The USA in the Time of Chester Alan Arthur 1881-1885 By Mike Donovan “Chet Arthur as President! Good God!”
No VP – NYC - Lincoln’s son in his cabinet - Flamboyant dresser - ‘Elegant Arthur’ – Lawyer - Fairfield, Vermont - Heavy set guy with a big stache – “Good ballplayers make good citizens” - Night owl who liked to go out to the clubs and stay up till two – Took the Oath of Office at 2:15 a.m. - 51 years of age at inauguration – Accent on second syllable in middle name
“I may be President of the United States, but my private life is my own damned business.” C.A.A.
Chester A. had a reputation for corrupt ties with the Roscoe Conkling gang of NY State. But Chester Alan ran his White House with integrity to the surprise of everyone, perhaps even himself. Salary as president $50,000
Secretary of State-------------------------Jimmy Blaine 1881 F. T. Frelinghuysen-1881-1885
Secretary of War-------------------Robert T. Lincoln---1881-1885
Secretary of Treasury-------------Charles J. Folger-----1881-1884 Walter Q. Gresham---1884 Hugh McCulloch-----1884-1885
Attorney General---------------Benjamin H. Brewster -1881-1885
Secretary of State Jim Blaine from Maine resigned in December 1881 because Arthur scolded him in front of a distinguished foreign visitor. Arthur replaced him with the able Mr. Freylinghausen. Blaine got his “payback time” in 1884 when he took the Republican presidential nomination away from Arthur. 1881 was the second year in US history that saw three Presidents. Hayes finished his lame duck months from January to March. Then Garfield came in. Then Arthur took over when Garfield died. Arthur was easily annoyed at petty little things, but possessed exceptional social graces (I can relate to only one of these qualities). During the campaign of 1880 one senator enthusiastically asked Arthur to travel throughout the west because he knew that Arthur would reverse his negative reputation when people actually met him. Arthur was known for maintaining cordial personal relations with members of the opposition Democratic Party.
BIO Chester Alan Arthur was born on October 5, 1829 in Fairfield Vermont, a Jackson baby. Like many Presidents he was both a lawyer and a teacher in his life. In 1848 CAA graduated from Union College in fabulous Schenectady, a place I am proud to say I spelled correctly on the first try. He was Phi Beta Kappa at UC. Chester passed the bar in 1854 after studying jurisprudence in an NYC law office. Chester became essentially a New York City man most of his life and died there in 86. As a practicing attorney in New York he frequently defended fugitive slaves. His own life as a fugitive ended when he became enslaved to Ellen “Nell” Lewis Herndon of Virginia (daughter of naval officer Larry Herndon) on October 25, 1859. The couple had three children. When the Uncivil War broke out in 61 Arthur served behind the lines as quartermaster and inspector general for the state of New York. It was his job to help his state keep its troops supplied. For his services he was awarded the Pink Heart. In 1863 he returned to his NYC law office. In 1871 Arthur was appointed collector of the Port of New York. But in 78 President Hayes fired him after a federal investigation exposed improprieties in the New York Customs House. This nationally publicized affair caused a split in the Republican Party creating two groups, the ‘Stalwarts’ who supported Arthur and the old-line gang of Roscoe Conkling, the ‘half-breeds’ who favored an overhaul of the old GOP machine with new candidates and new behavioral guidelines. On January 8, 1880 Nell Arthur caught a bad cold while waiting outdoors for a carriage and quickly developed pneumonia. She had been in delicate health for some time. She died on January 10. Chester was away at the time and by the time he returned she was unconscious and past all hope in this world. Chester Alan Arthur was devastated when the light of his life went out. As President he placed fresh flowers in front of her picture every day. He often said how he regretted not having the chance to speak with her at the end and at her never having the chance to see him in the White House. At the 1880 Republican Convention Arthur was nominated as Vice-president to assuage the injured feelings of the Stalwarts who were being snubbed by the choice of Garfield. The Stals saw Jimmy G at best as only sort of a half-breed, a half a half-breed. No one saw Arthur as a future President when he was chosen as VP. Garfield was fit as a fiddle. He was no William H. Harrison who might die the next time he caught a cold. EVENTS NAVAL BILL PENDLETON ACT CONKLING QUARREL LIGHT CHINESE EXCLUSION ACT 1882 EDMUNDS LAW INDIAN CONFLICTS TARIFF OF 1883 TIME ZONES 1883 CIVIL RIGHTS CASES OCTOBER 1883 THE VIETNAM WAR HUCKLEBERRY FINN PUBLISHED
INAUGURAL The United States spent the night of November 20, 1881 without a president. News of Garfield’s passing reached Arthur at his home. He took the oath of office for president in his New York City living room the next morning, November 21, 1881 making him the second President to take the oath of office there (Washington had also taken the oath in Arthur’s living room.) Chester Arthur was such a highbrow that he refused to move into the White House until certain renovations had been made to make it acceptable to him. 24 wagons loaded with undesirable furniture and knick-knacks were hauled out of the place before Chester deigned to call it home. The debonair Prez changed clothes several times a day and seldom went to bed before 2 a.m., or about four hours before I do. Arthur didn’t get much of a honeymoon period. There was a lot of baggage in the Arthur train. Charlie Guiteau had slain Garfield for the expressed purpose of making Arthur President, which didn’t make the new guy very lovable to the general public. The initial apprehension about Arthur, aside from his obscurity (he was easily the most nationally unknown person ever to take over the job) was the fear that he would not only be a strictly partisan president, but that worse, he would only represent the Conkling faction within his Republican party. Arthur instead surprised all observers. Chet quickly emerged as a strong and independent leader who disowned the man who had made him a success in politics. He eventually made Conkling mad enough at him to lose him as a friend, to Arthur’s credit. Some Democrats claimed that Arthur had actually born across the border in Canada and therefore was not legally qualified to be the U.S. President. No evidence was ever presented to support this charge, except that he sometimes ended his sentences with “eh?”. One Democrat claimed that Arthur was a Muslim who had been born in Indonesia!
