Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Chester A. Arthur

Term: 1881-1885

Political Party: Republican

Nickname: Elegant Arthur

Short Bio: Chester Alan Arthur was a not exactly the most honest person before he was president. He routinely used his influence to give people high up jobs in exchange for money. He also allowed government employees to profit from their positions. In other words, Arthur was business as usual. The late 1800’s were rife with corruption and greed, and he was no exception. Arthur was basically not known for anything besides his corrupt past and being congressman Roscoe Conkling's puppet. Conkling, who was Arthur's mentor, had made Hayes' presidency a living hell as leader of the pro-Grant Stalwart (Stalwarts supported the spoils system which gave their financial backers positions in their administration once they became president) side of the Republican party. When Garfield won the Republican nomination-even though he was completely opposed to it-the moderate side of the Republican party knew they needed to put a Stalwart in as Vice-President, or Conkling and his Stalwarts wouldn't let Garfield win. So, they chose Chester Arthur. Arthur was satisfied with the position, as it didn't give him too much responsibility, and the proximity to the President would allow for him to destroy Garfield's presidency with Conkling's help. Yeah, Arthur and Conkling (pictured below) were basically heels.

Then, four months later, Charles Guiteau, a Stalwart and a possible lunatic shot Garfield. When Arthur was handed the telegraph about the shooting, his face went pale. He realized his days of lounging around as Vice-President were over; he was probably going to hold the highest office in the United States, which deeply frightened him. Where Garfield was an extremely learned man, Arthur was more of a party goer and lover of relaxation, and the public knew this. They also knew that Arthur was Conkling's lapdog, so Conkling would basically be the de facto President. Gulp. People were not happy about the thought of Arthur as president, a sentiment made even more apparent when rumors of Arthur and Conkling's involvement in the assassination began. The two men had to hide in their hotel until things cooled down lest they be lynched by one of the many mobs roaming around Washington D.C. Garfield worsened, due more to doctors prodding him than anything else, and died a few months after being shot. Arthur was now president of the United States.

What was the first thing he did? He ignored all his political supporters. He pulled a Hayes and had an incredibly honest presidency. He prosecuted Republicans for mail fraud and vetoed popular pork-barrel spending projects, such as the Rivers and Harbor’s Act of 1882. He also signed the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act, which set up a system through which government jobs were assigned on merit and no political favoritism. Public opinion had soured on the Spoils System and it was all of a sudden very bad to call yourself a Stalwart. This was a much different Arthur that what people saw before his presidency. To boot, he was also an environmentalist, who was concerned about the reckless destruction of forests. Otherwise, Arthur didn’t do too much in his presidency, and was passed over for nomination in 1884. People thought of Arthur as slow and bit lazy. Little did anyone know that Arthur had Bright ’s disease, which is a fatal illness of the kidney. The disease made him weak and accounts for his inaction throughout most of his term. Arthur, probably from knowing his time was short on the earth, was quite the partier. He had grand parties at the white house anytime he had the chance. Arthur in this way, acted like a college student; he went to parties and drank himself stupid. Arthur died two years after leaving office at fifty-six years old.

Grade: C-
He gets an average grade. Arthur had a very honest presidency, and did much for getting rid of corruption within the government. Otherwise he didn’t do that much. The Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act was authored by Garfield, and it was basically a no-brainer for Arthur to pass it, so I don't give him too much credit for it. He wasn't a terrible president, but didn’t do much either. Some of that can be blamed on his disease, but at least he helped stamp out corruption, something he would not have done before his presidency. The biggest blight on his record is the signing of the Chinese Exclusion Act, which made it illegal for Chinese workers to come to America. He had vetoed the bill before, but under pressure from American laborers, he signed the second draft of the bill which barred Chinese laborer immigration for ten years. America has always had a problem with foreigners coming in and “taking our jobs”, and in this case, they did something about it. The law would be renewed every ten years until 1943. This is the only law that was ever passed that banned a group of people from the United States because of their race or nationality.

No comments:

Post a Comment