Monday, May 20, 2013

Chester Allan Arthur by Zachary Karabell

I finished reading Chester Allan Arthur by Zachary Karabell. After finishing the book on James Garfield, I wanted to read about more about the Vice President who became President after Garfield died. This was one of the few books that I could find. This is part of my continuing effort to read about all of the United States Presidents.

Arthur served effectively as a quartermaster for the state of New York in the Civil War. After the war, he was a successful lawyer in New York City. Eventually, Arthur was appointed by Roscoe Conkling to head of the Custom House of the Port of New York. The New York Customhouse was then the largest federal office in the country. In an era before income tax, it accounted for not only three-quarters of all custom duties, but more than a third of the government's revenues.

Arthur was forced out as the head of the Custom House in 1877 in a power struggle between the two wings of the Republican Party. He became such a celebrity that he was nominated for vice president in 1880 in spite of his never before having run for office. Elected alongside James A. Garfield, Arthur found his life transformed just four months into his term, when an assassin shot and killed Garfield, catapulting Arthur into the presidency.

Largely ignored and discounted by historians, Arthur's term marked a turning point in a couple of interesting areas, Although he was a product of the patronage system and bossism, Arthur signed the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act into law. This started the United States on the road to a professional civil service system. He also started a modernization of the Navy that would be key to the United State role in the world over the next twenty years.

Arthur died at age 57 just a little over a year after leaving office. He ordered nearly all of his personal and official papers burned.

Only 140 pages long, I enjoyed this book and recommend it.

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