Sunday, September 15, 2013

Chester A. Arthur: The Presidents

Chester Alan Arthur was born October 5th, 1829, in Fairfield, Vermont. He died November 18th, 1886. He was the 21st president of the united states. His father, William Arthur, was born just outside the village of Cullybackey, County Antrim, Ireland, and emigrated to Dunham, Lower Canada (in present-day Quebec) in 1818 or 1819 after graduating from Belfast College. Arthur's mother, Malvina Stone, was born in Vermont, the daughter of George Washington Stone and Judith Stevens. Malvina's family was primarily of English descent, and her grandfather, Uriah Stone, fought in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. Arthur's mother met his father while he was teaching at a school in Dunham, just over the border from her native Vermont, and the two soon married in Dunham, Missisquoi, Quebec, Canada on April 12th, 1821. After their first child, Regina, was born in Dunham, the Arthurs moved around Vermont in quick succession to Burlington, Jericho, and Waterville, as William moved to jobs with different schools. In Waterville, William Arthur departed from his Presbyterian upbringing and joined the Free Will Baptists, spending the rest of his life as a minister in that sect. He also became an outspoken abolitionist, which at times made him unpopular with parts of his congregations and contributed to the family's frequent moves. In 1828, the family moved again, to Fairfield, where Chester Alan Arthur was born the following year. He was named "Chester" after Chester Abell, the physician and family friend who assisted in his birth, and "Alan" after his paternal grandfather. After Arthur's birth, the family remained in Fairfield until 1832, when the elder Arthur's profession took them on the road again to several towns in Vermont and upstate New York, finally settling in the Schenectady area.

 William Arthur's frequent moves would later form the basis for accusations that Chester Arthur was not a native-born citizen of the United States. After Arthur was nominated for Vice President in 1880, his political opponents suggested that he might be constitutionally ineligible to hold that office. A New York attorney, Arthur P. Hinman, apparently hired by his opponents, explored rumors of Arthur's foreign birth. Hinman initially alleged that Arthur was born in Ireland and did not come to the United States until he was fourteen years old, which would make him ineligible for the Vice Presidency under the United States Constitution's natural-born citizen clause. When that story did not take root, Hinman spread a new rumor that Arthur was born in Canada, but this claim also failed to gain credence.

Arthur spent some of his childhood years living in Perry and Greenwich, New York. During his time at school, his first political inclinations were to support the Whig Party, and he joined other young Whigs in support of Henry Clay, even participating in a brawl against those students supporting James K. Polk. He also showed his support for the Fenian Brotherhood by wearing a green coat. Arthur enrolled in Union College in 1845 where he studied the traditional classical curriculum. As a senior there in 1848, at age 18, he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and was president of the debate society. During his winter breaks, Arthur taught school in Schaghticoke.

After graduating, Arthur returned to Schaghticoke and taught school full-time, but soon began to pursue an education in the law. While studying law, he continued teaching, moving closer to home by taking a job teaching in North Pownal, Vermont. Coincidentally, future President James A. Garfield would teach penmanship at the same school three years later, but the two did not cross paths. In 1852, Arthur moved again, to Cohoes, New York, to become the principal of a school at which his sister Malvina was a teacher. After saving enough money, and studying at State and National Law School in Ballston Spa, he moved to New York City the following year to read law at the law office of Erastus D. Culver, an abolitionist lawyer and family friend. When Arthur was admitted to the bar in 1854, he joined the firm, which was renamed Culver, Parker, and Arthur.

When Arthur joined the firm, Culver and New York attorney John Jay (the grandson of the Founding Father of the same name) were pursuing a habeas corpus action against Jonathan Lemmon, a Virginia slaveholder who was passing through New York with his eight slaves. In Lemmon v. New York, Culver argued that, as New York law did not permit slavery, any slave arriving in New York was automatically freed. The argument was successful, and after several appeals was upheld by the New York Court of Appeals in 1860. Campaign biographers would later give Arthur much of the credit for the victory; in fact his role was minor, although he was certainly an active participant in the case. In another civil rights case in 1854, Arthur was the lead attorney representing Elizabeth Jennings Graham after she was denied a seat on a streetcar because she was black. He won the case, and the verdict led to the desegregation of the New York City streetcar lines.

