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Dark Horse: The Surprise Election and Political Murder of President James A. Garfield

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Capitol Hill veteran Kenneth Ackerman re-creates an American political landscape where fierce battles for power unfolded against a chivalrous code of honor in a country struggling to emerge from the long shadow of the Civil War. James Garfield's 1880 dark horse campaign after the longest-ever Republican nominating convention, his victory in the closest-ever popular vote fo Capitol Hill veteran Kenneth Ackerman re-creates an American political landscape where fierce battles for power unfolded against a chivalrous code of honor in a country struggling to emerge from the long shadow of the Civil War. James Garfield's 1880 dark horse campaign after the longest-ever Republican nominating convention, his victory in the closest-ever popular vote for president, his struggle against bitterly feuding factions once elected, and the public's response to his assassination is the most dramatic presidential odyssey of the Gilded Age—and among the most momentous in our nation's history. This journey through political backrooms, dazzling convention floors, and intrigue-filled congressional and White House chambers, reveals the era's decency and humanity as well as the sharp partisanship that exploded in the pistol shots of assassin Charles Guiteau, the disgruntled patronage-seeker eager to replace the elected Commander-in-Chief with one of his own choosing.


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Capitol Hill veteran Kenneth Ackerman re-creates an American political landscape where fierce battles for power unfolded against a chivalrous code of honor in a country struggling to emerge from the long shadow of the Civil War. James Garfield's 1880 dark horse campaign after the longest-ever Republican nominating convention, his victory in the closest-ever popular vote fo Capitol Hill veteran Kenneth Ackerman re-creates an American political landscape where fierce battles for power unfolded against a chivalrous code of honor in a country struggling to emerge from the long shadow of the Civil War. James Garfield's 1880 dark horse campaign after the longest-ever Republican nominating convention, his victory in the closest-ever popular vote for president, his struggle against bitterly feuding factions once elected, and the public's response to his assassination is the most dramatic presidential odyssey of the Gilded Age—and among the most momentous in our nation's history. This journey through political backrooms, dazzling convention floors, and intrigue-filled congressional and White House chambers, reveals the era's decency and humanity as well as the sharp partisanship that exploded in the pistol shots of assassin Charles Guiteau, the disgruntled patronage-seeker eager to replace the elected Commander-in-Chief with one of his own choosing.

30 review for Dark Horse: The Surprise Election and Political Murder of President James A. Garfield

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy

    I would hardly guess that 1 out of 100 Americans could even recognize the name James A Garfield as an American President, much less recall that he's notable for his assassination. But at the height of his popularity, it was widely believed that he would be known as one of the three greatest (or at least beloved) Presidents of all time, behind Lincoln and Washington. What I liked about this book is the rich detail with which it chronicles the warring between political factions and figures (Half-Br I would hardly guess that 1 out of 100 Americans could even recognize the name James A Garfield as an American President, much less recall that he's notable for his assassination. But at the height of his popularity, it was widely believed that he would be known as one of the three greatest (or at least beloved) Presidents of all time, behind Lincoln and Washington. What I liked about this book is the rich detail with which it chronicles the warring between political factions and figures (Half-Breeds and Stalwarts, Roscoe Conkling and James G Blaine, the New York Republican Party and Everyone Else). There are quotes and news reports and letters and balloting results and a lot more in the way of recorded dialogue than I would have imagined. I love the way that all of the primary sources make the events seem so much more significant than they now appear. These were not minor figures to be quickly forgotten. These were the men and the moments that consumed the pages of the newspapers and were on the tips of everyone's tongues for decades. It reminds me that we too are living in a significant time, but that every generation believes it is extraordinary, and in that sense, given enough time, no generation is really that extraordinary. In 100 years the Iraq War will be no more memorable than the Mexican-American War. In 100 years no one will care about the scandals of the Bush administration. In 100 years no one will remember Obama's flubbed Oath of Office and its do-over. It's a good perspective to have in the midst of our current political turmoil.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jose

