I was back at the Library of Congress today. I was looking for some information about Chester Arthur and so began my search in the Presidential Papers indexes. Arthur, like all of the Gilded Age presidents, has been forgotten by history. This is unfortunate because the chief executives sandwiched in between Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt have more to tell us than we realize. Arthur lived less than ten block from the Roosevelts and knew them well. All were members of the Union League Club for one thing. They were also political friends and foes over the years as circumstances varied.
One of the most unfortunate aspects of the Chester Arthur story is that the former president had the bulk of his papers destroyed while he lay on his deathbed. Apparently three trash cans full of material were destroyed the very day before he died in 1886. The family kept a few things while the small remainder was sent from Washington to the basement of his New York City house.
There have been some first rate biographies of Arthur over the years but the full story will never be told. I had known the story of the Arthur Papers for many years, but it was struck home this morning when I saw his index in juxtaposition to Theodore Roosevelt’s.
I took the photo below this morning for comparison. On the left is the full record of Arthur’s papers in the Library of Congress and on the right is Roosevelt’s.