September 20

This Day in History

Presidential

Sep 20, 1881:

Chester Arthur becomes third president to serve in one year

On this day in 1881, Chester Arthur is inaugurated, becoming the third person to serve as president in that year.

The year 1881 began with Republican Rutherford B. Hayes in office. Hayes served out his first and only term and officially turned over the reins of government to James A. Garfield, who happened to be a close friend of his, in March 1881. Just four months into his term, on July 2, Garfield was shot by a crazed assassin named Charles Guiteau. Guiteau claimed to have killed Garfield because he refused to grant Guiteau a political appointment. Garfield sustained wounds to his back and abdomen and struggled to recover throughout the summer. Though it appeared he would pull through in early September, the autopsy report revealed that the internal bullet wound contributed to an aneurism that ultimately killed Garfield on September 19.

The next day, Vice President Chester Arthur was sworn in as president. Strangely, Garfield's assassin wrote to the new president from jail, taking credit for vaulting Arthur into the White House. According to President Hayes, Arthur's administration was best known for "liquor, snobbery and worse." He served only one term from 1881 to 1885.

This was the second time in American history that three men served as president in one year; a similar situation occured in 1841, when Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison and John Tyler all held the office.

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