Chester A. Arthur


Chester Alan Arthur, born October 5, 1829 in Fairfield, Vermont, and died November 18, 1886 in New York City, was an American lawyer, general, and statesman, the 21st president of the United States. He was elected as vice-president of James A. Garfield in 1880, he succeeded him after his assassination in 1881. After spending much of his political career in the corrupt New York Republican political machine, Arthur managed to clear his name by embracing the cause of civil service reform. The defense and implementation of the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act (en) was the highlight of his administration.

Born in Vermont, Arthur grew up in New York State and became a lawyer in New York. He became involved in the Republican Party and quickly rose through the political machine led by New York Senator Roscoe Conkling. Appointed by President Ulysses S. Grant to the lucrative and politically influential position of Collector of Customs for the Port of New York in 1871, Arthur was a strong supporter of Conkling and the Stalwart faction of the Republican Party. He was removed from office by the new president Rutherford B. Hayes in 1878, who sought to eliminate patronage in the city. When James Garfield won the Republican nomination for president in 1880, Arthur was chosen to run for vice president to ease tensions within the party.

After just six months as vice president, Arthur suddenly found himself in the White House. To the surprise of reformers, he embraced the reforms that had once led to his expulsion as tax collector. He signed the Pendleton Act and vigorously enforced its provisions. He was praised for vetoing a bill that would have appropriated federal funds in a manner he considered excessive and presided over the revival of the U.S. Navy but was criticized for failing to reduce the budget surplus that had accumulated since the end of the Civil War. He passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, which banned Chinese immigration for 10 years and outlawed the naturalization of Chinese in the United States. Ill, he did not seek re-election in 1884 and retired at the end of his term. As journalist Alexander McClure later wrote: “No man had entered the presidency so widely and deeply despised as Chester Alan Arthur, and none had retired with such respect from either his friends or his political enemies.

Birth and family

Chester Alan Arthur was born on October 5, 1829 in Fairfield, Vermont, the fifth child in his family. His father, William Arthur, was born in County Antrim, Ireland and emigrated to Dunham, Lower Canada (now Quebec) in 1818 or 1819 after graduating from Belfast College. His mother, Malvina Stone, was born in Vermont and was the daughter of George Washington Stone and Judith Stevens. Malvina”s family was primarily of English descent and her grandfather, Uriah Stone, fought in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. Arthur”s mother met his father while he was working at the Dunham School just over the Vermont border and the two were married on April 12, 1821. After the birth of their first child, Regina, in Dunham, the family moved to Vermont and settled successively in Burlington, Jericho and Waterville-Waterville (Vermont) as William had to travel to find work in different schools. In Waterville he broke away from his Presbyterian upbringing and joined the Free Will Baptists where he spent the rest of his life as a minister. He also became a staunch abolitionist, which made him unpopular at times within his congregation and contributed to the family”s frequent moves. In 1828, the family moved again and settled in Fairfield, where Chester Alan Arthur was born the following year. He was named “Chester” after Chester Abell, the physician and family friend who assisted in the delivery and “Alan” after his paternal grandfather. After Arthur”s birth, the family remained in Fairfield until 1832 when Arthur”s father”s profession forced them to move to several towns in Vermont and New York before settling in the Schenectady area.

The family”s frequent moves later became the basis for accusations that Chester Arthur was not a native-born citizen of the United States. After Arthur was nominated to run for the vice presidency in 1880, his political opponents suggested that he might constitutionally be ineligible for the office. A New York lawyer, Arthur P. Hinman, apparently hired by his opponents, sought to prove the rumors of Arthur”s foreign birth. Hinman initially claimed that Arthur had been born in Ireland and had not come to the United States until he was fourteen, which made him ineligible for the vice presidency under the birth clause of the Constitution. He offered no proof and then claimed that Arthur was born in Canada, but this rumor was not proven either.


Arthur spent part of his childhood in Perry and Greenwich, New York. As a young man, he became close to the ideas of the Whig party and joined other young Whigs in support of Henry Clay and even participated in a brawl with students supporting James K. Polk. He also displayed his support for the Fenian Brotherhood by wearing a green jacket. Arthur enrolled at Union College in Schenectady in 1845 where he received a traditional classical education. At the age of 18, he joined the Phi Beta Kappa fraternity and became president of the debate club. During his winter vacations, Arthur taught at the Schaghticoke School.

After graduation, Arthur returned to Schaghticoke and became a full-time teacher, but soon after began law school. He continued to teach while in school and moved closer to home by taking a teaching position in Pownal, Vermont. Quite by chance, the future president James A. Garfield taught calligraphy at the same school three years later, but their paths did not cross. In 1852, Arthur moved to Cohoes, New York, where he became principal of a school where his sister Malvina was a teacher. After saving enough money and attending the State and National Law School in Ballston Spa, he moved to New York the following year to join the law firm of Erastus D. Culver, an abolitionist lawyer. Culver, an abolitionist lawyer and family friend. When Arthur was admitted to the bar in 1854, he joined the firm, which was renamed Culver, Parker and Arthur.

