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The Chester A. Arthur Administration: 1881-1885
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 The Chester A. Arthur Administration (Republican, 1881-1885)
 Not elected to Presidency
Early Life
Chester A. Arthur was the fifth child of a fervent abolitionist preacher who moved his family from one Baptist parish to the next throughout New York and Vermont. In college, Arthur was a less than outstanding student because he was much more interested in extracurricular activities and political demonstrations than in his studies. As a young man, Arthur worked for one of the most prominent law firms in New York, aiding in some of the most crucial cases of the day. Many of these cases focused on the difficult question of African American rights.
President Chester A. Arthur
President Chester A. Arthur
Early Political Career
In the 1880s, immigrants were streaming into the United States by the tens of thousands. In many states, these new arrivals were allowed to vote regardless of their residency or citizenship status. Taking advantage of this situation, powerful, and often corrupt, big-city political machines advanced the interests of these immigrants in exchange for their votes. The career of Chester A. Arthur is an example of such machinery at work.

Arthur worked actively for Roscoe Conkling, US Senator from New York and boss of the powerful political machine centering on the Port of New York. Conkling helped Arthur get appointed as Collector of the Port of New York under Republican President Ulysses S. Grant. While there is no evidence of blatant corruption on
Arthur's part, the New York Customs House had close ties to Boss Conkling's political machine; Arthur routinely collected kickbacks of salary from customs house employees to support the Republican party. In 1879 he was removed from this position by President Hayes under suspicion of corruption.

The Vice Presidency
At the Republican convention in 1880, Arthur was nominated as vice presidential candidate under the moderate Republican candidate, James Garfield. During the political confrontation between President Garfield and Senator Conkling over the Port of New York appointment, Arthur stayed loyal to his former boss and broke with President Garfield. The President won that confrontation, but the result was that Arthur and Garfield were nearly estranged when Garfield was assassinated and Arthur found himself president. Based on this record, it was assumed that Arthur's administration would see a dramatic return to the spoils system.

Personal Life

Arthur was most passionate about his project to refurbish the White House. Known as a man of elegant taste who loved to throw lavish parties, Arthur came to the presidency as "The Gentleman Boss" of New York. Disgusted with the shabby look of the executive mansion, Arthur hired the most famous designer in New York, Louis Comfort Tiffany, to transform it into a showplace befitting the office. Arthur loved to showcase his two children at White House social affairs, but did not care for family life. He much preferred fishing, feasting with his cronies and administrative work. His wife, Ellen Lewis Herndon, died before he assumed office, helping to avoid a pending marital separation.
Issue: Civil Service Reform
As president, Arthur surprised everyone by acting independently, defying his reputation and the political machine he owed his career to. In reforming civil service, Arthur supported the 1883 Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act, which attempted to counter patronage and cronyism by requiring competitive exams for government office. Specifically, the law banned salary kickbacks and insured that promotion would be based on merit, not connections.

Issue: The Economy
While the Republican Party usually worked to protect big business and manufacturing, Arthur pushed for tariff reduction to relieve indebted farmers and middle-class consumers. He also vetoed the notorious pork-barrel Rivers and Harbors Act of 1882, arguing that the growing surplus of federal funds should be decreased by tax reductions rather than government expenditures.
"The Proper Thing," Judge, November 19, 1881 by James A. Wales
"The Proper Thing," Judge, November 19, 1881 by James A. Wales
"The Chinese Question," Harper's Weekly, February 18, 1871, by Thomas Nast
"The Chinese Question," Harper's Weekly, February 18, 1871, by Thomas Nast
Issue: Chinese Immigration
In keeping with Republican and popular opinion, Arthur vetoed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, that would have banned Chinese immigration for twenty years. When the bill was sent back to congress, negotiations resulted in the reduction of the term to ten years, thereby giving it enough support to override his veto. The new law also forbade Chinese citizenship. Arthur knew he was suffering from a fatal kidney disease, but he did intend to seek to win election in his own right. His party, however, nominated Secretary of State James Blaine. Arthur died two years after leaving office. His administration marks a period of transition in American politics. Women were beginning to take an active role, pressing strongly for women's suffrage and temperance. Equally important were social justice issues related to poverty, child labor, government regulation, and immigration. The longstanding issue of civil service reform was finally settled.
Chester Arthur Era Gallery
"Gone To Meet John Kelly," Puck, November 9, 1881
"Gone To Meet John Kelly," Puck, November 9, 1881
"American Gold," Puck, May 25, 1882
"American Gold," Puck, May 25, 1882 (anti-Irish), by Frederick Opper
"John Kelly Galvanizes The Corpse of Tammany," Puck, May 31, 1882
"John Kelly Galvanizes The Corpse of Tammany," Puck, May 31, 1882, by F. Graetz
"Uncle Sam's Lodging House," Puck, June 7, 1882
"Uncle Sam's Lodging House," Puck, June 7, 1882 (anti-Irish), by Joseph Keppler
"The Irish Declaration of Independence That We Are All Familiar With," Puck, May 9, 1883
"The Irish Declaration of Independence That We Are All Familiar With," Puck, May 9, 1883 (anti-Irish), by Frederick Opper
"The Kind of 'Assisted Emigrant' We Cannot Afford To Admit," Puck, July 18, 1883
"The Kind of 'Assisted Emigrant' We Cannot Afford To Admit," Puck, July 18, 1883, by F. Graetz
       
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Last modified July 21, 2012