Thursday, April 9, 2009

Who The Eff is Chester A. Arthur?


Today I was browsing on Facebook (no surprise there) and my friend Alex had taken the quiz "Which President Are You?" Quiz. There is a quiz now basically for every possible thing to be. I'll probably take the "Which Disney Princess Are You?" Quiz later tonight. But this afternoon I saw Alex had gotten President William McKinley. What luck! The President murdered by my favorite Assassin, Czolgosz! After taking a minute to register my approval in the comments section, i set out to take the quiz myself. Who would I turn out to be? Washington? Lincoln? One of the Adamses? Or... dare I even think it - Obama??
I tried to answer the questions honestly instead of picking the answers I thought would lead to me to the destination I wanted. I liked my choices. I was excited to hit "Finish" and see my results. When the site refreshed, I got my answer: Chester A. Arthur. WHAAAA???? Who the eff is Chester A. Arthur???

I have to say, I was initially disapoointed, because I had no idea who this guy was. I mean, clearly he was a president at some point. But when? He couldn't possibly have served two terms. Most of the two term guys are memorable. I do some review in my head and he's not mentioned in the Simpsons song about Mediocre Presidents. So who was this guy who I fit with personality-wise??

I turn to wikipedia for answers and it delivers! It turns out President Arthur (#21) was an interesting dude. He was a Republican (!) who took over for Garfield when Garfield was assassinated by Charlie Guiteau (more Assassins!). It seems like when he took over as President he worked really hard to avoid Cronyism and forced his party to do certain things for the country that the Republicans didn't really want to do. President Arthur thought it was best for the country, and Congress felt like it had to be supportive of the new President since the last one just got killed. Here are some more fun facts from Wikipedia:

Arthur believed that the only way to garner the nation's approval was to be independent from both factions. Arthur was determined to go his own way once in the White House. He wound up replacing every member of Garfield's Cabinet except the Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln. He became a man of fashion in his manner of dress and in his associates; he was often seen with the elite of Washington, D.C., New York City, and Newport. To the indignation of the Stalwarts, the onetime Collector of the Port of New York became, as President, a champion of civil service reform. In 1883, Congress passed the Pendleton Act, which established a bipartisan Civil Service Commission which forbade levying political assessments against officeholders and provided for a "classified system" that made certain government positions obtainable only through competitive written examinations. The system protected employees against removal for political reasons.
Acting independently of party dogma, Arthur also tried to lower tariff rates so the government would not be embarrassed by annual surpluses of revenue. Congress raised about as many rates as it trimmed, but Arthur signed the Tariff Act of 1883 anyway. Aggrieved Westerners and Southerners looked to the Democratic Party for redress, and the tariff began to emerge as a major political issue between the two parties.

The Arthur Administration enacted the first general Federal immigration law. Arthur approved a measure in 1882 excluding paupers, criminals, and the mentally ill. Congress also suspended Chinese immigration for ten years with the Chinese Exclusion Act, later making the restriction permanent.

In 1884, the International Meridian Conference was held in Washington, D.C. at President Arthur's behest. This established the Greenwich Meridian and international standardized time, both in use today.

President Arthur demonstrated that he was above not only factions within the Republican Party, but possibly the party itself. Perhaps, in part, he felt able to do this because of the well-kept secret he had known since a year after he succeeded to the Presidency, that he was suffering from Bright's disease, a fatal kidney disease. This accounted for his failure to seek the Republican nomination for President aggressively in 1884. Nevertheless, Arthur was the last incumbent President to submit his name for renomination and fail to obtain it.

Arthur sought a full term as President in 1884, but lost the Republican party's presidential nomination to former Speaker of the House and Secretary of State James G. Blaine of Maine. Blaine, however, lost the general election to Democrat Grover Cleveland of New York.

Publisher Alexander K. McClure wrote, "No man ever entered the Presidency so profoundly and widely distrusted, and no one ever retired… more generally respected." Author Mark Twain, deeply cynical about politicians, conceded, "It would be hard indeed to better President Arthur's administration."

Not bad at all. Good getting to know you, Chester. It was fun learning about your place in American History.

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