Chester Alan Arthur was in North Fairfield, Vermont, on October 5, 1829. His father was William Arthur, an Abolitionist Baptist preacher who emigrated from Northern Ireland. His mother, Malvina Stone, was from Berkshire, Franklin, Vermont. Chester is the fifth of nine children and was named after the family physician named Chester Abell because he was the doctor who assisted his birth.
The Arthur family often move from one town to another because of his father’s profession. Eventually, the family put down their roots in Schenectady, New York. Because the family frequently moves, there are speculations that Chester was not a native-born citizen and was later used against him when he was nominated as the 1880 vice-presidential candidate.
Chester Arthur spent his childhood living in the New York of York, Perry, Greenwich, Lansingburgh, Schenectady, and Hoosick. He entered Union College in 1845 as a sophomore, where he pursued the traditional classical curriculum. Chester Arthur enjoyed school pranks during his time as a student and engaged in an undergraduate drinking game. In his senior year, he was the president of the debate society. He worked as a part-time teacher during winter breaks.
After graduating in 1848, he worked as a full-time school teacher while studying law in Ballston Spa, New York. Chester even served as the principal of different schools in North Pownal, Vermont, and Cohoes, New York. Eventually, he was admitted to the New York bar and began to practice law in 1854. He sought to become a wealthy lawyer and a public servant who resides in Manhattan. Chester used his father’s influence to gain clerkship under Erastus D. Culver in a New York law firm.
The said law firm became prominent in 1852 because it supported a plea to free blacks and liberated seven slaves. It was known as the Lemmon Case, where Erastus D. Culver triumphantly argued for the writ of habeas corpus and freed the slaves from incarceration after their owners bondage them. Chester Arthur was still a novice but spent a great deal of his time handling the details of Culver’s appeal. His apprenticeship became his stepping stone to rub elbows with leading legal practitioners and prominent state politicians.
The case of Elizabeth Jennings advanced Chester Arthur’s public reputation. In 1854, he was the lead attorney to represent Elizabeth Jennings Grahams for another civil rights case. She was forced out of the white section of a streetcar and refused to leave the whites’ area. Chester won the case and eventually resulted in desegregation in the streetcars.
In 1856, Ellen “Nell” Herndon, daughter of William Lewis Herndon, caught Chester Arthur’s eye. He courted her, were engaged, and were married in 1859. Their wedding occurred at Calvary Episcopal Church in Manhattan. The couple was blessed with three children. William Lewis died when he was only two, Chester Alan II, and Ellen, who both survive to adulthood.
Chester Arthur devoted his time to build his law profession. However, the Civil War broke out and stood primed for duty. Soon, he joined the state militia because of his desire to gain political connections and comradeship. Governor Edwin D. Morgan appointed him as engineer-in-chief with the rank of quartermaster general. Soon, because of his efficiency, he was promoted to brigadier general. Chester was responsible for provisioning and housing soldiers supplied by the state to defend New York. He even dealt with various contractors and military personnel. His military service served as his advantage as he was known for his efficacy, reliability, and administrative genius.
President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Chester Arthur as the Collector of the Port of New York in 1871 because he effectively marshaled thousands of Customs House employee on behalf of Roscoe Conkling’s Stalwart Republican machine. He was soon relieved from his military duties and did not return to military service.
In 1863, he returned to being a lawyer and represented clients suing for war-related reimbursements and damages. He strived to make professional life flourish, making him wealthy; however, Arthur and his wife were struck by a tragedy after their child, William, died at two.
Chester Arthur actively worked for Roscoe Conkling, who is a United States Senator from New York and a Republican Party boss. He significantly contributed to aiding Chester Arthur to obtain a significant position. After the inauguration of Rutherford Hayes as the president, Chester was removed from his post in 1878 due to the attempt to reform the New York Custom House and spoils system by establishing a special commission to investigate corruption.
Rutherford Hayes did not seek reelection; that is why the Republicans worked hard for the renomination of Ulysses S. Grant during the 1880 Republican Convention; however, they failed and reluctantly accepted the nomination of Chester Arthur for the Vice Presidential ticket.
His wife, Ellen Herndon, contracted pneumonia shortly after the 1880 election. His sister Mary Arthur McElroy became the White House hostess and looked after his children.
The vice presidency of Chester Arthur is brief as he acceded to the presidency after President James Garfield was assassinated by a disappointed office-seeker who wished Arthur Stalwart to become the president. Chester Arthur took the presidential oath on September 19, 1881. He was eager to prove that he moved past partisanships, which surprised Americans as well as immigrants.
During Chester Arthur’s tenure in the White House, he became known for his delicate furnishing taste. Because he was a widower, he commissioned Louis Comfort Tiffany to redecorate the State apartments in the White House. Tiffany is primarily known for its stained-glass windows.
One of Chester Arthur’s administration’s highlights is when he signed the Pendleton Civil Service Act in January 1883. It mandates federal government positions to be distributed based on merit rather than political connection and influence. It also prohibits any employees from being fired because of any political reasons. The said act also anchors the establishment of a bipartisan Civil Service Commission to enforce the said law.
In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion which suspends immigration to the United States for ten years and declares Chinese immigration ineligible for naturalization. Chester Arthur vetoed this act in 1882; however, Congress overrode his veto.
Chester Arthur’s administration also pursued the United States Navy’s modernization since its naval power deteriorated years after the Civil War. He recommended appropriations, which eventually transformed the United States Navy into one of the world’s great fleets. In the latter part of Chester Arthur’s presidency, the United States acquired the Pearl Harbor in Hawaii as a naval coaling station.
He suffered from a severe kidney disease known as Bright’s disease. This disease is characterized by swelling and contains albumin in the urine; however, he kept it from the public, which denied him the opportunity to seek reelection in 1884.
After his term in 1885, Chester Arthur returned to New York and resumed his legal career. His health condition limited his activity in the Arthur, Knevals, and Ranson firm; that is why he preferred to serve as a counsel. Eventually, his health continued to deteriorate, and become seriously ill. He died on November 18, 1886. His funeral was attended by President Grover Cleveland and former president Rutherford Hayes. He was buried in Albany Rural Cemetary in Menands, New York.