Lawyer in New York

When Arthur joined the firm, Culver and New York attorney John Jay (en) (the grandson of the founding father of the same name) were conducting a habeas corpus action against Jonathan Lemmon, a Virginia slave owner who was traveling through New York with his eight slaves. In this case, called Lemmon v. New York, Culver argued that because New York law did not permit slavery, any slave arriving in New York was automatically freed. The argument was successful and several appeals were rejected by the New York Court of Appeals in 1860. Biographies written by his supporters gave him most of the credit for this victory; in reality his role was minor, although he was certainly an active participant in the case. In another civil rights case in 1854, Arthur was the lead attorney for Elizabeth Jennings Graham (en) after she was denied a seat on a streetcar because she was black. He won the case and the verdict led to the desegregation of New York”s streetcar lines.

In 1856, Arthur courted Ellen Herndon, the daughter of William Lewis Herndon, a Virginia naval officer. The two soon became engaged. Later that year, he entered into a new partnership with a friend, Henry D. Gardiner, and traveled with him to Kansas to explore the possibility of settling there and establishing a law practice. At the same time, the state was the site of a violent struggle between proponents and opponents of slavery, and Arthur sided with the latter. The harsh life on the Frontier did not match the refined life of New Yorkers, and after three or four months the two lawyers returned to New York, where Arthur comforted his fiancée after her father disappeared at sea on the SS Central America. In 1859, they were married in the Episcopal Church in Manhattan. After their marriage, Arthur devoted himself to his work as a lawyer, but he also found time to become involved in the Republican Party.

Civil War

In 1860, Arthur was appointed to Governor Edwin D. Morgan”s military committee. The position was a lowly one until the outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861 when the northern states of the United States had to raise and equip armed forces of a size never before seen in American history. Arthur received the rank of brigadier general and was assigned to the quartermaster”s department. He was so effective in housing and equipping the troops pouring into New York City that he was promoted to the rank of Inspector General of the State Militia in February 1862 and to Quartermaster General in July. He had the opportunity to serve at the front when the 9th New York Infantry elected him colonel at the beginning of the war, but he refused and remained at his post at the request of Governor Morgan. Arthur came close to the front when he traveled south to inspect New York troops near Fredericksburg, Virginia in May 1862; soon after Major General Irvin McDowell”s forces captured the city during the Peninsula Campaign. During the summer, he and other representatives of the northern governors met with Secretary of State William H. Seward in New York to coordinate the raising of new troops, and he spent the next several months working to meet New York”s quota of 120,000 men. Arthur was commended for his work but his position was political and he was relieved of his duties in January 1863 when Democrat Horatio Seymour became governor.

Arthur resumed his law practice in 1863 and the business of Arthur & Gardiner was flourishing. While his professional life was improving, Arthur and his wife suffered a personal tragedy when their only child, William, died suddenly at the age of three. The couple overcame this ordeal and when they had another son, Chester Alan Jr. in 1864, they redoubled their affection. They also had a daughter, Ellen, in 1871 and both children came of age. Arthur”s political prospects improved as did his business affairs when his boss, former Governor Morgan, was elected to the United States Senate. He was hired by Thomas Murphy, a milliner who sold goods to the U.S. Army, to represent him in Washington. The two became associates in New York Republican Party circles and Arthur began to assert himself in the conservative wing of the party dominated by Thurlow Weed. During the presidential election of 1864, Arthur and Murphy raised money from New York Republicans and he attended Abraham Lincoln”s second inauguration in 1865.

Conkling machine

The end of the Civil War offered new opportunities for the men in Morgan”s Republican political machine of which Arthur was a part. Morgan moved closer to the conservative wing of the New York Republican Party and so did the men who worked for him such as Weed, Seward (who served as President Andrew Johnson”s Secretary of State) and Roscoe Conkling (an eloquent Utica congressman and rising star of the party). Arthur rarely agreed with the political ideas of the machine, but as was common in those days, loyalty and working for the machine were more important than political sympathies. In 1866 he unsuccessfully sought the position of naval officer in the customs office of New York Harbor, a lucrative position with little responsibility. He continued his law practice, however, on his own after Gardiner”s death, and became a member of the prestigious Century Club in 1867. Conkling, elected to the Senate in 1867, noticed Arthur and accompanied his rise in the party. Arthur became chairman of the New York Republican Executive Committee in 1868. His rise in the party hierarchy kept him busy many nights and his wife began to resent his continual absences.

