Tuesday, Mar. 10, 2009

Chester A. Arthur

21st President, 1881-85

Chester Arthur was one of five Presidents who was never elected — he took office after James Garfield's assassination and served nearly a full term.

His political rise took place in the not-quite-squeaky-clean New York political machine, where he had a reputation for cronyism and allegedly demanded kickbacks from workers to support the Republican Party. So he shocked many observers by becoming a reformer in office, ushering in the civil-service commission to crack down on the rampant spoils system. Even Mark Twain said it would be "hard to better" his Administration.

But Arthur's do-gooder streak didn't particularly please other Republicans, and he became one of the few Presidents to fail to win his party's nomination for re-election. Historians suspect he didn't campaign very aggressively for it, as early in his term he had learned — but kept secret — that he had a fatal kidney disease. He died less than two years after leaving office.

By Randy James