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Chester Alan Arthur (October 5, 1829 – November 18, 1886) was an American politician who served as the 21st President of the United States. Arthur was a member of the Republican Party and worked as a lawyer before becoming the 20th Vice President under James Garfield. While Garfield was mortally wounded by Charles J. 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 elected politics, Arthur was a member of the Stalwart faction of the Republican Party and a political protégé of Roscoe Conkling, rising to Collector of the Port of New York, a position to which he was appointed by President Ulysses S. Grant. He was then 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.

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 education

Chester Alan Arthur was the son of Northern Irish-born preacher William Arthur (born in Cullybackey, Ballymena, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom) and Vermont-born Malvina Stone Arthur. Malvina's grandfather, Uriah Stone, fought for the Continental Army during the American Revolution and named his son, Malvina's father, George Washington Stone. Malvina's mother was part Native American. Arthur's father was a British-Irish citizen of Scottish descent, who naturalized as a U.S. citizen in 1843.

Arthur's restored ancestral home from the late 18th Century is in County Antrim in Northern Ireland. An interpretive center at the cottage tells the story of the Arthur family, and provides visitors with demonstrations of life in Ireland over the last 200 years.

Most official references list Arthur as having been born in Fairfieldmarker in Franklin County, Vermontmarker on October 5, 1829. However, some time in the 1870s Arthur changed it to 1830 to make himself seem a year younger. His father had initially migrated to Dunhammarker, Lower Canada, where he and his wife at one point owned a farm about north of the U.S. border. There has long been speculation that the future president was actually born in Canadamarker and that the family moved to Fairfield later. If Arthur had been born in Canada, some believe that he would not have been a natural-born citizen (interpreting the law to mean that to be a natural-born citizen one must be born on U.S. territory) and would thus have been constitutionally ineligible to serve as vice president or president. During the 1880 U.S. presidential election a New York attorney, Arthur P. Hinman, was hired to explore rumors of Arthur's foreign birth. Hinman alleged that Arthur was born in Irelandmarker and did not come to the United States until he was fourteen years old. When that story failed to take root Hinman came forth with a new story that Arthur was born in Canadamarker. This claim also fell on deaf ears.

Arthur spent some of his childhood years living in Perry, New Yorkmarker. 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, a Perry resident. A detailed account of this prediction is found in a self-written memorial for Webster. An excerpt from Webster's memorial:

Chester Alan Arthur (c.
He first attended the Baptist church in Perry, the pastor there being "Elder Arthur", father of Chester A.
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."

He went to prep school at the academy in Union Village (now the village of Greenwich in southern Washington County NY), and then to the Lyceum, where he was known as Chet. During his time at Lyceum Arthur joined other young Whigs in support of Henry Clay and even participated in a melee against those opposed to Clay.

Arthur attended Union Collegemarker in 1845 where he studied the traditional classics. As a senior there in 1848, at age 18, he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and president of the debate society. He often donned a green coat to show his support for the Fenian Brotherhood.

While living outside of Hoosick Falls, New Yorkmarker, he went back to Union College and received his Master's degree in 1851.

Early career

Arthur became principal of North Pownal Academy in North Pownal, Vermontmarker in 1849. He studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1854 after attending State and National Law School in Ballston Spa, New Yorkmarker. Arthur commenced practice in New York Citymarker.

A champion of civil rights, Arthur was one of the attorneys who successfully represented Elizabeth Jennings Graham; her lawsuit, after being denied seating on a streetcar due to her race, contributed to the desegregation of New York City public transportation. In the "Lemmon Slave Case", Arthur helped secure the 1860 decision that slaves being transferred to a slave state through New Yorkmarker would be emancipated. 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 S. 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 Stalwart 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 presidency

In 1878, Grant's successor, Rutherford B. 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!" Arthur's shock at the assassination was augmented by his mortification at Guiteau's claim of political kinship. (Madmen and Geniuses, Barzman, 1974) Garfield initially survived the shooting, but due to a combination of infections and the poor medical care of the time, he gradually deteriorated and died on September 19.

Presidency 1881–1885

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 was determined to go his own way once in the White Housemarker.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.marker, 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.

Assumption of office

President Arthur took the oath of office twice. The first time was at his Lexington Avenue residence, when it was given just past midnight on September 20. The oath was given by New York Supreme Court justice John R. Brady. The second time was two days later after he returned to Washington. This time it was given in the Capitol by Chief Justice of the United States Morrison Waite. This was to avoid any dispute over whether the oath was valid if given by a state official. (A similar situation later occurred with Calvin Coolidge.)


