The 1880 Republican National Convention, deadlocked between supporters of Ulysses S. Grant and proponents of Maine’s Senator James G. Blaine, compromised, on the 36th ballot, on James A. Garfield of Ohio. To make peace within the party, and to balance the ticket, Chester A. Arthur was selected as Garfield’s running mate.
On July 2, 1881, less than four months after the inauguration of President Garfield, a disgruntled office seeker shot the President at the Baltimore and Potomac train station in Washington, D.C. The assassin shouted: “I did it and will go to jail for it. I am a Stalwart and Arthur will be President.” Some believed these remarks implied he had shot Garfield for Arthur’s benefit.
President Garfield lingered near death for 80 days. Arthur was reportedly brought to tears by the charges that he was linked to the assassin and by the suggestion he assume the duties of the presidency prior to Garfield’s death. When Garfield died on September 19, Arthur’s sincere grief was apparent when he was sworn in as President at his home in New York City.
President Arthur, the former spoilsman, backed and signed the Pendleton Civil Service Act. This act prohibited salary kickbacks from public employees as well as their firing for political reasons. It also established a bipartisan Civil Service Commission, which administered competitive examinations for Federal jobs. Arthur also ordered the U.S. Attorney General to prosecute a series of fraud cases in the Post Office Department which included many of Arthur’s friends and associates. He advocated tariff reform and appointed a commission to examine the issue of high tariffs. His administration is also credited with the modernization of the American Navy.
These actions alienated his former supporters and left the Republican Party in total disunity. Arthur was virtually a president without party support. He was also not physically well, although he attempted to appear vigorous and covered up reports of a terminal kidney ailment. Because of his ill health, Arthur did not actively pursue his re-nomination in 1884. At the Republican Convention James G. Blaine received, on the fourth ballot, the party’s nominations. Arthur immediately endorsed Blaine. In the election, however, Blaine was defeated by the Democratic candidate Grover Cleveland.
His political rise took place in the not-quite-squeaky-clean New York political machine, where he had a reputation for cronyism and allegedly demanded kickbacks from workers to support the Republican Party. So he shocked many observers by becoming a reformer in office, ushering in the civil-service commission to crack down on the rampant spoils system. Even Mark Twain said it would be "hard to better" his Administration.
In 1854, Arthur formed a law partnership with a colleague in New York City. He willingly took cases to protect the civil rights of black citizens. Arthur became active in a number of political organizations and was involved in the establishment of the Republican Party in New York State. In 1859, he joined the Republican governor's staff and was later made responsible for outfitting New York soldiers in the Civil War; he developed a reputation for honesty and always insisted on receiving quality supplies for the soldiers.
By the end of his term in office, Chester Arthur had become a widely admired president. Publisher Alexander K. McClure wrote, "No man ever entered the Presidency so profoundly and widely distrusted, and no one ever retired ... more generally respected."
Chester A. Arthur died on November 18, 1886 in New York, New York. He was 56 years and 44 days old. He is buried in rural Cemetery in Albany, N. Y.
Chester Alan Arthur was born near the northern Vermont community of Fairfield; later political opponents would charge that he was actually born farther north across the Canadian boundary, which would have rendered him ineligible for the presidency. Arthur's father was an Irish immigrant and Baptist preacher, who kept his family on the move from one town to another.
Chester Alan Arthur was born on the 5th of October, 1829 in Fairfield, Vermont, making him the fifth child of Reverend William Arthur and Malvina Stone Arthur. His interest for public service and politics showed in as early as his childhood years, but he was not the type of kid who was abnormally uninterested in playing pranks and enjoying the good old and short days of being a boy. He did enjoy his playful days. He was home schooled, where he learned how to read and write before 1845 when he entered the Union College as a sophomore and took the traditional classical curriculum and his undergraduate studies.
As far as the president was concerned, what mattered most was the steady, stealthy growth of the federal government on the one hand and the quiet evolution of a reform movement against the patronage system on the other. Unexpectedly, the presidency of Chester Alan Arthur was a tipping point. When Arthur entered the White House, he was closely identifies with the political class as any chief executive had ever been. He was what later generations would call the consummate insider, and, as such, he was seen as the least likely reformer of the system that had brought him such rich (in both literal and figurative senses) rewards.