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Chester A. Arthur “He isn’t Chet anymore, he’s the president”

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Part of the The Evolving American Presidency Series book series (EAP)

Abstract

Few accidental presidents have assumed office under more inauspicious circumstances than Chester Arthur. The association between Garfield’s assassin, Charles Guiteau, and the Stalwarts as well as his visibility as the Custom House official removed by Hayes, created rumors that he was culpable symbolically, if not literally, for the death of the president. Arthur as the “gentleman boss” was the poster child of political corruption and patronage for which, according to reformers, Garfield had given up his life. One memorialist blamed his death on partisan strife: “There were two parties; there were those, / in thine own party, called thy foe;? / There was a North; there was a South, / Ere blazed th’ assassin’s pistol mouth.” Another compared Garfield favorably with Lincoln.1 Arthur too was a person with limited political experience outside of New York. Even before Garfield’s death, Arthur received letters urging him to resign the presidency. One reminded Arthur that since “the day he was shot, the thought rose in a thousand minds that you might be the instigator of the foul act.”2 The new president even had to submit to a deposition during the long trial of the assassin who proudly announced that he had often met the man whom he put in office.

Keywords

  • Civil Service
  • Republican Party
  • Political Corruption
  • Appointment Power
  • Civil Service Examination

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  • DOI: 10.1057/9780230613034_6
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Notes

  1. Thomas C. Reeves, Gentleman Boss: The Life of Chester Alan Arthur (New York: Knopf), pp. 245–46.

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  2. Justus D. Doenecke, The Presidencies ofJames A. Garfield and Chester A. Arthur (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1981), p. 54. 5. The comment was made by Senator James McDougall of California. Zachary Karabell, Chester Alan Arthur (New York: Henry Holt, 2004), p. 20.

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  3. On Conkling’s career, see David Jordan, Roscoe Conkling of New York (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1971).

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  4. Kenneth D. Ackerman, Dark Horse (New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2003), p. 133.

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  5. Allan Perkins, Garfield (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1978), p. 250.

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  6. James C. Clark, The Murder of James A. Garfield: The Last Days and the Trial and Execution of His Assassin (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1993), p. 133.

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  7. John A. Garrity, The New Commonwealth: 1877–1890 (New York: Harper and Row, 1968), p. 252.

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  8. Philip Abbott, The Challenge of the American Presidency (Chicago: Waveland Press), p. 66.

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  9. “Second State of the Union Address,” December 4, 1882 in John D. Richardson, ed., Messages and Papers of the Presidents, vol. 8. (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1897).

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  10. James Bryce, The American Commonwealth (London: Macmillan, 1891), 2:131–34.

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© 2008 Philip Abbott

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Abbott, P. (2008). Chester A. Arthur “He isn’t Chet anymore, he’s the president”. In: Accidental Presidents. The Evolving American Presidency Series. Palgrave Macmillan, New York. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230613034_6

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