With clean-shaven chin, good height, handsome face and
side-whiskers, it is said that Chester Alan Arthur looked Presidential! Arthur
was born in the house of a Baptist preacher who was originally from Ireland in
1829, Fairfield, Vermont. He studied in the Union College and graduated in the
year 1848. After leaving college, he taught in a school for sometime, worked in
a bar and then practiced law in the city of New York. During the early period of
Civil War, Arthur served as the Quartermaster General of the New York State. He
was appointed as the Collector of the New York Port in 1871 by President Grant.
During his work here, under his supervision, he efficiently organized a large
number of Custom House employees for Roscoe Conkling’s Republican machine.
Arthur was a honorable man, both in his public career and personal life.
Nevertheless, he was a rigid believer of the spoils system which was under
intense attack from the reformers. He was always dedicated to honest
administration when it came to work. For Custom House, he employed for staff
than what was actually required. This move made the staff feel more like party
workers rather than like Government Officials. In 1878, during attempts of
President Hayes towards reformation of the Customs House, Arthur was expelled
from the job. Conkling and followers tried for the re-nomination of Grant during
the Republican Convention of 1880. But they failed and had to accept the
nomination of Chester Alan Arthur for the office of Vice President.He was
elected as the Vice President and during the brief period in which he was the
Vice President, he supported Conkling in his efforts against President Garfield.
However, when Arthur became the President, he was more eager to prove that he
was not into machine politics and wanted to work for the greater good.
He avoided his old friends in politics and became a man of fashion, both in his
attire and his associates. More often than not, he was seen with the most elite
of Washington, Newport and New York. The Stalwart Republicans felt the anger
rightly, as the former collector of the New York Port became a hero of civil
service reforms as the President. Assassination of Garfield increased the
pressure from public and forced the clumsy congress to pay attention to the
The Congress passed the Pendleton Act in 1883. It established a dual party Civil
Service Commission, created a classified system to make Government positions
available only through written competitive examinations and prohibited levying
of political assessments against any officeholder. This helped to protect the
employees against political drama.
Arthur as President was acting independent from the party dogmas. He tried to
decrease the tariff rates through the Tariff Act of 1883 to save the government
from the embarrassment from annual surpluses in revenue. The infuriated
Southerners and Westerners looked towards the Democratic Party now for
redressing and tariff became an important agenda between the two parties.
Administration under President Arthur was the first to enact any form of a
Federal law of immigration. A measure was approved in 1882 which excluded
criminals, lunatics and paupers from immigration. Chinese immigration was
suspended for ten years by the Congress and later was made permanent.Arthur was
a great leader and as Publisher Alexander McClure said, “No man ever
entered the Presidency so profoundly and widely distrusted, and no one ever
retired ... more generally respected.”