1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Arthur, Chester Alan
ARTHUR, CHESTER ALAN (1830-1886), twenty-first president of the United States, was born in Fairfield, Vermont, on the 5th of October 1830. His father, William Arthur (1796-1875), when eighteen years of age, emigrated from Co. Antrim, Ireland, and, after teaching in various places in Vermont and Lower Canada, became a Baptist minister. William Arthur had married Malvina Stone, an American girl who lived at the time of the marriage in Canada, and the numerous changes of the family residence afforded a basis for allegations in 1880 that the son Chester was born not in Vermont, but in Canada, and was therefore ineligible for the presidency. Chester entered Union College as a sophomore, and graduated with honour in 1848. He then became a schoolmaster, at the same time studying law. In 1853 he entered a law office in New York city, and in the following year was admitted to the bar. His reputation as a lawyer began with his connexion with the famous “Lemmon slave case,” in which, as one of the special counsel for the state, he secured a decision from the highest state courts that slaves brought into New York while in transit between two slave states were ipso facto free. In another noted case, in 1855, he obtained a decision that negroes were entitled to the same accommodations as whites on the street railways of New York city. In politics he was actively associated from the outset with the Republican party. When the Civil War began he held the position of engineer-in-chief on Governor Edwin D. Morgan’s staff, and afterwards became successively acting quartermaster-general, inspector-general, and quartermaster-general of the state troops, in which capacities he showed much administrative efficiency. At the close of Governor Morgan’s term, on the 31st of December 1862, General Arthur resumed the practice of his profession, remaining active, however, in party politics in New York city. In November 1871 he was appointed by President U.S. Grant collector of customs for the port of New York. The custom-house had long been conspicuous for the most flagrant abuses of the “spoils system”; and though General Arthur admitted that the evils existed and that they rendered efficient administration impossible, he made no extensive reforms. In 1877 President Rutherford B. Hayes began the reform of the civil service with the New York custom-house. A non-partisan commission, appointed by Secretary John Sherman, recommended sweeping changes. The president demanded the resignation of Arthur and his two principal subordinates, George H. Sharpe, the surveyor, and Alonzo B. Cornell, the naval officer, of the Port. General Arthur refused to resign on the ground that to retire “under fire” would be to acknowledge wrong-doing, and claimed that as the abuses were inherent in a widespread system he should not be made to bear the responsibility alone. His cause was espoused by Senator Roscoe Conkling, for a time successfully; but on the 11th of July 1878, during a recess of the Senate, the collector was removed, and in January 1879, after another severe struggle, this action received the approval of the Senate. In 1880 General Arthur was a delegate at large from New York to the Republican national convention. In common with the rest of the “Stalwarts,” he worked hard for the nomination of Gen. U.S. Grant for a third term. Upon the triumph of James A. Garfield, the necessity of conciliating the defeated faction led to the hasty acceptance of Arthur for the second place on the ticket. His nomination was coldly received by the public; and when, after his election and accession, he actively engaged on behalf of Conkling in the great conflict with Garfield over the New York patronage, the impression was widespread that he was unworthy of his position. Upon the death of President Garfield, on the 19th of September 1881, Arthur took the oath as his successor. Contrary to the general expectation, his appointments were as a rule unexceptionable, and he earnestly promoted the Pendleton law for the reform of the civil service. His use of the veto in 1882 in the cases of a Chinese Immigration Bill (prohibiting immigration of Chinese for twenty years) and a River and Harbour Bill (appropriating over $18,000,000, to be expended on many insignificant as well as important streams) confirmed the favourable impression which had been made. The most important events of his administration were the passage of the Tariff Act of 1883 and of the “Edmunds Law” prohibiting polygamy in the territories, and the completion of three great trans-continental railways—the Southern Pacific, the Northern Pacific, and the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fé. His administration was lacking in political situations of a dramatic character, but on all questions that arose his policy was sane and dignified. In 1884 he allowed his name to be presented for renomination in the Republican convention, but he was easily defeated by the friends of James G. Blaine. At the expiration of his term he resumed his residence in New York city, where he died on the 18th of November 1886.
For an account of his administration see United States: History.