Political “Machines” are one of the best examples of corruption in American government. One of the most famous of these Machines is the Tammany Hall Machine, which ruled New York from 1854 to 1932. The best example of a modern-day political Machine can be found in the city of Chicago. Richard J. Daley took over as Mayor of Chicago in 1955 and remained in that office until his death in 1976. This was by no means, however, the start of a new Machine, as Daley himself rose to the office of Mayor simply as a product of the Kelly-Nash Machine, which had ruled Chicago politics since at least 1928, and some argue even prior to World War I. The Daley Machine, still very much alive, is today headed by Daley’s son, Richard M. Daley. This Daley rose to prominence while an active member of his father’s Machine, first serving as a State Senator in 1973, then Cook County State’s Attorney in 1980, and finally Mayor of Chicago in 1989, an office which he still holds today. This Machine, which still rules Chicago, has arguably been in place for close to a century. One of the most famous “products”, if you will, of the Daley Machine is John F. Kennedy. Kennedy was seeking the Democratic nomination to run for President in 1960, and knew that in order to secure this nomination he needed the approval of Mayor Daley. Daley instructs him to win some state primaries and he will throw his full support behind him. The Daley Machine was so powerful that, with the help of Kennedy’s father, they were able to win the Democratic primaries of West Virginia and Wisconsin. This, of course, they accomplished by corruption; they rigged the elections. With the help and support of the Machine, Kennedy would go on not only to secure the Democratic nomination, but win the election and the Office of President. Once elected, who was the first person he invited to the White House? You guessed it – Richard J. Daley. As Daley would often boast, “We were the first family invited to the White House.” (Royko, 1971, pg. 125) Now, it is at this point that the question must be asked: Was Kennedy, who ascended to the Presidency through corruption, morally obligated to expose and combat such corruption? Would it have even been possible? Would it have been hazardous to his personal health and professional career to even attempt such a feat? History provides another man who was in an eerily similar situation to Kennedy, and even ascended to the Presidency under much more suspicious circumstances; his being in the form of an assassination. This man was also the product of a corrupt political Machine, but even more so than Kennedy. This president, while in the Machine, was seen as the protégé of the Machine’s leader. The White House biography of this president, which can be found at www.whitehouse.gov, says that, “Publisher Alexander K. McClure recalled, “No man ever entered the Presidency so profoundly and widely distrusted, and no one ever retired ... more generally respected.” This man being talked about is Chester Alan Arthur. Indeed, this historical correlation is one that deserves closer attention. Chester Alan Arthur is a president that Kennedy should have paid more attention to. Arthur was seen as the protégé of Roscoe Conkling, the head of the Stalwart Republican Machine in New York. Everything that Arthur had achieved in his political career he owed to the Stalwart Machine. In 1871, he received his appointment as Collector of the Port of New York from President Grant as a reward for his service in the Machine to help Grant get elected. Rutherford B. Hayes, the president who succeeded Grant, was political opponents with Conkling and ousted Arthur from his post. However, when Garfield made his bid for the Oval Office in 1880, he stood no chance without the support of New York, and so he struck a deal with the Stalwart’s for Arthur to be his Vice President. Here is where everything gets very interesting. Arthur, even while Vice President, continued to stand beside Conkling and the patronage, or “spoils” system in politics. Everything came to a head on July 2, 1881 when Garfield was assassinated by Charles Guiteau, who exclaimed, “I am a Stalwart of the Stalwarts! Arthur is President now!” Guiteau had been wanting a government job, and knew that Arthur was a product of the spoils system, of political Machines, and assumed that when he was made President that the system would take off on a national level. One may tend to think that Kennedy was not as obligated as Arthur to reform, because he was not as much of a product of the Machine as was Arthur. However, as Royko points out, “Kennedy himself had said Daley had won it for him.” (Royko, 1971, pg. 125) Kennedy owed just as much to the Daley Machine as Arthur did to the Stalwart Machine – both were put in the same office, the highest in the land, by the Machine. The difference between the two of them was how they responded to this corruption once they had sworn in. Let us first briefly analyze these two Machines just to show how powerful they both were. Royko goes to great lengths to demonstrate just how powerful the Daley Machine, and more specifically, Daley, was. He shows how encompassing the Machine was, and how far it’s poisonous tentacles extended into the American political arena. As we have said, the Machine was powerful enough to whisk John F. Kennedy into the Oval Office. In control of this Machine was Daley, perhaps the most