TRIAL OF GUILTY GUITEAU The trial of the assassin began on November 14, 1881 in the District of Columbia. Guiteau’s brother-in-law, a less than brilliant lawyer with little experience was the head of his defense team. One court-appointed Guiteau defense lawyer quit after one week and had to be replaced. He said that Guiteau spit at him for no reason whenever he felt like it and that was not something he agreed to when he took the case. A writer named Folsom who covered the trial did not perceive Charles as completely insane. Folsom thought Guiteau was enjoying the festivities. For once Charlie was the center of attention. He was animated. Guiteau was a social psychopath and a narcissist, but to Folsom's mind was not insane. Charlie G made a lot of speeches in the court and turned the trial into a comedy show at his own expense. His tirades were met with hearty laughter by the packed house. Some were angry with the presiding judge for tolerating this atmosphere. Guiteau started by asking all the people who were gaining jobs because of his dastardly deed to send in donations for his defense. He told a lot of offensively racy stories about his days at the Oneida Community, one of those feel-good cults from the 1800’s that sanctioned sexual promiscuity. Charles called his replacement attorney a “jaundiced jackass” and the courtroom crowd howled. History books universally say the assassin was mentally insane and the newer texts suggest understandably that today he would have been sentenced to a mental hospital instead of the gallows. But many witnesses at the time insisted that Guiteau was pretending to be insane because he knew it was his only hope of avoiding execution. Certainly he acted insane. But was he “acting” insane as in a play actor? The public thought so and approved the verdict overwhelmingly. One contemporary historian wrote, “It was a plain case. The President had been murdered by a man who was not insane.” Whether or not Charles would have been found not guilty in a modern court by reason of insanity is debatable. But what is not debatable is that Guiteau in a modern court could have been granted a mistrial for ineffective assistance of counsel. He was never properly defended. Guiteau was pronounced guilty on January 25, 1882. He was to be hanged in June. Charlie appealed to President Arthur for a stay of execution. After all, President Arthur wouldn’t be president if it weren’t for Guiteau so the new Prez owed him one. Guiteau actually wrote this. It didn’t work and Guiteau did the Sadaam shuffle on June the 30th 1882. Many Americans were appalled at the lengthy 72 days the trial had lasted and noted that the Impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson had been shorter. By today’s standards the trial was swift. The OJ Simpson trial of 1994-5 lasted more than one year. My trial for stealing a box of Snickers candy-bars in 1973 lasted 74 days. NAVAL REVIVAL Although the historians usually point to civil service reform, Arthur’s finest achievement may have been his key role in instigating the rise of the modern American Navy. In a world where military power was becoming measured in capitol ships, the USA had none. In fact, by 1881, the US Navy was only rated as the 12th most powerful flotilla in the world. Chile and Denmark, to name two smaller nations, had larger and better ocean-going warships. The US Navy was second to many. It was also undermanned and under-funded. Arthur steered through Congress a bill to begin a major capitol ships building program starting with three heavy cruisers. His Secretary of the Navy had initially asked for 38, a number which Congress couldn’t even conceive of. The US naval build-up, begun under CAA would continue under successive presidents. These three Arthur battlewagons would form the nucleus of the famous Great White Fleet that would later tour the world with pride and then see action in the Spanish-American War. The three cruisers were not finished until Cleveland took office because a clause had been inserted that they had to be built with a specific kind of American made-steel and there wasn’t a steel mill in full operation here that was capable of the task. This slowed down the schedule so that it was Cleveland who broke the champagne bottle over the Arthur’s ships. The science of battleship building was so rusty here that even the blueprint design for the 3 new cruisers had to be imported from England. Bill Whitney, the Secretary of the Navy under Cleveland, felt that the British brains had designed the American cruisers with a suspicious level of novel experimentation. It seemed that our new navy was being used as a guinea pig for Royal Navy futures.
