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Not with Unbroken Calm

March 30, 2016

The election of 1880 had been very close, and Senator Roscoe Conkling thought President Garfield owed him for delivering New York’s electoral votes. He became very upset when Garfield made some appointments against his advice. When Conkling couldn’t get his way, he and the junior U.S. Senator from New York resigned in protest, hoping to be vindicated by the state legislature. Meanwhile, Charles Guiteau, an unstable fellow who had watched events from a distance, and who mistook the President’s accessibility as affirmation of Guiteau’s unrealistic ambitions, shot Garfield on July 2, 1881. For 80 days the nation received regular bulletins regarding the President’s condition. His death was followed by a week of ceremonies culminating in his Cleveland funeral on September 26.

Two days later Julia Sand wrote to the new President and advised him to pursue a period of national rest and quiet. Although President Arthur had never met Julia Sand and hardly knew who she was, he took her advice very seriously. He began by asking Secretary of State James G. Blaine not to resign. Blaine had been Conkling’s bitterest opponent, and Arthur had been Conkling’s lieutenant. Many expected Arthur to replace Blaine with Conkling, but such a change would not have promoted national rest and quiet. If Blaine would only remain in office until the full Congress convened in December, perhaps other Cabinet Secretaries would follow Blaine’s example. If Blaine and Arthur could work together, the nation would benefit from a period of rest and quiet.

But even with Blaine’s example, Treasury Secretary William Windom resigned. By mid-October Blaine was looking for a way out. As Garfield’s former Secretary of State, Blaine could claim to be Garfield’s legitimate political heir. The longer he stayed with Arthur, the more Arthur’s prospects would be strengthened. Obviously, a period of rest and quiet was not going to be achieved with unbroken calm.

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