Chester Alan Arthur
Chester Alan Arthur.jpg

In office
September 19, 1881 – March 4, 1885
Vice President None
Preceded by James A. Garfield
Succeeded by Grover Cleveland

In office
March 4, 1881 – September 19, 1881
President James Garfield
Preceded by William A. Wheeler
Succeeded by Thomas A. Hendricks

Born October 5, 1829(1829-10-05)
Died November 18, 1886 (age 57)
New York, New York
Nationality American
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Ellen Lewis Herndon Arthur, niece of Matthew Fontaine Maury
Occupation Lawyer, Civil servant, Educator (Teacher)
Religion Episcopalian
Signature Chester Arther Signature.png

Chester Alan Arthur (October 5, 1829November 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 had been Collector of Customs for the Port of New York. He was appointed by Ulysses S. Grant but was fired by Rutherford B. Hayes under suspicion of bribery and corruption.

A political protégé of Roscoe Conkling, Arthur's primary achievement as President was civil service reform, namely 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 very favorable reputation among historians.

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 about politicians, conceded, "It would be hard indeed to better President Arthur's administration."

Early life and educationEdit

Chester A. Arthur
October 5, 1829 - November 18, 1886
Place of birth Fairfield, Vermont
Place of death New York, New York
Allegiance New York State militia
Rank Brigadier General, Quartermaster General
Commands Quartermaster Service in the New York State
Battles/wars Civil War
Other work U.S. Vice President (1881), U.S. President (1881-1885)

Arthur was supposedly born in the town of Fairfield in Franklin County (even though no birth record has ever been found in the US) on October 5, 1829, although he sometimes claimed to be born in 1830 (even his grave inscription says the latter). His parents were William Arthur and Malvina Stone. His father was an Irish immigrant who had initially migrated to Dunham, Québec, Canada where he and his wife bought a farm, located about 80 miles north of the Vermont, US border. Arthur never publicly admitted to either country of his birth and there remains much speculation that he was born a British/Canadian subject and not an American. During his lifetime, political rivals circulated the rumor that he was born across the International Boundary in Canada, which if true would have barred him from serving as the President of the United States for failure to meet the eligibility requirements outlined in Article II Clause 5 of the U.S. Constitution, providing that the President must be a natural born US citizen. Arthur never provided any credible proof of his origins and never admitted to anything.

Arthur spent some of his childhood years living in Perry. 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. Pretty soon, he would be ordering this one to bring stones, another sticks, and others sod and mud to finish the dam; and they would all do his bidding without question. But he took good care not to get any of the dirt on his hands. (New York Evening Post, April 2, 1900)

Chester Arthur's Presidency was predicted by James Russel Webster originally of Perry and then later of Waterloo. A detailed account of this is written here in a self written memorial for James Russel Webster [1]. An excerpt from Webster's memorial;


Chester Alan Arthur (c. 1859)

"He first attended the Baptist church in Perry, the pastor there being "Elder Arthur," father of Chester A. Arthur. The latter was then a little boy, and Mr. Webster, once calling at his house, put upon his head of the lad, remarked, "this little boy may yet be President of the United States." Years after, calling at the White House, he related the circumstances to President Arthur, who replied that he well remembered the incident although the name of the man who thus predicted his future had long since passed from his memory; then standing up he added. "You may place your hand upon my head again."

Arthur attended public schools and later attended Union College in Schenectady. There he became a member of Psi Upsilon, North America's fifth oldest college fraternity, and graduated in 1848.

Pre-political careerEdit

Ellen Arthur

Ellen Lewis Herndon Arthur

Arthur became principal of North Pownal Academy in North Pownal, Vermont in 1851. He studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1854. Arthur commenced practice in New York City, where he supported equal rights for blacks who objected to the racial segregation of city transportation. He also took an active part in the reorganization of the state militia.

Arthur married Ellen "Nell" Lewis Herndon[2] 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 "Nell" Arthur died of pneumonia on January 12, 1880, at the early age of 42, only twenty months before Arthur became President. While in the White House, Arthur would not give anyone the place that would have been his wife's. He asked his sister Mary, the wife of writer John E. McElroy, to assume certain social duties and help care for his daughter. President Arthur also had a memorial to his beloved "Nell"—a stained glass window was installed in St. John's Episcopal Church within view of his office and had the church light it at night so he could look at it. The memorial remains to this day.

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.

The 1880 Election and Vice PresidencyEdit


President Rutherford B. Hayes kicking Arthur out of the New York Customs House.

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!" [3] Conkling and his Stalwart supporters reluctantly accepted the nomination of Arthur as vice president.

Arthur worked hard raising money for his and Garfield's election, but it was still a close contest, with the Garfield-Arthur ticket receiving a nationwide plurality of less 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 quickly grew to hate Arthur, and wouldn't even let him into the White House.


On the threshold of office, what have we to expect of him?
In an 1881 Puck cartoon, Vice President Arthur faces the presidential cabinet after President James A. Garfield was fatally wounded by assassin Charles J. Guiteau. On the wall hang three portraits of (left to right) Andrew Johnson, Millard Fillmore and John Tyler, three other presidents who succeeded to the presidency. A fourth frame hangs next to Johnson with no picture and a question mark underneath meant for Arthur's portrait.

