Late Night with Chester Alan Arthur

Mark Steyn’s remarks yesterday on Calvin Coolidge’s 1923 swearing-in, at his home in Plymouth Notch, Vt., remind me that a few blocks from NR World Headquarters is the site of another improvised late-night swearing-in: Chester A. Arthur’s home, where he took the oath of office at 2:15 a.m. on September 20, 1881, after James Garfield’s death. Its ground floor now houses a popular grocery selling many imported items (appropriately for Arthur, the former collector of the port of New York).

There is a plaque below and to the left of the ATM sign. I don’t think you can visit the actual room where Arthur was sworn in; it’s the same building as the one he lived in, but it has been extensively modified (the opposite of Theodore Roosevelt’s birthplace, which is also nearby, and is a different building from the one TR lived in but was constructed and decorated to look as much like his boyhood home as possible).

Like Coolidge, Arthur was a lightly regarded figure who earned grudging respect by the time he left office but remains underappreciated. Also like Coolidge, and in contrast with most recent presidents, Arthur understood that inaction is often the best course. Some enterprising conservative author looking for a biography subject could do worse than to start researching him. (Like Coolidge, by the way, Arthur was a Vermont native, and like our current president, he was hounded by false rumors that he had been born abroad.)

I find myself encountering reminders of Arthur often these days. There is a statue of him in Madison Square Park, a few blocks farther downtown, where I sometimes walk; and when my wife and I were on our honeymoon a couple of years ago, in Sag Harbor, N.Y., we happened upon a nice-looking house with a plaque identifying it as Chester Arthur’s summer home during his presidency.  (The house was later occupied by Lady Caroline Blackwood, the novelist who is also known for having married Lucian Freud and Robert Lowell.) That’s about the most exciting thing you’ll find in Sag Harbor; there’s really not much to do there. I leave it to you to decide whether that makes for a good or bad honeymoon.

Fred Schwarz — Fred Schwarz is a deputy managing editor of National Review.

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