In 1856, Arthur courted Ellen Herndon, the daughter of William Lewis Herndon, a Virginia naval officer. The two were soon engaged to be married. Later that year, he started a new law partnership with a friend, Henry D. Gardiner, and traveled with him to Kansas to consider purchasing land and setting up a law practice there. At that time, the state was the scene of a brutal struggle between pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces, and Arthur lined up firmly with the latter. The rough frontier life did not agree with the genteel New Yorkers; after three or four months the two young lawyers returned to New York City, where Arthur comforted his fiancée after her father was lost at sea in the wreck of the SS Central America. In 1859, they were married at Calvary Episcopal Church in Manhattan. After his marriage, Arthur devoted his efforts to building his law practice, but also found time to engage in Republican party politics.


Conkling and his fellow Stalwarts, including Arthur, wished to follow up their 1879 success at the 1880 Republican National Convention by securing the nomination for their ally, ex-President Grant. Their opponents in the Republican party, known as Half-Breeds, concentrated their efforts on James G. Blaine, a Senator from Maine who was more amenable to civil service reform. Neither candidate commanded a majority of delegates and, deadlocked after thirty-six ballots, the convention turned to a dark horse, James A. Garfield, an Ohio Congressman and Civil War General who was neither Stalwart nor Half-Breed. Garfield and his supporters knew they would face a difficult election without the support of the New York Stalwarts and decided to offer one of them the vice presidential nomination. Levi P. Morton was the first choice of Garfield's supporters but, on Conkling's advice, refused to run. They next approached Arthur. Conkling advised him to also reject the nomination, believing the Republicans would lose. Arthur thought otherwise and accepted, telling Conkling, "The office of the Vice-President is a greater honor than I ever dreamed of attaining." Conkling eventually reconciled himself with the nomination and campaigned for the ticket. As expected, the election was close. The Democratic nominee, General Winfield Scott Hancock, was popular and, since he had not taken unpopular positions (or any positions at all) on the issues of the day, he had not offended any important constituencies. As Republicans had done since the end of the Civil War, Garfield and Arthur initially focused their campaign on the "bloody shirt" - the idea that returning Democrats to office would undo the victory of the Civil War and reward secessionists. With the war fifteen years in the past and Union generals at the head of both tickets, the tactic was less effective than the Republicans hoped. Realizing this, they shifted their approach to claim that Democrats would lower the country's protective tariff, which would allow more cheap manufactured goods to be imported from Europe, thereby putting thousands of workingmen out of work. This argument struck home in the swing states of New York and Indiana, where many were employed in manufacturing. Hancock did not help his own cause when, in an attempt to remain neutral on the tariff, he said that "the tariff question is a local question", which only served to make him appear uninformed about an important issue. Candidates for high office did not personally campaign in those days, but Arthur played a part in the campaign in his usual fashion: raising money. The funds were crucial in the close election, and his home state of New York was pivotal. The Republicans carried New York by 20,000 votes and, in an election with the largest turnout of qualified voters ever recorded - 78.4% - they won the nationwide popular vote by just 7,018 votes. The electoral college result was more decisive - 214 to 155 - and Garfield and Arthur were elected.

Arriving in Washington on September 22nd, Arthur repeated the oath of office, this time administered by Chief Justice Morrison R. Waite, because of concerns that a state judge may have lacked the authority to administer the presidential oath. He first resided at the home of Senator John P. Jones in anticipation of significant remodeling he had ordered for the White House, including the addition of an elaborate fifty-foot glass screen made by Louis Comfort Tiffany. Since Arthur was a widower, his sister, Mary Arthur McElroy, served as White House hostess. Arthur rapidly became Washington's most eligible bachelor and his social life became the subject of many rumors, but he remained devoted only to the memory of his late wife. His son, Chester Jr., was then a freshman at Princeton University and his daughter, Nell, stayed in New York with a governess until 1882; when she arrived, Arthur attempted to shield her from the intrusions of the press as much as he could. 