CHILLY RELATIONS Bolivia and Peru went to war with Chile in 1881. It was two against one an the one won. The prize of the war were the guano and nitrate deposits in the border area between the three. The United States had a modest emotional involvement because its ministers to the respective countries had the typical bias that foreign ministers often tend to develop towards their assigned states. US Minister Hurlbut was in Lima Peru reporting back to Arthur that Chile was the bad guy in the dispute. Ambassador Kilpatrick in Chile was pleading the cause of Chile the good. Secretary of State Blaine was convinced that Chile was a pawn of British interests so he tended to side with Peru and his pal Hurlbut in Lima. So the team of B&P had a slight edge at home. In mid-1881 Chile went to war and defeated the combined might of Bolivia and Peru. The peace terms would not come easy. Chile demanded territorial concessions. Peru and Bolivia said they would settle up on any terms except territorial concessions. Something had to give or the war might resume. Arthur sent a neutral peace commission to South America composed of Willie Trescot of South Carolina, a former Assistant Secretary of State in the pre-Civil War era, and Walker Blaine, the son of the acting Secretary of State James Blaine. Secretary Blaine was on surprisingly good terms with President Arthur in spite of their earlier Stalwart vs. Half-breed rivalry at the Republican Convention. Blaine did not ask to have his son, a respected diplomat, on the peace commission, but it certainly insured that Washington would receive a full and open report of events down there. There would be no rogue intrigues behind the Secretary of State’s back with his son on the scene. The American peace ministers were treated like royalty in Chile, and similarly well in Peru. The fame and admiration of both President Arthur and Secretary of State Blaine in South America came as a surprise to the emissaries and to President Arthur when he read their reports. But a ticker-tape parade welcome for our diplomats was not the same as reaching a settlement. Chile dined our world travelers but would not budge on the matter of territorial concessions. Blaine senior called for a peace conference in Washington with all the nations of South America to attend. Jim even set a November 1882 date for it. But at the end of 1881 Blaine resigned and was replaced at head of State by Freylinghausen who decided to withdraw the invitations to the Blaine hatched peace conference. Freylinghausen felt that it wasn’t fair to involve all of the nations of South America in the Bolivian-Peru-Chile dispute. Private citizen Blaine then wrote a letter to President Arthur objecting to this change of plan. But the President took the side of his new Secretary of State. Blaine had to eat a tough-luck-bro sandwich. In the end, Chile settled up with Peru and Bolivia without American diplomatic assistance. The terms were simple. Bolivia and Peru made territorial concessions. By 1884 the Bolivian province of Tarapaca, loaded with guano and nitrates, was part of Chile. I played minor league ball there in 1983. I wish someone would explain to the modern Arab states, what Bolivia and Peru learned and accepted in 1884; you lose a war you lose territory. It’s that simple. It always has been. The Arabs lost three wars to Israel and still think it’s an outrageous injustice that they also lost some territory. Israel has repeatedly given back more of what it won in a fair fight than any nation has to, and yet is still portrayed in the Arab world and the western left as the bad guys in the middle East.
ROSCOE CONKLING AND PLATT RESIGN 1881 Senator Roscoe Conkling, the pride of Utica, was miffed when Arthur rejected stalwartism and became too progressive. Arthur wasn’t going to be Conkling's pet dog anymore, and Conkling was steamed. Roscoe disapproved of some of Arthur’s half-breed appointments in their home state of New York. Conkling and fellow Senator Platt resigned their senate seats late in 1881 in protest, presuming that the New York Legislature would immediately vote for them in the special election to replace them. It was a roundabout version of British Parliamentary politics. Conkling and Platt would intimidate Arthur with this show of political backing. But instead the Legislators decided they wanted to see other people. They voted for new faces. The cigar of arrogance had exploded in Conklings’s face. Senator Platt had been tagged long ago with the nickname of ‘me too’ for following spinelessly in Conkling’s footsteps. Now Platt’s career went splatt too in the bargain.
