Presidential Review: Chester A Arthur

6 Oct

chester a arthur


Well, there’s one thing that’s certain–Chester A Arthur wins the presidential facial hair award.   Actually, he’s quite topical these days, and not just because beards are a hipster thing lately (Arthur would be the coolest!)  but because his story is one of a Republican party that was split into two factions, the Stalwarts and the Half-Breeds.   The division was over the question of the spoils system–the Stalwarts felt that they should have the right to position their political allies and reward supporters whatever way they saw fit, while the Half-Breeds were against this.   Democrats were against this too, however since the Civil War Democrats hadn’t exactly been able to be a threat to the presidency.

Garfield was technically neither, he was an outsider, but he put Chester A Arthur as his vice president because the stalwarts had most of the money.    Garfield and Arthur did not get on very well–in fact their relationship was rather chilly to say the least.   But Garfield got shot, and Arthur became president.

And because of the whole Guiteau incident, Arthur, a complete supporter of the spoils system, ended up being the man who ended it.   To give you an idea how knee deep he was in the political machine, years earlier, Rutherford B Hayes fired Chester A Arthur from his post for allowing civil service members to be involved with political activities, even though Hayes had expressly forbidden it.

However, after the whole Guiteau affair, the country was very sick of machine politics, and were crying for change.   Also, it didn’t help that Guiteau initially implicated Arthur in Garfield’s death over the whole spoils system issue.   While it was very clearly untrue, Arthur could hardly just pack his cabinet with stalwarts.   In fact he begged the members of Garfield’s cabinet to stay at least until congress reconvened in the fall.   Most didn’t.

In any case, he (with Congress) ended up passing the Pendleton Act, which requires people pass tests to show that they are capable to hold their positions, and be hired by an independent group that holds no political positions themselves.   The system is not perfect, but it was enough to end patronage on a national level at any rate.

Unfortunately, other than the Pendleton Act which Arthur had no choice but to back, he didn’t do all that much as president.   He tried to grow the Republican party in the south by diverting funds to independent parties, but it didn’t work, and ended up disenfranchising black Americans even more.  As for Native Americans–he started switching them to private land ownership rather than reservations, which ended up getting sold to white developers and disenfranchising them even more.

At any rate Hayes was only a one term president–the political machines weren’t keen on picking him up again, and Hayes was very ill anyway with Kidney disease.  In fact he died just a year after leaving.  It wouldn’t have mattered anyway as the Republican’s internal conflicts caused them to lose power for the next couple of rounds.

Next we get the best president of the Guilded Age (which is sort of like being the prettiest girl in the leper colony, but whatever) Grover Cleveland!

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