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Dark Horse: The Surprise Election and…
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Dark Horse: The Surprise Election and Political Murder of President James…

by Kenneth D. Ackerman

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1714107,119 (4.23)12
In this book 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 recent war. He casts familiar Civil War figures like Ulysses S. Grant and Winfield Scott Hancock in unfamiliar roles as politicos alongside feuding machine bosses like senators Roscoe Conkling and James G. Blaine and backroom string-puller Chester A. Arthur, Garfield's unlikely vice-presidential running mate. The 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 weak-minded political camp follower and patronage seeker eager to replace the elected commander-in-chief with one of his own choosing. Garfield's path from a seat in the House of Representatives to the White House to martyred hero changed the tone of politics for generations to come.… (more)
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    The Garfield Orbit by Margaret Leech (waltzmn)
    waltzmn: Margaret Leech's book has a strange title, and it lacks some of the insight from recent medical techniques (I'm still waiting for a book that seriously examines the possibility that James A. Garfield was autistic), but it is interesting and readable and gives a rather different look into Garfield's personality than the other biographies.… (more)
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    James A. Garfield by Ira Rutkow (waltzmn)
    waltzmn: Most biographies of James A Garfield are concerned primarily with his life and politics. Ira Rutkow devotes most of his attention to Garfield's actual injury and how it was mis-treated -- and, as a physician himself, he should know. This can get rather technical for those of us who aren't doctors, and we never really learn why what happened happened, but it is a very useful book when read alongside a proper Garfield biography.… (more)
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» See also 12 mentions

Showing 4 of 4
The remarkable man from Ohio who beat the favorites and ended up as the Republican candidate and the eventual president. Of course, he has a very short presidency because he is assassinated by a disappointed office seeker early in his presidency. But this is the story of how the favorites such as Grant were turned aside in favor of Garfield. ( )
  jerry-book | Jul 30, 2016 |
For me, the Presidency between Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt was a murky parade of difficult-to-distinguish whiskered men. The achievement of this book is to give personality and context not only to presidents like Grant, Hayes, Garfield, and Arthur, but to congressmen and senators such as Roscoe Conkling and James Blaine, who arguably had far more influence over the government during their years of service (or self-service, as the case may be). These people and their political, not to say personal, conflicts come alive as vividly as more contemporary politicians such as Newt Gingrich and John Boehner. It's decently entertaining reading, and I now have a much better understanding of how government worked in the First Gilded Age—the second, of course, being our own. ( )
  john.cooper | Mar 17, 2015 |
The Gilded Age was a fascinating time: business tycoons in the East, cowboys and outlaws in the West, a booming country when a man born in a log cabin could become President of the United States. James Garfield was one of these - from rough poverty, Garfield became a highly educated man who eventually became a Major General in the Union Army and elected Congressional Representative from Ohio. During his time in Congress, James Blaine and Roscoe Conkling had a falling out over political maneuvering. Now, this normally wouldn't be anything of lasting consequence, but Blaine and Conkling were political bosses of Maine and New York, respectively, and both had egos bigger than the United States. This feud eventually became a split within the Republican party into the Stalwart faction who answered to Conkling and their opponents, the Half-Breeds, led by Blaine.

Fast forward to the 1880 election: the leading candidate was Ulysses Grant, trying for a third term and supported by Conkling and the Stalwarts. The main opposition was Blaine, with John Sherman a distant third and supported by Garfield. Through some incredible political maneuvering, the well-regarded Garfield became the Republican candidate, eventually winning the election.

Ackerman's The Dark Horse: the Surprise Election and Political Murder of James A. Garfield is, not surprisingly, about the election of 1880, the short presidency of Garfield, and how that led to Garfield's shooting and ultimate death. What's great about the book is that it's also about the Blaine/Conkling feud and how it rippled into everything associated with the choosing of candidate Garfield, the course of the election, and the completely dysfunctional relationship between Garfield and the Senate. It's about the patronage system and power, and about how the system enabled Conkling and those like him to control the political life of our country. It's about how Garfield finally stood up to Conkling and how Conkling's ego brought about his own downfall. And it's about how the split led a disturbed, wannabe-Stalwart to shoot Garfield to make room for Chester Arthur, a close friend of Conkling to take over as President following Garfield's death.

The Dark Horse is a great book about an interesting, and not very well known President. Highly recommended! ( )
4 vote drneutron | Oct 14, 2010 |
I learned a great deal from this well-written book, which covers but a few months in the life of a little-known President.

There are a few typos in the text. The index is incomplete, which is troublesome. ( )
1 vote SCRH | Jul 4, 2006 |
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Dedicated to my father, William Ackerman
loved and missed by his large family,
who taught me that politicians should always stand for justice
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The Feud, April 1866
 
Starting soon after the Civil War, a Great Feud between two ambitious men would drive American politics for the next twenty years, splitting the Republican Party, shaping three presidential elections, and proximately causing one president to be shot in the back by an assassin, before ruining the careers of both rivals.
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