CitySketch – Chester Arthur

On July 22, 1881, for the second time in 16 years the president of the United States was assassinated. Both times the victim was a Republican, a party that was not yet 30 years old. This time it was James Garfield. Unlike Lincoln, Garfield’s death didn’t follow quickly. He lived for more than two months, during which time his vice-president, Chester Arthur, stayed in New York to avoid the appearance of a vulture.
In his mid-twenties, Arthur met Ellen Herndon and it wasn’t long before they were engaged. They traveled to Kansas where Chester planned on starting a law firm but after a few months of living in a land torn between slavery and freedom (he was on the right side), the couple returned to NYC. They were married in 1859 and had a son the following year. The boy died before turning four. Chester’s political ambitions often kept him away from his wife, and the son and daughter that were born and raised over the next twenty years. When “Nell” caught pneumonia and died in 1880, Arthur was in Albany working to get Alonzo Cornell elected to governor of NY. Chester was devastated and never remarried.
Chosen by Garfield to be vice-president, Arthur served only the balance of Garfield’s term and was never elected president. Still, no less than Mark Twain said, “It would be hard indeed to better President Arthur’s administration.”
Arthur had liver problems and was an unhealthy president. After leaving the White House he returned to his law firm in NYC but only as “of counsel” due to his poor health. On November 16, 1886, the year after he left the presidency, he burned his personal and official papers. The next morning he had a cerebral hemorrhage and died.
His statue stands near the northeast corner of Madison Square Park.

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