21st President of the United States
September 19, 1881 - March 4, 1885
James A. Garfield
(1854 - 1886)
Chester Alan Arthur
(October 5, 1829 - November 18, 1886)
Chester Arthur was an American attorney and politician who served as the 21st president of the United States, and previously the 20th vice president of the United States. He succeeded to the presidency upon the death of President James A. Garfield in September 1881, two months after Garfield was shot by an assassin.
He served as quartermaster general of the New York Militia during the American Civil War. Following the war, he devoted more time to Republican politics and quickly rose in the political machine. Four months into his term, Garfield was shot by an assassin; he died 11 weeks later, and Arthur assumed the presidency.
At the outset, Arthur struggled to overcome a negative reputation as a Stalwart and product of Conkling's machine. To the surprise of reformers, he took up the cause of civil service reform. Arthur advocated and enforced the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act, presided over the rebirth of the United States Navy, but was criticized for failing to alleviate the federal budget surplus accumulating since the end of the Civil War.
Arthur signed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which resulted in denying citizenship to Chinese Americans until 1898 and barring Chinese immigration until 1943. Building on the 1875 Page Act, which barred Chinese women from entering the country, it was the first total ban on a nation or ethnic group from immigrating to the country.
Suffering from poor health, Arthur made only a limited effort to secure the Republican Party's nomination in 1884 and retired at the close of his term. Journalist Alexander McClure later wrote, "No man ever entered the Presidency so profoundly and widely distrusted as Chester Alan Arthur, and no one ever retired . . . more generally respected alike by political friend and foe."
Although his failing health and political temperament combined to make his administration less active than a modern presidency, he earned praise among contemporaries for his solid performance in office. The New York World summed up Arthur's presidency at his death in 1886: "No duty was neglected in his administration, and no adventurous project alarmed the nation."
Mark Twain wrote of him, "It would be hard indeed to better President Arthur's administration." Over the 20th and 21st centuries, however, Arthur's reputation mostly faded among the public.
October 5, 1829
November 18, 1886 (aged 57)
New York City
Albany Rural Cemetery
Menands, New York