Our political system may seem VERY odd... especially this
year with all off the unprecedented things going on with Donald Trump as President of the United States (POTUS). That statement
is intended neither as a criticism nor an endorsement of Mr. Trump. But it has been an odd year. Well things were even stranger back in 1881. Because it was on this date, September 20, 1881 that Chester Alan Arthur (above)
a man who was hardly well known was inaugurated as POTUS. And he was the THIRD man to hold the office in that year.
Hayes to Garfield
The year 1881 began with Rutherford B. Hayes finishing his term. Hayes had been elected under some very shady circumstances; it had come down to a tie back on election night in 1876 and several states were in dispute. Eventually the election was awarded to Hayes, who was thereafter called Rutherfraud B. Hayes in many quarters by bitter Democrats who felt that the election had been stolen from them. Be that as it may, in an election that pitted the Ohio Republican James A. Garfield, a former Union General against another former Union general, Winfield Scott Hancock, Garfield managed to squeeze by
Hancock by a mere 10,000 votes out of the nine million cast. Garfield had chosen as his running mate one Chester Alan Arthur a man who had held the lucrative and politically powerful post of Collector of the Port of New York. Mr. Arthur had been known as a man who did the bidding of the political bosses. Thus he was a man with a checkered reputation to say the least.
And Then Garfield's Gone...
Nevertheless, he was sworn in along with James Garfield on March 4, 1881 as President and Vice President respectively. Garfield began his administration intending to deal with Civil Service reform, and tariff reform, among other thiings. Charles J. Guiteau, who considered himself an important part of the victory was in fact nothing of the sort. He had written a speech supporting Garfield for president, and got it printed by the Republican National Committee but could find no important platform from which to deliver it. And when he did find a chance to deliver it, he couldn't finish it because he was so nervous. But
Garfield Dies Slowly, and Then It's Arthur
Garfield's death proved to be a slow and painful one. This was mainly doctors did not know how to treat the wound. One bullet grazed his
arm, but the other hit him in the back, shattering a rib and was lodged in his abdomen. He was taken first to the White House, but later was taken to Franklyn Cottage on the Atlantic coast to get him
away from the heat of Washington. It was hoped that the sea-side air would help his condition. But the doctors just didn't know how to get at the bullet. And the wound was slowly becoming more infected and poisoning the President's blood. Although he seemed to rally a couple of times over the more than two and a half months of his confinement to a hospital bed, he never left that bed. And he died on today's date in 1881. Thus Arthur became the third president to take office in 1881. At the start of his administration, Arthur had a tough time with his past as a favor distributing party hack from the New York Republican machine. But he actually wound up doing a good job in civil service reform. He sponsored and enforced the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act. Guiteau was found guilty of Garfield's murder and was executed on June 3, 1882.
Actually, this came forty years after a previous year of three Presidents. In 1841, Martin Van Buren's term came to an end in March, and he was succeeded by William Henry Harrison. President Harrison
developed pneumonia, and died after a mere month in office (the shortest presidential term in history), and his Vice President, John Tyler became the third POTUS in that year.
"Presidential Campaigns" by Paul F. Boller Jr., Oxford University Press, New York, 1984.