Chester Arthur’s entire career was based on political patronage. He was named Vice President in a deal with the New York political machine. But once he became President after John Garfield’s assassination, he cleaned up government, replacing patronage with professional civil service and paving the way for the reforms of the 20th Century.
Arthur is one of America’s least remembered Presidents, but he turns out to be one of the most interesting. In his early career, he fought for racial equality, integrating city streetcars nearly a century before Rosa Parks.
The redemption of President Chester A. Arthur – Lillian Cunningham – Presidential podcast – The Washington Post
There are 3 million civil servants who work for the U.S. government today. Many take entrance exams, they have standardized pay scales, they work in the State Department or the Department of Energy or the Department of Homeland Security, regardless of which president or political party is in office.
But this hasn’t always been the case. For the first 100-plus years of the country’s beginning, government jobs were basically handed out as political favors to people who, in many cases, had no qualifications or relevant experience. And it was a system rife with corruption and patronage.
So, how did one of the greatest beneficiaries of this spoils system end up being the president who passed civil service reform?
Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold and Stateline executive editor Scott Greenberger tell the amazing story of Chester Arthur’s personal transformation, from a political hack in the New York Republican party machine of the late 19th century to a president who began cleaning up the corrupt system that helped him rise to the top.