Arthur Tappan was born in Northampton, Massachusetts, on 22nd May, 1786. Tappan moved to Boston at the age of 15 and by 1807 had established his own dry goods business in Portland, Maine. He expanded his business investments and a silk-importing firm based in New York was particularly successful. With his brother, Lewis Tappan, he established America's first commercial credit-rating service.
Tappan held strict moral views and contributed a large amount of his wealth to campaign against alcohol and tobacco. He also helped fund several anti-slavery journals and in 1831 helped establish America's first Anti-Slavery Society in New York in 1831. When two years later it became a national organization, Tappan was elected its first president.
Some members of the Anti-Slavery Society considered the organization to be too radical. They objected to the attacks on the US Constitution and the prominent role played by women in the society. In 1839, Arthur and Lewis Tappan left and formed a rival organization, the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society. He also backed the new anti-slavery Liberty Party.
Arthur Tappan died on 23rd July, 1865 in New Haven, Connecticut.