PENDLETON AND CIVIL SERVICE REFORM The most important achievement in Arthur’s term and the most important issue was civil service reform. At least according to how his name is treated in general American history textbooks. CCR was the hallmark of his three and a half years as president. The problem had been long festering since the time of Andy Jackson, when he introduced the spoils system whereby political supporters during the election campaign were rewarded with government jobs when the winning party was sworn in. Over the decades the spoils system had expanded into a major national problem demanding major national reform. Grant wanted to do something about it but he was not one to take much initiative and he had no Congressional support. Only Secretary of the Treasury Sherman was willing to back him up. President Hayes was very much determined to reform the spoils system, but he could get nowhere and concluded that only legislation would reform the tainted Civil Service. Garfield was reform minded on Civil Service as a Representative of Congress but for some reason became very passive once he hit the campaign trail for the presidency and he did next to nothing after he took office. Garfield became the catalyst for Civil Service reform only by the tragic method of getting assassinated. The civil service was so corrupt by this time that not only did the government jobs not go to the best qualified but to the best greased, it had gone up another level. Those who won the handout jobs had to perpetuate the system by making “political contributions” on a regular basis. These contributions were supposedly voluntary but they were not. The dough came directly out of their salaries, like taxes today for most workers. A certain percentage of their salaries, usually about 4% was “assessed” by the party that got them their jobs, and came to be known as “assessments.” It was mobsterism payola and obviously a form of national corruption. Democracy was not standing proud in the shadow of these assessments. In August 1881, a month after Garfield died, a reform group was organized, the NCSRL. A powerful politician named George William Curtis headed this National Civil Service Reform League. With the slaying of Garfield over this issue (ostensibly) the movement had momentum. Democratic Senator George Pendleton of Ohio prepared a bill to change the system for good. President Arthur in his State of the Union Message of December 1881 made it clear that he wanted a merit system to replace the spoils system and that he wanted and end to political assessments. At about this time with the help of a writer named Dorman Eaton, the bill took shape and was presented to Congress, which left it dormant until 1882. Eaton studied the problem during the Hayes administration by examining in a scholarly fashion the reforms already enacted in Great Britian. Dorman’s book on the subject was widely read in the United States and made it difficult for American to continue to ignore the problem. Curtis, Dorman, Pendleton and Carl Schurtz carried the CCR movement into Congress in December of 1882 with the full backing of President Arthur. On the 27th it passed the Senate 38 to 5, and on January 4, 1883 it passed the House 155 to 47. The Civil Service Act, or as it was more popularly called, the Pendleton Bill, made political contributions by government office holders illegal, and began the reform process by which government jobs were given to those who did the best in competitive examinations. At first only a small percentage (about 12) of government jobs were reformed this way but the legal precedent was established and over the next several presidencies the percentage increased until by Wilson’s time 70% of government jobs were won fair and square. The Pendleton Bill has been called the Magna Charts of civil service reform and is the pride of the Arthur Administration legacy.
RACE RELATIONS – UP AGAINST THE JB WALL The Arthur years were a time of racial backlash in the South. The gains made under federal Reconstruction were being tied up in a ball and rolled back. The case of J.B. Wall is illustrative. In 1882 a black defendant in a south Florida federal district court trial was lynched before the trial was over. This was not all that unusual in the Hayes to McKinley South. But usually a lynch mob would bust into a jail at night and drag the innocent man (always innocent until proven guilty) to some secluded spot where the torchlight Klansmen or Klannishmen would hang the soul. But in this case one of the leaders of the lynch mob was one of the prosecuting attorneys in the case! J.B. Wall was employed by the United States government to enforce the law at a district court in Florida and he led a lynch mob to render a premature verdict. What was worse, they hanged the victim was hanged from a tree right in front of the courthouse in the middle of a weekday afternoon while the court was in session! The judge was forced to walk in and out of his courthouse with the dead body of the defendant hanging from a tree in front of the building. The only thing the judge could do was disbar J.B. Wall from practicing law for life. Wall appealed to the U.S. Supreme court for a writ of mandamus compelling the lower court to reinstate him as a lawyer. J.B. contended that he had not personally hung the guy. Bu the evidence was clear that Wall had been one of the mob leaders and that was enough to satisfy the high court to deny his request. The Supreme Court did the right thing, sort of. The right thing would be to issue an arrest warrant for Wall so he could be tried for conspiracy to commit murder, plus a dozen other charges. But in the 1882 South, merely maintaining Wall’s disbarment was a big victory for truth and justice. It says a negative lot in the first place that the scum’s case for the writ of mandamus even reached the US Supreme Court at all. I would like to add that I have read three brief and old accounts of this case and actually have not seen the word Negro to describe the defendant that was lynched. I presume he was. What do you think? If he wasn’t, then this was an interesting story nevertheless. But we both know that he was.
CHINESE EXCLUDED Give me your tired, your poor, and keep the slanties out. There had always been racism within the US borders, but with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the nation extended its racism in the overseas direction. The flood of Chinese immigration to the United States was making a lot of whites paranoid. The CEA was the result. The Act excluded Chinese laborers from entering the USA for ten years. 300,000 Chinese had entered the US since 1849. They had provided the bulk of the labor to build our transcontinental railroad from west to east at Promontory Point. Now they were barred. Those Chinese already here were given a few weeks to get on the next junk back to the Middle Kingdom. They didn’t even get a quota. The Statue of Liberty was giving the finger to China. The reason was that they “endangered the good order of certain localities,” a ridiculous yellow lie. In fairness to Chet Arthur, the first version of the CEA was so harsh towards the Chinese that he rejected it. It was a softened version of a harsh act that became a bad part of Arthur’s legacy instead, but its still pretty bad.
Forty-Seventh Congress. Session I. 1882 … Preamble. Whereas, in the opinion of the Government of the United States the coming of Chinese laborers to this country endangers the good order of certain localities within the territory thereof: … until the expiration of ten years next after the passage of this act, the coming of Chinese laborers to the United States be, and the same is hereby, suspended; and during such suspension it shall not be lawful for any Chinese laborer to come, or, having so come after the expiration of said ninety days, to remain within the United States.
The last clause in the bill made it specific that the term ‘Chinese laborer’ applied to both the skilled and unskilled variety. So even a Chinese doctor had to go. The Chinese Exclusion law had the widespread support or acquiescence of the majority of Americans. Even the liberal Knights of Labor supported Chinese immigration discrimination.
