Arthur, Chester A

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Arthur, Chester A.

21st president, 1881–1885

Born: October 5, 1829

Died: November 18, 1886

Vice President: none

First Lady: none

Children: William, Chester, Ellen

On September 20, 1881, the day after the death of President James Garfield, Vice President Arthur was sworn in by New York Supreme Court Judge John R. Brady. The following day, he took the oath of office again—this time administered by Chief Justice Morrison Waite. Arthur never made an inaugural speech.

Although critics were apprehensive when he was made president, Arthur had a successful term. Prior to being elected as vice president, Arthur was considered a "Stalwart" Republican who used the "spoils system" to award jobs to those who had been loyal to the Republican Party. Garfield's assassination convinced Arthur that the system had to be reformed. Arthur gave his support to the Civil Service Bill that, among other things, created the Civil Service Commission to oversee the examinations that future applicants for government jobs would be required to take.

  • Arthur's wife died less than two years before he became president. He had fresh flowers placed by her photograph each day while he lived in the White House.
  • Arthur is credited with reforming the civil service system into one that is used today, whereby employees are hired based upon their qualifications rather than their politics.
  • Arthur's love for luxuries earned him the nickname "Gentleman Boss."
  • Arthur hired the internationally known designer Louis Comfort Tiffany to refurbish the White House.
  • Arthur learned in 1882 that he had Bright's Disease, a fatal kidney ailment, but kept it secret until he left office.

Arthur was born in Vermont. As an adult, he became a lawyer in New York working for a firm whose cases frequently dealt with the rights of African Amercans. He married Ellen Herndon in 1859. When the Civil War started, Arthur, a member of the New York State militia, served as quartermaster general and was responsible for obtaining food and shelter for Yankee troops. At the end of the war, he resumed his law career and entered politics.

When Arthur Was in Office

Congress passed legislation banning Chinese immigration for 10 years.
The Brooklyn Bridge was completed in New York City
Frontier scout William F. Cody introduced "Buffalo Bill's Wild West," a show that dramatized the legends of the West.
Congress passed the Pendleton Civil Service Act to reform the Civil Service.
The first skyscraper, the Home Insurance Building, was built in Chicago.
Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was published.
The Washington Monument was dedicated after 36 years of construction.

Arthur was not nominated by the Republican Party to run for a second term and returned to his law practice in New York. He died on November 18, 1886.

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Arthur, Chester A

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