The Life and Times of Chester A. Arthur (2017)
In short, the government could regulate state laws (if it wanted to do so), but it couldn’t regulate the behavior of individual citizens. Arthur, from personal experience as a lawyer in NYC, knew what harm individual and collective bigotry could produce not only in the South, but throughout the nation. Arthur was enlightened with race relations compared to the vast majority of his countrymen in the early-1880s. In his 3rd Annual Message to Congress, Arthur challenged Congress to pass a meaningful civil rights bill, but he didn’t send Chandler (or anyone else) to lobby for the bill. The chances of passage were slim, but there would have been honor in trying.
The Stalwarts considered Arthur a traitor, and Grant viewed Arthur as merely an interim President with fewer political connections that even Hayes. Reformers didn’t think Arthur went far enough on civil service reform, and the “Half-Breeds” believed that the time had come for their man, James G. Blaine to be the nominee. Privately, Blaine viewed Arthur as a political lightweight, a social butterfly. NYC businessmen were in Arthur’s corner, however, and conventional wisdom had Arthur locking up the New York delegation before the convention. Chandler, who would head the New Hampshire delegation and manage Arthur’s nomination effort believed that if Arthur used his Presidential influence, the nomination was possible . . . even likely.
Arthur couldn’t serve another term as President, but he didn’t want to bow out of the race for the nomination and look politically weak. So, Arthur believed it would be best to lose the nomination while it looked like he tried to win. In Chicago, Representative John Lynch (MS) was nominated to be the temporary chair of the convention by 25 year old Theodore Roosevelt, and Lynch was elected. As the convention progressed, Arthur simply refused to indulge in any patronage wheeling-and-dealing to gain delegates, and the result of the first ballot was Blaine 334, and Arthur 278.
Assistance from President Arthur might have made a difference in a very close election. Cleveland won the popular vote by only 57k out of 10 million votes cast, In the Electoral College, it was Cleveland 219 and Blaine 182, and the difference was New York and its 36 Electoral Votes. The margin for Cleveland in the New York vote was only 1,107 of out 1.7 million votes; Arthur’s immense influence in his home state could have led to Blaine carrying New York and being elected President. Arthur kept up appearances after the election, but he longed for the end of his term, and after Cleveland’s inauguration, Arthur headed back to NYC.
On 23 July 1885, former President Ulysses S. Grant died of throat cancer, and Arthur was among those that worked to get donations for Grant’s ornate monument. Arthur’s last public appearance was in late-1885. In April 1886, the New York Times disclosed that Arthur had Bright’s Disease, and that his days were numbered. On 18 November 1886, the 57 year old former President died, and in the days after Arthur’s death, even Democratic newspapers praised his Presidency. In 1888, at age 59, Roscoe Conkling died from complications following almost getting buried alive in snow while out-and-about during the Blizzard of 1888 in New York City.