    Unless you are a political junkie interested in every last detail of James A. Garfield's sudden and unexpected rise to the Presidency, this book is not for you. Painstakingly researched with every protagonist, every meeting, discussion, shopping trip, train trip, ballot count and luncheon that was ever recorded and some that weren't, this is as narrow as it gets to understand the times and mores of James A. Garfield. The narrative happens in a bubble and I was hoping for a wider view. The charac Unless you are a political junkie interested in every last detail of James A. Garfield's sudden and unexpected rise to the Presidency, this book is not for you. Painstakingly researched with every protagonist, every meeting, discussion, shopping trip, train trip, ballot count and luncheon that was ever recorded and some that weren't, this is as narrow as it gets to understand the times and mores of James A. Garfield. The narrative happens in a bubble and I was hoping for a wider view. The characters are purely political animals fleshed only as far as as it's useful to understand their ambitions, no more. Any larger issue like the state of the nation after the civil war, the temperance movement, the international ambitions of the U.S, the actual electoral issues like tariffs and unlimited silver coinage, etc...are dutiful listed but never expanded on while every cabinet nomination and everyone of Conkling's tantrum runs for pages on end. So I add one star for the research involved. Some segments are readable,specially towards the end. After all, it is a murder. It is also a murder that forced some people to gain persceptive like it did for Chester A. Arthur who succeeded Garfield. many people remained the same without learning anything like Guiteau, who was a deeply trouble man, or Roscoe Conkling, who saw everything as a personal issue. Even Grant seemed likeable after the President fell. In coclusion, a lot of the text seems to be a narrated and expanded transcription of Garfield's diaries, party convention records and Guiteau's court proceedings. I wish I had just gotten a book on the "Guilded Age" and not have to plow through the barrage of dates and facts which can only please people with an intimate knowledge of the inner workings of Congress or career politicos. even Garfield's death which seems to have been sheer agony is a play-by-play account with every probe, infection and bowel movement spelled out. Agein, the author put a commnedable effort in accounting foer everything. It makes good history, not a great time for the casual reader. One thing that comes across quite clearly though: just like back then, money, power and ambition is the broth that feeds lawmaking.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Sean Chick

    For those who want every step of a political feud and assassination few even care about today, it is a good read. Not a deep one. The idea of Stalwart and Half-breed itself has been questioned and the analysis of the personalities never goes as deep as it promises to be. Grant, who is not depicted in the best light (pettiness and corruption abound), still comes in for praise at the book's end: "At his death in 1885, Ulysses Grant was widely considered the greatest American of the Nineteenth Cent For those who want every step of a political feud and assassination few even care about today, it is a good read. Not a deep one. The idea of Stalwart and Half-breed itself has been questioned and the analysis of the personalities never goes as deep as it promises to be. Grant, who is not depicted in the best light (pettiness and corruption abound), still comes in for praise at the book's end: "At his death in 1885, Ulysses Grant was widely considered the greatest American of the Nineteenth Century next to whom Abraham Lincoln was a shooting star. Since then, history has more than reversed those judgments and Grant has suffered more than his share of harping from historians with political agendas for belittling his enormous role. Today, Grant is experiencing a well-earned re-evaluation among scholars, with his reputation being considerably upgraded." It is a weird passage all the same. Yet, shallow as it is on the policy issues, wholly lacking anything about the Democrats of the period, and filled with odd errors, the book is very good. When he is not talking about things outside the scope of the work, Ackerman is accurate and fair. If not a tragedy or worse yet a tragicomedy with Guiteau as the buffoon, one is saddened to see Garfield die before he could do anything in the White House. Few men were as intelligent, or capable of balancing morality with solid political instincts.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Thomas Radigan

    The story is not a biography of any particular politician, but of the intrigues of the major political players of the early 1880's, with the different political climate of that era compared to more modern times, with the US Civil War and Reconstruction still fresh in the national mind, as well as the bungled presidency of Rutherford Hayes, with former President Grant encouraged to become President yet again, but with others with the eyes on the prize, how intrigues ended up making James Garfield The story is not a biography of any particular politician, but of the intrigues of the major political players of the early 1880's, with the different political climate of that era compared to more modern times, with the US Civil War and Reconstruction still fresh in the national mind, as well as the bungled presidency of Rutherford Hayes, with former President Grant encouraged to become President yet again, but with others with the eyes on the prize, how intrigues ended up making James Garfield the Republican candidate and how skilled he turned out to be as a politician. There are a number of surprises in this story, such as Garfield's assassin being not so much a disappointed office seeker but as a maniac with a deluded idea of trying to reform the country, as well as powerful political figures who were famous then but forgotten today. There were a number of political changes which were an indirect result of Garfield's presidency, such as civil service finally being established to replace patronage hiring in government. A good ;look at a little-known era in American history.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Joann

