Chester A. Arthur Biography

Chester A. Arthur was the twenty-first President of the United States. Served as President: 1881-1885. Born: Fairfield, Vermont, 1829. Graduated from Union College in 1848. Later, he practiced law in New York. Appointed Collector of the Port of New York in 1871. Succeeded to the Presidency on the death of Garfield. Died in 1886.

Chester A. Arthur Biography:
Chester Alan Arthur (October 5, 1829 - November 18, 1886) was an American politician who served as the twenty-first President of the United States. Arthur was a member of the Republican Party and worked as a lawyer before becoming the twentieth vice president under James Garfield. While Garfield was mortally wounded by Charles Guiteau on July 2, 1881, he did not die until September 19, at which time Arthur was sworn in as president, serving until March 4, 1885. Before entering politics, Arthur was a member of the Stalwart faction of the Republican Party and a political protégé of Roscoe Conkling, rising to Collector of Customs for the Port of New York. He was appointed by President Ulysses S. Grant but was removed by the succeeding president, Rutherford B. Hayes, in an effort to reform the patronage system in New York. To the chagrin of the Stalwarts, the onetime Collector of the Port of New York became, as President, a champion of civil service reform. He avoided old political cronies and eventually alienated his old mentor Conkling. Public pressure, heightened by the assassination of Garfield, forced an unwieldy Congress to heed the President. Arthur's primary achievement was the passage of the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act. The passage of this legislation earned Arthur the moniker "The Father of Civil Service" and a favorable reputation among historians.

Chester Alan Arthur was the son of Irish born preacher William Arthur and Vermont born Malvina Stone Arthur. Most official references list him as having been born in Fairfield in Franklin County, Vermont on October 5, 1829. But Arthur sometimes claimed to have been born in 1830. (The date is on his grave inscription and occurs in some reference works.) His father had initially migrated to Dunham, Québec, Canada, where he and his wife at one point owned a farm about 80 miles (129 km) north of the U.S. border. There has long been speculation that the future president was actually born in Canada and that the family moved to Fairfield later. Given a lack of official documentation and the seeming confusion about the year of Arthur's birth, historians have been unable to rule this possibility out. Even if true, he was a natural-born citizen by virtue of his parents' citizenship, thus making him constitutionally eligible to serve as vice president or president. Some of his opponents circulated the Canada rumor during the 1880 election, but they could not prove it, and no proof has emerged since. Arthur spent some of his childhood years living in Perry, New York. One of Arthur's boyhood friends remembers Arthur's political abilities emerging at an early age: When Chester was a boy, you might see him in the village street after a shower, watching the boys building a mud dam across the rivulet in the roadway.

Arthur attended public schools and later attended Union College in Schenectady, New York. There he became a member of Psi Upsilon, North America's fifth oldest college fraternity, and graduated in 1848. While living outside of Hoosick Falls, New York, he went back to Union College and received his Master's degree in 1851.

Arthur became principal of North Pownal Academy in North Pownal, Vermont in 1849. He studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1854. Arthur commenced practice in New York City. He was one of the attorneys who successfully defended Elizabeth Jennings Graham, who was tried after being denied seating on a bus due to her race. Arthur also took an active part in the reorganization of the state militia. During the American 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. After the war, 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 from 1871 to 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 sided with the Stalwarts in the Republican Party, which firmly believed in the spoils system even as it was coming under vehement attack from reformers. He insisted upon honest administration of the Customs House but nevertheless 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, Grant's successor, Rutherford Hayes, attempted to reform the Customs House. He ousted Arthur, who resumed the practice of law in New York City. Conkling and his followers tried to win back power by the nomination of Grant for a third term at the 1880 Republican National Convention, but without success. Grant and James G. Blaine deadlocked, and after 36 ballots, the convention turned to dark horse James A. Garfield, a long time Congressman and General in the Civil War. Knowing the election would be close, Garfield's people began asking a number of Stalwarts if they would accept the second spot. Levi P. Morton, on Conkling's advice, refused, but Arthur accepted, telling his furious leader, "This is a higher honor than I have ever dreamt of attaining. I shall accept!" Conkling and his Stalwart supporters reluctantly accepted the nomination of Arthur as vice president. Arthur campaigned hard for his and Garfield's election, but it was a close contest, with the Garfield-Arthur ticket receiving a nationwide plurality of fewer than ten thousand votes. After the election, Conkling began making demands of Garfield as to appointments, and the Vice President elect supported his longtime patron against his new boss. According to Ira Rutkow's recent biography of Garfield, the new president disliked the vice president, and he would not let him into his house. Then, on July 2, 1881, President Garfield was shot in the back by Charles J. Guiteau, who shouted: "I am a Stalwart of the Stalwarts... Arthur is president now!!"

