Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Unlikeliest President: Is Trump the Next Chester Arthur? (Part I)

In my opinion, the unlikeliest President of all-time was Chester Arthur. If Trump wins (and that is a big if), he may be more unlikely to hold the office than Arthur. There are some other parallels between Trump and Arthur.

After the Civil War and during the Grant administration, the Republican Party was split into two distinct factions: Stalwarts and Half-breeds. The Stalwarts wanted to punish the South for its part in starting the Civil War. The Half-breeds were more interested in restoring the Union and looking to future instead of dwelling on the past. Half-breeds did not want to seek revenge and Stalwarts wanted revenge. Trump supporters are like our present day Stalwarts (for instance they want to use religious profiling) while the Never Trump faction is more like the Half-breeds (against profiling and for religious freedom). Believe it or not, the division in the Republican Party was much worse in the 1870 – 1890 time frame then it is today. The Democrats were less of a threat than the split in the Republican Party in the late 1800s.

The President elect in 1876 was Rutherford Hayes. Hayes was former Union General who barely won (and controversially) the election over Samuel Tilden. He lost the popular vote but won the Electoral College by one vote. One reason for the close election was due in part to the scandalous Grant administration. Grant was a Stalwart and his faction of the Republican Party yielded power to Hayes, who was a Half-breed. The Hayes administration was blocked and sabotaged by Stalwarts led by New York Senator Roscoe Conkling. Hayes was unable to accomplish anything tangible. Hence, Hayes who was so frustrated by Stalwart intervention, he declined to seek re-election in 1880. Conkling became the most powerful man in Washington because of both his control over the Hayes administration and the powerful position of the New York Customs House. Conkling appointed Chester Arthur to run the Customs House. Over 90% of all import monies collected in the United States came through New York. The position oversaw thousands of employees and millions of dollars and for this reason the New York Customs House was linked to racketeering and corruption.

The 1880 Republican Convention was to be a contest between Grant (seeking a 3rd term) and Senator James Blaine (a Half-Breed). After days of ballots nobody could secure the necessary number of delegates to win the nomination. Suddenly, and slowly but surely, ballot after ballot, Ohio Representative James Garfield (Half-breed) garnered more and more votes until finally winning the nomination. Garfield did not seek the nomination and tried to stop delegates from voting for him, but to no avail. Garfield was a Union General who ran against Democrat and Union General Winfield Hancock. Hancock did not have any political experience but lost the election by few than 8,000 votes, although the Electoral College was a much more convincing win for the Republicans. The key to the Republican win was the fact Chester Arthur (Stalwart) was chosen as Garfield’s running mate. Arthur helped unite the Republican vote and win the rich Electoral state of New York (which voted Democrat in 1876).

Garfield himself was an unlikely choice to be President. He was merely a House a Representative member from Ohio – he never served as a governor or Senator. Garfield grew up poor and his father died when he was two. Garfield’s mother kept James and his siblings alive through hard work while never accepting a handout. James ran away at age 16 to work on the Erie Canal, but a near death experience sent him back home. Although education was out of the question for his older siblings, the family saved enough money for James to go to school. He earned his way through college working as a janitor and then as a student assistant professor. Garfield would call education the great equalizer and anyone regardless of socioeconomic status could earn a good living with an education. Garfield’s 42nd regiment from Ohio defeated the Confederacy in Kentucky earning him a Generalship and fame during the Civil War. Shortly thereafter Garfield would go on to serve 18 years in Congress before winning the Republican nomination.

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