Arthur requested that Garfield's cabinet and appointees delay their resignations until Congress convened in December. However, shortly after this request Treasury Secretary William Windom and Attorney General Wayne MacVeagh submitted their resignations. Ulysses S. Grant recommended John Jacob Astor III to be the new Treasury Secretary, but Arthur preferred Edwin D. Morgan. Morgan declined the offer twice, but Arthur submitted it to the Senate anyway, and Morgan was confirmed. Morgan, age 72, still refused. The cabinet position was then awarded to stalwart Charles J. Folger (October 27). MacVeagh's replacement, Benjamin Harris Brewster, another stalwart, was confirmed two months later.

Although Secretary of State Blaine agreed to delay his resignation, he changed his mind in mid-October. Conkling felt he himself was the obvious choice to replace Blaine, but Arthur felt such nepotism would disgrace the presidency and selected Frederick Theodore Frelinghuysen, another stalwart, recommended by Grant.

The next to resign was Postmaster General Thomas Lemuel James, whom Arthur had tried to renominate. Arthur nominated Timothy O. Howe, another stalwart and a long-time friend. For Secretary of the Navy, Arthur nominated William E. Chandler, a recommendation from Blaine which gave some factional balance to the administration. Grant, who had recommended Edward Fitzgerald Beale, was upset by the Chandler pick and never fully forgave Arthur for the offense.

Robert Todd Lincoln as Secretary of War was the only member of the Garfield cabinet to continue under Arthur. He was the only member of Arthur's cabinet who was never replaced and served until the end of Arthur's term in 1885.

Domestic issues


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.

Civil service reform

Known as Arthur's greatest achievement, in 1883, Congress passed the Pendleton Act, which established a bipartisan Civil Service Commission which 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.

Civil rights

Chester Arthur signed the Edmunds Act that banned bigamists and polygamists from voting and holding office. The act was specifically enforced in Utah, a highly populated Mormon territory and establishes a five-man "Utah commission" to prevent bigamists and polygamists from voting.

Arthur Administration enacted the first general Federal immigration law. Arthur approved a measure in 1882 excluding paupers, criminals, and the mentally ill.

In response to anti-Chinese sentiment in the West, Congress passed a Chinese Exclusion Act. The act would have made illegal the immigration of Chinese laborers for twenty years and denied American citizenship to Chinese Americans currently residing in the United Statesmarker. Arthur vetoed this steep restriction on the grounds that it violated the Burlingame Treaty. He was immediately denounced by newspapers in California. When a compromise restriction of ten years was proposed, Arthur agreed and signed the revised bill, however the Chinese Americans residing in the United States were denied citizenship. The Act was renewed every ten years until the National Origins Act of 1924 essentially eliminated Chinese immigration because the quotas were based on the 1890 numbers. The Act had remarkable staying power and was not fully repealed until sixty-one years later in 1943, by which time the US was an ally of Nationalist China in the fight against Japanmarker during World War II. Under such circumstances, the Act had become an embarrassment to the US, necessitating its repeal.

Arthur was reluctant to enforce the 15th Amendment in the United States Constitution and never attempted while President to overturn "Jim Crow" laws throughout the nation that prevented African Americans from voting. This may have been caused by a Supreme Court decision to overturn civil right cases and the Civil Rights Act of 1875.

Foreign policy

In relation to Asia and Asians, President Arthur was also in office when the United States became the first Western country to establish diplomatic relations in modern times with Koreamarker, which was then a unified, independent kingdom under the rule of the Joseon Dynastymarker. This was achieved in 1882 with the signing of the Shufeldt Treaty, named after Commodore Robert W. Shufeldt (1822–95), the principal U.S. negotiator. Korea had existed in a state of virtual hermetic isolation for centuries until 1876, when it was forced to establish diplomatic relations with Japan on an unequal basis. The US maintained full diplomatic relations with Korea until 1905, when the latter became an unwilling protectorate of Japan following the end of the Russo-Japanese War.

In 1884, the International Meridian Conference was held in Washington, D.C.marker 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 seek the Republican nomination for President aggressively in 1884.Nevertheless, Arthur was the last incumbent President to submit his name for renomination and fail to obtain it.

Seeks renomination

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 Mainemarker. Blaine, however, lost the general election to Democrat Grover Cleveland of New Yorkmarker.

Significant events during presidency

Administration and Cabinet

Chester A.

Judicial appointments

Supreme Court appointments

Other courts

In addition to his two Supreme Court appointments, Arthur appointed four judges to the United States circuit courts, and thirteen judges to the United States district courts.

Social and personal life

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 Observatorymarker 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 Arthur McElroy, 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 Churchmarker 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.

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. Professor Marina Margaret Heiss at the University of Virginia lists Arthur as an example of an INTJ personality.

Official White House portrait of Chester A.
Upon taking office, Arthur did not move into the White Housemarker 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 Grovemarker. 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.

Arthur was a fisherman who belonged to the Restigouche Salmon Club and once reportedly caught an 80-pound bass off the coast of Rhode Islandmarker.

