President’s Day is nearing its close, but I don’t want to let it pass unnoticed. The title of this article is the name of the definitive biography by Thomas C. Reeves of one American President, Chester Alan Arthur.
With many of our presidents, their term of office begins with high hopes and then realism sets in. There are no magic solutions to our problems, and sometimes the President is the scapegoat. Some of our Presidents were pretty crummy, while some still inspire us to this day.
Chester Arthur is one of these rare presidents who, while not great, exceeded expectations. It has been said of Arthur: “He would leave office with more respect than when he entered it.”
In the 19th century, machine politics ran much of American government. In this system a political boss doled out government jobs (patronage) in exchange for the office holders working to keep the boss and his machine in power. Viewed as a product of the New York City Republican Machine, Arthur was expected to reward his cronies, but once in office he worked to end corruption and begin to dismantle the spoils system and political patronage by aggressively filling vacancies on the Civil Service system and supporting reform.
Arthur is also credited with the revitalization of a crumbling US Navy. So I offer this tribute to Chester A. Arthur, a President who did a lot better than folks expected.