    Having recently read both Destiny of the Republic by Candace Millard and Grant by Ron Chernow, I found this book to be a good companion as it fleshed out some things the other books touched on. The intrigues of the political world in 1880 and after were fascinating. At times it was hard for me to keep all the players straight in my mind but my interest never flagged. One major flaw in this book is the poor editing: misspelled words and incorrect grammar abound.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Elliott Lemberg

    “Dark Horse” is an engrossing account of the events leading up to the assassination of President James A. Garfield at the hands of Charles Guiteau, the stalwart of the stalwarts as he branded himself. Garfield was certainly a ‘dark horse’ when he emerged from the Republican party’s fractious convention as its nominee in the 1880 election. In that convention, former President Ulysses S. Grant was vying for an unprecedented third term against James G. Blaine, leader of the Half-Breed faction, and “Dark Horse” is an engrossing account of the events leading up to the assassination of President James A. Garfield at the hands of Charles Guiteau, the stalwart of the stalwarts as he branded himself. Garfield was certainly a ‘dark horse’ when he emerged from the Republican party’s fractious convention as its nominee in the 1880 election. In that convention, former President Ulysses S. Grant was vying for an unprecedented third term against James G. Blaine, leader of the Half-Breed faction, and John Sherman, Hayes’s Treasury Secretary. How Garfield emerged as the consensus pick of the party is really interesting, itself involving a lot of backroom dealings between politicos. Garfield would go on to win a squeaker of an election against Democrat Winfield Scott Hancock and start his term as an erstwhile reformer, challenging the spoils system and its brazen champion, Senator Roscoe Conkling. Garfield would emerge victorious from his battle with Conkling, the Senator’s political career left in tatters, as much from his pride as from Garfield’s intractability regarding his nominations. The battle between the two men, though, certainly played a key role in the President’s shooting, which Ackerman chronicles in expert detail. I would highly recommend this book; it serves as a great companion piece to “Destiny of the Republic” and is a fascinating examination of the Gilded Age.

  7. 5 out of 5

    David Crow

    Ken Ackerman brings to life not only the tragically short lived life of President James Garfield and the politics of his time; he also places the reader inside the head of his assassin, a truly crazy man Names Charles Giteau. Beautifully written, masterfully researched, and fun to read. Ken Ackerman gets it right. A great read.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    http://bestpresidentialbios.com/2014/... “Dark Horse: the Surprise Election and Political Murder of President James A. Garfield” by Kenneth Ackerman was published in 2003. Ackerman practices law in the Washington D.C. area and has written four books including biographies of J. Edgar Hoover and New York political boss William Tweed. Ackerman is a graduate of my alma mater, Brown University. Based on its title, no one should be surprised to learn that this book is far less a biography than it is a p http://bestpresidentialbios.com/2014/... “Dark Horse: the Surprise Election and Political Murder of President James A. Garfield” by Kenneth Ackerman was published in 2003. Ackerman practices law in the Washington D.C. area and has written four books including biographies of J. Edgar Hoover and New York political boss William Tweed. Ackerman is a graduate of my alma mater, Brown University. Based on its title, no one should be surprised to learn that this book is far less a biography than it is a political thriller. Ackerman focuses almost exclusively on Garfield’s unexpected presidential nomination, his two-hundred-day presidency and his assassination (including his lingering death). This relatively narrow focus is the book’s key strength as well as its most notable weakness. Although this book contains a relatively hefty 453 pages of text, it does not provide a comprehensive survey of Garfield’s life. The book begins at full pace during the 1880 Republican presidential nominating convention (when Garfield was already forty-eight years old) and follows him to his death just sixteen months later. The story Ackerman reveals is fast-paced and consistently engaging, but there is too much about Garfield’s life that remains untold. In a manner reminiscent of Doris Goodwin’s later-published “Team of Rivals” Ackerman’s book is more a multiple biography of four politicians (and their relationships with each other) than it is a historical account focused principally on one person. In Ackerman’s case the attention is directed toward Garfield, Chester Arthur (Garfield’s vice president and successor), New York party boss Roscoe Conkling and presidential aspirant James Blaine. The intertwined stories of these four colorful characters are extremely well-told. “Dark Horse” is occasionally faulted for providing too much detail- particularly relating to the Chicago nominating convention. But while Ackerman does provide a great deal of scene-setting throughout the book this is usually part of an effort to create context and to more fully animate the narrative. Rarely does his style involve tedious or extraneous detail. Instead, he draws in the reader and finds a way to never let go. The author also excels at uncovering interesting facets of political life in the late nineteenth century (such as the origin of filibusters and the timing of modern-day presidential elections) and reveals interesting nuances of everyday life in the Gilded Age. At times it almost seems the author conducted more research on these lesser-known elements of the era’s daily grind than on Garfield himself. Overall, Kenneth Ackerman’s “Dark Horse” is a fascinating narrative that follows James Garfield (and his key political contemporaries) for the most consequential year-and-a-half of his life. But as engrossing as it proves to be, it fails to cover the vast majority of Garfield’s life. And while it is long on captivating political drama, it is comparatively short on penetrating historical analysis. Nevertheless, this book is certain to delight most readers while frustrating only those who are hard-core historians. Overall Rating: 4 stars

