Several hundred pages of text on Garfield and the politics of his day may seem a stretch, given the gray, hyper-partisan, issueless politics of the Gilded Age. But in Ackerman's hands, the story of Garfield's presidency and murder comes brilliantly alive. Ackerman (an attorney who has worked on Capitol Hill and in the White House and written about Gilded Age scandals) relates with gusto and fizz the story of Garfield's unanticipated nomination as Republican presidential candidate in 1880, his election by a whisker, the travails of his few months in office, and his assassination. It's a story mostly of the struggle for spoils and patronage between two wings of the post-Civil War party of Lincoln. In fact, the lonely, unstable assassin, Charles Guiteau, was a resentful partisan of the wing that Garfield didn't fully reward. Soon after the president's death, and largely as a result, Congress enacted civil service reform. Ackerman brings to life all this and the colorful political figures, mostly senators, who strode the nation's public stage. The trouble is that, like so many works of history these days, it's long on narrative and short, very short, on analysis. You wouldn't know that the political deadlocks of the 1880s deeply, and disastrously, affected the lives of freed slaves, nor do readers learn of agricultural and labor crises, industrial growth or financial shenanigans-the very matters that factional fighting and political murder kept under the rug. It's a pity that Ackerman doesn't apply his skills to such central matters of context and significance. Agent, Jeff Gerekle, JCA Literary Agency. (July) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Gilded Age political culture is associated with corruption and gaudiness behind a veneer of Victorian repression. Washington lawyer Ackerman (The Gold Ring: Jim Fisk, Jay Gould, and Black Friday 1869) builds on this foundation with his extensive knowledge of the period and his longtime personal experience with politics inside the Beltway. What the period lacked in character it made up for in high political drama. Indeed, the narrative effectively captures the drama and could easily become the source for a political opera culminating in the longest presidential death scene in history. The death of the "Dark Horse" candidate from the 1880 Republican convention, James A. Garfield, was preceded by the longest ever Republican nominating convention, which took 36 ballots before selecting him, followed by the closest popular vote up to that time. With great narrative skill, Ackerman tackles the fascinating cast of characters, including a former president (Ulysses S. Grant), future presidents (Chester Arthur and Benjamin Harrison), vice presidents, powerful senators (especially Roscoe Conkling, James G. Blaine, and Thomas Platt), interwoven with scene stealer and assassin Charles Guiteau, whose delusions match those of the era's politicians. Highly recommended for libraries with patrons who enjoy good political history.-William D. Pederson, Louisiana State Univ., Shreveport Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
A behind-the-curtains glimpse at an often overlooked presidency, and at the cabals and conspiracies that brought it to an end. John Garfield was something of an accidental president, a dark horse brought onto the national scene in the wake of the many scandals that rocked the administration of Ulysses S. Grant. Washington insider Ackerman, who has held various civil-service posts over the last three decades, has an evident appreciation for the Ohio Republican, who wasn't exactly unwilling to see his hat tossed into the ring but hadn't exactly gone out of his way to court high office, either. Garfield would have done better to stay on the farm, to judge by Ackerman's engaging account of events, for Garfield found himself caught in the middle of a longtime feud between party bosses Roscoe Conkling and James G. Blaine, who hated each other with a fine passion and had been fighting for control of the Capitol for years. Garfield developed a platform of compromise that might surprise a few GOP loyalists today-including a staunch repudiation of "the pernicious doctrine of State supremacy"; support for federal funding for universal, secular education; and opposition to free trade and "doubtful financial experiments" such as federal intervention in the market. Still, for all his efforts at reconciliation, when Garfield was finally elected-and much of Ackerman's account deals with his tortuous path to the White House-he had to maneuver his way between Conkling and Blaine, pleasing neither with his choice of lieutenants and initiatives. Enter Charles Guiteau, the assassin who gunned Garfield down in 1881; though often described as a disappointed office-seeker and lunatic, he pulled the trigger as acommitted "stalwart" who wanted to see Garfield out of office and Garfield's vice president Chester Arthur in-as did Conkling, who allegedly endorsed the murder. Did Guiteau act alone? Ackerman has some ideas about that, and about the condition of national politics 12 decades ago. A welcome glimpse into the little-known time between the Civil War and the Gilded Age. Agent: Jeff Gerecke/JCA Literary Agency