Conkling”s machine strongly supported the candidacy of General Ulysses S. Grant, and Arthur worked to raise funds for the 1868 election. Grant for president, and Arthur worked to raise funds for the 1868 election. The New York Democratic machine, known as Tammany Hall, worked for Grant”s opponent, former New York governor Horatio Seymour; Grant won a majority of the popular vote and was elected, but Seymour narrowly won New York State. Arthur began to devote more time to politics than to his work as a lawyer. In 1869, he was appointed to the New York City Board of Taxation through an arrangement between his friend Murphy and William Tweed, the head of Tammany Hall. He remained in that position until 1870 with a salary of $10,000 per year (about $2.6 million in 2012 dollars). Arthur”s true role in the tax commission remains unknown; after Tweed lost power in 1871, Arthur never again spoke of the cooperation between Conkling”s machine and Tammany Hall. Shortly thereafter, President Grant gave control of patronage in the New York Harbor customs office to Conkling and appointed Murphy to the position of customs collector. Murphy”s reputation as a war profiteer and his association with Tammany Hall made him unacceptable to many in his own party, but Conkling nevertheless convinced the Senate to confirm the appointment. The collector was responsible for hiring hundreds of employees to collect customs duties at the busiest port in the United States. Typically, these positions were given to members of the collector”s political machine. Employees were expected to make political contributions (known as “impositions”) on behalf of the machine, making the position highly coveted by politicians. Murphy”s unpopularity increased when he replaced workers loyal to the Republican faction of Senator Reuben Fenton with those loyal to Conkling. Eventually, the pressure to replace Murphy became too great, and Grant asked for his resignation in 1871.

The Senate confirmed Arthur”s appointment. As collector, he controlled nearly a thousand employees, but he also demanded a salary as large as any federal incumbent. Arthur”s salary was $6,500 (about $1.7 million in 2012 dollars), but senior customs officers were also compensated through the “half” system, which gave them a percentage of the fines levied on importers who tried to avoid duties. In total, his annual income was more than $50,000 (about $13 million in 2012 dollars), more than the president”s salary, and more than enough to allow him to live in luxury. Among those who worked in the customs office, Arthur was one of the most popular collectors. He got along well with his subordinates, and since Murphy had already filled the staff with Conkling adherents, he had little occasion to fire anyone. He was also popular within the Republican Party because he was effective in collecting campaign taxes and placing friends of party leaders in positions that became available. Arthur had a better reputation than Murphy, but reformers criticized the corruption of patronage and the “half” system. In 1872, a wave of reform within the party led Arthur to recharacterize the financial impositions on employees as “voluntary contributions,” but the principle remained the same and the party reaped the benefits of control of official positions. In the same year, the reform Republicans formed the Liberal Republican Party and voted against Grant, but he was reelected despite their opposition. Nevertheless, the advocates of civil service reform continued to undermine Conkling”s patronage system, as Congress ended the “half” system and imposed a fixed salary on the leadership, including Arthur, after a series of scandals in the Bureau of Customs. As a result, his salary dropped to $12,000 a year (about $3 million in 2012 dollars).

Confrontation with Hayes

Arthur”s four-year term expired on December 10, 1875, and Conkling, now one of the most influential politicians in Washington, secured his reappointment by President Grant. In 1876 Conkling was considered for the presidency, but the Republican convention”s choice of the reformer Rutherford B. Hayes portended difficulties for his political machine. Arthur and the machine raised campaign funds with their usual zeal, but Conkling limited his campaign activities to a few speeches. He diverted funds from the Bureau of Customs to finance the campaigns of Republican candidates. Hayes” opponent, New York Governor Samuel J. Tilden, won the state of New York, but the election was marred by numerous frauds. After several months of controversy, an election commission awarded the votes of the contested states to Hayes, who became the new president.

Hayes took office with a promise to reform the spoils-based system of public appointments. In 1877, Hayes and Treasury Secretary John Sherman took on Conkling”s political machine. Sherman asked a commission led by John Jay to investigate the New York customs office. Jay, with whom Arthur had worked as a lawyer two decades earlier, argued that the customs office was so full of political appointees that 20 percent of the employees were useless. Sherman was less enthusiastic about reform than Hayes and Jay, but he approved the commission”s report and ordered Arthur to make a staff reduction. Arthur appointed a committee of employees to determine where the cuts should be made. Despite his cooperation, the Jay Commission submitted a second report criticizing Arthur and other employees of the customs office and subsequent documents called for a complete reorganization.

Hayes attacked the spoils system head-on by issuing an executive order that prohibited federal administrators from making campaign donations and taking part in politics. Arthur and his subordinates, Alonzo B. Cornell and George H. Sharpe, refused to obey the order. Sherman encouraged Arthur to resign by offering him the position of consul in Paris, but he refused. In September 1877, Hayes asked for the resignation of the three men, which they refused to do. Hayes then nominated Theodore Roosevelt, Sr., L. Bradford Prince (en) and Edwin A. Merritt (en), all supporters of Conkling”s Senate rival William M. Evarts, to replace them. The Senate Commerce Committee, which Conkling chaired, voted unanimously to reject these nominations, and Merritt was appointed only because Sharpe”s term was expiring.

Arthur”s position was thus saved, but only until July 1878 when Hayes took advantage of the Senate vacancy to dismiss Arthur and Cornell and replace them with Merritt and Silas W. Burt respectively. Conkling opposed these appointments when Congress reconvened in February 1879, but both were approved and this gave Hayes a significant victory in his reform program. After six years, Arthur was out of a job but still an influential politician. In the 1879 election, Arthur and Conkling worked to ensure that the Republican candidates were members of Conkling”s faction who were known as stalwarts. They succeeded, but only just, as Cornell became governor by 234 votes to 216. Arthur and Conkling campaigned vigorously for the stalwart ticket and thanks to the division of the Democratic party, they were victorious. Arthur and the machine had pushed Hayes and his rivals out of the party, but he had only a few days to celebrate because on January 12, 1880, his wife died suddenly of pneumonia while he was in Albany preparing his political agenda. He was devastated and never remarried.

