The Life and Times of Chester A. Arthur (2017)
In scandal after scandal, Grant defended the rogues in his administration, and it was only a matter of time until the spotlight on corruption found the Customs House. The Customs House, it was discovered, in effect owed the federal government $1.75m, which was settled down to $217k. Even so, Congress continued to investigate, and Arthur continued to claim that he knew nothing about anything fraudulent occurring under his watch. In June 1874, Congress passed the Anti-Moiety Act (unanimously in the House, nearly so in the Senate). Arthur’s salary went from $56k/yr to a fixed salary of $12k/yr; Arthur was still the collector at the Customs House, but the base on which he stood was no longer as stout.
On 12 June 1876, two days before the convention, the New York state delegation voted 68-2 in support of Conkling, but that was only about 20% of what he needed to secure the nomination; Conkling’s enemies would make sure that he never got enough delegates. On 14 June 1876, the Republican National Convention started, and the magic number to get the nomination was 756 delegates. With Samuel Tilden the sure nominee from the Democrats, the Republicans understood that they couldn’t nominate a candidate that had close ties to Grant. On the first ballot, Conkling only received 99 votes, and by the 6th ballot, Hayes won the nomination. Arthur was disappointed in the result, but he was a pragmatist, and he moved on.
Hayes was a supporter of civil service reform, and had no ties to Grant, and no known enemies. After his nomination, Hayes proclaimed that he would end the Spoils System as President. But Hayes would his campaign for the Presidency with political baggage weighing him down, in that the Republicans were the party to blame for the depression that started with the Panic of 1873, and then there were the numerous scandals under the Grant administration (e.g. the Credit Mobilier Scandal). The Republicans desperately needed money to finance the Hayes campaign, and Arthur was the one that came to the rescue. Arthur, using money skimmed from the Customs House, worked to finance the Hayes campaign. Conkling, however, initially refused to campaign for Hayes, and when he eventually (and reluctantly) agreed to do so, he didn’t mention Hayes in his speeches.
Hayes knew that shenanigans were being used to help him win the election, and he looked the other way, preferring to focus on reform after he was elected. The Republican machinations continued to the Electoral College, and then to the Compromise of 1877 to officially get Hayes elected President. With the inauguration of Hayes as President on 5 March 1877, it seemed that shadows were forming over Conkling’s and Arthur’s fiefdoms in New York.
When Conkling returned from Paris, Conkling kept his mouth shut on the topic of Hayes despite many opportunities to lambast the President. In a letter to Arthur, Sherman stated that he would be removed as collector, and then a few days later publicly stated so. When Arthur and Sherman met on 17 September 1877, Sherman offered Arthur the consulship in Paris, and Arthur said he would consider the offer. Sherman dared to believe that he just may have avoided intra-party strife.
A week later was the New York State Republican Convention, and Conkling finally went on the attack and unloaded on Hayes for a full two hours. A few days later Arthur notified Sherman that he had refused the consulship to Paris, and would not resign as collector. Hayes had offered Arthur and other spoils system Republicans a chance to step aside gracefully, but now the President would go on the offensive. With a new Congress about to convene, Hayes decided to nominate men he considered top-notch to replace the rogues that had defied him.
On 30 November 1877, the Commerce Committee unanimously rejected Hayes’ nominations for the Customs House, including TR, Sr. Conkling convinced his fellow Senators to immediately reconvene in session, which meant that Hayes would not be able to suspend Arthur and replace him with TR Sr. as acting collector. Hayes resubmitted his nominations, and again the Commerce Committee under Conkling’s leadership voted against TR Sr. Then, after six hours of debate on the floor, the Senate defeated the nomination of TR Sr 31 - 25, and of course, Arthur was elated when he heard the news.
In 1878, with the Democrats having gained a majority in the Senate after the Congressional Elections, Hayes was able to replace Arthur as collector, and there was nothing Conkling to do about it. Arthur landed on his feet and re-entered his law practice in NYC, and with his myriad of connections he thrived. Conkling and Arthur focused on the next Presidential Election in 1880, where they hoped to set things right. Hayes had only stated that he would serve one term, and Conkling wanted a Republican in the White House that was to his liking so the decisions made by “His Fraudulency” would be erased. Conkling and Arthur’s man for the White House in 1880: former President Ulysses S. Grant. In 1879, Republicans triumphed in the statewide New York elections, including the state legislature and governor. It was also in 1879 that Arthur would become a widower, losing his wife who died at the age of 42.