The Unexpected President: The Life and Times of Chester A. Arthur
Ok quickly tell me everything you learned in history class about President Chester A Arthur. I’ll wait! I bet your done aren’t you? So I imagine that you said ” He became President after James A Garfield was assassinated” or maybe even “he was responsible for Civil Service reform.” I imagine that because that’s just about all I knew about him until I read The Unexpected President: The Life and Times of Chester A. Arthur by Scott S. Greenberger earlier this month.An additional tag line on the front of the book reads “A Gilded Age tale of corruption and courage” and that well sums up the book and the story of “Chet” Arthur. It is actually a pretty fascinating tale and Mr. Greenberger tells it well!
The Corruption and Courage of Chester Arthur
The corruption came from the years that Arthur spent as the crooked crony of New York machine boss Roscoe Conkling. During that time Arthur was head of the U S Customs House in New York City. The Customs House was rife with corruption and cronyism. You either voted Republican and contributed to the GOP or you didn’t get a job in the Customs House.
Because of his reputation as a puppet of Conkling many people initially thought he was unqualified to be Vice-President. Then when Garfield was assassinated and Arthur was set to ascend to the Presidency Arthur cried, Not only for Garfield who had died but for himself because he knew that he could not live up to the high standards a President must uphold.
Julia Sand and Arthur’s Transformation
However, when Arthur did become president he also became a changed man. He boldly took on corruption, civil rights for blacks and issue of land for Native Americans. Much of the credit for Arthur’s transformation came from a bedridden young New York woman Julia Sand. Ms Sand wrote Arthur over two dozen letters urging him to put country over party and to find “the spark of true nobility” that lay within him. In her first letter she wrote:
“Faith in your better nature forces me to write you – but not to beg you to resign. Do what is more difficult & more brave. Reform! It is not the proof of highest goodness never to have done wrong – but it is proof of it, sometime in one’s career, to pause & ponder, to recognize the evil, to turn resolutely against it & devote the remainder of one’s life to that only which is pure & exalted. Some resolutions of the soul are not common….
As I read the book and especially the about paragraph I though, “Boy I wish someone had written a letter like that to Mr. Trump!”
For me, The Unexpected President is a five-star biography. It was well researched and presented by Mr Greenberger. It is a wonderful book that painted a far different picture of Chester Arthur than the one that I have developed over the years. He has become for me a man who turned his life and reputation around. Arthur went from someone who the general populace thought was not qualified to be president, someone who people thought would only by Roscoe Conkling’s puppet to a man and president they respected and loved. He grew into the presidency and by the end of his term people were begging him to run for another term!! Oh, if Mister Trump could only grow into the job but alas some leopards can never change their spots!
Anyway, check out The Unexpected President…..
Links for Further Explorations
The Washington Post:The biographer of Chester Arthur discusses the forgotten president,