Chester A Arthur

21st president - 1881-1885


Chester A Arthur arrived in the White House with a reputation as a Party man: an enthusiastic advocate of the shamelessly political patronage that had flourished under Ulysses Grant. He had been nominated to the vice-presidency largely to placate the "stalwart" wing of the Republican party, which approved of such patronage.

As President, however, Arthur broke decisively with his former cronies, to the fury of Republican power brokers such as Roscoe Conkling. Continuing where Garfield and Hayes had left off, he attempted to curb irresponsible "pork barrel" spending and conscientiously pursued the cause of civil service reform. In 1883, he signed into law the Pendleton Act, which established a bipartisan Civil Service Commission, protected employees against removal for political reasons, and made certain Government positions obtainable only through competitive written examinations.

It has subsequently been theorised that his unexpected independence of spirit may have owed something to his knowledge, kept secret since the first year of his presidency, that he was dying of Bright's disease, an incurable kidney disorder. He was not re-nominated in 1884 and, after briefly resuming his career as a lawyer, died in 1886.

In his own words

"Men may die, but the fabrics of our free institutions remain unshaken. No higher or more reassuring proof could exist of the strength and permanence of popular government than the fact that though the chosen of the people be struck down his constitutional successor is peacefully installed without shock or strain except the sorrow which mourns the bereavement."

"I may be President of the United States, but my private life is nobody's damned business."

In others' words

"No man ever entered the Presidency so profoundly and widely distrusted, and no one ever retired... more generally respected." Alexander K McClure

"A nonentity with side whiskers." Woodrow Wilson


Arthur had a reputation as a dandy and was the first president to employ a full-time valet. It was said that he owned at least 80 pairs of trousers.

Before moving into the White House, he auctioned off 24 wagon-loads of presidential memorabilia to souvenir-hunters. He used the proceeds to pay for a lavish refurbishment.