Conkling and the stalwarts wanted to build on their 1879 success at the 1880 Republican presidential convention by securing the choice of their ally, former President Grant. Their opponents in the Republican party, called the half-breeds, supported James G. Blaine, a senator from Maine who seemed more sensitive to the issue of civil service reform. None of the candidates won a majority of delegates even after 36 rounds. The convention turned to an outsider, James A. Garfield, an Ohio congressman and Civil War general who was neither stalwart nor half-breed. Garfield and his supporters knew they would face a tough election without the support of New York stalwarts, and they decided to offer the vice presidential nomination to one of them. Levi Morton was the first choice of Garfield”s supporters, but Garfield, on Conkling”s advice, declined. They then approached Arthur. Conkling advised him to refuse because he believed the Republicans would lose. Arthur thought otherwise and accepted, telling Conkling, “The vice-presidency is the greatest honor I have ever dreamed of attaining. Conkling warmed to the idea of the nomination and campaigned for the ticket.

As expected, the election was close. The Democratic candidate, General Winfield Scott Hancock, was popular, and because he had taken no unpopular positions (if any) on the issues, he had not offended any important constituency. As Republicans had done since the end of the Civil War, Garfield and Arthur focused their campaign on the bloody shirt; the idea that returning the Democrats to the White House would undo the victory of the war and reward the secessionists. With the war over for fifteen years and with generals on both tickets, the tactic proved less effective than the Republicans had hoped. So they changed their argument to that the Democrats would lower tariffs, allowing cheaper manufactured goods to be imported from Europe and putting many thousands of workers out of work. This argument was decisive in the industrial swing states of New York and Indiana. Hancock did not help himself when, in an attempt to remain neutral on the issue, he declared that “the tariff question is a local matter,” which made him appear ill-informed on an important issue. The candidates for office were not personally campaigning at this time, but Arthur played a role in the campaign in his own way by raising money. Money was crucial in this close election and New York State played a central role. The Republicans won New York State by 20,000 votes and in the presidential election with the highest turnout in history (78.6 percent), they were only 7,000 votes ahead nationally. The Electoral College result was nevertheless overwhelmingly in Garfield”s favor with 214 votes to 155.

After the election, Arthur sought to persuade Garfield to appoint New York stalwarts to several cabinet positions, including Secretary of the Treasury. He was disappointed when he discovered that Garfield was planning to appoint Conkling”s nemesis Blaine as Secretary of State. Relations between the two men, already strained, deteriorated further as Garfield continued not to appoint stalwarts to available positions. Arthur”s standing in the administration was further weakened when, a month before the inauguration, he gave a speech to a room of reporters suggesting that the election in Indiana, a swing state, had been won through fraud. Garfield eventually appointed a stalwart, Thomas L. James, to head the Post Office Department, but Arthur”s influence struggles and rhetoric continued to tarnish relations between the two men, who were sworn in separately on March 4, 1881. The Senate of the 47th Congress was composed of 37 Republicans, 37 Democrats and one independent (David Davis) who announced he would join the Democrats, one Readjuster (William Mahone) whose allegiance was uncertain, and four vacant seats. Immediately the Democrats tried to control the Senate, knowing that the vacancies would soon be filled by Republicans. As vice-president, Arthur used his vote to support the Republicans when Mahone chose to join them. Even so, the Senate remained stalled for two months because of Garfield”s appointments, some of which were rejected by Conkling. Just before the recess in May 1881, the situation was further complicated when Conkling and New York”s other senator, Thomas C. Platt, resigned in protest at Garfield”s continued opposition to their faction.

With the Senate in recess, Arthur had no duties in Washington and returned to New York. Once there, he and Conkling traveled to Albany, where the former senator had hoped for a quick re-election to the Senate to disavow the Garfield administration. The Republican majority in the state legislature was divided on the issue, however, and to Conkling”s and Platt”s surprise, they found themselves facing off against their political comrades. While in Albany on July 2, Arthur learned that Garfield had been shot. The shooter, Charles J. Guiteau, was a troubled lawyer who believed that assassinating Garfield would convince Arthur to offer him a position in his administration; he proclaimed to witnesses, “I am the stalwart of the stalwarts…Arthur is now president!” Despite his alleged ties to Arthur, the public soon learned that Guiteau was mentally unstable and had no connection to the vice president. More worrisome was the lack of clarity in the presidential succession arrangement: with Garfield on death row, no one knew if anyone could exercise presidential authority. Moreover, after Conkling”s resignation, the Senate had split without electing a president pro tempore, who was the person normally behind Arthur in the order of succession. Arthur was reluctant to act as president while Garfield was still alive, and the next two months saw a power vacuum with Garfield too weak to carry out his duties and Arthur refusing to assume them. During the summer, Arthur refused to go to Washington and was at his Lexington Avenue residence when he learned on the night of September 19 that Garfield had died. Justice John R. Brady of the New York Supreme Court administered the presidential oath in Arthur”s home at 2:15 a.m. the next morning, and Arthur boarded a train for the federal capital two days later.

