Like other books in this series (The American Presidents) this is not an in depth look at Chester Arthur. Even so, I go enough of the man to come away feeling, as the author states, that “Arthur managed to be a decent man and a decent president in an era when decency was in short supply.”

Chester Alan Arthur “was an unexpected president during a time when no one expected much from the presidency, and in an age of low expectations he was more than satisfactory.” Chester Arthur, it seems to me after readying this book and learning some of him in Giant in the Shadows: The Life of Robert T. Lincoln (Jason Emerson) was more of a manager than a leader. Arthur was “able to transcend partisan politics more than others and…is certainly among the most honorable chief executives the country has seen.” I believe that if Robert Lincoln had given into the pressure to become president, he would have been a president much like Chester Arthur—however, due to his family name, he would have been held in much higher esteem than Arthur.

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Arthur came to the office because he was selected to be on the ticket with James Garfield, to balance the ticket. Not an unusual thing to happen. Garfield & Arthur won by less than one-tenth of a percent, but the electoral vote was not so close—214 to 155. “The message was clear: the country ins 1880, as in 1876 and again in 1884, was sharply and evenly divided, and the divisions were geographic.”  The author, Zachary Karabell, even comments on our times, saying “Though many have lamented the division between ‘red states’ and ‘blue states’ in the elections at the end of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, the electoral map was just as starkly delineated in the 1870s and 1880s. In fact, the only real battlegrounds were New York and Indiana…yet…did not lead to cries of concern about the viability of the republic or the health of democracy.”

In a time when partisan politics is reigning supreme, it seems to me, that we could use a Chester Alan Arthur, who “tried to serve the general good rather than the interests of his faction.”

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