After a nasty political battle between Garfield and Conkling which resulted in the latter's resigation, Arthur went back to New York City to wait out the time before Congress resumed in December. 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!!" Arthur, who knew nothing of this in advance, was mortified. (Madmen and Geniuses, Barzman, 1974)

The Eighty Day CrisisEdit

Arthur was cautious; he knew that there were a great number of people who thought that he had something to do with the attempted murder of the President, and didn't want anything to do with succession until it was actually necessary; in fact, he went into seclusion, largely confining himself to his house in New York City and avoiding public appearances. Thus, for two months and 18 days, the country drifted, leaderless, hanging on every reported detail of Garfield's health without much attention to the business of government. On September 19, Garfield died and Arthur succeeded to the Presidency.

Presidency 1881-1885Edit

Assumption of officeEdit


Arthur being administered the oath of office as President by Judge John R. Brady at his home in New York City after President Garfield's death, September 20, 1881.

President Arthur took the oath of office twice. The first time was just past midnight at his Lexington Avenue residence on September 20th 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 under suspicion of conspiring to assassinate his predecessor, Arthur believed that the only way to garner the nation's approval — and to heal the breaches in American politics that had killed a President — was to be independent from both factions. Arthur determined to go his own way once in the White House.

He became a man of fashion in his manner of dress and in his associates; he was often seen with the elite of Washington, New York, 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. Avoiding old political cronies and alienating his old mentor Conkling, 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 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.


Chester A. Arthur official White House portrait

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 at President Arthur's behest. This established the Greenwich Meridian which is still 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 election to Democrat Grover Cleveland of New York.

Significant events during presidency Edit

Administration and CabinetEdit

Chester Alan Arthur-standing-left

Chester A. Arthur

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The Arthur Cabinet
Office Name Term
President Chester A. Arthur1881–1885
Vice President None1881–1885
Secretary of State James G. Blaine1881
Frederick T. Frelinghuysen1881–1885
Secretary of Treasury William Windom1881
Charles J. Folger1881–1884Walter Q. Gresham1884Hugh McCulloch1884–1885
Secretary of War Robert T. Lincoln1881–1885
Attorney General Wayne MacVeagh1881
Benjamin H. Brewster1881–1885
Postmaster General Thomas L. James1881
Timothy O. Howe1881–1883Walter Q. Gresham1883–1884Frank Hatton1884–1885
Secretary of the Navy William H. Hunt1881–1882
William E. Chandler1882–1885
Secretary of the Interior Samuel J. Kirkwood1881–1882
Henry M. Teller1882–1885

Supreme Court appointmentsEdit

States admitted to the UnionEdit


Social and personal lifeEdit

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. Professors Marina Margaret Heiss at the University of Viriginia lists Arthur as an example of an INTJ personality.[4]

Upon taking office, Arthur did not move into the White House immediately. He insisted upon its redecoration and had 24 wagonloads of furniture, some including pieces dating back to John Adams' term, carted away and sold at public auction. Former president Rutherford B. Hayes bought two wagonloads of furniture which today are at his home Spiegel Grove. Arthur then commissioned Louis Comfort Tiffany to replace them with new pieces. A famous designer now best-known for his stained glass, Tiffany was among the foremost designers of the day.[5]

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." He reportedly kept 80 pairs of pants in his wardrobe and changed pants several times a day. He was called "Chet" by family and friends, and by his middle name, with the stress on the second syllable ("Al-AN").

Post presidencyEdit

Chester Arthur grave

Arthur's grave at Albany Rural Cemetery.

Arthur served as President through March 4, 1885. Upon leaving office, he returned to New York City, where he died of a massive cerebral hemorrhage at 5:10 a.m. on Thursday, November 18, 1886, at the age of 57. Arthur suffered from Bright's disease, and his death was most likely related to a history of hypertension.

His post presidency was the second shortest, longer only than that of James Polk (excluding presidents who died in office).

Chester was buried next to Ellen in the Arthur family plot in the Albany Rural Cemetery in Menands, in a large sarcophagus on a large corner plot that contains the graves of many of his family members and ancestors.

Media and Modern Cultural ReferencesEdit

  • During the movie Die Hard with a Vengeance, John McClane, played by actor Bruce Willis is asked a riddle by Simon, the movie's antagonist, "What is 21 out of 42?". Together with Zeus, McClane figures out that there have been 42 Presidents of the United States, but they are unable to remember who the 21st was. Later, a truck driver tells McClane that the 21st president was Chester A. Arthur, and identifies a school in which Simon claims to have placed a bomb — it is later found to be Chester A. Arthur Elementary School.
  • In the Futurama episode "The Day The Earth Stood Stupid", he is shown briefly when Fry attempts to re-educate his co-workers.


  1. ^
  2. ^ Ellen "Nell" Lewis Herndon's biography via
  3. ^ Sol Barzaman: Madmen and Geniuses; Follet Books Chicago 1974
  4. ^ "INTJ personality". Retrieved 2007-06-29. 
  5. ^ Mitchell, Sarah E. "Louis Comfort Tiffany's work on the White House." 2003.[1]

External links Edit

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Political offices
Preceded by
William A. Wheeler
Vice President of the United States
March 4, 1881 – September 19, 1881
Succeeded by
Thomas A. Hendricks
Preceded by
James A. Garfield
President of the United States
September 19, 1881 – March 4, 1885
Succeeded by
Grover Cleveland
Party political offices
Preceded by
William A. Wheeler
Republican Party vice presidential candidate
Succeeded by
John A. Logan

This page uses content from the English language Wikipedia. The original content was at Chester A. Arthur. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with this Familypedia wiki, the content of Wikipedia is available under the Creative Commons License.