powerful man in America. Royko says, addressing Daley’s power, that, “From where Daley sits, alone atop the Machine, he sees all the parts, and his job is to keep them functioning properly.” (Royko, 1971, pg. 73) As Mayor of Chicago, Daley’s job was anything but running Chicago! That was the job of the Machine, and only part of the Machine at that. Daley’s job was far more important than running Chicago; he ran the Machine. As the Commander-in-Chief of the Machine, Daley was also responsible for running the spoils system that comes with any Machine. Royko also talks about how Daley effectively kept civil service and all of its reforms out of Chicago and everywhere else that the Machine was involved. His most telling quote is that, “civil service reform efforts hurt the Machine. Some of this damage has been undone by Daley, however, who let civil service jobs slip back into patronage by giving tests infrequently or making them so difficult that few can pass.” (Royko, 1971, pg. 69) The Machine indeed was impregnable, and the only way that it could be defeated would be from within. Somebody who knew of the corruption, and more importantly of its extent, would be the only person with the understanding of how, and motivation to, defeat it. John F. Kennedy was in the perfect position. He was powerful enough; no single person in this country is more powerful than the President. So why did Kennedy do nothing to dismantle this Machine? The answer, and the difference in him and Arthur, is because Kennedy had not seen the full extent of the corruption caused by political Machines like Daley’s. Now, let us describe the power of the Stalwart Machine in New York. On March 17, 1884 the New York Times published an article describing the Stalwart Machine, and talks in great extent about the role of Arthur within the Machine. The title of this article is “The Stalwart Machine: How it is Proposed to Secure Arthur Delegates.” The subtitle reads, “Deep Laid Schemes to Thwart the Wishes of the Electors – Buying up Workers with Federal Offices.” (New York Times, March 17, 1884) It sounds like Daley took his playbook from the Stalwart Machine! The article says that, “the only way to get a respectable showing of Arthur delegates is to steal them.” It says that Arthur would never win any office without the backing of the Machine, citing that, “only downright thievery can procure Arthur votes.” (New York Times, March, 17, 1884) The Stalwart Machine was so powerful that Conkling, perhaps the most corrupt man in America, secured a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, which he turned down. Like the Daley Machine in Chicago, no one worked for the government in New York unless they were part of the Stalwart Machine. So powerful was the Stalwart Machine that when President Rutherford B. Hayes tried to implement civil service and destroy it, he succeeded only moderately. The best example of this is when he successfully had Arthur removed from his local post in New York, only the next year to see him sworn in as Vice President! The Machine can only be destroyed from within, and Arthur took that mantle upon himself. Arthur was a very “Daleyan” figure. He was a product of the Machine, in every sense. He started at the bottom and worked his way up to the top. He rode the coattails of the Machine all the way to the Oval Office, basically earning nothing by his own merits, except for loyalty to the party and hard work for them, and the same can be said for Daley. The difference is that Daley used his power simply to garner even more power, and Arthur used his power to dismantle the power of those like Daley. When Garfield was assassinated by a “Stalwart of the Stalwarts”, it cannot be understated the effect that this must have had on Arthur. Here was the epitome of evil that comes from corrupt political Machines. Daley, while he never assassinated anyone, oversaw and even approved acts that were no less evil than this; his controversial “shoot-to-kill” order is the best example. A political Machine is inherently evil, and, like Arthur, Kennedy would have seen this as well. One does not go about rigging a state-wide election without some serious injustices being committed, as Kennedy, at bare minimum, would certainly have known about, and perhaps even seen with his own eyes. Kennedy was just as much obligated to go after Daley and was Arthur to go after Conkling. But, alas, Kennedy did nothing and the Daley Machine is still at work today. Not only did Kennedy do nothing, but he invited Daley to the White House and treated him like a “king maker” rather the corrupt, political boss that he was. (Royko, 1971, pg. 125) John F. Kennedy even had a single piece of legislation that he could have looked at and used as the basis of his own civil service reform. This piece of legislation was the “Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act”, passed on January 16, 1883 during Arthur’s presidency. It was the beginning of the end of not only the Stalwart political Machine, but also of the immense corruption of the spoils system that was, at that time, rampant throughout all levels of government. John F. Kennedy, unlike Arthur, felt that he owed everything to Daley, when really he owed everything to the American people. He had Daley to thank for his office, but he had the American people to protect from Daley. Let there be no doubt that Kennedy knew of the corruption