President Arthur took the oath of office twice. The first time was just past midnight at his Lexington Avenue residence on September 20 by New York Supreme Court justice John R. Brady; the second time was upon his return to Washington two days later.

Arthur was aware of the factions and rivalries of the Republican Party, as well as the controversies of cronyism versus civil service reform. Entering the presidency, Arthur believed that the only way to garner the nation's approval was to be independent from both factions. Arthur determined to go his own way once in the White House. He wound up replacing every member of Garfield's Cabinet except for Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln. He became a man of fashion in his manner of dress and in his associates; he was often seen with the elite of Washington, D.C., New York city and Newport. To the indignation of the Stalwarts, the onetime Collector of the Port of New York became, as President, a champion of civil service reform. In 1883, Congress passed the Pendleton Act, which established a bipartisan Civil Service Commission which stopped big businesses from giving out rebates and pooling with other companies, 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 with the Chinese Exclusion Act, later making the restriction permanent. In 1884, the International Meridian Conference was held in Washington D.C. at President Arthur's behest. This established the Greenwich Meridian and international standardized time, both in use today. President Arthur demonstrated that he was above not only factions within the Republican Party, but possibly the party itself. Perhaps, in part, he felt able to do this because of 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. This accounted for his failure to aggressively seek the Republican nomination for President in 1884. Nevertheless, Arthur was the last incumbent President to submit his name for renomination and fail to obtain it. Arthur sought a full term as President in 1884, but lost the Republican party's presidential nomination to former Speaker of the House and Secretary of State James G. Blaine of Maine. Blaine, however, lost the general election to Democrat Grover Cleveland of New York.

Arthur married Ellen "Nell" Lewis Herndon on October 25, 1859. She was the only child of Elizabeth Hansbrough and Captain William Lewis Herndon USN. She was a favorite niece of Commander Matthew Fontaine Maury, USN of the United States Naval Observatory where her father had worked. In 1860, Chester Arthur and "Nell" had a son, William Lewis Herndon Arthur, who was named after Ellen's father. This son died at age two of a brain disease. Another son, Chester Alan Arthur II, was born in 1864, and a girl, named Ellen Hansbrough Herndon after her mother, in 1871. Ellen Arthur died of pneumonia on January 12, 1880, at the early age of 42, only twenty months before Arthur became President. Arthur stated that he would never remarry and, while in the White House, asked his sister Mary, the wife of writer John E. McElroy, to assume certain social duties and help care for his daughter. Arthur is remembered as one of the most society-conscious presidents, earning the nickname "the Gentleman Boss" for his style of dress and courtly manner. Arthur was a fisherman who belonged to the Restigouche Salmon Club and once reportedly caught an 80-pound bass off the coast of Rhode Island. Widely popular by the end of his presidency, four young women (ignorant of Arthur's pronouncement that he would never marry again) proposed to him on the day he left office. He was sometimes called "Elegant Arthur" for his commitment to fashionable attire and was said to have "looked like a president."

Arthur served as President through March 4, 1885. Upon leaving office, he returned to New York City. He encouraged the notion that he might run for the U.S. Senate in 1886, but was unable to gather enough support from his former Stalwart colleagues. In any event, his health failed rapidly and he died of a massive cerebral hemorrhage at 5:10 a.m. on Thursday, November 18, 1886, at the age of 57. His post presidency was the second shortest, longer only than that of James Polk who died 104 days after leaving office. Chester was buried next to Ellen in the Arthur family plot in the Albany Rural Cemetery in Menands, New York, in a large sarcophagus on a large corner plot that contains the graves of many of his family members and ancestors.

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