Our 21st President: 1881-1885
Just the Facts:
- Chester Arthur became president after James Garfield was assassinated.
- He was an excellent fisherman.
- He knew how to play the banjo.
- His nickname was “Elegant Arthur.”
- He loved fancy clothes and had more than 80 pairs of pants. Sometimes he changed his clothes multiple times in a day.
- He redecorated the White House and sold 24 wagonloads of furniture.
Chester Arthur was born in Vermont. He moved around a lot as a child because his father was a preacher. He was home schooled for a bit, then went off to prep school and college. He eventually became a lawyer and practiced in New York. He defended the rights of African Americans in court. Then the Civil War erupted and he enlisted.
After the Civil War, Chester became involved in New York politics and held many positions. He rose through the ranks quickly – he even ran President Grant’s campaign. He was a Republican Party man and benefitted from the corrupt political system of the day. But, he was never elected to a public position until he ran as Garfield’s vice president.
Chester Arthur was Vice President to James Garfield. He suddenly became president after Garfield died – he was the first president to take the oath of office in his own house. Arthur was a night owl – he liked to take walks around Washington DC in the middle of the night, sometimes at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning.
As president, Arthur continued the changes that Garfield tried to make, which didn’t make a lot of his friends very happy. He refused to give jobs to his friends, but instead hired people who were qualified of the job. He surprised some people by refusing to allow powerful party leaders to control his actions as president. In fact, he created the US Civil Service program we have today by signing the Pendleton Act.
Chester married Ellen (“Nell”) when he was 29 years old. They had two children, Chester Jr and Ellen. Unfortunately, Ellen died before he became President. He commissioned a stained glass window to be placed in a DC church in her honor – he could see the window from the White House. His sister, Mary, performed the duties of First lady while he was in office. He was very private and protected his family from the press while in office.
Arthur didn’t seek another term, in part because he was ill. He suffered from Brights disease, a kidney disorder. He retired to New York and died two years after he left office. Unfortunately, all is personal and professional papers no longer exist – he ordered them all burned right before he died.
“Men may die, but the fabrics of free institutions remains unshaken.”