Presidents Day, and the contradictions of assessment

I have gone round and round with Arthur too many times that I don’t want to do so again, but I can point to a small item of irony, if you are inclined to do as I do and pluck Grant next to Arthur for my pointless Presidents Day exercise.  As we know, Garfield’s assassin — a Charles J. Guiteau — announced triumphantly upon the shooting, “I am a Stalwart, and Arthur is now President!”  Hence, the political possibilities of Arthur were limited down to not acting as a Stalwart would.

The Republican Party had formed with its two wings — the Radical Republicans, upholders of civil rights for the Freedman and desiring a Reconstruction that would overturn the Southern Aristocracy that had been upholding the Slavery tradition — and a conservative wing, seeking conciliation with the old Slave states in reforming the Union.  The two wings evolved as Radical leaders Sumner and Stevens passed from the political scene into “Stalwarts” and “Half Breeds”.  Grant’s newly rising Historical reputation rests on his having been the last President to take seriously the rights of the Freedmen, fighting the KKK and Red Shirts — a good part of his negative legacy of corruption with regard to the Southern states rests on the fact that Blacks voting was described in many corners as Corruption — at any rate, the post-Reconstruction governments proved no less corrupt than the “Carpet-baggers” they overturned.  Grant gave up the ghost of Civil Rights around the seventh year of his presidency, at which point the two wings of the party eased into simply two armies of office seekers.

Four years later, Grant lost his attempted third term nomination, and to appease Stalwart leader Roscoe Conkling, the Republicans and nominee Garfiled handed the Stalwart machine creation of a post master Chester Arthur the vice-president slot.  When Garfield was shot, Arthur was rather hemmed in, and threw Conkling under the bus, and signed civil service reform to make the Stalwart / Half-Breed fight more irrelevant.  Thus ended this particular Republican Party factionalization…

… Almost.  It continued in the South, where the two factions evolved into the “Black and Tan” faction and the “Lily White” factions — the names telling the crux of who they each were.   Republican nominees bought the factions up as needed, and gave them post-master jobs — eventually President Herbert Hoover would more or less settle the matter by siding with and building up the Lily White factions — though the party remained “on the order of an esoteric masonic lodge and not so much a political party”.

So, the lesson of plucking Grant and Arthur is somewhat at odds with each other.  One was supposedly corrupt, but what is corruption — the other the Reformer cleaning up the corruption that was synonmous with Grant.

I would pluck out, perhaps, Mckinley for this exercise — argue that everything Roosevelt did was started by McKinley, but that Mckinley wasn’t a boisterous asshole about it.  (He has a champion in Kevin Phillips.)  Again, more contradictions in what I was arguing.

Okay.  Presidents Day.  I’m guessing, stick a gun at a random person and ask them to name them.   They’ll get through the Founding Fathers of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe — skip to Jackson — won’t get anyone until Lincoln — skip to Roosevelt and Wilson — skip to Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Jonnson, and now we’re on good footing to get on through Obama –even if perhaps Ford or Carter slip their mind.

I was going to do in my exercise a vicious attack on Eisenhower, but I’m guessing you can write it yourself.

But I’m looking over books at Powells.  Two things catch my eye.  Used.  A two volume book on Grover Cleveland.  Leather – bound.  Fancy looking.  75 bucks.  I’m guessing for the bounding.  Is there a market for this?  Then, apparently in the same series, a two volume account of William Howard Taft.  Go figure!  There’s hope for Arthur yet!

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