SPENCER VISITS THE UNITED STATES One of the most famous and influential writers in this day was Spencer from England. He is the cold soul who coined the term, “survival of the fittest.” Darwin usually gets credit for saying it, but it was Spencer who was paraphrasing darwin after reading his work. Spencer took Darwin's theories about plants and animals and applied them to humans. This meant that if the poor were poor and the rich were rich, this was no injustice, this was just the natural order of things. Spencer said that the rich were rich for good reason, and that on the whole it was good for society. The poor laborers didn't care too much for his theories, but most people knew about them. He was very famous for what he was preaching, because the millionaires, the “Robber Barons” were using his theories to justify their lust for power and money. Thanks to Spencer the rich thugs had moral justification for doing immoral things like cooking the books, ripping off partners, squashing the little guy and paying labor as little as possible for 14 hour work days in dangerous conditions. The 62 year old Spencer made a summer trip to the United States in 1882 and the most striking thing he spoke of was the American need to have ice water nearby at all times. It's an English thing, this disdain for cold beverages. My one trip to London was marked by some disbelieving stares in pubs when I asked for a cold beer. The bartender went away and got some ice and put it in my beer. This happened more than once. Spencer thought that Americans were not intrusive at all. He had read much about how they were always in your face with some inquisition or proposition, and fond that it was not true at all. On the other hand the press was bothersome. When he wouldn't talk to them, they talked to porters and passengers and people who barely had met him and stitched together stories about him that were so untrue that he did not want to dignify them with a response. Spencer went to Boston and injured himself going trying to catch a train before it took off. He fell ill from the running and was in bed for several days before going back to the Islands in a sorry state. Survival of the fittest, pal.
YOU LIGHT UP MY LIFE On September 2 1882 a new era began in America. On hat dramatic day Thomas Edison, the inventor of electricity and the music recording industry, to name three, gave light to the world. Just after sundown on that day Tommy flipped a switch in front of a host of dignitaries and 26 buildings on lower Manhattan, including the New York Times, The New York Stock Exchange, and Catch a Rising Star Comedy Club became aglow with electric light. Edison had done his work at Melno Park New Jersey, but JP Morgan took a shine to his work, bankrolled a great guy and now Edison not had his name in lights in New York, he had invented them. He quipped to a reporter that, “I am going to name my next son “Exit.” “Exit?” “Yes,” said Edison, “That way he will have his name in lights in every theater in the country.”
CONGRESSIONAL ELECTIONS 82 The Congressional elections of 1882 went well for the Democrats. The Republicans saw this as a wake-up call and the results probably led to some key actions by the Arthur Administration, particularly in civil service reform.
INDIANS Arthur had this to say about the Indians; “Their hunting days are over.” Sitting Bull and the Northern pacific Railroad provide the backdrop for this next story which took place on September 8 1883. Sitting Bull, the Chief of the Hunkpapa Sioux Indians had come back from Canada with his tribe in 1881. The whites had thrown him in jail in a treacherous breach of terms for his return. He was supposed to get an amnesty and a promise of government help for his suffering people. The great Northern Pacific railroad was scheduled to be connected at last on September 8 1883. It would be a couple of years before all the work was finished and a train could run from St Paul to Portland, but the two lines linked up in the summer of 83. A “Golden Spike” ceremony was scheduled for Bismarck SD, on the same day the actual spike was driven at Gold Creek Montana. The white government thought it would be fitting if a famous Indian participated in the celebratory ceremony. They asked Sitting Bull to come to Bismarck on 9.8 and complete the spike-party picture. Bull agreed and even tried to memorize a short speech in English, or he told them he was memorizing it. There would be a white bi-lingual white guy there in case his speech was indecipherable, and a translation was needed. When the time came for SB to make the speech in SD, he dropped any attempt to speak English. Sitting Bull spoke in his Sioux language. The translator was ready. So was Sitting. The head Hunkpapa gave a nine-minute speech and didn’t stop to let the translator in. So the translator made notes and waited for Bull to finish. With each couple of sentences Sitting Bull would pause and briefly scan the audience. The crowd took the cue and applauded each time. What the crowd didn’t know was that Sitting Bull had started his speech this way,
“You white people are all liars and thieves and cowards. You have mistreated my people and then lied about it. You make promises you know you will break. You all make me sick...”
And it got worse from there. When Bull finished and sat down with a wry smile, the white translator cleared his throat and ad-libbed a harmless positive speech that Sitting Bull was honored to be there and thankful that the Great Father had brought so much progress to the wilderness. Is that a great story, or what?
CRACKDOWN ON “BIG LOVE” That small group of holy philanderers in the desert, the Mormons hated Chester Arthur… a lot. President Arthur helped pass “Edmunds Law,” which outlawed polygamy in the new territories. Many Mormon men had as many wives as they liked, with the full approval of the Mormon Church. A Mormon man might be told by 15 different women on the same day to stop leaving his socks on the floor. The Edmunds law was directed straight at Utah. Now, thanks to Arthur it would have to be one woman, per man, please. The party’s over. It was time for these ‘Latter Day Sinners’ to clean up their act.