Assumption of duties

Arriving in Washington on September 22, Arthur renewed his presidential oath, this time with Supreme Court Chief Justice Morrison R. Waite, as he was unsure whether a state judge had the authority to administer the presidential oath. He initially resided in the residence of Senator John P. Jones pending major changes he had ordered to the White House, including the addition of a large glass window by Louis Comfort Tiffany. Since Arthur was a widower, his sister, Mary Arthur McElroy, took on the role of First Lady. Arthur quickly became the most popular bachelor in Washington and his social life was the subject of many rumors but he remained faithful to the memory of his late wife. His son, Chester Jr. was then a student at Princeton University and his daughter, Nell, remained in New York with a governess until 1882; when she arrived, Arthur tried to protect her as much as he could from press intrusion.

Arthur soon came into conflict with the Garfield administration, most of whose members were from Republican factions that rivaled Arthur”s. He asked his members to stay in office until December and the meeting of Congress, but Treasury Secretary William Windom submitted his resignation in October to run for a Senate seat in his home state of Minnesota. He asked his members to stay in office until December and the meeting of Congress, but Treasury Secretary William Windom submitted his resignation in October to run for a Senate seat in his home state of Minnesota. Arthur replaced him with Charles J. Folger, his friend and fellow New York stalwart. Attorney General Wayne MacVeagh was the next to resign because he felt that as a reformer he had no place in the Arthur administration. Despite the president”s personal intervention, MacVeagh resigned in December 1881 and was replaced by Benjamin H. Brewster, a Philadelphia lawyer and politician with some reformist ideas. Blaine, the arch-enemy of the Stalwart faction, agreed to remain secretary of state until Parliament resumed, but resigned immediately afterwards. Conkling hoped that Arthur would appoint him in Blaine”s place, but the president chose Frederick T. Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, a stalwart recommended by former President Grant, in his place. Frelinghuysen advised Arthur not to appoint stalwarts to other positions, but when Postmaster General Thomas L. James resigned in January 1882, Arthur chose Timothy O. Howe, a stalwart from Wisconsin, to replace him. Secretary of the Navy William H. Hunt resigned in April 1882, and Arthur tried a more balanced approach by appointing William E. Chandler on Blaine”s recommendation. Chandler on Blaine”s recommendation. Finally, when Secretary of the Interior Samuel J. Kirkwood resigned that same month, Arthur appointed Henry M. Teller, a Colorado stalwart, to the post. Of the cabinet members Arthur had inherited from Garfield, only Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln remained for Arthur”s entire term.

Civil service reform

In the 1870s, the public became aware of the star route scandal, in which rigged contracts on the mail routes had led to extensive corruption with the complicity of high-level officials (including the second assistant Postmaster General, Thomas J. Brady, and former Senator Stephen Wallace Dorsey). For many reformers, the new President Arthur, a former supporter of the spoils system, would tolerate this kind of corruption and bury the investigation of the scandal. Nevertheless, the new attorney general, Brewster, continued the investigations begun by McVeagh and hired the influential Democratic lawyers William W. Ker and Richard T. Merrick (en) in an attempt to bring the scandal to light. Merrick (en) in an attempt to improve the investigative team and avoid rumours of political collusion. Although Arthur had worked closely with Dorsey before taking office, once in office he supported the investigations and pushed for the resignation of senior officials involved in the scandal. The trial of those responsible for the fraud in 1882 resulted in the conviction of two minor defendants, but the jury failed to reach a majority for the other defendants. After one juror alleged that the defense had tried to bribe him, the judge reversed the verdict and announced a new trial. Before the second trial began, Arthur transferred five high ranking officials who were considered too close to the defense, including a former senator. The retrial began in December 1882 and lasted until July 1883, but did not result in a conviction. The failure to secure a conviction tarnished the image of the government, but Arthur had succeeded in putting an end to the fraud.

Garfield”s assassination by a deranged lawyer seeking public office amplified the popular demand for civil service reform. Democratic and Republican leaders realized that they could attract reformer votes by opposing the spoils system. In 1880, Democratic Senator George H. Pendleton of Ohio introduced legislation that would allow selection of civil servants based on merit and competition. In his 1881 State of the Union address, Arthur called for civil service reform, and Pendleton reintroduced his bill, but Congress rejected it. The Republicans lost seats in the 1882 election, while the Democrats had campaigned on the issue of reform. Thus, the outgoing Congress was more favorable to the issue and Pendleton”s bill passed. Arthur signed the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act on January 16, 1883. In just two years, a stubborn stalwart had become the president who passed a civil service reform that had been decades in the making.

Initially, the law applied to only 10 per cent of federal positions and, without the president”s intervention, it might not have gone any further. Even after he signed the law, reformers doubted Arthur”s commitment to reform. To their surprise, he acted quickly to appoint members of the Civil Service Commission created by the act and nominated reformers Dorman B. Eaton (en), John M. Gregory (en) and Leroy D. Thoman (en) as commissioners. Chief Inspector Silas W. Burt, was a long-time reformer who had been Arthur”s opponent when the two men worked in the New York City customs office. The commission made its first recommendations in May 1883, and by 1884 half of the postal service officials and three-quarters of the customs service members were appointed on merit. That same year, Arthur expressed satisfaction with the new system, praising its effectiveness “in securing competent and honest officials and in protecting the employees of the government from the pressure and toil of examining the applications and complaints of rival candidates for office.

