Here is the latest in my son Ben’s series of Presidential portraits.
President Chester Alan Arthur exceeded expectations by being mediocre; historians rank him solidly in the middle of the pack (22nd out of 44 in the latest poll), which for Arthur is quite an achievement given that when he became President he was widely expected to be among the worst. Arthur’s main distinction before becoming Vice President was being removed by President Hayes from his job as Collector for the Port of New York because he was seen as too much in the pocket of Republican machine boss Roscoe Conkling (for a contemporary equivalent, think of Bernard Kerick or the guy Blagojevich put in Obama’s Senate seat); a year later Republicans selected him as Vice President to placate Conkling, who was unhappy with the Presidential nominee James Garfield. After Garfield died, Arthur was expected to hand over the store to his former cronies, but instead he behaved independently, and the main achievement of his administration was the passage of the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act. Publisher Alexander K. McClure wrote, “No man ever entered the Presidency so profoundly and widely distrusted, and no one ever retired… more generally respected.”
Whatever his other virtues, I think Chester Arthur had the best facial hair of any of the Presidents. Ben has done a fine job with his impressive set of muttonchops. View the painting big here. Next up: Grover Cleveland.