Facts and Events
CHESTER ALAN ARTHUR, 21st president of the United States, was born in Fairfield, Vermont, on October 5, 1830. He served as the Collector of the Port of New York before being elected as James Garfield's vice president in 1880. He became president upon Garfield's death less than a year into their terms of office. After his term as president, he moved to New York City where he died on November 18, 1886.
His father, clergyman William Arthur (1797-1875), when 18 years of age, emigrated from County Antrim, Ireland. He married schoolteacher Malvina Stone, an American girl living in Canada at the time of the marriage. This fact coupled with many changes in the family residence led to the charge in 1880, that Chester Alan Arthur had not been born in Vermont, but in Canada, and was, therefore not eligible for the presidency.
He graduated from Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., in 1848 and was admitted to the bar in 1854. Practicing in New York City, he defended fugitive slaves and joined the Republican party.
In 1859, he married Ellen Lewis Herndon, daughter of a Virginia Naval Officer and the explorer of the Amazon River and his wife, Frances Elizabeth Hansbrough.
He became active in New York City politics, and joined the state militia. During the Civil War, he held successively, positions as Assistant Quartermaster General, Quartermaster General, and Inspector General of State Troops. He won praise for his organizing ability and his overall contribution to the war effort. In 1871, he was appointed Collector of Customs for the port of New York, by President U. S. Grant. This was a stormy period in his career.
In 1880, he was a delegate-at-large to the Republican National Convention, and worked hard for the nomination of President Grant for a third term. Upon the triumph of James A. Garfield over Grant, the need for conciliating the defeated faction led to the offer to the New York Delegation of second place on the ticket. When Levi P. Morton declined, Arthur was offered the nomination and accepted the honor over the protest of many delegates. An angry Conkling, who disliked Garfield and had supported Grant for the nomination, urged Arthur to decline, saying, "Drop it as you would a red-hot shoe from the forge." Arthur responded, "The office of vice-president is a greater honor than I ever dreamed of attaining," and accepted. In the campaign he raised funds by assessing officeholders and personally oversaw the successful Republican canvass of New York State. His services, a colleague recalled, "were of the highest importance" to the party.
Upon the assassination of President Garfield, September 19, 1881, Arthur took the oath as his successor. Coming at a period of intense factional controversy and following the Assassination of Garfield, which had profoundly shocked the public, the accession of Arthur to the Presidency created great apprehension. The wide spread expressions of dismay in the press at the probable outcome of an administration in the hands of so confirmed a factionist and spoilsman as he was reputed to be are said to have deeply wounded Arthur. But his accession address was clear, judicious and reassuring, and his expressed purpose, from which he never measurably deviated, to administer his office in a spirit devoid of factional animosity, established the confidence of the nation and won for him the approval of many of his severest critics. His use of the veto in 1882 in the case of a Chinese immigration bill confirmed the favorable impression that he had made. Arthur was much concerned about national defense and secured increased appropriations for the Navy, including funds for the construction of the first steel cruisers.
Arthur's tepid record and lack of strong support within his own party cost him the presidential nomination in 1884. Moreover, he was ill with Bright's disease and knew that he could not live out a second term. His race for the nomination was only symbolic, and the party chose James G. BLAINE. Arthur died 21 months after leaving office. At a time when the presidency was held in low esteem, he had been both respectable and admirable in office. Conscientious though not inspiring, he had demonstrated that men of modest background and attainments could grow in the White House.
His wife Ellen died a year and a half before he became president, so his sister acted as First Lady.
At the end of his term, he returned to New York where he died in 1886.
In appearance, Arthur was an imposing figure; tall, handsome, always immaculately dressed, dignified, but sociable and gracious to everyone.
(The above was condensed from the Encyclopedia Britannica and Grolier's Encyclopedia)