Research Chester_Arthur.jpg

Political Party: Republican
Years in office: 1881-1885
Brief Historical Background:
Chester Alan Arthur was born on October 5, 1829 in Fairfield, Vermont. He was Episcopalian and married Ellen Herndon in 1859. They had three children. He went to Union College and studied to be a Lawyer. He died on November 18, 1886 in NYC. He is buried in Albany.
Path to president:
Worked at the Law firm of Erastus D. Culver, after the Civil War he worked to sue for war related reimbursements and became very wealthy. He also worked for Roscoe Conkling, a prominent republican leader and U.S. Senator. He was nominated for the vice president position at the Republican National Convention in 1880, with strong support from Conkling. The presidential nominee, Garfield, approved Arthur in order to appease the Republican Party leaders (they wanted a New Yorker on the ticket). When President Garfield was assassinated, Chester Arthur became the President of the United States. A fatal kidney disease prevented him from running for reelection and he died a year and a half after his term ended.
Highlights/ Lowlights of Career:
When Arthur assumed the role of President, many Americans feared that he would not do a good job. No one really knew anything about him and the public generally distrusted him.
He was above political factions, which angered some Republicans and alienated his mentor, Roscoe Conkling. He worked to pass the Civil Service Reform Act, which angered many Republicans, who favored the spoils system.
Two Domestic Policy issues:
· Civil Service Reform- Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act (1883). Reduced effectiveness of the spoils system. It created a Civil Service Commission. Many federal government jobs were now based on the merit system (promotion based on ability). It also prohibited soliciting political campaign donations on Federal government property.
· Tariff Reduction- Tariff Act of 1883 (Mongrel Tariff Act). Lowered some tariffs but raised others, so the overall effect was neutral- on average, tariffs were reduced by 1.5%. Arthur was not a huge fan of this act but he wanted to reduce tariffs and this was the best he could do. His intention was to reduce tariffs by at least 20%. This act was very unpopular and became a topic of debate between the Democrat and Republican parties.

Two Foreign Policy Issues:
Chester Arthur didn’t really involve himself in foreign policy.
· Modernization and Expansion of the Navy- President Arthur is considered the “Father of the Steel Navy.” With the help of the Secretary of the Navy, he established the Naval War College in Rhode Island and created the Office of Naval Intelligence. He also called for the construction of steel-clad ships and steam powered engines.
· Chinese Exclusion Act (1882) - Chester Arthur vetoed the original act that would limit Chinese immigrants for twenty years. He felt that the Chinese had been instrumental in building the transcontinental railroad. The general public felt the opposite way of the President and wanted Chinese immigration limited. When the time frame was reduced to 10 years, Arthur signed the act. The Chinese Exclusion Act would be continually renewed into the twentieth century.


Character: B, he was very concerned with appearance, it was said that he, “looked like a president.” He ‘hired’ his younger sister to be First Lady to take care of all the social events.
Morals: B, even though he was supportive of the spoils system during his vice presidency, once he became president, he opposed it and worked to eliminate it by signing the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act. He was also opposed to the Chinese Exclusion Act but eventually signed it.
Economics: B-, He knew that the federal government had a large surplus of money so he tried to share this with the people by reducing tariffs. His intentions for the Tariff Act of 1883 were good, but it was very ineffective. Only a watered down version was passed.
Effectiveness: C, he succeeded in passing the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act and improving the Navy, but that is about it.
Political Skill: A-, He rose above political parties and what Republican Party leaders wanted him to do. He didn’t try to appease either side; rather he worked for the benefit of the people.
Vision: A-, Chester Arthur saw problems and tried his best to fix them. He saw the need for a modernized Navy and the elimination of the spoils system and worked to fix them. He rose above party politics.
Leadership: B, He entered the presidency with little public support, but worked to earn the respect and trust of the people through his leadership. Alexander K. McClure said, “No man ever entered the Presidency so profoundly and widely distrusted, and no one ever retired … more generally respected.” But unfortunately, Arthur struggled with Congress to implement his ideas and often, the final result was ineffective.
Overall: B-, Chester Arthur successfully worked to eliminate the spoils system and implement the merit system but unfortunately, he is often forgotten or only remembered for his facial hair or extensive wardrobe. He has not had a lasting impact on society.
Fun Facts:
· He spent $30,000 of government money to renovate the White House (roughly $2 million today).
· It is rumored that he owned over 80 pairs of pants and would change outfits up to three times a day.
· Mark Twain said, “It would be hard indeed to better President Arthur’s administration.”
· He didn’t have a vice president.
· He was the third person to be president in 1881 (after Hayes and Garfield).