  9. 4 out of 5

    Hal

    To cut to the quick; this may be best book of U.S. political history I have read. Mention President James A. Garfield, and the reaction from most is, "Oh yes. He's that post Civil War president that was assassinated." But his story is much more than just a sitting president who was shot by a half-crazed guy from Chicago who wanted a government job. The story gives us a quite complex picture of the shooter, Garfield and the party bosses. As the title says, Garfield was really a dark horse, a man w To cut to the quick; this may be best book of U.S. political history I have read. Mention President James A. Garfield, and the reaction from most is, "Oh yes. He's that post Civil War president that was assassinated." But his story is much more than just a sitting president who was shot by a half-crazed guy from Chicago who wanted a government job. The story gives us a quite complex picture of the shooter, Garfield and the party bosses. As the title says, Garfield was really a dark horse, a man working to gain the presidency for another. But with the Republic Party split between the non-compromising "Stalwarts" and the "Half-Breeds", the convention in Chicago was stalemated -- divided among three men. U.S. Grant had just sat out four years after already serving two terms. He wanted a third term so bad he could taste it, and the "Stalwarts," led by the patronage boss of New York were determined to get it for him. But after a raucous convention, the three standing candidates fell short and the so-called 'Half-Breeds" put up Garfield as a unwilling candidate. After about 40 ballots, he had the nomination. This divided the party further and Grant's forces weren't about to go down without a fight. The book does a great job of leading the reader through what led up to the convention, explaining the complexities of the convention fiasco, getting into the mind of the soon-to-be assassin and finally the shooting of Garfield and his lingering suffering and death after five months. U.S. Grant and his promoters then had to face the anger and disappointment of a grieving nation. I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in history. I was going to give the book four stars due to some formatting and production problems. But they didn't affect the reading of the book and I firmly believe Kenneth Ackerman deserves five stars.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Colleen Browne

    This is a very interesting book about an interesting and admirable man. The story of Garfield's election amid the power struggles of the Republican Party gives a good sense of the politics of the era Some of the struggles seem more like a pantomime than the process of politics in the country. In losing Garfield, the nation lost a man with integrity and good intentions. Unfortunately, we are unable to judge his presidency because of the assassin who cut his life short. This is a very interesting book about an interesting and admirable man. The story of Garfield's election amid the power struggles of the Republican Party gives a good sense of the politics of the era Some of the struggles seem more like a pantomime than the process of politics in the country. In losing Garfield, the nation lost a man with integrity and good intentions. Unfortunately, we are unable to judge his presidency because of the assassin who cut his life short.

