The Life of Chester A Arthur

The 21st President of the United States

Chester A Arthur

Chester A Arthur

Chester A Arthur was born to a Baptist minister from northern Ireland in Fairfield, Vermont in 1829.

In 1848, Arthur graduated from Union College. Following his graduation, Arthur became a teacher. Later he was called to the bar and practiced law in New York City. Following the outbreak of the American Civil War, in 1861, Arthur became Quartermaster General for the state of New York.

Chester A Arthur and the Stalwart RepublicansIn 1871, he was appointed Collector for the Port of New York by President Grant, becoming part of Senator Roscoe Conkling’s political machine.

Even though he exhibited a strong sense of personal honour, both in his private life and the execution of his public duties, Arthur was a firm believer in the spoils system. As such, he insisted upon honest administration in the Customs House, but still employed more people than was necessary. Many of these extra employees were Party members who were being retained for their merit as party workers.

In 1878, President Hayes tried to reform the New York City Customs House, ousting Arthur in the process. Conkling and his supporters tried to seek compensation by pushing for the nomination of President Grant in the 1880 Republican Convention. They were unable to achieve this goal and instead had to settle for the nomination of Chester A Arthur as James Garfield’s Vice President.

Chester A Arthur and James Garfield

During his brief tenure as Vice President, Arthur continued to support Conkling in his patronage struggle against President Garfield. However, when Arthur became the 21st President of the United States following James Garfield’s assassination, he was eager to demonstrate that he was above Conkling’s brand of machine politics.

President Chester A Arthur

He started by avoiding Conkling and his other political friends. Arthur also became know for his good taste in fashion and often seen with the elites of Washington DC, New York City and Newport, Virginia. Additionally, and much to the outrage of Conkling and the other Stalwart Republicans, Arthur became a champion for civil service reform. This was helped by public pressure, which increased after President Garfield’s death. Congress was not interested in reforming the government bureaucracy, but had no choice other than to bow to the President’s wishes.

In 1882 President Arthur’s Administration passed the first general immigration law preventing the poor, criminals and the mentally challenged from entering the United States. Congress also suspended immigration from China for ten years, and later made the suspension permanent.

In 1883, Congress passed the Pendleton Act, which called for the creation of a bi-partisan Civil Service Commission. The Pendleton Act also forbade levying political assessments against office-holders. It also made certain government positions attainable only through rigorous and highly competitive written exams, as well as preventing the removal of employees on political grounds.

Arthur continued to act independently of Party dogma when he tried to lower taxes. He was attempting to prevent political embarrassment for the government, due to large annual surpluses. However, Congress raised as many taxes as it cut and as a result, Arthur’s attempt to cut government spending was largely nullified. Around the same time, however, Arthur signed the Tariff Act of 1883 into law. Angry voters in the South and West appealed to the Democrats for help and taxes began to emerge as major issue between the two parties.

Chester A Arthur’s Legacy

During his time in office, Arthur demonstrated an ability to rise above the factions of the Republican Party, and some times above the party as a whole. The reason for this may have been because Arthur was diagnosed with a fatal kidney disease a year after he became President. Despite his terminal diagnosis, Arthur chose to seek the nomination again in 1884 in order not to appear afraid of defeat. He was not nominated a second time, however, and died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1886.

Sources

Chester A Arthur.The White House. US Government. Aug.8/09

 

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