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Chester Arthur: 21st President: Earned National Respect

Angela loves history and feels it is essential to our future to know the past—or else we're destined to repeat it.

Official Presidential Portrait

Successful Early Years

Chester Alan Arthur unexpectedly became the 21st President after Charles J. Guiteau assassinated the 20th President, James Garfield. Many feared he was ill-equipped to take the job and that other politicians would control him. Arthur proved them wrong and showed that he was a man of integrity through honesty and courage.

He was born to a Baptist preacher in Fairfield, Vermont, in 1829. His father was born in Northern Ireland and immigrated here before Chester was born. He went onto Union College in 1848, then later taught school. After teaching, he went on to be a successful New York lawyer.

He became very wealthy, dressed in the finest fashions, and lived extravagantly. He even hired a French cook and was served luxurious meals. He was considered tall and handsome with a clean-shaven chin with side-whiskers.

Roscoe Conkling's Stalwart Republican Machine

When the Civil War began, he was the Quartermaster General of New York State, where he was in charge of assuring that military men had their basic needs met, such as housing, food, clothing, etc.

In 1871, President Grant chose him to be the Collector of the Port of New York, where he was in charge of thousands of employees in the Customs House. He was honest and honorable in all of his work. Unfortunately, President Arthur hired too many employees for the needs of the House. He kept on some workers as party workers rather than government officials. When President Rutherford Hayes was in office, he wanted to reform the Customs House; therefore, in 1878, he removed Chester from his position.

Arthur worked closely with Senator Roscoe Conkling, who became notoriously known to lead a United States faction known as the Stalwart Republican Machine. The Stalwart Republican Machine fought to renominate Grant in 1880. When they were unsuccessful, they reluctantly asked Arthur to run as his Vice President, which proved to be a good move because Grant was elected.

As Vice President, Arthur was loyal to Conkling and his machine. When Charles J. Guiteau assassinated Garfield, his position towards it changed, which was a surprise to everyone, which may have been due to the heightened public pressure after Garfield's assassination. He became a promoter of civil service reform, and he pressured Congress to listen to him as President.

Gravesite of President Arthur

His Presidency Passing the Pendleton Act and Immigration Laws

In 1882, he passed the first general Federal immigration law, which excluded criminals, lunatics, and homeless people from immigrating to the United States. At this time, Congress suspended all Chinese immigration for ten years, which later became permanent.

As President, he insisted on retaining the same comfort level; his wealth had always given him. He refused to live in the White House until it suited his elegant tastes, with all new furniture and 24 wagon loads of old things disposed of. Just as the White House was in the latest fashions, so was his attire.

He angered some by avoiding his old political friends and instead was seen with Washington's, New York's, and Newport's elite. He also felt that the Navy should get new ships, replacing ones used during the Civil War.

Many expected that he would hand out jobs to his friends, as many politicians did at the time, but he wanted a fairer system. He persuaded Congress to pass the United State's first "bi-partisan" Civil Service law, the Pendleton Act, in 1883, which made it so that one would have to pass a written examination before getting a government position. It also made it so that they could not be removed from office based solely on political reasons.

Chester also signed the Tariff Act of 1883, which was an attempt to lower tariff rates to prevent the embarrassment of the United States government of its annual surplus of revenue. This act became a dominant political issue between Democrats and Republicans, especially disturbing Westerners and Southerners who began looking toward the Democratic Party for answers.

Although he was well-liked by many Americans, he was not well-liked by his own party; therefore, the Republican candidate did not select him during the 1884 presidential election.

Although diagnosed while in office, he hid that he had fatal kidney disease. Immediately on leaving the Presidency, he returned to New York City, where he continued to work in his affluent law practice for two more years until he died of this disease. He left a legacy that a publisher Alexander K. McClure well captured when he stated, "No man ever entered the Presidency so profoundly and widely distrusted, and one ever retired....more generally respected."

Chester Arthur Biography: One of the Least Known Presidents

Fun Facts

  • Many believed that he was not a natural-born citizen because his father lived in Ireland and Canada. Although he was born in Vermont, rumors flew about him living in Ireland for ten years.
  • He worked as a principal at North Pownal Academy, which met in his father's church's basement. Three years later, after Arthur left, James A. Garfield taught penmanship there.
  • During his presidency, he was diagnosed with Bright's Disease (chronic inflammation of the kidneys).
  • He did not have a vice-president the entire time he was president.
  • He never ran for President.

Basic Facts

Question Answer


October 5, 1829 - Vermont

President Number




Military Service

New York Militia

Wars Served

American Civil War

Age at Beginning of Presidency

52 years old

Term of Office

September 20, 1881 - March 3, 1885

How Long Served as President

4 years



Age and Year of Death

November 18, 1886 (aged 57)

Cause of Death

Cerebral hemorrhage

Arthur Taking Oath of Office

List of the United States Presidents

1. George Washington

16. Abraham Lincoln

31. Herbert Hoover

2. John Adams

17. Andrew Johnson

32. Franklin D. Roosevelt

3. Thomas Jefferson

18. Ulysses S. Grant

33. Harry S. Truman

4. James Madison

19. Rutherford B. Hayes

34. Dwight D. Eisenhower

5. James Monroe

20. James Garfield

35. John F. Kennedy

6. John Quincy Adams

21. Chester A. Arthur

36. Lyndon B. Johnson

7. Andrew Jackson

22. Grover Cleveland

37. Richard M. Nixon

8. Martin Van Buren

23. Benjamin Harrison

38. Gerald R. Ford

9. William Henry Harrison

24. Grover Cleveland

39. James Carter

10. John Tyler

25. William McKinley

40. Ronald Reagan

11. James K. Polk

26. Theodore Roosevelt

41. George H. W. Bush

12. Zachary Taylor

27. William Howard Taft

42. William J. Clinton

13. Millard Fillmore

28. Woodrow Wilson

43. George W. Bush

14. Franklin Pierce

29. Warren G. Harding

44. Barack Obama

15. James Buchanan

30. Calvin Coolidge

45. Donald Trump


  • Conradt, Stacy. "21 Things You Didn't Know About the 21st President." Mental Floss. October 4, 2011. Accessed December 21, 2016.
  • Freidel, F., & Sidey, H. (2009). Chester Arthur. Retrieved April 22, 2016, from
  • Sullivan, George. Mr. President: A Book of U.S. Presidents. New York: Scholastic, 2001. Print.

© 2017 Angela Michelle Schultz


Tim Truzy from U.S.A. on September 03, 2017:

He was an interesting president. Thank you for a well researched and informative article.