Tuesday, June 3, 2008

#21 - Chester A. Arthur, 1881-1885

Our twenty-first president, Chester Alan Arthur, looked "presidential," with his impressive sideburns and facial hair. Unfortunately, he was also part of the powerful New York political machine and as a result, his presidency was not as successful as he had been in New York State.

Appointed to be Collector of the Port of New York by President Grant, Arthur became entwined with the machine, led by the New York Senator, Roscoe Conkling. While an honest man, he was caught up in an overhaul of the New York system undertaken by President Hayes and Arthur was ousted as Collector. Conkling tried to get President Grant the nomination of the Republicans in 1880, instead settling for the VP slot for Arthur.

Once Arthur succeeded to the presidency, he led the fight for civil service reform, distancing himself from Conkling and machine politics. Under pressure from the White House and their constituents, the Congress passed the Pendelton Act in 1883, which essential destroyed the "spoils system" in government service. The Arthur administration also enacted the country's first immigration law. At Arthur's request, the International Meridian Conference was held in Washington, DC in 1884, which established the Prime Meridian.

Arthur kept hidden the fact that he had been diagnosed with Bright's disease (which also afflicted future first ladies Florence Harding and Edith Wilson) and while he campaigned for the nomination in 1884, the Republicans chose longtime presidential aspirant, James G. Blaine, instead (I note here that Blaine had served as Secretary of State to several presidents, including Arthur). Arthur has the distinction of being the last president to submit his name for nomination and not receive it. Arthur died only two years later from a cerebral hemorrhage and was later recalled as a man who had "entered the Presidency so profoundly and widely distrusted," and yet "no one ever retired . . . more generally respected."

The Facts
  • born October 5, 1829 in Fairfield, Vermont
  • died November 18, 1886 in New York City (age 57)
  • Party: Republican
  • Robert Todd Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln's son served in the Garfield/Arthur cabinet as Secretary of War.
  • Although born in Vermont, Arthur has more roots to New York, attending Union College in Schenectady. Arthur is buried in Rural Cemetery outside Albany (and I have been to both of those places).
  • I have another connection to Arthur in that, it was during his presidency that the Standard Oil Trust was established in 1882.
  • Arthur took the oath of office twice. The first time was in New York City, shortly after the death of Garfield and then again two days later upon his return to Washington.
  • Arthur's wife, Ellen, died before he became President. He vowed never to marry again.
  • In one of the final acts of Arthur's presidency, the United States Navy secured the rights to a coaling station in the territory of Hawaii, at Pearl Harbor.


Lana Gramlich said...

We seem to need another Pendleton Act. <:(

Mary Witzl said...

It's pretty impressive that he started out with a poor reputation and left the White House with a fine one. For that alone, he ought to be remembered.

Brave Astronaut said...

Lana - Gee, ya think? One can only hope that change is really coming down the road.

Mary - one of those rare occasions when the reputation got better after leaving.