Chester A Arthur - Twenty-First President of the United States

Chester A Arthur, Sixteenth President of the United States
Chester A Arthur, Sixteenth President of the United States. Credit: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-13021 DLC

Chester A Arthur (October 5, 1829 - November 18, 1886) served as America's twenty-first president from September 19, 1881 to March 4, 1885. He succeeded James Garfield who had been assassinated in 1881. The Pendleton Civil Service Act occurred during his presidency to reform the corrupt civil service system. His time was also marked with the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. 

Chester A Arthur's Childhood and Education

Arthur was born on October 5, 1829 in North Fairfield, Vermont.

His father was a Baptist minister who moved often. He attended an academy in New York before entering the Lyceum in Schenectady at age 15. In 1845, he enrolled at Union College. He graduated and went on to study law. He was admitted to the bar in 1854.

Family Ties

Arthur was born to William Arthur, a Baptist preacher, and Malvina Stone Arthur. He had six sisters and a brother. On October 25, 1859, Arthur was married to Ellen "Nell" Lewis Herndon. Sadly, she would die of pneumonia before he became President. Together they had one son - Chester Alan Arthur, Jr. and one daughter, Ellen "Nell" Herndon Arthur. While in the White House, Arthur's sister Mary Arthur McElroy served as the White House hostess. 

Chester A Arthur's Career Before the Presidency

After college, Arthur taught school before becoming a lawyer in 1854. He was very active in the Republican Party from 1856 on. In 1858, Arthur joined the New York state militia and served until 1862.

He was eventually promoted to quartermaster general and in charge of inspecting troops and providing equipment. From 1871-78, Arthur was the Collector of the Port of New York. In 1881, he was elected to become Vice President under President James Garfield.

Becoming the President

On September 19, 1881 President James Garfield died of blood poisoning after being shot by Charles Guiteau.

On September 20th Chester Arthur was sworn in as president.

Events and Accomplishments of Chester A Arthur's Presidency

Due to rising anti-chinese feelings Congress attempted to pass a law stopping Chinese immigration for twenty years which Arthur vetoed. However, he did sign the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 which halted immigration for 10 years. The act was renewed two more times and was not finally repealed until 1943.

A long called for reform the Pendleton Act which created the modern civil service system gained support due to the assassination of President Garfield. Guiteau, President Garfield's assasin was an unhappy office seeker. President Arthur not only signed the bill into law but readily enforced the new system. His staunch support of the law lead former supporter to become disenchanted with him. This probably cost him the republican nomination in 1884.

The Mongrel Tariff of 1883 was a conglomeration of measures designed to reduce tariffs while attempting to appease all sides. The tariff actually only reduced duties by 1.5 percent and made very few people happy. The event is significant because it began the decades long debate about tariffs that became divided along party lines.

The Republicans became the party of protectionism while the Democrats were more inclined towards free trade. 

Post-Presidential Period

Arthur retired to New York City. He was suffering from a kidney related illness called Bright's Disease and decided not to run for reelection. Instead, he returned to practicing law, never returning to public service. On November 18, 1886 Arthur died of of a stroke at his home in New York City.

Historical Significance

Arthur was never elected to the presidency but succeeded President Garfield upon his assassination. He was significant for two important pieces of legislation that occurred during his presidency, one positive and the other negative. The Pendelton Civil Service Act has had a long reaching positive impact while the Chinese Exclusion Act became a black mark in American history.