Arthur quickly came into conflict with Garfield's cabinet, most of whose members represented Republican factions that opposed him. He asked the cabinet members to remain until December, when Congress would reconvene, but Treasury Secretary William Windom submitted his resignation in October to enter a Senate race in his home state of Minnesota. Arthur replaced him with Charles J. Folger, his friend and fellow New York Stalwart. Attorney General Wayne MacVeagh was next to resign, believing that, as a reformer, he had no place in an Arthur cabinet. Despite Arthur's personal appeal to remain, MacVeigh resigned in December 1881 and Arthur replaced him with Benjamin H. Brewster, a Philadelphia lawyer and machine politician who was thought to have some reformist leanings. Blaine, arch-nemesis of the Stalwart faction, agreed to remain Secretary of State until Congress reconvened, and when it did so he departed immediately. Conkling expected Arthur to appoint him in Blaine's place, but the President instead chose Frederick T. Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, a Stalwart recommended by ex-President Grant. Frelinghuysen advised Arthur not to fill any future vacancies with Stalwarts, but when Postmaster General James resigned in January 1882, Arthur selected Timothy O. Howe, a Wisconsin Stalwart, to replace him. Navy Secretary William H. Hunt was next to resign, in April 1882, and Arthur attempted a more balanced approach by appointing William E. Chandler to the post, on Blaine's recommendation. Finally, when Interior Secretary Samuel J. Kirkwood resigned that same month, Arthur appointed Henry M. Teller, a Colorado Stalwart to the office. Of the Cabinet members Arthur had inherited from Garfield, only Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln remained for the entirety of Arthur's term.

In the 1870s, the public became aware of a scandal in which contractors for star postal routes were greatly overpaid for their services with the connivance of government officials (including Second Assistant Postal Secretary Thomas J. Brady and former Senator Stephen Wallace Dorsey). This was an example of the kind of corruption that reformers feared Arthur would permit, and reformers grew concerned that the former supporter of the spoils system would not devote his administration's energy to continuing the investigation into the scandal. Nevertheless, the new Attorney General, Brewster, continued the investigations begun by MacVeigh and hired notable Democratic lawyers William W. Ker and Richard T. Merrick in an attempt both to improve the prosecution team and avoid the appearance of political partisanship. Although Arthur had worked closely with Dorsey before taking office, once in office he supported the investigation and forced the resignation of officials suspected in the scandal. An 1882 trial of the ringleaders resulted in convictions for two minor conspirators and a hung jury for the rest. After a juror came forward with allegations that the defendants attempted to bribe him, the judge set aside the guilty verdicts and granted a new trial. Before the second trial began, Arthur removed five federal office holders who were sympathetic with the defense, including a former Senator. The second trial began in December 1882 and lasted until July 1883 and, again, did not result in a guilty verdict. Failure to obtain a conviction tarnished the administration's image, but Arthur did succeed in putting a stop to the fraud.

Garfield's assassination by a deranged office seeker amplified the growing public demand for civil service reform. Democratic and Republican leaders both realized that they could attract the votes of reformers by turning against the spoils system and, by 1882, the tide turned in favor of reform. As early as 1880, Democratic Senator George H. Pendleton of Ohio had introduced legislation that would allow for selection of civil servants based on merit as determined by an examination. In his first annual Presidential address to Congress in 1881, Arthur requested civil service reform legislation and Pendleton again introduced his bill, but Congress did not pass it. Republicans lost seats in the 1882 congressional elections, in which Democrats campaigned on the reform issue. As a result, the lame duck session of Congress was more amenable to civil service reform; the Senate approved Pendleton's bill 38–5 and the House soon concurred by a vote of 155–47. Arthur signed the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act into law on January 16, 1883. In just two years' time, an unrepentant Stalwart had become the president who ushered in long-awaited civil service reform.

