Perhaps the earliest Treasury Secretary appointment to have reached the market.
Arthur is perhaps the most underrated president in American history. In the 1870’s he was Collector of the Port of New York, the nation’s premium patronage job, and a firm believer in, and practitioner of, the spoils system. Under that system, party machines controlled patronage and jobs, and corruption was rife. Arthur...
Arthur is perhaps the most underrated president in American history. In the 1870’s he was Collector of the Port of New York, the nation’s premium patronage job, and a firm believer in, and practitioner of, the spoils system. Under that system, party machines controlled patronage and jobs, and corruption was rife. Arthur was also a darling of the stalwart, anti-reform segment of the Republican Party, and was nominated for vice president in 1880 as a reward to them to gain their support for presidential nominee James A. Garfield.
Arthur unexpectedly became President when Garfield was assassinated, and once in office confounded all expectations. He saw his duty as no longer limited to party or supporters, but expanded to encompass what he sincerely thought was best for the country. He shocked everyone by becoming a firm champion of civil service reform. In 1883, he saw through Congress the Pendleton Act, which established that government jobs should be awarded on the basis of merit instead of political affiliation. It established a bipartisan Civil Service Commission, forbade levying political assessments against officeholders, and provided for a classified system that made certain government positions obtainable only through competitive written examinations. The system also protected employees against removal for political reasons. Arthur’s achievement was extraordinary, as this was the greatest measure of governmental self-regulation passed up to that date. Publisher Alexander K. McClure recalled, “No man ever entered the Presidency so profoundly and widely distrusted, and no one ever retired…more generally respected.”
President Arthur was in grief for his wife, who had died in 1880, and by 1882 was feeling very fatigued and physically ill. He was examined, likely by the Surgeon General, and diagnosed with Bright’s disease, a fatal kidney condition. By March 1883 his steadily worsening physical problems now involved his heart, and he was obese, withdrawn and described as “not himself”. In the winter of 1883-1884, he had hypertension, and his associates noted that at night while socializing his face was lined, his eyes dulled. He died in 1886, just one year after leaving office. One wonders if knowing he had a terminal illness helped Arthur rise above the limitations of his previous character.
Probably because of his health, letters of Arthur as President are uncommon, and good content ones virtually non-existent. The best ALS to reach the public market in the past forty years extended an invitation, and LS bade farewell to Garfield’s secretary. It is likewise with documents. The available items are routine military appointments and signed Executive Mansion cards, with an occasional non-military appointment – such as for a postmaster- thrown in. We can find record of only two significant documents signed by Arthur reaching the market: one was an affix the seal to a proclamation for a day of mourning for President Garfield, and this cabinet appointment of a Secretary of the Treasury.
Document signed as President, Washington, September 24, 1884, an extremely rare signed presidential cabinet appointment, naming Walter Q. Gresham as Secretary of the Treasury. The document is countersigned by Secretary of State Frederick Frelinghuysen, and dated 19 days after Gresham actually began serving. It states that it is valid “until the end of the next session of the Senate”, which would be Arthur’s final day in office.
Gresham’s term as Treasury Secretary was marked by his advocacy of tax cuts. He believed that the budget surplus (yes, surplus) should be reduced by a cut in Customs duties. He stated that ”public credit has been so firmly established and the public debt so largely reduced that we can now safely reduce taxation within the demands of the law.” A believer in sound money, Gresham felt that the only way to keep government currency afloat as legal tender was for the government to keep enough gold in the Treasury to meet the demand of notes presented.
One of Sherman’s generals in the Atlanta campaign, Gresham was seriously wounded and went home to Indiana. In 1869 President Grant named him Judge of the U.S. District Court for Indiana. From 1883-1884, Gresham was Arthur’s Postmaster General. In September 1884, he succeeded Charles J. Folger as Secretary of the Treasury, but after serving two months resigned to accept an appointment to a seat on the U.S. Circuit Court for the Seventh Circuit. Gresham was a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 1884 and 1888, in the latter year leading for some time in the balloting. His 1888 candidacy was supported by several notable agrarian unions, but he lost to fellow Indiana Republican Benjamin Harrison. He grew out of sympathy with the Republican leaders and policy, and in 1892 advocated the election of Grover Cleveland over Harrison. Cleveland rewarded him by making him Secretary of State. Thus, Gresham held three cabinet-level offices, one of only seven people to do so in American history.
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