By the end of his presidency, Arthur had acquired wide personal popularity. On the day he left office, four young women (ignorant of Arthur's pledge not to marry again) offered to marry him. 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").

Physical health

As president, Arthur alleviated his stress by taking late evening walks that usually began after 1 AM. He rarely went to bed before 2 AM. However, by the summer of 1882 Arthur was often ill and exhausted, and by the beginning of 1883 he looked emaciated and aged. That March he had attacks from hypertensive heart disease and glomerulonephritis. Officially, Arthur was said to have a cold. In April he took a vacation to Floridamarker for some rest. The trip was cut short when he was hit with severe pain. The White House criticized the media's sensationalism on the matter and blamed the illness on over exposure and seasickness. In October it was revealed to the press that Arthur had been diagnosed that summer with Bright's disease. In a private conversation shortly after James G. Blaine's nomination for the 1884 presidential election Arthur confided in Frank B. Conger that his disease was in an advanced stage and he only had a few months to live, and by the end of his presidency Arthur's health had deteriorated significantly.

Post presidency

Arthur served as President through March 4, 1885. Upon leaving office, he returned to New York Citymarker to serve as counsel to his old law firm. However, he was often indisposed because of his Bright's disease. He managed a few public appearances but none after the end of 1885. After summering in New London, Connecticutmarker he returned (October 1, 1886) quite ill. On November 16, by his order, nearly all of his papers, personal and official, were burned. The next morning he suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage and never regained consciousness. He died the next day. His post presidency was the second shortest, longer only than that of James Polk who died 103 days after leaving office.

On November 22, a private funeral was held at the Church of the Heavenly Restmarker. His pallbearers were Walter Q. Gresham, Robert Todd Lincoln, William E. Chandler, Frank Hatton, Benjamin H. Brewster, Philip Sheridan, Cornelius Rea Agnew, Cornelius Newton Bliss, Robert G. Dun, George H. Sharpe, Charles Lewis Tiffany and Cornelius Vanderbilt. Also in attendance were President Grover Cleveland, former President Rutherford B. Hayes, Benjamin Franklin Butler, Chief Justice Morrison Waite, Justices Samuel Blatchford and John Marshall Harlan, Roscoe Conkling and James G. Blaine.

Chester was buried next to Ellen in the Arthur family plot in the Albany Rural Cemeterymarker in Menands, New Yorkmarker, in a large sarcophagus on a large corner plot that contains the graves of many of his family members and ancestors. Sculptor Ephraim Keyser designed the sarcophagus.

Writings and sayings

Sitting Bull
On Taxes and Spending:
"The extravagant expenditure of public money is an evil not to be measured by the value of that money to the people who are taxed for it."

On Democracy:
"Men may die, but the fabrics of free institutions remain unshaken."

On Privacy:
"I may be President of the United States, but my private life is nobody's damned business."

On Garfield's death:
"An appalling calamity has befallen the Americanmarker people since their chosen representatives last met in the halls where you are now assembled...To that mysterious exercise of His will which has taken from us the loved and illustrious citizen who was but lately the head of the nation we bow in sorrow and submission. The memory of his exalted character, of his noble achievements, and of his patriotic life will be treasured forever as a sacred possession of the whole people."

On Sitting Bull:
"The surrender of Sitting Bull and his forces upon the Canadianmarker frontier has allayed apprehension, although bodies of British Indians still cross the border in quest of sustenance. Upon this subject a correspondence has been opened which promises an adequate understanding. Our troops have orders to avoid meanwhile all collisions with alien Indians."

On the Interoceanic Waterway:
"The questions growing out of the proposed interoceanic waterway across the Isthmus of Panama are of grave national importance. This Government has not been unmindful of the solemn obligations imposed upon it by its compact of 1846 with Colombiamarker, as the independent and sovereign mistress of the territory crossed by the canal, and has sought to render them effective by fresh engagements with the Colombian Republic looking to their practical execution."

See also


  1. Cf. William Arthur's certificate of naturalization, State of New York, 08-31-1843, in: The Chester A. Arthur Papers, Library of Congress, Washington.
  2. 1830 is the date on his grave inscription and occurs in some reference works.
  3. Sol Barzaman: Madmen and Geniuses; Follet Books Chicago 1974
  7. Ellen "Nell" Lewis Herndon's biography via
  8. Mitchell, Sarah E. "Louis Comfort Tiffany's work on the White House." 2003.[1]
  9. [2]|Chester A. Arthur|2009|Chester Arthur Quotes (Chester A. Arthur Quotes)
  10. [3]|Chester A. Arthur|2009|Chester Arthur Quotes (Chester A. Arthur Quotes)|
  11. [4]|Chester A. Arthur|2009|Chester Arthur Quotes (Chester A. Arthur Quotes)
  12.| Chester A. Arthur| State of the Union Address| December 6, 1881

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