibility of native born U.S. citizens has been settled law for more than a century, there have been legitimate legal issues raised concerning those born outside of the country to U.S. citizens. From historical material and case law, it appears that the common understanding of the term “natural born” in England and in the American colonies in the 1700s may have included both the strict common law meaning as born in the territory (jus soli), as well as the statutory laws adopted in England since at least 1350, which included children born abroad to British fathers (jus sanguinis, the law of descent).

      The weight of legal and historical authority indicates that the term “natural born” citizen would mean a person who is entitled to U.S. citizenship “by birth” or “at birth,” either by being born “in” the United States and under its jurisdiction, even those born to alien parents; by being born abroad to U.S. citizen-parents; or by being born in other situations meeting legal requirements for U.S. citizenship “at birth.” Such term, however, would not include a person who was not a U.S. citizen by birth or at birth, and who was thus born an “alien”

      required to go through the legal process of “naturalization” to become a U.S. citizen.

    • a noter of such things

      In Nixonland there’s mention of anonymous letters distributed during the NH? primary falsely claiming that the Supreme Court had determined he was ineligible. I guess it didn’t get so much traction.

  • Mike Schilling

    I saw a web page (can’t find it now) insisting that “natural-born citizen” means “child of two citizens”, a criterion that makes ineligible Obama, Nikki Haley, and Bobby Jindal. It’s obviously a neutral principle, because it’s not like those three have anything in common.

    • Bill Murray

      no (not to your having read an article that said this but to that being correct), English common law (on which the initial US laws were based) is I think pretty clear on being born in the country as citizenship. Born outside of two citizens is relatively clear, but less clear than being born in the country.

      • Mike Schilling

        Yeah, but those three all have dark skins.

      • John

        The 14th Amendment is even more clear on that point, I believe.

        • Bill Murray

          no it really isn’t with respect to eligibility for the Presidency

    • Tcaalaw

      Also excludes Marco Rubio (parents were still Cuban citizens at the time of his birth).

  • efgoldman

    The first “research report” I ever had to do (fifth grade, I think) was for a unit on US Presidents, assigned at random. I drew old Chester. Who had the shortest entry (except maybe for whichever Harrison it was that died right after inauguration) of any president in Britannica. Small school, small town, small library, forty years before the intertoobs.
    Small report.

    • UberMitch

      I have long been a proponent of the principle that doing a report on something in elementary school permanently makes you a minor expert on the topic. I myself am chock-full of fifth grade-level insights on Henry Hudson.

      • Bill Murray

        My award winning report on George Rogers Clark has won me some bar bets

        • John

          What sort of bar bet does one make about George Rogers Clark?

          • UberMitch

            Barney: And I say, England’s greatest Prime Minister was Lord Palmerston!
            Wade Boggs: Pitt the Elder!!
            Barney: Lord Palmerston!!!
            Wade Boggs: Pitt the Elder!!!! [pokes Barney]
            Barney: Okay, you asked for it, bud
            [punches him out]
            Moe: Yeah, that’s showing him, Barney! [scoffing] Pitt the Elder…
            Barney: Lord Palmerston!!!!
            [punches Moe]

            • Mike Schilling

              Foreman: You bloody fighting again. Break it up or I’ll put this pick through your head. Now what’s it all about?

              First Miner: He started it.

              Second Miner: Oh, you bleeding pig, you started it.

              Foreman: I don’t care who bloody started it. What’s it about?

              Second Miner: Well … he said the bloody Treaty of Utrecht was I713.

              First Miner: So it bloody is.

              Second Miner: No it bloody isn’t. It wasn’t ratified ’til February 1714.

              First Miner: He’s bluffing. You’re mind’s gone, Jenkins. You’re rubbish.

              Foreman: He’s right, Jenkins. It was ratified September 1713. The whole bloody pit knows that. Look in Trevelyan, page 468.

              Third Miner: He’s thinking of the Treaty of bloody Westphalia.

              Second Miner: Are you saying I don’t know the difference between the War of the bloody Spanish Succession and the Thirty bloody Years War?

              Third Miner: You don’t know the difference between the Battle of Borodino and a tiger’s bum.

          • rea

            Who was William Clark’s less famous older brother?

          • Bill Murray

            USS Vincennes (shot down an Iranian Jet liner in 1988) named after Clark’s capture of that town/fort and the British Lt. Governor Hamilton, and Cahokia where the Mound Builder culture is most obvious was an independent city state that Clark “set up court” in and eventually led to its joining the US.

      • efgoldman

        Whatever year it was, I’ll bet there was a lot more in your school library on Henry Hudson, than in mine (Aberdeen, MD) in 1956, about Chester Arthur.
        Especially if your school was in NY state.

  • Gary K.

    In the sixth grade in 1961I was assigned to write an essay explaining why Alexander Stephens was the greatest Georgian ever.

  • Hurling Dervish

    Col. Mustard of the Ivies was on this trope, too. He claimed that since Arthur was white, Obama birtherism is, ipso facto, not racist.

    “You mean Democrats played the “Birther” card against a white Republican from Vermont? But Mr. Pitts and so many other people are telling us that this only happened to the first black president”.


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