  11. 4 out of 5

    SeaShore

    This book is intense. It provides loads of information within a short period of time. President James A. Garfield was the Dark Horse. He lasted sixteen months as president, elected in 1880.- Ulysses S Grant was trying for a third-term Presidency, Grover Cleveland (the first President to be guarded by the Secret Service) was in the race, James Blaine was in and also John Sherman. The campaigning leading up to the election is covered in immense detail. Through this read, I learned about Garfield's This book is intense. It provides loads of information within a short period of time. President James A. Garfield was the Dark Horse. He lasted sixteen months as president, elected in 1880.- Ulysses S Grant was trying for a third-term Presidency, Grover Cleveland (the first President to be guarded by the Secret Service) was in the race, James Blaine was in and also John Sherman. The campaigning leading up to the election is covered in immense detail. Through this read, I learned about Garfield's assasination; his connections to vice president, Chester Arthur, who became his successor, New York Republican party leader Roscoe Conkling and so much about James Blaine and his wife. The drama that existed among them, through letters pulled me in and distracted me from wanting to know about James Garfield, himself.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Saunders

    Superb political history of America circa 1880. The book focuses mainly on the rivalry between Republican leaders Roscoe Conkling and James G. Blaine, whose personal feud came to represent larger cleavages in the Republican Party. Namely, the argument over civil service reform and attempts to curb the influence of crooked political machines. Into this vortex stepped James Garfield, an honest man who refused to be cowed by either side. Ackerman provides a richly detailed portrait of Garfield's br Superb political history of America circa 1880. The book focuses mainly on the rivalry between Republican leaders Roscoe Conkling and James G. Blaine, whose personal feud came to represent larger cleavages in the Republican Party. Namely, the argument over civil service reform and attempts to curb the influence of crooked political machines. Into this vortex stepped James Garfield, an honest man who refused to be cowed by either side. Ackerman provides a richly detailed portrait of Garfield's brief presidency, contrasting this unlikely leader with other political figures and his assassin, Charles Guiteau, much more than a "disappointed office seeker." I'd put this alongside Team of Rivals as the best book I've read on 19th Century American politics.

  13. 5 out of 5

    JZ Temple

    A well written history of the Garfield election and assassination. The author provides vivid images of the election, inauguration and presidency of Garfield and tells a good story as well. It's an interesting tale, Garfield going to the convention as a delegate and emerging as the surprise candidate, the wheeling-dealing to get him elected, and then his murder at the hands of of someone who had actually been in contact with most of the major politicians of the time. There are many things I disco A well written history of the Garfield election and assassination. The author provides vivid images of the election, inauguration and presidency of Garfield and tells a good story as well. It's an interesting tale, Garfield going to the convention as a delegate and emerging as the surprise candidate, the wheeling-dealing to get him elected, and then his murder at the hands of of someone who had actually been in contact with most of the major politicians of the time. There are many things I discovered by reading this book concerning the election process of the time, some of which were rather surprising. It's an easy to read narrative and I greatly recommend it.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    ackerman is a terrific historian with a skill for conveying the machinations of political intrigue. garfield, who was staunchly pro-civil rights, is an immensely compelling figure to consider, and the personalities and politics of america's "gilded age" make for rich historical reading. ackerman is a terrific historian with a skill for conveying the machinations of political intrigue. garfield, who was staunchly pro-civil rights, is an immensely compelling figure to consider, and the personalities and politics of america's "gilded age" make for rich historical reading.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ted Morgan

    Though review of the remarkable election and short presidency of a fine man James A. Garfield. Sometimes the account is almost an outline but mostly it is detailed and intriguing as well as heartbreaking.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Clay Davis

    I learned a lot about the 1880's. I learned a lot about the 1880's.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Merrie

    Interesting read about a period in American history I did nor know much about. Feeling grateful for modern (& competent) medicine!

