Chester A. Arthur
The Accidental President
John M. Pafford
Chester Alan Arthur, surely our unlikeliest president, may have been saved from complete obscurity only by the mutton-chop whiskers that stand out among the full-bearded visages of late-nineteenth-century presidents. But as this highly readable portrait of Arthur and his age reveals, duty’s unexpected call turned the quintessential patronage politician into a statesman who skillfully guided America’s first steps on the road to becoming a world power.
No one is likely to follow Arthur’s path to the White House again. A product of the spoils system that once governed the federal civil service, Arthur had been rewarded for his loyalty to the Republican machine with the most lucrative patronage position in the country—customs collector of the Port of New York. In 1880, having never held elective office, he was chosen as James Garfield’s running mate in a bid to heal a factional rift in the party. When Garfield’s death from an assassin’s bullet early in his term made Arthur president, dismayed observers expected the worst.
Instead, this “accidental” president rose to an unexpected level of principle and accomplishment and led his country to the threshold of greatness. In John Pafford’s absorbing study, you’ll learn:
- Why the wounded President Garfield’s incapacity sent Vice President Arthur and the U.S. government into uncharted constitutional waters
- Why a president who owed his career to the patronage system championed civil service reform and remade the federal government
- How Arthur’s far-sighted determination to rebuild America’s shriveled navy changed the course of U.S. history
- Why massive immigration from Asia inflamed American politics and how Arthur used his veto power to moderate Congress’s response
- How dramatic developments in the 1880s in theology, science, economics, and political philosophy set the stage for sweeping cultural change in America
Only fifteen years after the United States emerged from the rubble of civil war, Chester Arthur—to all appearances the embodiment of unreformed machine politics—emerged from obscurity to lead the nation through one of the most dynamic stretches of its history. And though his career was cut short by a fatal disease diagnosed after his first year in office, his quiet prudence and devotion to duty earned him the respect of his contemporaries and an honored place among American presidents.