TARIFF OF 1883 The tariff of 1883 was supposed to power-down duties in general, but so many exceptions were made allowing the raising of other duties that it’s desired ends were nullified and it displeased all sides. The Tariff of 83 was moderate to begin with. The end result was a very slight reduction of tariff rates. The tariff issue would be the hot topic of the next presidential race. The boring tariff issue dominated American politics for the entire century.
CIVIL RIGHTS GAINS REVERSED BY SUPREME COURT 1883 On October 16, 1883 the Supreme Court ruled that the Civil Rights Act of 1875 was unconstitutional. The national government did not have the right to coerce the states into enforcing social equality particularly at private facilities. The court ruled that a state was not allowed to abuse blacks but neither the states nor the federal government could prevent private citizens from abusing blacks. It was one thing for the government to decree the end of slavery, that was the Supreme Court's prerogative; it was another to decree the beginning of equality, that was not. The so-called ‘Civil Rights Cases’ of 1883 horrified black leaders, and any white leaders with an ounce of decency.
RAILROAD TIME ZONES Whenever I'm on the west coast and I wake up on Sunday and find that it's just past noon and I've already missed the first half of the NFL game I had 30 bucks on I have only the railroads to blame. They are the ones that in 1883 sliced up the country into four time zones. Prior to that, the nation ran on “God's Time.” I guess since then its been on Satan's time. On November 18 1883 the American Railway Association got its way and the USA became four times divided. The worst is when you call someone on the opposite coast and mix up the math and wake them up at 4 a.m. In the old days I could disguise my voice and claim wrong number. The railroads were the dominant force in the American economy. They were as a large a business enterprise as the United States federal government. But corruption was the rule. As Charlie Frances Adams put it,
“The demoralizing spirit of low cunning has pervaded the entire system. The moral tone is deplorably low.”
Sounds like he's describing the material of choice in stand up comedy shows in the night clubs in 2011; but no, he is describing the railroads of 1884. The railroads grew out of control like a monster in a 1954 black and white movie. They cheated each other just for kicks, and never hesitated to hurt the little businesspersons and the paying customers of America. Where there was no competition, the railroads charged ridiculously high rates. Where there was a lot of competition they charged ridiculously low rates so they could eliminate all competition and then charge ridiculously high rates. So the people were happy to but a ticket from Buffalo to Columbus for 11 cents, only to find that one year later the same ticket cost 23 dollars. I'm getting mad just writing about this. I can only imagine how I'd feel at the time. The railroads also gave rebates to all the big companies. They could posture that they charged everyone the same rate but then secretly gave money back to the big corporation customers when no one was looking, and certainly the federal government was not looking. Massachusetts took the lead in trying to use state power to control railroad abuses, but it was a losing fight until the feds got involved just after Arthur's time.
BOOKWORMS/ SAMUEL CLEMENS In 1884 Mark Twain published his best-known book Huckleberry Finn. Mark Twain was not his real name. His real name was Samuel Clemens and he was no fool. Twain was as much of a marketing genius as he was a writing one. He promoted himself in the most all-American ways. Mark founded his own publishing house; he traveled the nation giving lectures; and he was hands-on in the advertising of both his name and his many works. He was not some talent discovered by a benevolent power and given fame as a gift from daddy. The term ‘mark twain’ was a river commerce term meaning the beginning of a safe depth for paddlewheel boats to operate in. Samuel understood show business. I have read some of Twain’s short stories and enjoyed them, but his books I have never made enough time for. Started many but finished none. I get most of my Twain from film versions which is criminal in the eyes of true Twain aficionados. Twain is not particularly shocking today, his liberal use of the ‘n’ word notwithstanding. But in the era in which he wrote, Clemens was an iconoclast to the tenth power. His was a world of Victorian conservatism, and Twain’s earthy language in his descriptions and depictions of real people in rural America was frowned upon by many of the upper crust. Twain, like a later American icon named Will Rogers was admirably even-handed in his barbs. Unlike many political humorists who only bash the right, Twain didn’t play favorites. He hit all political parties with both fists flying.