Budget surplus and customs duties

As a result of taxes created during the Civil War, the federal government had been collecting more money than it spent since 1866, and the budget surplus reached $145 million in 1882 (about $186 billion in 2012 dollars). Opinions varied on how to balance the budget. Most Democrats wanted to lower tariffs to reduce revenues and lower the price of imported goods. Republicans were opposed to this and saw high tariffs as allowing high wages for employees in industry. They wanted increased federal spending, especially on public works, and reduced excise taxes. Arthur was broadly in agreement with his party and in 1882 he called for the abolition of excise duties on all products except liquor and for a simplification of the complex tax structure. In May 1882, Representative William D. Kelley of Pennsylvania introduced legislation to create a tax commission. The bill was passed and signed by Arthur, but he appointed many protectionists to the committee. Republicans were pleased with the composition of the committee but were surprised when, in December 1882, the committee proposed to Congress a cut in tariffs of 20 to 25 percent. The committee”s recommendations were ignored, however, because the protectionist-dominated House Tax Committee drafted the bill limiting the cuts to 10 per cent. After agreement with the Senate, the bill reduced duties by only 1.47 per cent. The bill narrowly passed both houses on March 3, 1883, the last day of the 47th Congress. Arthur signed the bill, but it did not significantly reduce the budget surplus.

At the time of the tariff debate, Congress attempted to balance the budget by increasing spending with a Ports and Rivers Act that provided for an unprecedented expenditure of $19 million (about $25 billion in 2012 dollars). Arthur was not opposed to these improvements, but the size of the bill bothered him, as did the focus on “particular localities” instead of projects that would benefit the greater part of the nation. On August 1, 1882, Arthur vetoed the unpopular bill. In his message accompanying the veto, he wrote that his main objection to the law was that it appropriated funds “not for the defense of the common or general interest and did not promote interstate commerce.” Congress overrode his veto and the bill reduced the surplus by $19 million. Many Republicans considered the act a success, but later felt that its unpopularity cost them seats in the 1882 election.

Foreign Affairs and Immigration

During the Garfield presidency, Secretary of State James G. Blaine led U.S. diplomacy in Latin America in a new direction by proposing reciprocal trade agreements and mediating disputes between Latin American states. Blaine proposed a pan-American conference in 1882 to discuss trade issues and the end of the Pacific War between Bolivia, Chile, and Peru. This marked a significant change in the previously much more isolationist American foreign policy. Blaine did not stay in office long enough to see the results of his efforts, and when Frederick T. Frelinghuysen replaced him in late 1881, efforts to prepare for a conference were suspended. Frelinghuysen also stopped American attempts to mediate in the Pacific War because he feared that the United States would be drawn into it. Arthur and Frelinghuysen continued Blaine”s efforts to encourage trade between the nations of the Western Hemisphere, and a treaty signed in 1882 and approved by Congress in 1884 with Mexico allowed for the reduction of tariffs between the two countries. The House, however, did not approve the necessary legislation and the treaty was never implemented. Similar efforts with Santo Domingo and the Spanish colonies were rejected in February 1885, and an existing reciprocity treaty with the Kingdom of Hawaii lapsed.

The 47th Congress spent a great deal of time on the immigration issue, sometimes agreeing with Arthur”s ideas and sometimes disagreeing. In July 1882, without any real opposition, Congress passed a bill regulating steamboats carrying immigrants to the United States. To his surprise, Arthur vetoed the bill, citing the language of the bill; Congress agreed to rewrite it and Arthur signed it. He also signed the Immigration Act of 1882 in August, which imposed a 50-cent tax (about $108 in 2012 dollars) on immigrants and prohibited the entry of the mentally ill and handicapped, criminals, and anyone “unable to support himself without becoming a burden on society. A more important debate concerned the status of a particular group of immigrants: the Chinese. In 1868, the Senate had ratified the Burlingame Treaty with China, which allowed unlimited immigration of Chinese to the United States. Because of the economic contraction after the banking crisis of May 1873, Chinese immigrants were accused of driving down workers” wages. In response, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1879 that repealed the 1868 treaty, but President Hayes vetoed the bill. Three years later, after China agreed to consider revisions to the treaty, Congress again attempted to reduce Chinese immigration. Senator John F. Miller of California introduced legislation that would deny U.S. citizenship to Chinese immigrants and ban all immigration from that country for 20 years. The bill passed the Senate and House with overwhelming majorities and reached Arthur”s desk in April 1882. Arthur vetoed the bill, considering the 20-year ban to be in violation of the 1880 renegotiation treaty that allowed for a “reasonable” suspension of immigration. Eastern newspapers praised Arthur for his veto, but he was widely condemned by West Coast newspapers. Congress was unable to override the veto and passed a new law that limited immigration for 10 years. Although he continued to oppose denying citizenship to Chinese immigrants, Arthur signed the compromise bill on May 6, 1882.

