Presidents of the United States

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Chester A. Arthur

From: Portrait and Biographical record of Rockland and Orange Counties, New York
By: Chapman Publishing Company
Published: 1895


CHESTER A. ARTHUR, twenty-first President of the United States, was born in Franklin County, Vt., on the 5th day of October, 1830, and was the eldest of a family of two sons and five daughters. His father was the Rev. Dr. William Arthur, a Baptist clergyman, who emigrated to this country from County Antrim, Ireland, in his eighteenth year, and died in 1875, in Newtonville, near Albany, after a long and suc cessful ministry.

Young Arthur was educated at Union College, Schenectady, where he excelled in all his studies. After his graduation he taught school in Vermont for two years, and at the expiration of that time came to New York, with $500 in his pocket, and entered the office of ex-Judge B. P. Culver as a student. After being admitted to the Bar, he formed a partnership with his intimate friend and room-mate, Henry D. Gardiner, with the intention of practicing in the West, and for three months they roamed about in the Western States in search of an eligible site, but in the end returned to New York, where they hung out their shingle, and entered upon a successful career almost from the start. Gen. Arthur soon after married the daughter of Lieut. Herndon, of the United States Navy, who was lost at sea. Congress voted a gold medal to his widow in recognition of the bravery he displayed on that occasion. Mrs. Arthur died shortly before Mr. Arthurís nomination to the Vice-Presidency, leaving two children.

Gen. Arthur obtained considerable legal celebrity in his first great case, the famous Lemmon suit, brought to recover possession of eight slaves who had been declared free by Judge Paine, of the Superior Court of New York City. It was in 1852 that Jonathan Lemmon, of Virginia, went to New York with his slaves, intending to ship them to Texas, when they were discovered and freed. The Judge decided that they could not be held by the owner under the Fugitive Slave Law. A howl of rage went up from the South, and the Virginia Legislature authorized the Attorney-General ot that State to assist in an appeal. William M. Evarts and Chester A. Arthur were employed to represent the people, and they won their case, which then went to the Supreme Court of the United States. Charles O'Conor here espoused the cause of the slaveholders, but he, too, was beaten by Messrs. Evarts and Arthur, and a long step was taken toward the emancipation of the black race.

Another great service was rendered by Gen. Arthur in the same cause in 1856. Lizzie Jennings, a respectable colored woman, was put off a Fourth Avenue car with violence after she had paid her fare. Gen. Arthur sued on her behalf, and secured a verdict of $500 damages. The next day the company issued an order to admit colored persons to ride on their cars, and the other car companies quickly followed their example. Before that the Sixth Avenue Company ran a few special cars for colored persons, and the other lines refused to let them ride at all.

Gen. Arthur was a delegate to the convention at Saratoga that founded the Republican party, Previous to the war he was Judge-Advocate of the Second Brigade of the State of New York, and Gov. Morgan, of that State, appointed him Engineer-in-Chief of his staff. In 1861, he was made Inspector-General, and soon afterward became Quartermaster-General. In each of these offices he rendered great service to the Government during the war. At the end of Gov. Morganís term he resumed the practice of law, forming a partnership with Mr. Ransom, and then Mr. Phelps, the District Attorney of New York, was added to the firm. The legal practice of this well-known firm was very large and lucrative, as each of the gentlemen composing it was an able lawyer, and possessed a splendid local reputation, if not, indeed, one of national extent.

Mr. Arthur always took a leading part in State and city politics. He was appointed Collector of the Port of New York by President Grant, November 21, 1872, to succeed Thomas Murphy, and he held the office until July 20, 1878, when he was succeeded by Collector Merritt.

Mr. Arthur was nominated on the Presidential ticket, with Gen. James A. Garfield, at the famous National Republican Convention held at Chicago in June, 1880. This was perhaps the greatest political convention that ever assembled on the continent. It was composed of the leading politicians of the Republican party, all able men, and each stood firm and fought vigorously and with signal tenacity for his respective can-. didate that was before the convention for the nomination. Finally Gen. Garfield received the nomination for President, and Gen. Arthur for Vice-President. The campaign which followed was one of the most animated known in the history of our country. Gen. Hancock, the standard-bearer of the Democratic party, was a popular man, and his party made a valiant fight for his election.

Finally the election came, and the countryís choice was Garfield and Arthur. They were inaugurated March 4, 1881, as President and VicePresident. A few months only had passed ere the newly-chosen President was the victim of the assassinís bullet. Then came terrible weeks of sufferingóthose moments of anxious suspense, when the hearts of all civilized nations were throbbing in unison, longing for the recovery of the noble, the good President. The remarkable patience that he manifested during those hours and weeks, and even months, of the most terrible suffering man has ever been called upon to endure, was seemingly more than human. It was certainly godlike. During all this period of deepest anxiety Mr. Arthurís every move was watched, and, be it said to his credit, that his every action displayed only an earnest desire that the suffering Garfield might recover to serve the remainder of the term he had so auspiciously begun. Not a selfish feeling was manifested in deed or look of this man, even though the most honored position in the world was at any moment likely to fall to him.

At last God in his mercy relieved President Garfield from further suffering, and the world, as never before in its history over the death of any other man, wept at his bier. Then it became the duty of the Vice-President to assume the responsibilities of the high office, and he took the oath in New York, September 20, 1881. The position was an embarrassing one to him, made doubly so from the fact that all eyes were on him, anxious to know what he would do, what policy he would pursue, and whom be would select as advisers. The duties of the office had been greatly neglected during the Presidentís long illness, and many important measures were to be immediately decided by him; and to still further embarass him he did not fail to realize under what circumstances he became President, and knew the feelings of many on this point. Under these trying circumstances, President Arthur took the reins of the Government in his own hands, and, as embarrassing as was the condition of affairs, he happily surprised the nation, acting so wisely that but few criticized his administration. He served the nation well and faithfully until the close of his administration, March 4, 1885, and was a popular candidate before his party for a second term. His name was ably presented before the convention at Chicago, and was received with great favor, and doubtless but for the personal popularity of one of the opposing candidates, he would have been selected as the standard-bearer of his party for another campaign. He retired to private life, carrying with him the best wishes of the American people, whom he had served in a manner satisfactory to them and with credit to himself. One year later he was called to his final rest.

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