Thursday, October 23, 2008

Chester A. Arthur: A President's Journey, From Patronage to Reformer.

Chester A. Arthur
A President Who Rose Above Party
This is a man who changed for the better in office: "No man every entered the Presidency so profoundly and widely distrusted, and no one ever retired ... more generally respected." See ://

Chester A. Arthur is one of our least known presidents, judging from a family poll here.

He lived from 1829-1886, was a Republican, and became President upon the death of President Garfield.
This POTUS - shorthand for President of the United States - rose above all expectations. He was know for promoting nepotism, party politics, shady dealings - or at least, using their financial rewards while looking the other way.
Why do we focus so much on "experience" of candidates. What a dreadful predictor, because events do not recur in the same way. Having experience at kicking a soccer ball won't help if the game is football by the time the person is in office. There may be carryover in attitude, ability to team-play, however, and willingness to abide by the rules (or cheat). Experience is one facet of many.
Look at Arthur: his accomplishments in office widely differ from his reputation and activities before. Past record, past experience, were zip zero as a predictor of success.
  • Pendleton Act. He promoted civil service reform, despite the opposition of his own Republican party, so that now we have certain positions attainable by competitive examination, not political appointment, and the individual is not removable for political reasons. This was the 1883 Pendleton Act. Ask yourself if later Republican administrations ignored that and fired away.
  • The Pendleton Act also prohibited the political assessments against office holders.
  • Tariff Act. He also signed the 1883 Tariff Act, so that Congress could no longer raise more than it lowered - a process that resulted in large excess revenue collections.
  • Immigration Act. In 1882, he enacted the Immigration Act, the nation's first, "excluding paupers, lunatics and criminals," see Biography at ://
Surprise, surprise - An elected official rising above party dogma, above factions, even above anything "party" - unusual in any era, and especially for Chester A. Arthur.

Chester A. Arthur Birthplace, educational materialsBefore his presidency, in 1871, he had been appointed as Collector, Port of New York. He hired more than he needed, and used party loyalty as the main criteria, not merit. Roscoe Conkling - and the Republican machine. Arthur was right in there.

Arthur was removed as Collector in 1878, but ultimately became Vice President under President Garfield, rising to the presidency upon Garfield's death. FN 1

Only as President did he turn reformer, abandoning his patronage-spoils past.

How did the new and suddenly President Arthur fare? Very well. From highly intelligent party spoilage-hack, to reformer. Critics of Chester Arthur pointed out his support for patronage, read "nepotism."

He was an honorable man, an honest man, and honestly believed in spoils; and fought reform.

He was tightly bound to the New York political machine, corrupt etc. See the Hall of Forgotten Presidents at :// But once he was President, he changed.

Yes. He changed.

See more of what he did:

He vetoed graft-laden legislation. He prosecuted fellow Republicans for defrauding the government. See :// He left the party bosses

And, the Arthur Administration saw passage of the "first Federal immigration law" - keeping out paupers, criminals and lunatics. See :// No more PCL's? The Act also suspended Chinese immigration for ten years. Did that extend? Need to check.

He rose above his party's factions. Why? Perhaps because he knew he was ill with kidney disease - and may not survive. He kept going through the election process, but was not renominated in 1884, and died in 1886.

Who? Chester A. Who? See Internet Public Library at :// for resources.

Finding vision, a vision for the nation once in office, following it. Prevailing for the right.

Show and Tell.

Fairfield VT. His birthplace. See it on your way back from Montreal area south to Connecticut. See obscure signs to the birthplace of Chester A. Arthur. Go cross country - and find a reconstructed little home where he may have been born, in Fairfield VT, ://

See there a dedicated guide (unpaid - the VT legislature has decided even to cut out upkeep here - bad idea; he and his wife do it themselves) and fine, explanatory posters.

Politics likes issues, so read inside about the old debate where Mr. Arthur was born - where actually was his mother at the time (Canada even?) - but with family Bibles and other information, this looks likely.

The marker to the side is where the actual little home stood.

He probably would never have been nominated for the office of President because he believed in a partisan, spoilage-oriented philosophy. He is described as honorable, however, see the site, so no sleaze. But his philosophy just seemed to included taking advantage of whatever came along. Is that right? He had the vision to change his mind. So he changed.

Worth a road diversion. Vermont, please recognize your historic site guardians. Put up signs, pay these fine people for caring for this heritage site. Yankees, show some warmth here.


FN 1 Garfield assassination.

Would Arthur have succeeded in an election to the presidency if he had not already ascended to it because of the death of Garfield. He had become Vice President, perhaps to continue whatever policies President Garfield laid out. Garfield had advocated a more punitive response to those who served in the Confederacy, but also advocated for voting rights for Blacks. See ://

Then the Republican President Garfield was shot by a Mr. Guiteau in July 1881.

The assassin.

Guiteau was a frustrated applicant, a strongly religious lawyer (there's a combination) for a diplomatic position and he had been turned down by Garfield in order to unite the party - and save the republic, see :// Save the republic? Must be more going on there.

Garfield killed by the mattress.

The President's plight was complicated by the vagaries of medical care, inventions and mattresses.

Weeks went by, with doctors unable to find one of the two bullets in President Garfield. His condition worsened.

Then Alexander Graham Bell, of telephone fame, created a kind of metal detector that might have worked fine.

Except, the bed on which the President lay was one of the new-fangled innerspring coil types. The innerspring coils threw off the detection apparatus.

A little entry wound ended up huge, and Garfield died in September 1881.

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