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Monday, February 21, 2011

Now Let Us Praise Chester Arthur

On this Presidents' Day, it it worth remembering that some chief executives were obscure but worthy. Case in point: Chester Alan Arthur.

With the assassination of James A. Garfield in 1881, Vice President Arthur became president. Before his brief tenure in the second slot, he had been Collector of the Port of New York, where he dispensed patronage on behalf of New York's Republican machine. As chief executive, however, he became a born-again reformer. He signed the Pendleton Act, which established federal merit hiring. (It was the statute to which Vice President Al Gore was alluding in 1997, when he said that "no controlling legal authority" forbade him to make fundraising calls from the White House.)

Publisher Alexander K. McClure wrote of Arthur, "No man ever entered the Presidency so profoundly and widely distrusted, and no one ever retired from that highest civil trust of the world more generally respected, alike by political friend and foe."