Naval reform

In the years following the Civil War, American naval power declined rapidly from nearly 700 ships to 52, most of which were obsolete. The nation”s military effort in the fifteen years before Garfield and Arthur were elected had been focused on the Indian wars rather than the ocean, but with the gradual pacification of the West, Congress began to worry about the deplorable state of the Navy. Garfield”s Secretary of the Navy, William H. Hunt, advocated naval reform and his successor, William E. Chandler, appointed a committee to oversee the reform of the Navy. Chandler, appointed a committee to prepare a report on modernization. In accordance with the report”s recommendations, Congress voted funds for the construction of three protected cruisers (USS Atlanta, USS Boston and USS Chicago) and a gunboat (USS Dolphin), named ABCD Ships or Squadron of Evolution. Congress also approved the rebuilding of four monitors (USS Puritan (en), USS Amphitrite (en), USS Monadnock (en) and USS Terror (en)) that had been awaiting completion since 1877. The contracts for the construction of the ABCD ships were awarded to the lowest bidder, John Roach & Sons of Chester, Pennsylvania, although the company had previously employed Chandler as a lobbyist. The Democrats opposed the New Navy”s plans and when they regained control of Congress in 1883, they refused to vote funds for seven new ships. Even without his additional ships, the condition of the navy improved when the last of the new ships entered service in 1889 after numerous construction delays.

Civil rights

Like his Republican predecessors, Arthur was concerned with how his party should oppose the Democrats in the South and how to protect black civil rights. Since the end of Reconstruction, white conservative Democrats (or “Bourbon Democrats”) had regained power in the South, and the Republican Party”s supporters, primarily blacks, were being progressively disenfranchised through Jim Crow laws. However, a crack in the Democratic Solid South appeared with the emergence of a new party, the Readjuster Party, in Virginia. Having won an election there on the promise of better education (for blacks and whites), the abolition of per capita taxation and the pillory, many Northern Republicans saw the Readjusters as more viable allies than the moribund Southern Republican Party. Arthur agreed and directed federal support in Virginia to the readjusters rather than to the Republicans. He applied the same principle in the other Southern states by building coalitions with independents and the Greenback Party. Some black Republicans felt betrayed by this pragmatic gamble, but others (including Frederick Douglass and former Senator Blanche K. Bruce) supported the administration”s actions because the Southern independents had more liberal racial policies than the Democrats. Arthur”s coalition policy was only successful in Virginia, however, and by 1885 the readjustment movement began to collapse with the election of a Democratic president. Other federal actions on behalf of blacks were also ineffective. When the Supreme Court struck down the Civil Rights Act of 1875 in an 1883 decision, Arthur expressed his disagreement in a message to Congress but was unable to convince it to pass new legislation. Arthur did, however, intervene to overturn a court-martial of a black cadet at West Point Military Academy, Johnson Whittaker (en), after the Army Judge Advocate General, David G. Swaim (en), proved that the prosecution”s case was racially motivated.

The administration faced a different problem in the West, where the Mormon Church was under federal pressure to end the practice of polygamy in Utah Territory. Garfield considered polygamy to be criminal behavior and contrary to family values and Arthur was, for once, in agreement with his predecessor. In 1882, he signed the Edmunds Act, which made polygamy a federal crime and prohibited polygamists from becoming public officials.

The Arthur administration also had to deal with changing relations with the Native American tribes. The Indian wars were ending and public opinion was shifting toward greater tolerance. Arthur urged Congress to increase funds for Native American education, which it did in 1884, but not on the scale he wanted. Arthur also favored a move toward the parcel system, in which individuals, not tribes, owned the land. Arthur was unable to convince Congress to adopt this idea during his term, but in 1887 the Dawes Act changed the law to favour such a system. The system was supported by liberal reformers, but it ultimately proved disadvantageous to Native Americans because most of the land was sold at low prices to white speculators. During Arthur”s presidency, settlers and cattle ranchers continued to move into Native American allotted territories. Arthur opposed this development, but after Secretary of the Interior Henry M. Teller, an opponent of parcelization, assured him that the land was not protected, the president opened the Crow Creek Reservation in Dakota Territory to settlement in 1885. His successor, Grover Cleveland, however, considered the land to be Native American property and rescinded Arthur”s executive order a few months later.

End of term

Shortly after becoming president, Arthur was diagnosed with Bright”s disease, a kidney condition now called nephritis. He tried to keep his illness a secret, but in 1883 rumors of his condition began to circulate. By then he had lost weight and looked older and less energetic to keep up with the demands of the presidency. Hoping to improve his health by leaving Washington, Arthur and some political friends traveled to Florida in April 1883. The trip had the opposite effect and Arthur suffered severe pain before returning to Washington. Later that year, on the advice of Senator George Graham Vest of Missouri, he visited Yellowstone National Park. The journalists accompanying the president helped publicize the new national park system. The trip to Yellowstone was more beneficial to Arthur”s health than the trip to Florida, and he returned to Washington in better health after two months of travel.

