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Chapter 38:

Grant and Arthur.

Grant's first important relations with Arthur were in 1871, when he appointed the friend of Conkling Collector of the Port of New York. Arthur was retained in this position during the subsequent years of Grant's two Administrations and was always a warm and faithful supporter of his chief. There was, however, no approach to intimacy, personal or political, between them at this time. The Collector was too far off from the President for the idea to occur to either.

In 1880 Arthur went to Chicago a fervent adherent of Grant, and was steadfast under Conkling's lead in the advocacy of a third term. When Garfield was nominated the Vice-Presidential place on the ticket was tendered to him as a sort of propitiatory reparation to Conkling. The nomination for the Presidency had itself been suggested for Conkling by some who were willing to support him, though they would not accept Grant; but Conkling declared that he had gone to the convention to nominate Grant, and rather than receive the prize he was pledged to obtain for another he would cut his right arm from his body. Arthur, however, stood in a different relation; he was under no such pledge to Grant, stated or implied, and there was no reason why he should not accept the nomination.

Grant found no fault with the candidate, though like everybody else at the time he thought Arthur little fitted for the second position in the country; but there seemed no probability [335] that his abilities would be specially tested; and when Grant signified his adherence, he accepted Arthur as willingly as he did Garfield. Neither was in any way personally objectionable to him. He at once treated Arthur with all the consideration due to a candidate for the Vice-Presidency; he had a certain regard for official position not unnatural in one who had held so many important places himself, and who of late years had passed so much of his time with personages of high political consequence.

During the campaign I chanced to enter Delmonico's cafe one evening with Jesse Grant and found the candidate for the Vice-Presidency sitting at one of the tables. It was the first time either of us had met him since his nomination, and we went up to congratulate him. I remember that he said to Jesse: ‘I wish you would tell your father that I went to Chicago to work for his nomination. I was a Grant man and a third term man to the last; and whatever occurred there was no compensation to me for my disappointment.’ He was doubtless sincere at the time; but he felt fully compensated afterward and quite forgot his disappointment, as probably any other human being would have done in his place.

Arthur was in complete accord with Grant and Conkling in their dispute with Garfield, and even took a more conspicuous part than Grant in the struggle, visiting Albany to aid in the re-election of Conkling and incurring the severest criticism of Garfield's supporters. The ex-President and the Vice-President did not meet very often in the months succeeding Garfield's inauguration, but they held frequent correspondence, not indeed by letter but by the messages they exchanged through important or intimate friends. Their political relations at this juncture were closer than ever, and Grant felt a warmer regard and a higher admiration for his former subordinate after Arthur became Vice-President than he had before supposed he could entertain. [336]

When the assassination of Garfield culminated in his death Grant met Arthur at the funeral; the whilom Custom House Collector was now the Head of the Nation, and preceded the ex-President in the procession that followed Garfield's remains. Almost immediately afterward they were traveling together by train on some occasion before Arthur had taken any step of importance in his new situation. Grant told me repeatedly that Arthur especially asked his advice and assistance in the composition of his Cabinet, and it was at Grant's suggestion that Frelinghuysen was selected as Secretary of State. General Grant also strongly urged Governor Morgan for Secretary of the Treasury, and that nomination was made. But Morgan declined the appointment, and then Grant suggested the name of John Jacob Astor. I was at the General's house on the evening of October 25, 1881, conversing about the situation after the family had gone to bed, and I mentioned the return of Mr. Astor, who had come over in the same ship with me from England a week or two before. Grant at once said that Astor would be an excellent man for the Treasury, especially in the crisis created by Morgan's refusal to serve. I urged him to present his views promptly, and that night he sent this dispatch to the President:

Astor has returned from Europe. Might not he accept temporarily?

A day or two afterward he told Mr. Astor of his action; that gentleman was greatly surprised, and while expressing his gratification at General Grant's good opinion, declared that he had no desire to enter the Cabinet. The recommendation, however, was not taken, and Folger was eventually appointed Secretary of the Treasury, a selection which at the time was entirely acceptable to General Grant; although afterward Folger became so hostile as to order Grant's picture taken down from his room in the Treasury. Just here it [337] may not be amiss to say that General Grant also recommended Mr. Astor for the position of Minister to England, but Arthur prefered to retain Mr. Lowell, who had been one of his own most caustic critics and outspoken opponents.

These suggestions were all made at the instance and invitation of the President, but after a while Arthur ceased to defer to General Grant or to desire his advice. The new ruler did not refuse to listen to his predecessor, but he seldom followed Grant's counsel after the first months of his Administration. It was not unnatural that the man who had become Chief Magistrate should think himself fully capable for all his duties, and prefer after a very short trial to carry out his own ideas and follow his own purposes. The change indeed was almost inevitable from the follower—suddenly elevated to so dizzy a height and at first willing to be counseled and guided by one whom he had so long looked up to as chief—to the actual potentate distributing offices and emoluments and honors, and able to grant favors or refuse them to the very man who had once benefited and promoted him. It was perhaps just as natural that the other should mark the change and feel it acutely, and should find a bearing more imperious than he thought necessary or appropriate in the new President toward the old. Their relations very soon became strained.

