Chester Alan Arthur (October 5, 1829 – November 18, 1886) was the fourth Totally Obscure President of the United States, serving from 1881 through 1885. Being obscure, he is not counted among the Presidents whom children study in public schools — the count that makes the Bushes "41" and "43" and not just "odd."
The nation had just been defeated in the tragic and disastrous Civil War and there were now Negroes in nearly every legislature. James A. Garfield had been elected promising a "return to normalcy," but an assasin's bullet was instead the height of personal abnormalcy. Thus the nation turned to the Great Obscurity Party (GOP) for its next Chief Executive.
Chester Anonymous Arthur was born in 1829 in the State of Vermont, which at the time had not become a Soviet Republic, as these had not yet been invented. His father, William Arthur, had come from Ireland, and his mother, Malvina, was from the Malvinas, obviously. It was a time when all Americans were from somewhere, as opposed to "money" or the ghetto.
The family moved to Waterville, Vermont's modern ski Mecca, as the parents taught at separate schools (downhill and alpine). The father also briefly served in the legal profession and showed young perps how to skate.
The family's frequent moves would spawn accusations that Arthur was not a legal U.S. citizen, this before both political parties had hired staffs to make such accusations permanently. Opponent Arthur Hinman (surely miffed at sharing one name with the future President) speculated that Chester Arthur's parents ensured that he was born in Ireland and only called for him to sail to the U.S. to join them when he survived to the age of twelve. That rumor did not take hold, nor did Hinman's follow-on rumor, that Arthur was born on the moon. To his credit, no one ever accused Arthur of attending a madrasa in Indonesia.
As a lawyer in New York City, Arthur played a minor role in a court case holding that any slaves brought into the state were automatically freed. Arthur's descendants to this day pitch tents at the back of courtrooms to argue that any gays entering the state are automatically married. Consequently, as President, Arthur took full credit for "freeing the slaves," not unlike modern-day governors in northern states who issue proclamations freeing them in cities where there weren't any to begin with.
Arthur then traveled to Kansas to set up his own law firm. His three months there served as the basis for the hilarious television show, Green Acres. Arthur knew that pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces were in adamant conflict there and would obviously need a good attorney. What he did not know was that there was not a second attorney anywhere in the entire state, and having a single attorney doesn't do anyone a lot of good. He returned to New York City and got hitched.
In 1860, Arthur received another appointment consistent with a lifetime of obscurity, as a military commander to the Governor of New York. Everyone knew that, for over 70 years, no state needed an Army because all the fighting and shooting would go on in Washington, D.C.
Fatefully, the next year, the Civil War broke out and everyone needed an Army, or several. He had an opportunity to serve on the front, but instead did battle at the Bar in Manhattan. However, he did review the troops in May, 1862, a junket that gave him a chance to "free the slaves" a total of six additional times.
During the war, he moved to Washington and began rising through the ranks of the Republican Party. He showed a knack for picking winners, first working for the re-election of Abraham Lincoln and then joining Boss Tweed in his college dormitory, Tammany Hall. President Ulysses S. Grant made Arthur the tax collector of the Port of New York, where he worked for $6,500 plus tips. After a scandal in 1874, Congress put Arthur on salary, doubling his pay but reducing his income by a factor of four. Rutherford B. Hayes became President and issued an order forbidding federal employees to raise money for political parties at all, which Arthur, standing on principle, refused to obey, also to resign. Arthur was eventually vindicated by the amount of time he made Hayes spend getting rid of him.
Election of 1880Edit
The Republicans were torn between renominating General Grant and a reformer. They finally turned to Garfield as a dark horse, and Arthur showed himself suitably dopey to serve as Vice President when he declared it would be a "great honor." The party then turned to the question of why anyone would want to vote for either man. The answers it came up with were as follows:
- The Dems have a secret desire to give back the Southern United States.
- The Dems have a secret desire to lower tariffs until we are all driving Volkswagens.
- The Dems have a secret desire to make quiche the national food and serve it at every ballpark.
These claims were preposterous until Democrat Hancock called tariffs "a local question" — a strategy Gerald Ford would follow in his election campaign a century later with his claim that Poland was "free of Soviet domination." The nation was faced with a choice between two complete dolts and had only one way to decide: Arthur was still damned good at raising money.
Selection of 1881Edit
Unfortunately, Garfield was not nearly as good at giving out government jobs to reward those who gave the money. About the only good one that Arthur's pals got was Postmaster General. And the Senate, with 38 members of each party, could agree on only one thing: Not to do any work. Thus, Vice President Arthur returned to New York, where he was happily out of the picture when a fellow New Yorker anxious for federal employment traveled in the reverse direction and plugged Garfield full of lead.
The old guy held on for two months, during which Arthur did not want to upstage him, but on September 22, 1881, they gave Arthur the Oath of Office again — just to make sure — and he became the 4th Totally Obscure President of the United States, or to use the Secret Service's code-name, "the TOPUS." Unfortunately, as the 1880 campaign had cobbled together the reformer Garfield with the money-guy Arthur, virtually every department head bailed out.
But the American public, already dissatisfied with the system where you could buy a government job with campaign contributions, was now more dissatisfied that you could also shoot your way to the top; and before long, Arthur, after a career of raising loot, became the champion of civil-service reform. His legacy lasts to this day, as voters often wonder why they never get what they voted for; and as politicians unswervingly refuse to say what that might be.