THE WAR IN VIETNAM No one knew it at the time, but a chain of events was beginning in Vietnam that would drag 50,000 American men to an untimely death about 75 years later. The French had already turned South Vietnam into a virtual protectorate, partly to assuage French pride for losing the Franco-Prussian war with the Germans. Germany also had colonies in the region but Bismark let the French know that to show that there were no hard feelings on his end he would not compete imperialistically with the French in the Vietnam region. The French could even ask him for help if they got into a military pinch. The French soon wanted to take North Vietnam too (they weren't known by these proper names at the time, but it helps as a referent) because they realized that the Red River was better for trading profits than the Mekong. But China was the overlord and protector of North Vietnam. North Vietnam was in China's sphere of influence, and in fact was almost a province of China in reality. They warned the French that they could not stand back and do nothing as France overseas colonial imperialists took away their right to be local colonial imperialists. If China did nothing it would soon have French troops right on its border, and that spelled big trouble. This was an era when European powers were chopping up China as callously as my family carves up a Thanksgiving turkey, so it went without saying that the presence of French troops on the south China border was tantamount to further aggressions against China. The Chinese political factions debated defiance versus compliance and it eventually spilled over into the Franco-Sino-Vietnam War of 1884-1885. The French Navy bombarded the big port city of Foochow on the Pacific coast sending 12 Chinese “warships” to the mud in as long as it takes to make a pizza. They also attacked Taiwan, and sent a large French army into North Vietnam. Just as the Chinese were about throw in the yellow towel the French suffered a couple of humiliating defeats, but it wasn't enough to stop the momentum of an impending settlement that was favorable to France. About a month after Arthur left office the French officially took over complete control of all of Vietnam. They kept Nam until 1940 when Germany conquered France and the Japanese saw the chance to pounce on the French poodle while the owner was in the hospital. This turned the USA so decidedly against Japan that it led directly to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Vietnam caused America two wars, not one. When the Allies expelled the Japanese in 1945, the French wanted their colonial Nam back as if all was the same, and at first the USA vaguely supported Ho and the fighting Communists. But when the Cold War got hot, and the Communists took over China and invaded South Korea the United States changed its mind and supported the French in their quest to set the clock back to 1884. Truman wanted French support in Cold War Europe so he sold FDR's anti-colonial principles in Asia to get it. That's how America ended up supporting the French and became unwitting bloody enemies of the Vietnamese nationalists from 1954-1975.
ARTHUR ILL One day in 1883 a doctor quietly informed Secretary of State Freylinghausen that President Arthur was suffering from Brights disease, a fatal kidney condition. Arthur was not informed but knew he was not well. In spite of his ill feelings Chester Arthur was willing to serve another term, and would have liked to be elected. Chester dearly wanted to shake off the label of ‘accidental president.’ But the Republicans did not nominate the incumbent Chester in 1884. Blaine was behind that decision. JB was not a fan of Chester Alan Arthur.
AFTER OFFICE Historians are handicapped in trying to describe the intimate life of Arthur. Chet was a passionately private man who burned all his personal records and writings before his death. We’ll never know the truth of the rumor about him and the goat. The quote up top about his private life being his “own damn business” was in response to a visit by the anti-saloon political committee. These holier-than-thous knew that Arthur was a social drinker and when they tried to make a sanctimonious speech to him about his evil ways, he lowered the boom. Chester Alan Arthur is buried in Vermont. He is probably our most obscure president. There was a 1950’s episode of the TV comedy The Honeymooners, in which bus driver Ralph Kramden is stunned to learn that there once was a president named Chester Alan Arthur. Later in the episode he show off that he is learned by saying, “Did you know that Chester Alan Arthur was a president?” The audience howls with delight at the line, and they didn’t use the laugh track sweetener back then. By the Golub thesis (my University of Massachusetts Amherst Professor Charles Golub), Chet Arthur was a great president. By Golub’s reckoning,
“The great presidents are the war presidents and the peace presidents are the weak ones. So the weak presidents we need and we should tremble at the sight of the great ones.”
Makes sense to me.
CONCLUSION King Arthur’s time was a happy one in our history. A very happy time. We look back on people of that era and feel sorry for them, at how primitively they led their lives. But they were feeling the same way about the people of one generation before them, those poor saps who had traveled on wooden horse-drawn carriages and had never seen a telegraph. In addition, the generation before them had to fight the Civil War. The generation before that one had lived in a slave empire. Young people in Arthur’s time could speak to their grandparents and hear of a day without railroads. In Art’s era a person could travel to any US city by train. More pleasing than that, there wasn’t a war to worry about, not even on the horizon. King Arthur’s time was an age of progress. If he wasn’t a great President, his time certainly was. You want bad times? Try 1863 or 1943. You want good times? Try 1882. We obviously have to qualify that it wasn’t a great time for the blacks in the deep South or for the Indians. It wasn’t an age of happiness or progress for them.
The American Pageant, A History of the Republic, by Thomas A. Bailey of Stanford University – c) 1961 D.C. Heath This book is superbly written, entertaining, witty, sarcastic, personable, and wildly informative. Other than that it's not a very good book.
The American People, A History, by Pauline Maier - c) 1986 – D. C. Heath Half of this schoolbook is text, the other half is brutal quiz questions that a professional historian would have trouble with.
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, by Dee Brown Sr. - c) 1970 - Holt Reinhart and Winston Dee is not a great writer. This book has a violent pro-Indian bias. His son, Dee Brown Jr. played for the NBA’s Boston Celtics.
The Compact History of the United States Navy, by Fletcher Platt c) 1962. Fletcher Platt is good, but Julius W. Pratt is even better and I always mix them up.
A Diplomatic History of the United States, by Samuel Flagg Bemis, Farnam Professor of Diplomatic History in Yale University – c) 1934 Henry Holt The dean of diplomatic historians, Bemis taught for 24 years at Yale. He also was a big man on campus for several years at George Washington University, especially when he won a Pulitzer Prize for history while teaching there in 1927.
