Accidental presidents like Chester Alan Arthur were the result of the war, the marriage of government and big business, the predictable Gilded Age, and rampant political corruption in the North. Conservative Southern statesmen in prewar Congresses were an impediment to the Republican revolutionaries bent on power.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org
Republican Political Bosses and Layers of Graft
“Chester [Alan] Arthur was an accidental president at an inopportune time, but he is part of the tapestry of who we are more than most ever have been or most of us will ever be. He was president in an un-ideological era. The Senate would shortly be dubbed the “Millionaires’ Club,” and the House of Representatives was an unruly place of loose coalitions and influence trading. State and local politics were controlled by party machines that prized loyalty. Politicians genuflected to the concept of the public good, and they occasionally spoke of public service. But they didn’t seem to hold either very dear.
The politicians of the Gilded Age, perhaps mirroring the mood of the public, turned away from troubling intractable like freedom, democracy, equality, and attended instead to order, stability and prosperity.
Though the Republican party continued to “wave the bloody shirt” at each presidential convention, hoping to dredge up Civil War passions and eke out an advantage against the better-organized though less popular Democrats, that yielded diminishing returns. In a Gilded Age version of what-have-you-done-for-me-lately, the voting public demanded more than nostalgia for the glorious battles of Gettysburg and Antietam.
Cities were kept together by political machines, which were tight-knit organizations that corralled votes, collected a percentage of profits, and kept the peace. The machine was epitomized by Tammany Hall in New York City and its majordomo, William Marcy Tweed, a Democrat boos surrounded by a sea of Republicans. More than any mayor, “Boss” Tweed ran New York.
His men greeted immigrants as they stepped ashore in lower Manhattan, offered them money and liquor, found them work, and in return demanded their allegiance and a tithe. Supported by Irish Catholics, who made up nearly a quarter of New York’s population, Tweed held multiple offices, controlled lucrative public works projects (including early plans for Central Park), chose aldermen, and herded voters to the polls, where they drunkenly anointed the Boss’s candidates.
Tweed was gone by 1872, forced out and prosecuted, but the system kept going. Every [Northern] city had its machine, and counties did as well. National politics was simply the apex of the pyramid that rested on local bosses and layers of graft.”
(Chester Alan Arthur, Zachary Karabell, Henry holt and Company, 2004, pp. 5-6)