Friday, November 25, 2011

10 Fun Facts About Chester A. Arthur

Chester A. Arthur, the 21st President of the United States

1)  Chester Alan Arthur was born in Fairfield, Vermont, in 1829, the son of an Irish-American abolitionist preacher.  The family moved around extensively during his younger years, finally settling in Schenectady, New York.  

2)  In college, Arthur supported the Fenian Brotherhood, a group devoted to freeing Ireland from British rule.  This was in the late 1840's, during the height of the Irish Potato Famine.  In later years, the group would turn militant and begin conducting raids on British military posts in Canada in an effort to force the monarchy's hand.

3)  After college, Arthur was a teacher and headmaster for several years, before becoming a lawyer.  As an attorney, he was heavily involved in Civil Rights cases, famously winning a case for a black New York woman who was denied a seat on a streetcar because of her race.  The case led to the desegregation of New York streetcar lines.

4)  In the late 1850's, Arthur met Ellen Herndon, and they were married in 1859.  Ellen's father was a naval commander who had served with distinction in the Mexican-American War and had explored the Amazon River valley.  Two years before Chester and Ellen were married, her father died commanding the SS Central America, which went down in a hurricane carrying roughly 10 tons of California gold.  It was rediscovered and salvaged in 1987, and the gold recovered was valued at roughly 125 million dollars.

5)  In the 1880 presidential election, Arthur, a member of a Republican faction known as the Stalwarts, supported nominating former president Ulysses S. Grant.  However, another Republican group, the Half-Breeds, supported a Maine senator named James Blaine.  The split loyalties ultimately resulted in a third Republican, James Garfield, winning the nomination for the Republican party.  In an effort to unite the party after the fractious primaries, Garfield chose Arthur to be his running mate, and the ticket ultimately won the presidency, winning the popular vote by less than 8,000 votes.  Blaine would become Garfield's Secretary of State.  

6)  During the 1880 election, one of the criticisms leveled at the Garfield-Arthur ticket was that Chester A. Arthur was a foreigner.  With an Irish father who had only emigrated a few years before Arthur was born, rumors spread that Arthur had, in fact, been born in Ireland, thus disqualifying him for the office of Vice-President.  When that accusation did not stick, more rumors floated through the press suggesting that Arthur had been born in Canada.  Ultimately, the accusations proved fruitless, and Arthur remained on the ticket.  

7)  Garfield, with Arthur as his running mate, won the presidency in 1880.  Just a few months after taking office in 1881, Garfield was shot, and died in September of 1881 - the second president to be assassinated in only 16 years.  Thus, Arthur ascended to the presidency.  His wife had died less than two years earlier, so he was a widower by this time.  His sister served the role of First Lady.  

8)  While president, Chester A. Arthur signed several bills dealing with immigration, including a bill that disallowed mentally handicapped people from entering the United States from other countries.  He also signed a bill denying Chinese immigrants the right to apply for citizenship.  As he had done as a lawyer, he continued to fight for Civil Rights for American blacks, and also attempted to repair relations with Native American tribes.    

9)  While president, Arthur developed a chronic kidney disease, which somewhat limited his ability to handle the rigorous tasks associated with the Executive office.  Because of this, he gave only a token effort to attain the Republican nomination in 1884, and lost easily to James Blaine, his former political enemy and the Secretary of State during Garfield's brief term.  Blaine went on to lose the election to Grover Cleveland.  

10) Chester A. Arthur died the year after leaving office, in November of 1886, due to complications from kidney disease.  He was 57.

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