Donut Age: America's Donut Magazine

Chet Arthur

Ohmigawd, I was browsing some of my own blogroll when I bumped into Adam Cadre's several-days-old post on an alternate universe in which Clinton had gotten a third term. It's interesting enough reading, but what's more important (to me) is that he mentions one of my favorite Gilded Age presidents, Chester Alan Arthur. Far from being "a guy who was president while pretty much nothing happened," Arthur is a fascinating figure. A career machine-politician from New York, Arthur was James Garfield's running mate in 1880, put there to placate the Stalwart wing of the Republican party. When Garfield was assassinated by a disgruntled office-seeker just a few months after his inauguration, Arthur became president. To most everyone's surprise, he took up Garfield's cause of dismantling the "spoils system" and oversaw passage of the Pendleton Act, which radically reformed the civil service. My high school history notes say he also instituted a much-needed upgrade of the US Navy, but none of the sources on the web mention that. In return for his efforts, his own party refused to renominate him, and Arthur died of kidney disease about a year later. Overall, he was a much better president than anyone thought he would be, in an age of truly miserable presidents. I've sometimes thought that the current milieu is not unlike the gilded age, and certainly the white house could use more pleasant surprises like Arthur.