Chester Arthur vs. Joe Biden
Lawrence W. Reed, a resident of Newnan, is President Emeritus of the Foundation for Economic Education. His most recent book is “Was Jesus a Socialist? He can be contacted at [email protected]
When Chester Alan Arthur was sworn in as the 21st President of the United States and vowed to uphold the Constitution, the country’s expectations of him were low. It was September 20, 1881, 140 years ago.
Arthur was pushed onto the 1880 Republican ticket as a running mate with presidential candidate James Garfield. Much of the country yawned and asked, “Chester who?
Then President Garfield was gunned down by a disgruntled job seeker in July 1881, just four months after his term began. He died 11 weeks later, catapulting Arthur to the White House as an accidental president. He served Garfield’s sentence and did a pretty good job.
Historians today present a bias for “activist” presidents. They praise those who enlarged the state and tortured the Constitution until it confessed powers never intended for the federal government. For the most part, Arthur has not walked these dead end roads, so he is classified as “immemorable” and “mediocre”.
Considering today’s gigantic “infrastructure” bills, we have to think about what President Arthur wrote when he struck down the Rivers and Ports Act on August 1, 1882. The Bill reportedly earmarked money “for the construction, repair and preservation of certain works on rivers and ports, and for other purposes.”
Arthur noted that while some of the bills in the bill were “clearly for the general welfare and most beneficial in character,” the rest were what we would today call shameless “pork barrel” spending. He wrote,
I consider such an appropriation of public money to be beyond the powers conferred by the Constitution on Congress and the President. I feel compelled to withdraw my signature from the bill because of the particular evils which clearly result from this constitutional violation. Credits of this nature, to be spent only on local objects, tend to increase in number and amount. As the citizens of one state find that the money they collect in common with the whole country is taxed to be spent on local improvements in another state, they demand similar benefits for themselves … thus, as the bill gets more reprehensible, he gets more support.
Arthur drew attention to the ripple effect of government spending. The more politicians throw away other people’s money, the more people want to participate, even those who were not initially looking for it. Other terms for what’s going on here are “demagoguery,” “vote-buying,” and – let’s be bluntly honest here – downright moral and financial corruption.
Today’s big spenders in Washington would consider it humiliating to their vaunted intellect to suggest that a long-dead Chester Arthur could teach them anything. This is variously called hubris, ignorance, sufficiency, bigotry, vanity and sufficiency. It is the same pomp with which the arrogant and swaggering demagogues of ancient Rome demolished the Roman Republic first, and then later the Roman Empire as well.
We can think of Chester Arthur as a person, but I wish we could put him in a room today with the incompetent and unscrupulous Joe Biden to talk about infrastructure spending. My bet is that in two minutes Chester would have tied Joe in knots of his own making.
Lawrence W. Reed, a resident of Newnan, is President Emeritus of the Foundation for Economic Education. His most recent book is “Was Jesus a Socialist? »He can be contacted at [email protected].