  18. 4 out of 5

    David Zimny

    Dark Horse is a treat for fans of post-civil war history and politics. It begins with a description of the leaders of two polar opposite Republican factions. Roscoe Conkling, a senator, led the Stalwarts- Republicans who favored nepotism and cronyism as means to put people in power. James Blaine, also a senator, led the Half-Breeds, who favored giving power based on an individual's merit. After the introduction, Dark Horse details the Republican National Convention of 1880. Conkling aimed to nom Dark Horse is a treat for fans of post-civil war history and politics. It begins with a description of the leaders of two polar opposite Republican factions. Roscoe Conkling, a senator, led the Stalwarts- Republicans who favored nepotism and cronyism as means to put people in power. James Blaine, also a senator, led the Half-Breeds, who favored giving power based on an individual's merit. After the introduction, Dark Horse details the Republican National Convention of 1880. Conkling aimed to nominate Ulysses Grant for President. Grant was a Stalwart. James Blaine himself was the Half-breed vying to be nominated. About 800 Republicans took vote after vote, but could not break a stalemate between Grant and Blaine. Out of nowhere, James A. Garfield's name was introduced as a candidate, and on the 36th vote Garfield was officially named the Republican candidate for President. Garfield was a moderate in the Stalwart-Half Breed spectrum, though he leaned slightly towards Half-Breed. Garfield went on to win the Presidential election and was sworn in as the 20th President of the United States on March 4, 1881. Dark Horse gives many interesting tidbits about Garfield. I won't give them away except one. Though he was the 20th President, Garfield was the first left-handed president. Just three months into his presidency, Garfield was shot by a disturbed man named Charles Guiteau. The wounds were not mortal, but the incompetence of the doctors taking care of Garfield caused his death in September 1881. American politics of 1881 is either your thing or it isn't. If it is, definitely check out Dark Horse.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Rich

    Trying to work my way through biographies of each president, I was dragging my feet a bit on getting to Garfield. It only makes sense, right? Garfield was shot after only 4 months in office and died a couple months later. I didn't think there could be much there. Wrong. Garfield was a major player among politicians of the Gilded Age. The first 134 pages of the book covered the fight among the three major factions of the Republican party, including shedding light on the weight of political bosses Trying to work my way through biographies of each president, I was dragging my feet a bit on getting to Garfield. It only makes sense, right? Garfield was shot after only 4 months in office and died a couple months later. I didn't think there could be much there. Wrong. Garfield was a major player among politicians of the Gilded Age. The first 134 pages of the book covered the fight among the three major factions of the Republican party, including shedding light on the weight of political bosses and the importance of patronage to the system. It was fascinating! In all the books I've read on American history, no others had covered those topics so well. Though a bit short on Garfield's personal life, with hardly anything on his military service during the Civil War, it was fairly comprehensive in its coverage of his political career and the election of 1880, which makes it a must-read for anyone interested in the Gilded Age or presidential history. Parts of the book read like a thriller. The author did a great job of providing suspense to assassin Guiteau's stalking of the president. Much background was provided on Guiteau, including how he worked his way into the company of the major Republicans of the day, only to find himself ignored and considered an unusual, queer man.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Thomas Wilson

    Kenneth D. Ackerman’s “Dark Horse, The Surprise Election and Political Murder of President James A. Garfield” attempts to reintroduce readers to the behind the scenes machinations and political intrigue of the election of 1880 and the subsequent Garfield administration. Although published in 2003, Ackerman’s research seems prescient given the current state of political affairs in today’s Trump-led America. Much like the strong chasm that would develop nearly 140 years later between Trump support Kenneth D. Ackerman’s “Dark Horse, The Surprise Election and Political Murder of President James A. Garfield” attempts to reintroduce readers to the behind the scenes machinations and political intrigue of the election of 1880 and the subsequent Garfield administration. Although published in 2003, Ackerman’s research seems prescient given the current state of political affairs in today’s Trump-led America. Much like the strong chasm that would develop nearly 140 years later between Trump supporters and mainstream Republicans, Ackerman adroitly examines the rift between the Stalwarts and Half-Breeds that threatened to tear apart the Republican Party during the late 19th century. Reading more like a novel than a typical political history book, Ackerman turns what could have been a dense and difficult topic to get through into a page turner that I never wanted to put down.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Guy Priel

