Chester A. Arthur

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Chester Alan Arthur
Chester Alan Arthur
Order: 21st President
Vice President: None
Term of office: September 20, 1881March 3, 1885
Preceded by: James A. Garfield
Succeeded by: Grover Cleveland
Date of birth: October 5, 1829
Place of birth: Fairfield, Vermont
Date of death: November 18, 1886
Place of death: New York City, New York
First Lady: Ellen Lewis Herndon Arthur
Political party: Republican

Chester Alan Arthur (October 5, 1829November 18, 1886) was an American politician who served as 21st President of the United States. Arthur was a member of the Republican Party and worked as a lawyer before becoming the 20th Vice President in the administration of James Garfield. Garfield was shot by Charles Guiteau, a disgruntled office seeker, on July 2, 1881. Garfield died on September 19th, and Arthur became President, serving until 1885.

Before entering national politics, Arthur had been Collector of Customs for the Port of New York. He was appointed by President Ulysses S. Grant but was fired by Grant's successor, Rutherford B. Hayes, under (false) suspicion of bribery and corruption. His notable achievements in office as President included civil service reform and the passage of the Pendleton Act. Arthur is also remembered as one of the most society-conscious presidents, earning the nickname "the Gentleman Boss" for his style of dress and courtly manner, and was widely popular by the time he left office. He was also sometimes called "Elegant Arthur" for his commitment to fashionable attire. He kept 80 pairs of pants in his wardrobe,and changed pants several times a day. He was called "Chet" by family and friends. Interestingly, Chester Arthur pronounced his middle name, Alan, with the stress on the second syllable -- "Al-AN."

Arthur suffered from Bright's Disease and died of a cerebral hemorrhage, most likely related to a history of hypertension, approximately twenty-four hours after being found unconscious by his nurse.



Arthur was born in the town of Fairfield in Franklin County, Vermont on October 5, 1829 (although he told people that he was born in 1830). Political rivals long circulated the rumor that he had been born in Canada rather than in Vermont, hoping to create doubts as to his eligibility for American public office. The truth, however, was simply that Arthur was born near the Canadian border. His parents were William Arthur and Malvina Stone.

He attended the public schools and was graduated from Union College, Schenectady, New York, in 1848. He became principal of an academy in North Pownal, Vt. in 1851. He studied law, was admitted to the bar in 1854, and commenced practice in New York City, supporting equal rights for blacks who objected to the segregation of city transportation. He also took an active part in the reorganization of the New York State militia.

During the Civil War, Arthur served as acting quartermaster general of the State in 1861 and was widely praised for his service. He was later commissioned as inspector general, and appointed quartermaster general with the rank of brigadier general, and served until 1862. He resumed the practice of law in New York City. With the help of Arthur's patron and political boss Roscoe Conkling, Arthur was appointed by President Ulysses Grant as Collector of the port of New York 1871-1878.

This was an extremely lucrative and powerful position at the time, and several of Arthur's predecessors had run afoul of the law while serving as Collector. Honorable in his personal life and his public career, Arthur nevertheless was a firm believer in the spoils system even as it was coming under vehement attack from reformers. He insisted upon honest administration of the Customs House, but staffed it with more employees than it really needed, retaining some for their loyalty as party workers rather than for their skill as public servants.

In 1878 President Rutherford B. Hayes, attempting to reform the Customs House, ousted Arthur, who resumed the practice of law in New York City. Conkling and his followers tried to win redress by fighting for the renomination of Grant at the 1880 Republican Convention. Failing in that, they reluctantly accepted the nomination of Arthur for the Vice Presidency.

Chester Arthur was elected Vice President of the United States on the Republican ticket with President James Garfield for the term beginning March 4, 1881. Upon the death of President Garfield due to assassination, Arthur became President of the United States on September 20, 1881.


Avoiding old political cronies, Arthur determined to go his own way once in the White House. He became a man of fashion in his garb and associates, and often was seen with the elite of Washington, New York, and Newport. To the indignation of the Stalwart Republicans, the onetime Collector of the Port of New York became, as President, a champion of civil service reform. Public pressure, heightened by the assassination of Garfield, forced an unwieldy Congress to heed the President.

In 1883 Congress passed the Pendleton Act, which established a bipartisan Civil Service Commission, forbade levying political assessments against officeholders, and provided for a "classified system" that made certain Government positions obtainable only through competitive written examinations. The system protected employees against removal for political reasons.

Acting independently of party dogma, Arthur also tried to lower tariff rates so the Government would not be embarrassed by annual surpluses of revenue. Congress raised about as many rates as it trimmed, but Arthur signed the Tariff Act of 1883 anyway. Aggrieved Westerners and Southerners looked to the Democratic Party for redress, and the tariff began to emerge as a major political issue between the two parties.

The Arthur Administration enacted the first general Federal immigration law. Arthur approved a measure in 1882 excluding paupers, criminals, and the mentally ill. Congress also suspended Chinese immigration for ten years, later making the restriction permanent.

In 1884 the International Meridian Conference was held in Washington at President Arthur?s behest. This established the Greenwich Meridian which is still in used today.

President Arthur demonstrated that he was above factions within the Republican Party, if indeed not above the party itself. Perhaps in part his reason was the well-kept secret he had known since a year after he succeeded to the Presidency, that he was suffering from Bright's Disease, a fatal kidney disease (see 'Presidential disability prior to 1967' in Acting President of the United States).

Arthur kept himself in the running for the Presidential nomination in 1884 in order not to appear that he feared defeat, but was not renominated.

Publisher Alexander K. McClure wrote, "No man ever entered the Presidency so profoundly and widely distrusted, and no one ever retired ... more generally respected." Author Mark Twain, deeply cynical of politicians, conceded, "It would be hard indeed to better President Arthur's administration."

Arthur served as president until March 3, 1885. He returned to New York City where he died November 18, 1886, and was buried in the Rural Cemetery in Albany, New York, in a large sarcophagus on a large corner plot that contains the graves of many of his family members and ancestors.


PresidentChester A. Arthur1881–1885
Vice PresidentNone1881–1885
Secretary of StateF. T. Frelinghuysen1881–1885
Secretary of the TreasuryCharles J. Folger1881–1884
 Walter Q. Gresham1884
 Hugh McCulloch1884–1885
Secretary of WarRobert T. Lincoln1881–1885
Attorney GeneralBenjamin H. Brewster1881–1885
Postmaster GeneralTimothy O. Howe1881–1883
 Walter Q. Gresham1883–1884
 Frank Hatton1884–1885
Secretary of the NavyWilliam H. Hunt1881–1882
 William E. Chandler1882–1885
Secretary of the InteriorSamuel J. Kirkwood1881–1882
 Henry M. Teller1882–1885

Significant events during presidency

Chester A. Arthur
Chester A. Arthur

See also

History Clipart and Pictures

External links

Preceded by:
William A. Wheeler
Republican Party Vice Presidential candidate
1880 (won)
Succeeded by:
John A. Logan
Preceded by:
William A. Wheeler
Vice President of the United States
March 4, 1881September 19, 1881(a)
Succeeded by:
Thomas A. Hendricks
Preceded by:
James A. Garfield
President of the United States
September 20, 1881(b)March 3, 1885
Succeeded by:
Grover Cleveland

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