Born in New York, James Arlington Bennet was proprietor and principal of the Arlington House, an educational institution on Long Island. Usually remembered as Joseph Smith's first choice as Vice-Presidential running mate in the 1844 Presidential election, Bennet began association with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints through John C. Bennett about 1841. An apparent unscrupulous opportunist, Bennet had fantasies which included fame as an author, governor of Illinois, general of the Nauvoo Legion, and successor to Joseph Smith.
In October 1845, when Bennet visited Nauvoo, he notified Church leaders of his intentions to "cross the Rocky Mountains" with the Saints. But after Brigham Young refused to appoint him head of the Nauvoo Legion, Bennet returned to New York.