Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Impact and Legacy

Historians view the Chester Arthur presidency as an important surprise, one that no one would have expected. Put simply, he performed well in office, defying his state-based reputation as a slick machine politician. Despite his poor health, he attempted to govern competently, and he succeeded to a degree that was never acknowledged by his fellow politicians, the press, or the great mass of Americans.

Although Arthur preferred efficient partisan government service to one selected by competitive examinations, he nevertheless showed tremendous flexibility and a willingness to embrace reform. By struggling with the tariff issue (especially being willing to question the protectionist doctrines of the Republican Party) and supporting the modernization of the American Navy, Arthur stands as an important transitional figure in the reunification of the nation after the bitter turmoil of the Civil War and Reconstruction. No party hack, Arthur demonstrated how the office of President could bring out the very best in its occupants.