Sunday, September 20, 2009

Another One Bites the Dust…. Chester A. Arthur is sworn in as President after President Garfield’s death by assassination.

On July 2, 1881, President Garfield was shot in the back by Charles J. Guiteau at a train station. As Guiteau shot Garfield he shouted “I am a Stalwart of the Stalwarts…Arthur is president now.” Chester Arthur was Garfield’s Vice-President and a member of the Stalwart faction of the Republican Party. With this statement, Arthur immediately came under suspicion as possibly being linked to Guiteau. He wasn’t, but that comment certainly made for an awkward transition to Arthur’s presidency. President Garfield lived until September 19th, when it is believed he died from a combination of infections and poor medical treatment. On September 20th, Chester Arthur was sworn in as the 21st President of the United States.

Chester A. Arthur was born in Fairfield, Vermont in 1829. He attended Union College and went on to practice law in New York City. During the Civil War, he served as Quartermaster General of the state of New York. In 1871, President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Arthur as the Collector of the Port of New York, a very lucrative position within the spoils system. Arthur supervised an excessive amount of employees in the position as a part of Roscoe Conkling’s Stalwart Republican machine. In 1878, President Hayes threw Arthur out of his position at the Port of New York in an effort to reform the civil service system. When Arthur became Vice President under Garfield in 1880, he remained loyal to Conkling in favoring the spoils system of rewarding party loyalty through patronage. However, when he ascended to the presidency one of his greatest political achievements was the Pendleton Act, a major civil service reform bill. Apparently, when Arthur became president he decided to legislate without any fear of political retribution or worries about how his actions might affect his own re-election. This attitude may have been influenced by a medical diagnosis that Arthur kept secret after taking the oath of the presidency. A year after Arthur became president, he was diagnosed with a fatal kidney disease. This seemed to free him from any great concern over his own political future beyond his term. He attempted to gain his party’s nomination in 1884 to keep up appearances, but was unsuccessful. President Arthur died in 1886. Publisher Alexander K. McClure summed up President Arthur’s presidency saying, “No man ever entered the Presidency so profoundly and widely distrusted, and no one ever retired…more generally respected.” Even the cynical Mark Twain summed up Arthur’s legacy with approval, “It would be hard indeed to better President Arthur’s administration.”

Read more about President Chester Arthur at the official White House website.

Images via and Wikepedia]

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