21 Things You Didn't Know About the 21st President

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Sometimes, to amuse myself, I try to list all of the United States Presidents by memory. (What... you don’t do that?) I always forget poor Chester A. Arthur, which is a shame, because he was actually a rather interesting fellow. He was born on this date in 1829, so here are 21 facts that will help you remember the 21st president. And if you have the overwhelming urge to try to rattle off all of the POTUSes by memory now, boy, are you in luck.

1. Barack Obama wasn’t the first to face accusations that he wasn’t a natural-born citizen. Because his father lived in Ireland and Canada before he was born, and his parents moved around within the States quite a bit after he was born, Arthur’s detractors tried to convince the public that he was ineligible for the presidency. Despite rumors that he a) lived in Ireland until he was 14 or b) was born in Canada, Arthur was actually born in Vermont.

2. He was named for the doctor who delivered him - Chester Abell. His middle name came from his paternal grandfather, but according to some sources...

3. ...Chester chose to pronounce his middle name with an emphasis on the second syllable: AlAN.

4. His dad was a clergyman.

5. When Chet attended Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., he helped throw the school bell into the Erie Canal as a prank.

6. Another questionable deed during his time at college: he and some like-minded friends got into a brawl with James K. Polk supporters. The guy was a regular Bluto, wasn’t he?

7. After graduating, he took a job as the principal at the North Pownal Academy in Vermont, which was meeting in the basement of his father’s church at the time.Oddly, James A. Garfield taught penmanship there three years later. By the time Garfield started showing off his handwriting, though, Arthur had already moved on.

8. A 24-year-old Arthur, then a junior partner at Culver, Parker and Arthur law firm, successfully represented Lizzie Jennings, who was forcibly removed from a streetcar in 1854 because of her skin color. The day after a jury awarded Jennings $225.00 in damages, the Third Avenue Railway Company had its streetcars desegregated.

9. Arthur was diagnosed with Bright’s Disease not long after he became president. To try to improve his failing health, he took a trip to Yellowstone National Park with Robert Todd Lincoln (among others - that’s the whole posse in the picture).

10. He was a member of the ultra exclusive Ristigouche Salmon Club.

11. Pre-POTUS, it wouldn’t have been unusual to see Arthur sporting a jacket that would be right at home at Augusta National. He was prone to wearing a green coat to show his support for the Fenian Brotherhood, an Irish republican organization.

12. He was once the president of the New York Arcade Railway Company.

13. His first son died suddenly when he was only three years old. Two more children - Chester Alan Jr., and Ellen - survived into adulthood.

14. His wife died of pneumonia the year before he became president. Arthur honored her by having flowers placed in front of her portrait at the White House every single day.

15. Controversy seemed to follow Arthur. When his predecessor’s assassin celebrated success by shouting, “I’m a Stalwart of the Stalwarts, Arthur is president now!”, it sparked talk that maybe Arthur’s people had actually hired the assassin themselves. Garfield lingered for months after he was shot; Arthur kept a low profile to avoid further suspicion.

16. He was in the habit of staying up until at least 2 a.m. every night.

17. He may have held the first-ever White House yard sale. But instead of finding stained Tupperware and ratty stuffed animals on the cheap, bargain hunters would have found an old pair of Abraham Lincoln’s pants and one of John Quincy Adams’ hats. Arthur practically sold anything in the White House that wasn’t nailed down (24 wagon loads worth of stuff) to raise money for new furniture.

18. And he needed that money, because Arthur then hired Louis Comfort Tiffany to redecorate and furnish the White House.

19. He had no vice president for his entire four-year term.

20. He was the first president to have a personal valet, probably due in part to the next fact.

21. Arthur owned at least 80 pairs of pants, which may not be a lot by today’s presidential standards, it was quite the extravagance back then.

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October 4, 2011 - 8:02pm
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