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Idaho Enterprise

Grandparents Only

Mar 15, 2024 01:11PM ● By Gramma Dot

Chester A. Arthur was our 21st President, thrust into service by the untimely death of James A. Garfield in 1881.  Garfield, a born leader, was popular and in his prime.  Arthur had never held an elected public office.  He was attached to the Republican ticket as VP to appease Roscoe Conkling, the powerful NY political machine boss who basically ran the country and definitely ran Chester Arthur.  Conkling used the spoils system to full advantage.  Before his death, Garfield had begun to promote civil service reform that would do away with this system of rewarding loyal party workers with lucrative government jobs.

Arthur had been a beneficiary of the spoils system.  Because of his loyalty to Conkling, he had been appointed Collector of the Port of New York, a lucrative assignment.  Even during the brief four-month period when Garfield was active as President, Arthur’s loyalty was always to Conkling over Garfield. 

After the assassination attempt in July of 1881, the public was unified in their prayers for President Garfield, partly out of love for their leader and partly out of fear of Arthur trying to lead.  One editorial in the Chicago Tribune described the situation as “a pending calamity of the utmost magnitude.”*  During the two months, from the time President Garfield was shot until he passed in September, Julia Sand, unmarried and homebound, began a remarkable series of letters to Chester Arthur.  She was bold, honest and encouraged him to change.

From Letter 1:  

--“The hours of Garfield’s life are numbered…. The people are bowed in grief; but – do you realize it? – not so much because he is dying, as because you are his successor.”  

--“Faith in your better nature forces me to write to you – but not to beg you to resign. Do what is more difficult & brave.  Reform!”  

--“Disappoint our fears. Force the nation to have faith in you.  Show from the first that you have none but the purest of aims…A hundred years hence, school boys will recite your name in the list of presidents & tell of your administration.  And what shall posterity say?  It is for you to choose…” 

It is for you to choose!  Chester Arthur became a champion of civil service reform.  In 1883 Congress passed The Pendleton Act which established a bipartisan Civil Service Commission.  Publisher Alexander K. McClure said of Arthur, “No man ever entered the Presidency so profoundly and widely distrusted, and no one ever retired,…more generally respected.”**  

So, when is the last time you wrote an encouraging letter or actually did a little positive changing yourself?  It’s a Good Life when we express faith in others and work on improving our own character.  Thank you Chester and Julia!  

General information came from Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard

*The New York Times, “Overlooked No More; Julia Sand, Whose Letters Inspired a President.”

** “Chester A.

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