During the Garfield administration, Secretary of State James G. Blaine took the United States' diplomacy in Latin America in a new direction, urging reciprocal trade agreements and offering to mediate disputes among the Latin American nations. Blaine proposed holding a Pan-American conference in 1882 to discuss trade and an end to the War of the Pacific being fought by Bolivia, Chile, and Peru. This represented a greater involvement in affairs south of the Rio Grande than the United States had previously attempted, and marked a significant shift in foreign policy. Blaine did not remain in office long enough to see the effort through, and when Frederick T. Frelinghuysen replaced him at the end of 1881, the conference efforts lapsed. Frelinghuysen also discontinued Blaine's peace efforts in the War of the Pacific, fearing that the United States might be drawn into the conflict. Arthur and Frelinghuysen continued Blaine's efforts to encourage trade among the nations of the Western Hemisphere, and a treaty with Mexico providing for reciprocal tariff reductions was signed in 1882 and approved by the Senate in 1884. The House declined to approve the legislation required to bring the treaty into force, however, rendering it a dead letter. Similar efforts at reciprocal trade treaties with Santo Domingo and Spain's American colonies were defeated by February 1885, and an existing reciprocity treaty with the Kingdom of Hawaii was allowed to lapse. 

The 47th Congress spent a great deal of its time on the regulation of immigration, at times in accord with Arthur's wishes and at times against them. In July 1882, without significant opposition, Congress passed a bill regulating steamships that carried immigrants to the United States. To their surprise, Arthur vetoed it, citing problems in the bill's wording; Congress agreed to reword it, and he signed the revised measure. He also signed in August of that year the Immigration Act of 1882, which levied a 50-cent tax on immigrants to the United States, as well as excluding from entry the mentally ill, the mentally retarded, criminals, or any person "unable to take care of himself or herself without becoming a public charge." A larger debate concerned the status of one particular group of immigrants: the Chinese. In 1868, the Senate had ratified the Burlingame Treaty with China, allowing an unrestricted flow of Chinese immigrants into the country. As the economy soured after the Panic of 1873, Chinese immigrants were blamed for depressing workmen's wages. In response, Congress passed a Chinese Exclusion Act in 1879, abrogating the 1868 treaty, which President Hayes vetoed. Three years later, after China had agreed to treaty revisions, Congress tried again to exclude Chinese immigrants. Senator John F. Miller of California introduced a Chinese Exclusion Act that would have denied Chinese immigrants United States citizenship and completely banned their immigration for the next twenty years. The bill passed the Senate and House by overwhelming margins, arriving at Arthur's desk in April 1882. Arthur vetoed the bill, seeing the 20-year ban as a breach of the renegotiated treaty of 1880, which allowed only a "reasonable" suspension of immigration. Eastern newspapers praised the veto, but he was widely condemned in the Western states. Congress was unable to override the veto, instead passing a new bill that reduced the ban on Chinese immigration to ten years. Although he still objected to the denial of citizenship to Chinese immigrants, Arthur signed the compromise measure into law on May 6, 1882.

Like his Republican predecessors, Arthur struggled with the question of how his party was to challenge the Democrats in the South and how, if at all, to protect the civil rights of black southerners. Since the end of Reconstruction, conservative white Democrats (or "Bourbon Democrats") had regained power in the South, and the Republican party dwindled rapidly as their primary supporters in the region, blacks, were disenfranchised. One crack in the solidly Democratic South emerged with the growth of a new party, the Readjusters, in Virginia. Having won an election in that state on a platform of more education funding (for black and white schools alike) and abolition of the poll tax and the whipping post, many northern Republicans saw the Readjusters as a more viable ally in the South than the moribund southern Republican party. Arthur agreed, and directed the federal patronage in Virginia through the Readjusters rather than the Republicans. He followed the same pattern in other Southern states, forging coalitions with independents and Greenback Party members. Some black Republicans felt betrayed by the pragmatic gambit, but others (including Frederick Douglass and ex-Senator Blanche K. Bruce) endorsed the administration's actions, as the Southern independents had more liberal racial policies than the Democrats. Arthur's coalition policy was only successful in Virginia, however, and by 1885 the Readjuster movement began to collapse with the election of a Democratic president. Other federal action on behalf of blacks was equally ineffective: when the Supreme Court struck down the Civil Rights Act of 1875 in an 1883 decision, Arthur expressed his disagreement with the decision in a message to Congress, but was unable to persuade Congress to pass any new legislation in its place. Arthur did, however, effectively intervene to overturn a court-martial ruling against a black West Point cadet, Johnson Whittaker, after the Judge Advocate General of the Army, David G. Swaim, found the prosecution's case against Whittaker legally invalid and based on racial animus. The administration faced a different challenge in the West, where the LDS Church was under government pressure to stop the practice of polygamy in Utah Territory. Garfield had believed polygamy was criminal behavior and was morally detrimental to family values, and Arthur's views were, for once, in line with his predecessor's. In 1882, he signed the Edmunds Act into law, making polygamy a federal crime and barring polygamists from public office.  

