Chester Alan Arthur
|October 5, 1829, in Fairfield, Vermont
|November 18, 1886, in New York, New York
|States in Union
|None. Arthur assumed the presidency upon President Garfield’s assassination, and the Constitution did not allow for the succession of the vice president until Congress passed the 25th Amendment in 1967.
|Mary Arthur McElroy (Sister)
Arthur’s parents were William and Malvina Stone Arthur. Arthur married Ellen Lewis Herndon in 1859. They had three children: William Lewis Herndon, Chester Alan, and Ellen. Mrs. Arthur died at age 42, eight months before her husband became president.
Arthur rose to the presidency upon President Garfield’s assassination. For many years, he had been a “spoilsman,” a man who was rewarded with well-paid government jobs for his loyalty to the Republican Party and who was himself a firm believer in the system of patronage. However, as president Arthur championed reform of the Civil Service, which the public demanded following President Garfield’s assassination. Arthur believed––just as President Hayes had––that people should be hired into government positions based solely on merit. He therefore signed the Pendleton Act, legislation that reformed the Civil Service. The legislation required most federal job seekers to pass an exam in order to be hired and also protected government employees from dismissal for political reasons. Arthur is also credited with reforming the Post Office.
The first immigration law was enacted during Arthur’s administration. In 1882 Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which prevented the immigration of Chinese citizens for ten years. Arthur vetoed the initial bill, which banned Chinese immigration for twenty years.
Arthur is remembered for remaining independent of special interests and forging ahead with government reform, but he was not nominated for a second term. Publisher Alexander K. McClure commented on Arthur’s term that “No man ever entered the Presidency so profoundly and widely distrusted, and no one ever retired . . . more generally respected.” And Mark Twain stated, “I am but one in 55,000,000; still, in the opinion of this one-fifty-five millionth of the country’s population, it would be hard to better President Arthur’s Administration.”
In his Inaugural Address, Arthur remarked about the former president and peaceful transfer of power, “For the fourth time in the history of the Republic its Chief Magistrate has been removed by death. All hearts are filled with grief and horror at the hideous crime which has darkened our land, and the memory of the murdered President, his protracted sufferings, his unyielding fortitude, the example and achievements of his life, and the pathos of his death will forever illuminate the pages of our history. For the fourth time the officer elected by the people and ordained by the Constitution to fill a vacancy so created is called to assume the Executive chair. The wisdom of our fathers, foreseeing even most dire possibilities, made sure that the Government should never be imperiled because of the uncertainty of human life. Men may die, but the fabrics of our free institutions remain unshaken. No higher or more assuring proof could exist of the strength and permanence of popular government than the fact that though the chosen of the people be struck down his constitutional successor is peacefully installed without shock or strain except the sorrow which mourns the bereavement.” (September 1881)
“I may be President of the United States, but my private life is nobody’s damned business.”
At This Time
1882: The U.S. bans Chinese immigrants for ten years • Thomas Edison designs the first hydroelectric plant in Wisconsin • 1883: German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche writes Thus Spake Zarathustra • The Metropolitan Opera House opens in New York • The Northern Pacific Railroad line is completed • The first skyscraper (ten stories) is built in Chicago • The Brooklyn Bridge opens in New York • 1884: Mark Twain publishes The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn • The first underground railroad is completed in London
Did You Know?
Arthur declared the White House to be “a badly kept barracks” when he took office and insisted that it be completely overhauled––cleaned, repaired, and refurbished. The cleaning was so thorough that it took 24 wagons to cart away the years of clothing and miscellaneous items left behind by former presidents and their families. A pair of Lincoln’s trousers and a hat that had belonged to John Quincy Adams were among the many items that were auctioned off. The structural integrity of the White House had deteriorated so drastically that the Army Corps of Engineers initially recommended that they demolish and then rebuild the White House. In this plan, the White House would include only offices and the residence would be built as a new, separate building. Arthur strongly favored this plan, but Congress did not, and the White House therefore underwent the most extensive repairs since it had been burned down during the War of 1812. The refurbishment included a complete redecoration by the famed New York decorator Louis Comfort Tiffany. Tiffany’s showpiece in the interior design was a red, white, and blue stained-glass screen, studded with jewels, 10 feet high by 50 feet wide, located in the north entry.
In-depth essays created by the University of Virginia on Arthur’s life and administration.
Field Trips for Chester Alan Arthur
Chester A. Arthur State Historic Site
The historic site is a re-creation of the childhood home of President Arthur; a pictorial exhibit offers an insight into Arthur’s early life.