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The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Arthur, Chester Alan

< The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)

ARTHUR, Chester Alan, the 21st President of the United States: b. Fairfield, Vt., 5 Oct. 1830; d. New York, 18 Nov. 1886. He was graduated from Union College at 18, was principal of an academy at North Pownal, Vt., and in 1853 began the practice of law in New York, where he argued several important legal cases in behalf of the colored people. Through these and other cases he became noted in his profession, and he was also prominent as a Republican politician. In April 1861 Gov. E. D. Morgan made him acting quartermaster-general, and later he was made full quartermaster-general. For the next decade he was a successful and widely known practising lawyer and a leading Republican politician of New York, chairman of the Grant Club in 1868, and of the executive committee of the Republican State committee in 1869. He was appointed by President Grant, 20 Nov. 1871 to the highest office in the State patronage, the collectorship of the port of New York, which he held till 11 July 1878. His business conduct of the office was not impeached, and he was retained by President Hayes for over a year after his accession; but he was first of all a political manager, in open hostility to civil service reform. As a matter of actual practice and not theory, however, Mr. Arthur produced figures to show that the annual percentage of removals under him for all causes had been only 2¾ per cent. as against an annual average of 24 per cent since 1857. In 1880 he was nominated for the vice-presidency, chiefly to conciliate the Grant section of the Republicans, sore at the defeat of the third-term project, and was elected with Garfield. In place of the customary dignified nullity of his office, he remained an active party leader in the patronage contest of his State between the “Stalwarts” or Grant section led by Roscoe Conkling (q.v.), and of which Mr. Arthur was chief lieutenant, and the “Half-Breeds” or more independent wing which Garfield was trying to build up. Conkling soon resigned his seat in the Senate, declaring that Garfield had broken his promises to him, and the Garfield party for the time was triumphant; but the assassination of Garfield, shortly after, reversed the situation. The open lamentations of the press at the prospect of the accession of so convinced a spoilsman as himself deeply hurt Mr. Arthur, who felt that he was misjudged, and determined on the most admirable revenge, that of disappointing their prophecies of evil. He did so; not only was his term of office measurably free from the dominance of patronage, but he extended the civil service rules and kept faith with them. In other respects his administration was so excellent that the leading Independents had announced their intention of supporting him for President if nominated in 1884. Its most notable incident was the appointment of a commission to revise the tariff, which, though composed of strong Protectionists, reported that the tariff should be reduced 20 per cent all around, a recommendation unheeded by Congress. Several commercial treaties were passed, however. He vetoed a Chinese immigration bill as inconsistent with treaty oblig;ations; favored the stringent laws passed against polygamy, appointed a Utah commission to supervise their enforcement; managed Indian affairs wisely, promoting Indian education and the breaking up of the tribal system; extended postal facilities; took measures to increase the navy, improve its discipline and efficiency and provide for coast defense; supported the improvement of Mississippi River navigation, etc. The attempts at remonetizing silver, and at forcibly abrogating the Clayton-Bulwer treaty to build a Nicaragua Canal, were in accordance with general party feeling at the time. The lingering scandal of the Star Route frauds, however, injured the party somewhat, and its policy and methods were gravely disapproved of by the Independents; but this was much more than counterbalanced by distrust of the Democratic party for its alliance with the Greenback element. Mr. Arthur's defeat for the nomination was not caused by any demerits of his own, still less by desire to conciliate the Independents, but by the personal ambitions of Republican leaders, which, justly or unjustly, had aroused and exasperated the Republicans of the State of New York, causing the defeat of C. J. Folger for Governor, and resulting in the nomination of Blaine in 1884. Arthur, although a close adherent of Conkling, supported Blaine. Consult Smalley, G. W., ‘Life of C. A. Arthur’ (New York 1880).