Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Key Events in the Presidency of Chester A. Arthur


March 4, 1881

Arthur takes office as vice president in the presidential administration of James Garfield.

July 2, 1881

President Garfield is shot in Washington by Charles Julius Guiteau, a deranged, disappointed office seeker.

September 19, 1881

President Garfield dies from injuries sustained in the attack.

September 20, 1881

Arthur is sworn in as President of the United States.

September 22, 1881

Arthur formally takes the oath of office in Washington, DC.

November 14, 1881

The murder trial of Charles Guiteau begins. He will be convicted on January 25, 1882, and executed on June 30, 1882.

December 15, 1881

Secretary of State James G. Blaine resigns due to political differences between himself and President Arthur.


February 28, 1882

Congress passes a bill mandating the use of the census for determining congressional representation, a move which increases the number of representatives in Congress to 325.

March 4, 1882

Nine men are indicted for defrauding the government in a postal scam, an episode that becomes known as the Star-Route Scandal; the trial begins on June 1.

March 16, 1882

The Senate ratifies the Geneva Convention of 1864 for the care of wounded war personnel.

March 22, 1882

Congress passes the Edmunds Act, which excludes bigamists and polygamists from voting and holding office, and establishes a five-man "Utah commission" to supervise voting in the territory of Utah.

April 4, 1882

Arthur vetoes the first Chinese Exclusion Act, which would have banned the immigration of Chinese laborers for twenty years and denied American citizenship to current Chinese residents; the veto greatly angers labor groups, who feel increasingly threatened by the influx of Chinese labor.

May 6, 1882

A revised version of the Chinese Exclusion Act, which reduces the period of non-immigration to ten years but maintains the ban on Chinese citizenship, becomes law. The act will be renewed regularly into the twentieth century.

May 15, 1882

Arthur approves a bill to appoint a tariff commission; the commission eventually recommends tariff reductions.

May 22, 1882

The United States recognizes the independence of Korea, although Korea's future is uncertain because of Chinese, Russian, and Japanese manipulations.

July 1, 1882

Arthur vetoes the Carriage of Passengers at Sea Bill, a steamboat safety bill, claiming that it contains several major technical errors.

August 1, 1882

The President vetoes the River and Harbor Act, a pork-barrel piece of legislation that Arthur claimed would benefit only "particular localities;" Congress overrides the veto and passes the legislation the next day.

August 1, 1882

Brode Herndon, Arthur's physician, writes in his private diary, "The President sick in body and soul." Arthur had been diagnosed that year with Bright's disease, a fatal kidney ailment; his health will deteriorate rapidly while being kept secret from the general public.

September 11, 1882

The verdict in the Star-Route trial is rendered. Of the nine accused, only two minor defendants are found guilty. The foreman of the jury charges that a government agent attempted to bribe him, and the judge orders a retrial, to begin on December 7, 1882.

November 7, 1882

In the midterm elections, Democrats gain 50 seats in the House giving them a 197-118 majority (ten remaining seats were filled by minor parties). In the Senate, Republicans take one seat and gain a 38-36 majority (with two seats filled by minor parties).


January 16, 1883

Congress passes the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act. The bill establishes a three-man Civil Service Commission and specifies rules for filling federal government positions according to a merit system. The number of Civil Service positions affected by the bill would later be expanded.

March 3, 1883

Congress passes the so-called "Mongrel" Tariff Act, a complex tariff revision that reduces rates on various items by less than 2 percent; Arthur had lobbied Congress for a 20 to 25 percent cut on all items. The act establishes the Republicans as the party in favor of higher protective tariffs.

March 3, 1883

Recognizing the disgraceful state of the U.S. Navy, Arthur signs a bill appropriating funds for the Navy's first steel vessels.

May 24, 1883

President Arthur and New York Governor Grover Cleveland attend the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge.

June 14, 1883

The court renders a verdict in the second Star-Route case. All nine defendants are found not guilty.

September 18, 1883

Arthur receives Korean ambassadors in New York.

October 29, 1883

The United States and Luxembourg conclude an extradition treaty in New York.

December 21, 1883

Arthur issues a proclamation recommending the observance of the 100th anniversary of General George Washington returning his commission as commander-in-chief to the Continental Congress.


March 13, 1884

The United States participates in an international conference establishing standard time.

March 26, 1884

In a special message to Congress, Arthur asks the legislature to appropriate funds for naval reconstruction work.

May 13, 1884

Congress passes a bill repealing the 1862 test oath, which required office holders to swear they had never engaged in illegal or disloyal conduct.

May 17, 1884

Congress passes an act regarding civil government in Alaska. The territory had been ceded to the United States by Russia in an 1867 treaty.

June 6, 1884

The Republican National Convention meets in Chicago. Political opponent of the President and former secretary of state James G. Blaine defeats Arthur for the nomination; John A. Logan is selected as vice president.

June 27, 1884

The United States Bureau of Labor is created within the Department of the Interior; an independent Department of Labor will not be created until 1913.

July 1, 1884

Arthur issues a proclamation warning people not to settle on Oklahoma lands.

July 4, 1884

France presents the United States with the Statue of Liberty at a ceremony held in Paris.

July 11, 1884

The Democratic National Convention meets in Chicago, nominating Grover Cleveland and Thomas A. Hendricks for President and vice president, respectively.

November 4, 1884

In the federal presidential election, Grover Cleveland defeats James G. Blaine.

November 12, 1884

The United States and Mexico conclude a convention on their shared territorial boundary.


February 21, 1885

The Washington Monument is dedicated in Washington, D.C.

February 25, 1885

Congress passes an act prohibiting the fencing of public lands in the west.

February 26, 1885

Congress passes the Contract Labor Law, also known as the Foran Act, which virtually outlaws alien contract labor. The act is designed to ban companies from importing immigrant workers to break strikes and drive down wages.

March 4, 1885

Grover Cleveland is inaugurated as the twenty-second President of the United States.