Chester Arthur: 21st President: Earned National Respect

Updated on December 6, 2019
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Angela loves history and feels it is essential to our future to know the past—or else be 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 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.

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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.

His Presidency Passing the Pendleton Act and Immigration Laws

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

As President, he insisted on retaining the same level of comfort; 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 way, 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 for 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 ended up being a dominant political issue between Democrats and Republicans, especially disturbing Westerners and Southerners who began looking towards 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 a 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 that, "No man ever entered the Presidency so profoundly and widely distrusted, and one ever retired....more generally respected."

Gravesite of President Arthur


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.

Chester Arthur Biography: One of the Least Known Presidents

Basic Facts

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


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    • Tim Truzy info4u profile image

      Tim Truzy 

      2 years ago from U.S.A.

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


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