As the presidential election of 1884 approached, James G. Blaine was considered the favorite for the Republican nomination, but Arthur was also considering a second term as president. In the months leading up to the 1884 Republican convention, Arthur began to realize that no faction of the Republican party was prepared to support him: the half-breeds were again solidly behind Blaine while the stalwarts were undecided; some supported Arthur and others were supporters of Senator John A. Logan of Illinois. Reform Republicans had moved closer to Arthur after he supported civil service reform, but they were not always sure of his intentions, and Senator George F. Edmunds (en) of Vermont, a long-time supporter of the cause, appeared to be a serious contender. Business leaders as well as Southern Republicans who owed their jobs to him through the federal support system were in his favor, but as they began to campaign for him, Arthur resisted a serious campaign for his candidacy. He ran a token campaign, believing that dropping out would call into question his actions in the White House and ask questions about his health, but by the time the convention began his defeat was almost assured. Blaine led on the first ballot and won a majority of the votes on the fourth. Arthur telegraphed his congratulations and accepted his defeat with equanimity. He played no part in the 1884 campaign, which Blaine considered to have contributed to his defeat by his Democratic opponent, Grover Cleveland.

Administration and Cabinet

Arthur appointed two justices to the U.S. Supreme Court. The first vacancy occurred in July 1881 with the death of Associate Justice Nathan Clifford, a Democrat who had served on the court since the end of the Civil War. Arthur appointed Horace Gray, a prominent Massachusetts Supreme Court jurist, to replace him and the appointment was easily confirmed. Gray served until 1902 and was the author of the Court”s decision in United States v. Wong Kim Ark (en), which struck down the section of the Chinese Exclusion Act that denied American citizenship to Chinese immigrants. The second vacancy occurred when Associate Justice Ward Hunt retired (he doubted that Conkling would accept but felt compelled to offer his former boss an influential position. The Senate confirmed the appointment, but as expected Conkling declined. Senator George Edmunds was Arthur”s second choice, but he also declined; this was the last time a Senate-confirmed nominee would decline his nomination to the Supreme Court. Finally Arthur nominated Samuel Blatchford, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit for 15 years. Blatchford accepted and his nomination was approved in less than two weeks. Blatchford served on the Court until his death in 1893. In addition to the Supreme Court, Arthur appointed four circuit court judges and thirteen district court judges.

Arthur left office in 1885 and returned to his home in New York. Two months before the end of his term, several New York stalwarts approached him about running for the Senate, but he declined, preferring to return to his law practice with Arthur, Knevals & Ransom. His health limited his activities and Arthur devoted himself to consulting assignments. He took few responsibilities in the firm and was often too ill to leave his home. He participated in a few public events until the end of 1885.

After spending the summer of 1886 in New London, Connecticut, he returned quite ill and on November 16, he asked that almost all of his personal and official documents be burned. The next day, Arthur suffered an intracerebral hemorrhage and never regained consciousness; he died the next day at the age of 57. On November 22, a private funeral was held in New York City with President Cleveland, former President Hayes and others in attendance. Arthur was buried next to the graves of many of his family members and ancestors at the Albany Rural Cemetery in Menands. He was placed beside his wife in a sarcophagus.

At his death, the New York World wrote that “no mission was neglected during his administration and no adventurous project troubled the nation. In 1898, a 5-meter bronze statue of Arthur by George Edwin Bissell was installed on a granite pedestal in New York”s Madison Square. It was unveiled in 1899 by his sister, Mary Arthur McElroy, and at the ceremony Secretary of War Elihu Root declared Arthur “a wise statesman and a firm and efficient administrator” while acknowledging that he had been isolated and disliked by his party. Arthur”s unpopularity during his lifetime reflected on historians” assessments, and his reputation upon leaving office faded. In 1935, historian George F. Howe wrote that Arthur remained “in obscurity in strange contrast to his significant role in American history.” In 1975, Thomas C. Reeves (the corruption and scandals that dominated the business and politics of the period did not tarnish his administration. In his 2004 biography, Zachary Karabell wrote that although Arthur was “physically strained and emotionally affected, he tried to do what was right for the country.

External links


  1. Chester A. Arthur
  2. Chester A. Arthur
  3. Certaines sources anciennes avancent la date du 5 octobre 1830[1], mais le biographe Thomas C. Reeves confirme que cela est incorrect : Arthur revendiquait être plus jeune d”une année « par simple vanité[2] ».
  4. Arthur fue vicepresidente bajo James A. Garfield y se convirtió en presidente tras la muerte de Garfield el 19 de septiembre de 1881. Esto fue antes de la adopción de la Vigésima Quinta Enmienda en 1967, y una vacante en el cargo de vicepresidente no se cubría hasta la siguiente elección e inauguración.
  5. Sol Barzaman: Madmen and Geniuses; Follet Books Chicago 1974
  6. a b Justus Doenecke: Life Before the Presidency. Miller Center of Public Affairs der University of Virginia, abgerufen am 13. Juli 2017
  7. 1 2 Chester Alan Arthur // Энциклопедия Брокгауз (нем.) / Hrsg.: Bibliographisches Institut & F. A. Brockhaus, Wissen Media Verlag
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Thomas Reeves, 1975.
  9. 1 2 Howe, 1966.
  10. Ferris.
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