that was present in the Daley Machine. Even if he did not know the full extent of it, he knew enough to know of its evils. There can, therefore, be no excuse for his failure to act. “Oh well, Kennedy knew nothing but corruption, because of his father, Joe Kennedy. You can’t blame him, because that was all he knew.” So was the case for Chester Arthur. The man literally had nothing except what the Machine had given him. Every office he had ever held, he had attained through corruption. “Well, Kennedy was indebted to Daley for getting him elected to political office”; as was Arthur to Conkling, and probably even more so than Kennedy was to Daley. History seems to have forgotten Chester Alan Arthur, but let us not underestimate the incredible example that he sets for all future government officials at all levels. Since most people in America would not even recognize the name of Chester Arthur, it leaves no doubt that the vast majority have no knowledge of just how corrupt his career was, if not him personally as well. This being the case, it is fitting that it be included various descriptions of Arthur’s character and connections by historians and political scientists. Thomas Reeves wrote an article describing Arthur in which he calls him “A loyal Stalwart” (Reeves, 1969, pg. 630) Calling him a Stalwart alone is calling him corrupt, but to call him a loyal Stalwart puts him a new category of corrupt! Reeves, also speaking of how incredibly corrupt Conkling was, talks about “Roscoe Conkling's Stalwart machine” and its “chief lieutenant Arthur.” (Reeves, 1969, pg. 629) To call Arthur Conkling’s “chief lieutenant” is to akin him to the General of Satan’s Army! David Lindsey, specifically addressing Arthur’s political career and rise to power constantly puts him in the light of “his earlier Machine politician-spoilsman aura.” (Lindsey, 1982, pg. 73) This description speaks to Arthur’s characteristics, his personal traits, what made him who he was. In light of these descriptions, it is hard to imagine Arthur as the President who becomes known for civil service reform. What makes him even more unlikely to be remembered as such was that, as part of the Stalwart Machine, he himself was the victim of civil reform initiated by President Rutherford B. Hayes. As Reeves describes it, “Control of the spoils system in New York had been at the root of the clash between Conkling and Hayes.” (Reeves, 1969, pg. 632) This “clash” would be what would cost Arthur his very lucrative job as Collector of the Port of New York. George F. Howe says the exact same thing as Reeves, just in different words. He talks at length about Hayes’ “investigation, which had been largely directed against the "spoils system" of appointments to the custom house staff…” (Howe, 1931, pg. 357) The “custom house staff” was exactly what Arthur was a part of, and how he himself, like so many others personal friends of his, made their living. Their livelihood was stripped from them by civil service reform! Howe says that, “The removal of Arthur…was undertaken by Hayes' administration in the name of civil service reform” and was “the first great step in an effort to divorce party leadership from governmental administrative work.” (Howe, 1931, pg. 362) Everything Arthur had was because of the relationship between party leadership and governmental administrative work. So when Garfield was assassinated by a “Stalwart of the Stalwarts” there can be no doubt that everybody who knew anything about Arthur expected Hayes’ actions to be undone. With all of these circumstances surrounding Arthur, he of all people was the least likely to rage against the Machine. In spite of all of this, Arthur becomes the father of civil service. He Kennedy not to do the same to Daley. What Kennedy would have had to do to face Daley would have been a stroll in the park, a cake walk, compared to what Arthur had to do to face Conkling. As David Lindsey put it, “Arthur did show real courage” when he “sought to eliminate shoddy public administration practice.” (Lindsey, 1982, pg. 74) May all of America’s future presidents be Arthur’s and not Kennedy’s.
Howe, George F. (1931). The New York Custom-House Controversy, 1877-1879. The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Vol. 18, No. 3, pgs. 350-363. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1891404
Lindsey, David. (1982). Review: Rehabilitating the Presidents: Garfield, Arthur, McKinley. Reviews in American History, Vol. 10, No. 1, pgs. 72-77 Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2701798
No author listed. (1884, March 17). “The Stalwart Machine: How it is Proposed to Secure Arthur Delegates. Deep Laid Schemes to Thwart the Wishes of the Electors – Buying up Workers with Federal Offices.” New York Times (New York, NY), Retrieved June 30, 2010 from http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=9800E7D9113BE033A25754C1A9659C94659FD7CF
Reeves, Thomas C. (1969). Chester A. Arthur and the Campaign of 1880. Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 84, No. 4, pgs. 628-637. Retrieved from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2147128
Royko, Mike. (1971). BOSS: Richard J. Daley of Chicago. New York, NY: Penguin Books USA. Chester Alan Arthur - America's 21st President. Study the man; he's all but forgotten in American history and he should by no means be.
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