The Assassin Who Helped Create the Deep State

My latest in The American Thinker:

By now it is abundantly clear that President Trump faces furious opposition not just from the Democrats, the establishment Republicans, and the mainstream media, but from a shadowy, determined cabal of unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats who are deeply embedded in the government: the “deep state.” Paradoxically, the ability of such a cabal to grow and operate freely can be traced back in American history to well-meaning efforts to end government corruption — as well as to the evil act of one deranged assassin.

As Rating America’s Presidents: An America-First Look at Who Is Best, Who Is Overrated, and Who Was An Absolute Disaster explains, today’s deep state is a result of efforts to reform what was known as the “spoils system.” In 1828, Andrew Jackson was elected president on promises to end the hegemony of a privileged aristocracy, and to drain that swamp, he would need his own men in key positions. He removed a large number of civil service employees and replaced them with men of his own faction, which came to be known as the Democracy, or Democratic Party. This came to be known as the spoils system, after the old adage “To the victor belong the spoils.” This practice led to numerous incompetent people being placed in positions of responsibility; after the Civil War, a movement grew to remedy that problem by making civil service jobs based on merit rather than party affiliation.

In 1880, a champion of civil service reform, James A. Garfield, was nominated for president by the Republicans; to mollify the Stalwarts, or Republicans who favored the spoils system, the vice-presidential nod went to Chester Alan Arthur, a man who had been fired from his job as Collector of the Port of New York by President Rutherford B. Hayes for ignoring Hayes’s civil service reform executive order forbidding forcing federal officers to make campaign contributions.

The Garfield/Arthur ticket won, and immediately as president, Garfield pushed for measures that would end it. When a scheme to steal the public revenues was discovered in the Post Office Department, he moved swiftly, firing those implicated and calling for the prosecution of anyone involved, no matter how high a position he occupied. Accompanying this was his insistence on adopting a merit-based system that would, he hoped, reduce corruption by removing federal offices from the realm of partisan politics. He did not live to see this come to fruition.

Garfield had only been president for four months when, on July 2, 1881, he and Secretary of State James G. Blaine were walking through the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station in Washington, on their way to board a train to spend part of the summer in New Jersey, away from the heat of the capital. Just then, a man stepped up behind Garfield and fired his gun twice at the president, hitting him in the back and arm, and crying, “I am a Stalwart and now Arthur is President!”

That man was Charles Guiteau, who has been described in so many history books as a “disappointed office seeker” that the label has practically become a Homeric epithet. A disappointed office seeker Guiteau undeniably was, but he was much more than that. After repeatedly pressing Chester Arthur for a chance to campaign for the Garfield/Arthur ticket during the 1880 campaign, Arthur relented, likely just to end his harassment, and Guiteau delivered his speech, “Garfield against Hancock,” a single time. Guiteau thought he was owed a federal office as a result and had pestered White House officials repeatedly for a chance to see Garfield, who did meet with him at least once, and then Blaine in order to make his case for an appointment as consul to France.

There is much more. Read the rest here.

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