The Arthur administration also dealt with changing relations with western American Indian tribes. The Indian Wars were winding down, and public sentiment was shifting toward more favorable treatment of Native Americans. Arthur urged Congress to increase funding for Indian education, which it did in 1884, although not to the extent he wished. He also favored a move to the allotment system, under which individual Native Americans, rather than tribes, would own land. Arthur was unable to convince Congress to adopt the idea during his administration but, in 1887, the Dawes Act changed the law to favor such a system. The allotment system was favored by liberal reformers at the time, but eventually proved detrimental to Native Americans as most of their land was resold at low prices to white speculators. During Arthur's presidency, settlers and cattle ranchers continued to encroach on Indian territory. Arthur initially resisted their efforts, but after Secretary of the Interior Henry M. Teller, an opponent of allotment, assured him that the lands were not protected, Arthur opened up the Crow Creek Reservation in the Dakota Territory to settlers by executive order in 1885. Arthur's successor, Grover Cleveland, finding that title belonged to the Indians, revoked Arthur's order a few months later.

Arthur left office in 1885 and returned to his New York City home. Two months before the end of his term, several New York Stalwarts approached him to request that he run for United States Senate, but he declined, preferring to return to his old law practice at Arthur, Knevals & Ransom. His health limited his activity with the firm, and Arthur served only of counsel. He took on few assignments with the firm and was often too ill to leave his house. He managed a few public appearances, up until the end of 1885. 

After summering in New London, Connecticut, in 1886, he returned quite ill and, on November 16, ordered nearly all of his papers, both personal and official, burned. The next morning, Arthur suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and never regained consciousness; he died the following day at the age of 57. On November 22nd, a private funeral was held at the Church of the Heavenly Rest in New York City, attended by President Cleveland and ex-President Hayes, among other notables. Arthur was buried next to the graves of many of his family members and ancestors in the Albany Rural Cemetery in Menands, New York. He was laid beside his wife in a sarcophagus on a large corner of the plot. In 1889, a monument was placed on Arthur's burial plot by sculptor Ephraim Keyser of New York, consisting of a giant bronze female angel figure placing a bronze palm leaf on a granite sarcophagus.

In 1898, the Arthur memorial statue - a fifteen-foot, bronze figure of Arthur standing on a Barre granite pedestal - was created by sculptor George Edwin Bissell and installed at Madison Square, in New York City. The statue was dedicated in 1899 and unveiled by Arthur's sister, Mary Arthur McElroy. At the dedication, Secretary of War Elihu Root described Arthur as "wise in statesmanship and firm and effective in administration", while acknowledging that Arthur was isolated in office and unloved by his own party. Critics at the time viewed Arthur as a playboy who did not take the Presidency seriously.

Arthur's unpopularity in life carried over into his assessment by historians, and his reputation after leaving office disappeared. By 1935, historian George F. Howe said that Arthur had achieved "an obscurity in strange contrast to his significant part in American history." By 1975, however, Thomas C. Reeves would write that Arthur's "appointments, if unspectacular, were unusually sound; the corruption and scandal that dominated business and politics of the period did not tarnish his administration." As 2004 biographer Zachary Karabell wrote, although Arthur was "physically stretched and emotionally strained, he strove to do what was right for the country."


Source: Wikipedia


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