Major Events During Chester A. Arthur's Presidency

Instructor: Mary Ruth Sanders Bracy

Mary Ruth teaches college history and has a PhD.

This lesson will examine the major events of Chester A. Arthur's presidency. Arthur was president from 1881-1885, and his presidency was mostly unremarkable, except for a few major events.

Who Was Chester A. Arthur?

Chester A. Arthur was not supposed to be president. He was elected as James Garfield's vice president in the presidential election of 1880, but when Garfield was assassinated, Arthur was left with no choice but to take his spot in the Oval Office.

President Chester A. Arthur
President Chester A. Arthur

Arthur was born in Vermont in 1829 and was the son of a Baptist preacher. He became a lawyer, served as an engineer in the American Civil War, and later became Collector of the Port of New York, where he was responsible for supervising the collecting of import duties on goods coming into the United States.

James Garfield added Arthur to the 1880 presidential ticket because he thought it would help him win the state of New York, whose Republican party machine was instrumental to any political victory. Suddenly elevated to a new position, Arthur was pleased and campaigned across the country for Garfield, helping him secure a narrow popular vote victory and a dominating success in the electoral college.

Although he campaigned for Garfield and helped get him elected, Arthur broke with Garfield after the election. By the time of Garfield's assassination, most political observers thought that Arthur had lost any power or influence that he did have with the president. But, with one assassin's bullet, Arthur instead became the president, any questions of losing power forgotten.

Major Events During Arthur's Presidency

As president, Chester A. Arthur achieved four major things:

  • Civil Service Reform
  • Limiting Immigration
  • Building a Modern Navy

Arthur also presided over a massive renovation of the White House that cost nearly $2 million in today's dollars!

Let's look at each of these in a bit more detail.

Civil Service Reform

For years, government jobs in the United States had been distributed via the spoils system. Under this system, elected officials rewarded their supporters with political appointments in their administrations. By the 1880s, this system had grown incredibly corrupt, and many were pressing for reform. Arthur signed the Pendleton Act, which banned salary kickbacks and required merit exams for any professional advancement.

Limiting Immigration

President Arthur signed the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, one of the most consequential pieces of immigration legislation in United States History. This law created a 10-year ban on all Chinese immigration to the United States and prohibited Chinese immigrants already in the country from becoming U.S. citizens. It was an incredibly strict anti-immigration law that was designed to keep Chinese labor out of the American market. The Chinese immigration ban would eventually be extended up through the 1920s.

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