Chester A. Arthur
Born: October 5, 1829 in Fairfield, Vermont
Died: November 18, 1886 in New
York, New York
Married to Ellen Lewis Herndon Arthur
Dignified, tall, and handsome, with clean-shaven chin and
side-whiskers, Chester A. Arthur "looked like a President."
The son of a Baptist preacher who had emigrated from northern Ireland,
Arthur was born in Fairfield, Vermont, in 1829. He was graduated from
Union College in 1848, taught school, was admitted to the bar, and practiced
law in New York City. Early in the Civil War he served as Quartermaster
General of the State of New York.
President Grant in 1871 appointed him Collector of the Port of New York.
Arthur effectively marshalled the thousand Customs House employees under
his supervision on behalf of Roscoe Conkling's Stalwart Republican machine.
Honorable in his personal life and his public career, Arthur nevertheless
was a firm believer in the spoils system when 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 needed, retaining
them for their merit as party workers rather than as Government officials.
In 1878 President Hayes, attempting to reform the Customs House, ousted
Arthur. Conkling and his followers tried to win redress by fighting for
the renomination of Grant at the 1880 Republican Convention. Failing,
they reluctantly accepted the nomination of Arthur for the Vice Presidency.
During his brief tenure as Vice President, Arthur stood firmly beside
Conkling in his patronage struggle against President Garfield. But when
Arthur succeeded to the Presidency, he was eager to prove himself above
Avoiding old political friends, 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. 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 lunatics. Congress suspended Chinese immigration for ten years, later
making the restriction permanent.
Arthur demonstrated as President 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 a fatal kidney
disease. He kept himself in the running for the Presidential nomination
in 1884 in order not to appear that he feared defeat, but was not renominated,
and died in 1886. Publisher Alexander K. McClure recalled, "No man
ever entered the Presidency so profoundly and widely distrusted, and
no one ever retired ... more generally respected."