    This was an enjoyable book. You see so little written about Garfield and with cause, since he was assassinated so soon after his presidency began. He hardly had time to leave a legacy. His rise to the presidency was perhaps the biggest surprise of all, because, as the title suggests, he was a dark horse candidate who wasn't even on the ballot to begin with. Ackerman did lots of research on the topic and it shows in the final result. Highly recommended for anyone interested in reading about the p This was an enjoyable book. You see so little written about Garfield and with cause, since he was assassinated so soon after his presidency began. He hardly had time to leave a legacy. His rise to the presidency was perhaps the biggest surprise of all, because, as the title suggests, he was a dark horse candidate who wasn't even on the ballot to begin with. Ackerman did lots of research on the topic and it shows in the final result. Highly recommended for anyone interested in reading about the presidents. I have made it my goal to read about all of them and this is one I have read very little about until now.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Kierstin

    This review comes after a significant pause in the Presidents Project. In the last six months, I relocated from Washington DC to the midwest and embarked on a significant career change (for arguably the better, but slightly traumatic nonetheless). In the meantime, I read three biographies - this one, Arthur, and Cleveland (spoilers!), but couldn't get my act together and write up my reviews. For leaving my readers without their quarterly dose of Presidential history, I apologize. Since I likely This review comes after a significant pause in the Presidents Project. In the last six months, I relocated from Washington DC to the midwest and embarked on a significant career change (for arguably the better, but slightly traumatic nonetheless). In the meantime, I read three biographies - this one, Arthur, and Cleveland (spoilers!), but couldn't get my act together and write up my reviews. For leaving my readers without their quarterly dose of Presidential history, I apologize. Since I likely have no readers past the first paragraph, let's summarize James Garfield quickly: He Dies. Dark Horse (...) is a good biography written by a lawyer practicing at the firm I worked at as a legislative assistant years ago. For that sentimental reason (and to redeem my 23 year old self, who sweetly, but ignorantly tried to talk presidential history with Mr. Ackerman while he was writing this book) I chose this biogaphy. Garfield was our 20th president, and indeed a dark horse for the job. Born poor in Ohio, the youngest of five children, Garfield put himself through Hiram College working odd jobs. Professionally he tried his hand at teaching, ministry, and finally settled on the law. At the same time he was elected to the Ohio State Senate on a platform of militant abolition. Garfield served in the Civil War, commanding troops and as Chief of Staff to General Rosecrans. He was frustrated by Rosecrans' battle stage fright, and agreed to let his friends campaign on his behalf for a seat in the 1862 Congressional elections. He won, and proceeded to serve nine terms in the House. However, like the career of every other long-serving, admirable politician, no one really wants to hear about it. So, fast forward: The election of 1880 occurred at the height of organized political bossism. The Republican convention was deadlocked in a three-way tie between General Sherman (Garfield's pick), former President Grant, and Speaker of the House James Blaine. After days of debate, Garfield's name was put forth in response to an impassioned speech Garfield gave against political puppeteer Sen. Roscoe Conkling. To sway Conkling's support to a Garfield nomination, Conkling's good friend Chester Arthur was added to the ticket as Vice President. Garfield won the election handily; Democrats were still being blamed for starting the Civil War. Sen. Conkling all but moved in to the White House reception rooms, assuming he'd earned the right to run the show. Garfield rejected Conkling's interference, and a fun soap opera ensued in which Conkling resigned his Senate seat in a carefully orchestrated protest, only to then be abandoned by his Senate friends in the last act of his rebellion. Conkling aside, though an easy illustration, Garfield wanted to build a clean administration based on a plan for a larger-reaching civil service reform. At the same time, Garfield was besieged by office seekers, one of them being the social outcast Charles Guiteau who was denied his request to be Ambassador to Vienna. What began then was a stalking. While Garfield built a qualified cabinet and pursued a policy of civil rights reform and elimination of the spoils system, Guiteau sat in Lafayette Park armed with a pistol. As spring turned to summer of that first year, Garfield also managed to appoint a Supreme Court justice, a few judges, and several quality ambassadors. Guiteau spent his time learning the President's routines and following him around Washington, DC. On July 2nd, four months into Garfield's administration, Guiteau shot the President twice while awaiting a train in the 6th Street Station. Because Guiteau shouted a hurrah to Vice President Chester Arthur after the shooting (Arthur having been openly unsupportive of the President, and loyal only to Sen. Conkling), it was initially thought the VP was behind the assassination attempt. Letters found on Guiteau's person after the crime (he was immediately apprehended and imprisoned) indicated he was upset at being denied the ambassadorship, thereby branding him forever as the "Disgruntled Office-Seeker." Garfield survived the shooting and was taken back to the White House to be stabilized. One bullet remained lodged in his abdomen and was lost to the contemporary doctors' probings. What follows in the biography is an interesting (and sad!) account of 1880's medicine. Garfield lingered for so long, and clearly suffered more from infection than any other complaint, that it's almost certain he would have survived in modern days. But then, when does fate ever spare us the inconvenience of poor timing? In September, the ailing President was taken to the Jersey shore in hopes the sea air would clear the raging infection that was the result of many bare hands looking for the elusive bullet (which was found, post mortem, to be behind the pancreas). On the night of September 19th, Garfield finally died of massive heart failure and sepsis. Only William Henry Harrison (#9) served a shorter term. This particular biography (and this review, I'm sorry!) is too long relative to the Administration it documents, but Mr. Ackerman writes an entertaining and informative account of what could be considered dry by other authors: career Congressman, compromise candidate, shot in a train station by a crazy, homeless guy. It's not a great story, but Mr. Ackerman does right by it if you're ever curious about the American presidency in 1880... which if you're still reading this review, you might be :-)

