spacer Chester A. Arthur Chester A. Arthur (1830-1886)
Twenty-first President (1881-1885)

When Vice President Chester Arthur succeeded to the presidency on the death of James Garfield, a newspaper noted that he was "not a man who would have entered anybody's mind" as a worthy candidate for the office. Indeed, as a major player in a spoils system that reduced the civil service to a sinecure-ridden vehicle for rewarding party faithful, he struck many as an emblem of all that was wrong in American politics.

As President, however, Arthur rose above his patronage-dispensing past to promote landmark legislation designed to curb the very spoils system that had been the springboard for his own political rise. He also proved to be a foe of other forms of corruption. When, for example, a "pork barrel" bill for public improvements reached his desk, he did not hesitate to veto this measure, which clearly placed catering to special interests above public need. This head-and-shoulder portrait can only hint at the fashionable figure that Arthur cut. With his muttonchop whiskers "trimmed to the perfection point" and his suits made of only the finest fabrics, he invariably looked like the very epitome of the well-bred Victorian gentleman.



Ole Peter Hansen Balling (1823-1906)
Oil on canvas, 1881
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Gift of Mrs. Harry Newton Blue
NPG.65.25

Enlarged image