It is profound how one life can impact another for good. When someone is in your corner believing in the very best version of you, the possibilities are infinite.
United States President Chester Arthur found just that type of person in a homebound woman who had the courage to tell the truth. Arthur became the 21st president upon the death of James A. Garfield in September 1881. Anyone who knew anything about Arthur and his raucous ways was wary.
Determined not to follow in his father’s footsteps, a Baptist minister and abolitionist, Arthur became a lawyer and was admitted to the New York bar in 1854.
He became a corrupt political figure who frequented wild parties and had a penchant for showing up late to work. Much of his wealth came by using his appointed position as “collector of the port” in New York City to trade in illegal imports. To make things even worse, it was known that he extorted public employees into contributing to his political forays. Thus, his ascension to the White House had many scratching their heads in amazement, wondering how could someone so dishonest and corrupt ever be a good president.
But Chester Arthur had someone who believed in him. A young woman named Julia Sand who was bedridden and afflicted penned her first letter to the soon to be president in August of 1881. In this letter she wrote, “The people are bowed in grief; but –– do you realize it? –– not so much because Garfield is dying, as because you are his successor.”
She continued, “If there is a spark of true nobility in you, now is the occasion to let it shine. . .Faith in your better nature forces me to write to you –– but not to beg you to resign. But to do what is more difficult and brave, reform!”
Sand continued to write Arthur a total of 23 letters in which she advised him on a wide range of policy matters. And it appears that he heeded her admonitions.
He began by calling on Congress to pass the Pendleton Act which would bring sweeping reform for the nation’s civil service. He instituted reforms and changed corrupt practices that everyone assumed would only become worse when he entered the office. A journalist wrote, “No man ever entered the presidency so profoundly and widely distrusted as Chester Alan Arthur –– and no one ever retired more generally respected alike by political friend and foe.”
There is no account of Arthur ever responding to Sand’s letters, but he did make a surprise visit to her home in August 1882. In her final letter to the president she wrote, “It is for you to choose whether your record shall be written in black or gold. For the sake of your country, for your own sake, and for the sakes of all who have ever loved you, let it be pure and light.”
We will never know the true impact Julia Sand’s letters had on President Arthur, but we do know that before he died he ordered that all his papers be burned –– except for Sand’s letters.
It’s undeniable the effect one person has on another by believing in that person and encouraging him. At Baptist Children’s Homes, we minister to families and individuals that find themselves in very hard places. While they often need tools and resources to help pull themselves up, their biggest need is to have someone in their corner, someone to say “you are valuable and you are loved with an everlasting love.”
I challenge you to look closely at BCH and think how you can become a Julia Sand to someone in need of support and encouragement. I also urge you to look around you in your community, right where you are, and determine to be a light to someone struggling in darkness. When you give, volunteer, write letters of encouragement, and pray, miracles happen and lives are changed.
Imagine, a life set on a new, positive path can have ripple effects that can literally change a nation.
Article is written by Keith Henry, BCH Chief Operating Officer