“Chester Alan Arthur by Zachary Karabell
President Chester Alan Arthur is one of those presidents that when mentioned in general public gets a “Who? He was a president?” Yeah, so they can’t all do great, memorable things. Poor guy. And when seeing how small this biography is, it doesn’t help his case – although it is mentioned in Editor’s Notes that this book is “compact for the busy reader, lucid enough for the student, and authoritative enough for the scholar.”
So who was this guy? Well, he took over for Garfield after his assassination. Arthur didn’t want to be president and no one expected much of him. He did some good stuff in his time, mostly went with the flow, and miraculously stayed out of trouble and allegation. He was an interesting president in his own right, just a sadly forgotten one. I enjoyed this book and I think it gave a good, broad overview of this president and his life. However, I still would have liked further details – it just seemed to lack so much. So much like the president, neither good nor bad, I give this book a similar judgment – putting it right down the middle in my rating.
“My thoughts were Arthur except for the Pendleton Act did not accomplish much. His career before the White House involved amassing a good income and assets. He did not desire the presidency but performed honorably when it was thrust upon him. During this era Congress ruled and the executive could not accomplish much. A more thorough book would have revealed more about Arthur and his motivations. Like Hayes he was unable to become a leader of his party. I am not sure a more involved study of Arthur would have been worth the time or the effort. I felt this cursory review of Arthur was really all I needed to know about him.
Thus I will give the book 3.5 stars.”
“An era when elections were deeply divided by geographic lines with two swing states, accusations that a nominee was born outside of the U.S., deep resentment over immigration policy, proposals for redistribution of wealth by heavily taxing the 99% in favor of the 1%, scandals requiring the attention of the attorney general, and a Republican party deeply divided by factions from within. 2013? Nope. 1880’s. This was the era in which Chester Arthur’s administration presided.
Even though Arthur never sought nor desired the office of president, he had never even held elected office, he was catapulted to the nation’s highest office after the assassination of President Garfield. Prior to his nomination of vice-president, Arthur was collector of the controversial customhouse of the port of New York where he drew a sizable salary. Even though the spoils system was coming under attack he developed a reputation as a man of integrity in an environment fraught with corruption. It was because he did not draw the ire of critics nor the extreme admiration of the Stalwarts that he was a palatable candidate. However, while he was more effective as a president than most feared (who wants their presidency labeled as, “not half bad”?) he was, as Karabell noted, “more reactive than proactive. That is not to say there are not things to appreciate about Arthur. While not actively managing the bill, he did sign into law the Pendleton Bill of 1883, the first major step towards civil service reform. More importantly, in my opinion, was his direction to the attorney general to pursue charges against Dorsey, a man of his own party and who Arthur owed much, in the Star Route fraud. Perspective that is greatly needed in today’s political climate. Unfortunately, Arthur didn’t take the high road when it came to the Chinese immigration policy or the Supreme Court’s decision on the Civil Rights Act of 1875.
This is a short book and is easy to read. However, it lacks in-depth analysis
“Biographaer Zachary Karabell remarks that "Chester Alan Arthur may have been the most reluctant president to ever occupy the White House. At no point in his life did he want to be president . . . he simply didn't want the job" (p.140). So how did Arthur become the 21st president of the United States? He was catapulted into office after James Garfield was assassinated in 1881. Chester Arthur was the son of a Baptist minister who took a New York parish when Chester was ten years old. Arthur rose to prominence under New York City boss Roscoe Conkling. He landed the lucrative job of collector of the customhouse of the port of New York, a position which at the time accounted for a third of the government's revenues. As a "Stalwart" (someone who supported Grant's presidency and the patronage system), Arthur was selected as Garfield's vice presidential running mate to help balance the Republican ticket. Even though Arthur had never run for public office, he accepted the vice president nomination out of a sense of duty and honor. Of course Arthur could not predict that Garfield would soon be assassinated by crazed office-seeker, Charles Guiteau. Though not desirous of the presidency, Arthur conducted his three years in the office with a surprising lack of rancor and factionalism. He can take credit for supporting and signing into law the Pendleton Bill of 1883 which was the most radical civil service reform act of its time. The act changed how civil servants were selected: no longer by political spoils but instead by a candidate's capability to do the job. Arthur was not seriously considered for reelection, perhaps because of a lack of a strong political base, and he died shortly after leaving office from Bright's Disease (a kidney disorder). I rated this biography 3 stars because I felt that there was much more regarding Arthur's life and political times which could/should have been explored, and wasn't. Perhaps the author was limited by the American Presidents Series format, this work being a mere 143 pages in length.”tapbirds wrote this review Wednesday, June 19, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“Slightly interesting book about a slightly interesting president.”Grandma Bonnie wrote this review Saturday, December 29, 2012. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“Did you know who he was? :-) A nice concisely written series on American presidents.”TheLibrarian wrote this review Wednesday, January 21, 2009. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“One of the least remembered presidents is ironically sidelined in his own book; understandably as he ordered his papers destroyed following his death. A difficult book to write I imagine with so little information to go on, nonetheless Karabell does an admirably job of capturing the politics of the day and seem not all to different from events today.”Nick Fury wrote this review Thursday, January 8, 2009. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No