  23. 4 out of 5

    Rowland Hill

    Raised From Obscurity This is an excellent history and examination of the politics and political figures that dominated the post-Civil War United States. Had Garfield lived we might well be facing a very different country as he sought to promote the fair treatment and equality of African-Americans. Well worth your time for f you have any interest in Reconstruction and Presidential politics.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jason

    Today’s politics have nothing on the drama and intrigue of the past The description of the gop convention remains the fumes that fuel the reporters , and political activist today when no II Acti g conventions come around and wild theories are offered on potential deadlocked conventions and dark horse candidates.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Philip

    An interesting read on James Garfield, a historical figure almost solely remembered for being struck down months into his presidency. Ackerman does an admirable job of taking the reader into the political battles of the day- largely about patronage- that makes today's "swamp" in Washington look quaint. An interesting read on James Garfield, a historical figure almost solely remembered for being struck down months into his presidency. Ackerman does an admirable job of taking the reader into the political battles of the day- largely about patronage- that makes today's "swamp" in Washington look quaint.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Bill

    Author Kenneth Ackerman's fluid account of politics and the craziness of the 1880 Republican national convention where dark horse candidate James Garfield won the nomination. There's so much going on in this book, and the author does an excellent job at keeping it running smooth. Garfield died 79 days after being shot in the back by Charles Guiteau. If you have an interest in presidents, politics or history, I highly recommend this book. Author Kenneth Ackerman's fluid account of politics and the craziness of the 1880 Republican national convention where dark horse candidate James Garfield won the nomination. There's so much going on in this book, and the author does an excellent job at keeping it running smooth. Garfield died 79 days after being shot in the back by Charles Guiteau. If you have an interest in presidents, politics or history, I highly recommend this book.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Norman Smith

    A well-written book on a little-know subject. Since I get pleasure from learning about a slice of history that was formerly unknown to me, I got a lot of pleasure from this book. I bet this would be a great (though hardly credible) movie!

  28. 5 out of 5

    Matt McCormick

    A wonderful insight into the post Civil War political environment that reminds us acrimony in civic life isn't new. This was also a sad reminder that there was a time, just after the war, in which a real possibility of equal rights existed and was squandered. A wonderful insight into the post Civil War political environment that reminds us acrimony in civic life isn't new. This was also a sad reminder that there was a time, just after the war, in which a real possibility of equal rights existed and was squandered.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Winter Rose

    I like how the main characters met each other, I love the plot and everything about this book. Good job writer! If you have some great stories like this one, you can publish it on NovelStar, just submit your story to [email protected] or [email protected]

  30. 4 out of 5

    Caro

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Really captivating and accessible writing style. Felt the excitement, struggles, and pains of these historical figures. What a tragedy for President Garfield to suffer and die the way he did.

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