Chester Alan Arthur (October 5, 1830 November 18, 1886) was the twentieth
Vice President (1885), and the twenty-first (1881 - 1885) President of
the United States.
Arthur became President when James Garfield was assassinated. Before
being chosen as Vice President, he had been collector of customs for the
port of New York . As such, he was assumed to be benefiting from bribes
and corruption. Hence many were surprised when he became an advocate of
civil service reform and presided over the passage of the Pendleton Act.
Arthur was born in Fairfield, Franklin County, Vermont ¹ on October
5 , 1829 . He attended the public schools and was graduated from Union
College , Schenectady, New York , in 1848. He became principal of an academy
in North Pownal, Vt. in 1851. He studied law, was admitted to the bar in
1854 , and commenced practice in New York City . He took an active part
in the reorganization of the State militia.
During the Civil War , Arthur served as acting quartermaster general
of the State in 1861 . He was later commissioned as inspector general,
and appointed quartermaster general with the rank of brigadier general,
and served until 1862 . He resumed the practice of law in New York City,
and was appointed by President Ulysses Grant as collector of the port of
New York 1871 - 1878 .
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.
In 1878 Arthur resumed the practice of law in New York City. He was elected
Vice President of the United States on the Republican ticket with President
James Garfield for the term beginning March 4 , 1881 . Upon the death of
President Garfield, Arthur became President of the United States on September
20 , 1881 .
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.
Publisher Alexander K. McClure recalled, "No man ever entered the Presidency
so profoundly and widely distrusted, and no one ever retired ... more generally
He and served until March 3 , 1885 . He returned to New York City where
he died November 18 , 1886 , Interment is in the Rural Cemetery in Albany,
New York .