Nevertheless Grant was invited to pay a visit at the Executive Mansion, and in the first winter of Arthur's Presidency he returned as a guest to the house from which he had once directed the affairs of the nation, and had issued the commission of Collector to Chester A. Arthur, of New York. The circumstance could hardly have been without a disagreeable suggestion now, and Arthur had not the tact to disguise it. He maintained all the consequence that once had been Grant's but was now his own, and more than once his etiquette made the ex-President remember the change in their positions. Grant's situation was in different ways unpleasant at this time. He had several especial requests to make of the President [338] in regard to Cabinet appointments, foreign missions, and other matters of importance, but besides this he was beset during all the period of his visit by office-hunters without either consequence or intimacy, who were anxious to engage what they supposed his influence with Arthur in their own behalf. Army officers, personal friends, old political adherents, needy relatives, all came to him. It was impossible to do a tithe of what they asked, but their importunities forced him to say more than he wished to Arthur. Doubtless this increased the delicacy of his relations with the President, till finally Arthur actually evaded the company of his guest; and the visit terminated with a less degree of cordiality on either side than had existed at the beginning.

The change in their feelings, however, was not purely personal. It soon became evident that Mr. Arthur did not intend, as President, to hold the same relations he had once maintained, not only with Grant and Conkling, but with the wing of the party which they led. For this change the other side of course applauded him, but it was not to be supposed that the approbation could extend to those who thought themselves deserted. What was called impartiality by some seemed to others abandonment of principle; and when Arthur, the third term advocate, called into his Cabinet William E. Chandler, the man who had done most at Chicago to defeat the third term, the climax was reached. Grant's disappointment at this selection was greater because he had recommended his personal friend, General Beale, for the place. But his recommendations by this time had ceased to carry any weight with the President.

As early as February 16, 1882, Grant wrote to me: ‘To this time the President has seemed averse to making any removals, no matter how offensive the parties in place have been to him and his friends. I hope this will not continue.’ On the 23d of February, 1883, he wrote to me of the President: ‘He seems more afraid of his enemies, and through [339] this fear influenced by them, than guided either by his judgment, personal feelings, or friendly influences. I hope he will prove me wrong in this judgment.’

The months went on and the time for making Presidential nominations approached. On December 24, 1883, Grant wrote to me: ‘It is now understood that there is no concealment of Mr. Arthur's candidacy. At this time no other person turns up, so that unless there is a change within the next sixty days he will be renominated without much opposition. I feel, however, that he will not get the nomination, although it is impossible to predict who may.’ On the 30th of March, 1884, he said: ‘The President is now openly a candidate for the nomination in June next and knows well that I am opposed to it.’ In the same letter he said: ‘Judging from the past I doubt much whether any appointments will be made until after the action of the Chicago Convention in June is made. There are now many vacancies existing, some of which have existed for a year and over, and among them very important offices for which no nominations have yet been sent to the Senate—offices such as judges of United States Courts for the States and Territories, United States Marshals, etc., which must cause great inconvenience to the public service and the States and Territories where these vacancies exist.’

On the 8th of April in the same year he wrote to me from Washington: ‘The Administration has seemed to me to be a sort of ad interim one, endeavoring to offend no one and to avoid positive action which would draw criticism. Probably the Administration has fewer enemies outspoken than any preceding it. It has fewer positive hearty friends than any except Hayes's, probably. But Arthur will probably go into the Convention second in the number of supporters, when he would not probably have a single vote if it was not for his army of officials and the vacancies he has to fill.’

Arthur was not nominated, and I cannot recollect that [340] Grant ever met him again. They had, however, one other difference which increased the bitterness of Grant's feeling. In 1883, General Grant came to the conclusion that as President, he had done Fitz John Porter a wrong in not allowing him a second trial; he accordingly set himself to studying the papers, and after careful examination became convinced that Porter was innocent of the charge of which he had been convicted. He at once determined to do whatever he could to right the wrong he thought he had helped to inflict. His course provoked much opposition; he risked the friendship of Logan and incurred the disapproval of many of his closest political and military associates; but he persisted in what he had undertaken, and doubtless his efforts contributed largely to the reversal of Porter's sentence, which was finally accomplished. Then the effort was made to restore Porter to the army, and a bill passed both houses of Congress, authorizing the President to replace him in his former rank. Grant took the liveliest interest in this effort, writing in its favor in the public press, and addressing the President himself on the subject, as well as members of the Cabinet. But Arthur vetoed the bill, on the ground that his dignity was infringed by the action of Congress in designating a person by name whom he was to appoint. Grant was extremely disappointed, and criticised both the action and the motives of the President with acerbity.

Soon after this followed Grant's financial misfortunes, and a bill was introduced in Congress to restore him to his former rank in the army; but Mr. Arthur made it known that he should oppose the measure on the same grounds as those on which he had vetoed the bill restoring Fitz John Porter. General Grant was incensed at this action on the part of the President; he said that he had not been court-martialed, and his remarks upon the dignity that Arthur was so anxious to protect were not complimentary to the Chief Magistrate. Nevertheless Arthur had no desire to prevent [341] Grant's restoration to the army of which he had so long been the head; he simply was more anxious to preserve his own consistency than to relieve the mortification or retrieve the misfortunes of the dying hero.

After a long wrangle and a delay of months, Congress and the President came to terms, and a bill was passed which gave Arthur the right to name whom he chose for the position of retired General of the Army. This was signed by the President in the last hours of the expiring Congress, and the nomination of Grant was the closing act of Arthur's official existence; but it came too late to relieve the anxieties of the suffering soldier, and it was so long deferred that the new commission of Grant was signed by Cleveland.

Arthur and Cleveland both attended the funeral of their great predecessor; and as in so many instances Grant had followed to the tomb those whom he had opposed in life, it was now his turn to be borne before the soldiers he had conquered and the politicians whose principles he had contested or whose careers he had disapproved.

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