The Growth of the American Republic, Vol II 1865-1937 – by Harvard's Samuel Eliot Morison and Columbia's Henry Steele Commager 0 c) 1940 Oxford U. Press NY These are two of the giants of the US history profession. My own opinion? A couple of jerks, really. Educated jerks, but jerks - very bitterly opinionated book. Morison's history of the US Navy in WWII is miles above reproach, but when he writes politics he writes nasty.
History of a Free People by Henry W. Bragdon (Phillips Exeter Academy) and Samuel P. Hutchinson (New York University) – c) 1954 MacMillan I like the writing but this book with its absurd levels of homework assignments after every few pages is the prototype book for the slogan “School is prison for boys and girls.” Reading this book makes me glad I am not young again, in spite of my sore left foot. I escaped prison at 17 and I wouldn't want to go back for all the gold in Fort Knox. Not 1954 high school anyway. Books like this explain why when the bell rings the kids flee the building with joyous smiles. The History of the Haymarket Affair, A Study in the American Social-Revolutionary Movements and Labor Movements, by Henry David – c) 1936 HMA has some interesting material on the pre-game show leading up to “Bomb Sunday.”
History of the United States, From Hayes to McKinley 1877-1896, by James Ford Rhodes, LL.D., D. Litt., c) 1919 – Rhodes gives us an awesome level of detail on an era where detail in general history is hard to find.
A History of the United States, by Boorstin and Kelly – Boorstin is the king. He is also the Librarian of Congress.
A History of the United States [to 1865] Second Edition Revised, by T. Harry Williams of LSU, Richard Current of the University of Wisconsin, and Frank Freidel of Harvard – c) 1964 Knopf This is such a readable and insightful history that some colleges still use it today as assigned reading, even though the last revised edition came out more than 40 years ago. It's not a chore, it's a privilege.
Indian Wars, by Robert M. Utley & Wilcomb E. Washburn - c) 1977 Utley is a redneck when it comes to the Reds. But with all the kissing up to the perfect immaculate Indians going on in the new history books, a throwback take on them is wonderfully refreshing.
Lies My Teacher Told Me, Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, by James W. Loewen - c) 1995 - The New Press LMTTM is a very interesting and readable book.
The March of Democracy: From Civil War to World Power, by James Truslow Adams – c) 1933 Scribner Jimbo is the all-time scoundrel historian as far as I'm concerned. Good writer with a black heart. James Truslow Adams is an over the top in your face racist and a pro-Confederacy, pro-Klan white supremacist. How his books sold so well in the 1930's is beyond me. The National Experience, Part Two, A History of the United States Since 1865, by John M. Blum (Yale), Edmund S. Morgan (Yale), Willie Lee Rose (Johns Hopkins), Arthur M. Schlesinger (City University NY), Kenneth M. Stampp, and C. Vann Woodward – c) 1981 Harcourt Brace Jovanovich NY NE is aok.
Out of Many, A History of the American People, by John Mack Faragher (Yale); Mary Jo Buhle (Brown), Daniel Czitrom (Mount Holyoke); and Susan Armitage (Washington State), c)1994 - Prentice Hall Great maps, great book, left slanted. Is it a great book in spite of its lefty slant or because of it?
The Oxford History of the American People, by Samuel Eliot Morison – c) 1965 Oxford University Press “From the viewpoint of the 1960's, Arthur's administration stands up as the best Republican one between Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.”
Morison apparently thinks McKinley erred in allowing the United States to be dragged into the Spanish-American War. Otherwise, I don't know how he can say that Arthur's administration was better than McKinleys.
Presidential Campaigns, by Paul F. Boller, Jr. - c) 1984 – Oxford University Press It’s hard not to enjoy Paul’s work. He only makes me look up a big word once every 20 pages or so.
A Short History of American Democracy, by John Hicks of the University of California at Berkeley Hicks is a great historian and he passes the racist test before the Civil War and them lets us down after the Civil War. One of the most readable writers of history ever.
A Short History of the American Nation, by John A. Garraty – c) 1977 (4th edition abridged) Harper & Row Garraty was a Gouverner Morris emeritus professor of history at Columbia for 31 years. Why do they keep the antiquated spelling for governor?
The United States, From Colony to World Power, by Chitwood, Owsley and Nixon. This is a solid hard-cover general history but pencil marks of previous owner slows up my reading. I have to erase as I go and then re-deface.
The United States, A History of the Republic, by James West Davidson, and Mark H. Lytle – c) 1981 Prentice-Hall
The United States: The History of a Republic, by Richard Hofstadter of Columbia, William Miller of Lashua College, and Daniel Aaron of Smith College - c) 1957 Prentice-Hall My how times, and how we speak of past times, have changed. These venerable scholars refer to the Utes and Shoshone tribes of the northwest as “ugly and primitive.” They'd get fired for typing that up nowadays. They would at best get suspended without pay until they rewrote it for the revised edition as “the beautiful and advanced Utes and Shoshones.”
ALSO Charles Golub was a sociology professor and he said that to me outside of the classroom. I only went to one semester of college.