Chester Alan Arthur ( October 5, 1830 – November 18, 1886) was the twentieth Vice President ( 1881 ), and the twenty-first ( 1881 - 1885 ) President of the United States.
Arthur became President when James Garfield was assassinated. Before being chosen as Vice President, he had been collector of customs for the port of New York. As such, he was assumed to be benefiting from bribes and corruption. Hence many were surprised when he became an advocate of civil service reform and presided over the passage of the Pendleton Act.
During the Civil War, Arthur served as acting quartermaster general of the State in 1861. He was later commissioned as inspector general, and appointed quartermaster general with the rank of brigadier general, and served until 1862. He resumed the practice of law in New York City, and was appointed by President Ulysses Grant as collector of the port of New York 1871 - 1878.
Honorable in his personal life and his public career, Arthur nevertheless was a firm believer in the spoils system when it was coming under vehement attack from reformers. He insisted upon honest administration of the Customs House, but staffed it with more employees than it needed, retaining them for their merit as party workers rather than as Government officials.
In 1878 President Hayes, attempting to reform the Customs House, ousted Arthur. Conkling and his followers tried to win redress by fighting for the renomination of Grant at the 1880 Republican Convention. Failing, they reluctantly accepted the nomination of Arthur for the Vice Presidency. In 1878 Arthur resumed the practice of law in New York City. He was elected Vice President of the United States on the Republican ticket with President James Garfield for the term beginning March 4, 1881. Upon the death of President Garfield, Arthur became President of the United States on September 20, 1881.
Avoiding old political friends, he became a man of fashion in his garb and associates, and often was seen with the elite of Washington, New York, and Newport. To the indignation of the Stalwart Republicans, the onetime Collector of the Port of New York became, as President, a champion of civil service reform. Public pressure, heightened by the assassination of Garfield, forced an unwieldy Congress to heed the President.
In 1883 Congress passed the Pendleton Act, which established a bipartisan Civil Service Commission, forbade levying political assessments against officeholders, and provided for a "classified system" that made certain Government positions obtainable only through competitive written examinations. The system protected employees against removal for political reasons.
Acting independently of party dogma, Arthur also tried to lower tariff rates so the Government would not be embarrassed by annual surpluses of revenue. Congress raised about as many rates as it trimmed, but Arthur signed the Tariff Act of 1883. Aggrieved Westerners and Southerners looked to the Democratic Party for redress, and the tariff began to emerge as a major political issue between the two parties.
The Arthur Administration enacted the first general Federal immigration law. Arthur approved a measure in 1882 excluding paupers, criminals, and lunatics. Congress suspended Chinese immigration for ten years, later making the restriction permanent.
Arthur demonstrated as President that he was above factions within the Republican Party, if indeed not above the party itself. Perhaps in part his reason was the well-kept secret he had known since a year after he succeeded to the Presidency, that he was suffering from a fatal kidney disease. He kept himself in the running for the Presidential nomination in 1884 in order not to appear that he feared defeat, but was not renominated. Publisher Alexander K. McClure recalled, "No man ever entered the Presidency so profoundly and widely distrusted, and no one ever retired ... more generally respected."
He and served until March 3, 1885. He returned to New York City where he died November 18, 1886, Interment is in the Rural Cemetery in Albany, New York.