Thursday, September 25, 2008

Chester A. Arthur: Possibly Secretly Canadian-Born President of Civil Service Reform

Young Chet sure was dreamy.
Chester A. Arthur was a man who not only possessed the ability to grow magically awesome hair on his face, but was able to rise above the spoils system that brought him to power and left his one term in office a beloved figure.* He was born in 1829 (or 1830) in Vermont (or maybe Quebec) to an Irish-born preacher and his Vermontian wife. He grew up in New York state and went to Union College where he partook in that great patriarchal tradition of college fraternity membership (Psi Upsilon). He got a master's degree in something and then spent some time as a school principal. But, of course, since he wanted to go into politics, he decided to study law. He passed the bar and began practicing in New York City. During the Civil War, he did some stuff like quartermastering in the army or something and he was promoted a few times before finishing his military stint in 1862. At some point Chet (as his friends and family called him) fell in with Roscoe Conkling, a finely-bearded man and Republican operative. Old Roscoe got him an in with President U.S. Grant, who appointed Arthur to the position of Collector of Customs for the Port of New York. Apparently there was a lot of money in this job, but the future prez was far less corrupt than most of his predecessors had been. After Rutherford B. Hayes came to office in the late 1870s, he threw Arthur out of the Customs House and replaced him with one of his own guys. Arthur went back to practicing law while his pal Roscoe worked on getting Grant nominated to run for a third term. Well, shenanigans at the 1880 RNC ensued and James "Dark Horse" Garfield was nominated instead. Garfield's people wanted a Stalwart (someone from the pro-spoils faction) for VP, and Arthur was enthusiastic about being their second choice. A close election eked Garfield and Arthur into the White House in 1881, though apparently they were not friends. Roscoe kept calling Chet and being like, "Hey, when can we get our pals new government jobs, yo?" And Garfield was like, "STFU, asshole." But then in July some guy shot Garfield and claimed he had done it in the name of patronage and to make Arthur President. Chet really kind of felt bad about this, since the guy was crazy and had nothing to do with him. So once Garfield finally died of complications from his wounds, Arthur defied the Stalwarts (and the rest of his party for that matter) by pushing through serious civil service reform. Also, he was a good dresser. But totally like President Bartlett, Arthur found out he had a fatal disease** and didn't tell anyone. He was pretty blase about running for reelection because of it, and he actually ended up dying of a cerberal hemorrhage in 1886. Other facts about Chester Alan Arthur: -Because of his fancy clothes, he was known as "the Gentleman's Boss" or "Elegant Arthur." -He was a widower who vowed never to remarry. -Supposedly he had, like, 80 pairs of pants and would change into different pants multiple times a day. I speculate that this had more to do with an incontinence problem than a penchant for fashion, though there does not seem to be any historical basis for such claims--I just like making them. -Before moving into the White House, he insisted on getting rid of all the old furniture and totally redecorating. I don't want to stereotype, but Chester A. Arthur may have been gay. -He was an avid fisherman who caught big fish sometimes. Fish are gross. Objectively. *Except for by his party, the Republicans. Also, Democrats. But non-politicians totally thought he was the cat's pajamas. **Some kidney thing.


  1. So I was watching episode one of How I Met Your Mother season 3 (which I recently acquired), and they reference Chester A Arthur's facial hair. Just thought you would be delighted.

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  3. Arthur never was gay, he was a widower. Cf. Thomas C. Reeves "Gentleman Boss". He deeply loved Nell still in the White House, gave money for a window in a church honoring her, so placed, that he could see it from the White House, plaaced daily new flowers on a photography of her on his desk and so on.

    Chester Arthur R.I.P.
    Admirer from Stuttgart, Germany