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The Dark Horse: The Surprise Election and Political Murder of President James A. Garfield Hardcover – June 1, 2003


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; First Edition edition (June 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786711515
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786711512
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 7 x 1.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (85 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #698,360 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

About the Author

Kenneth D. Ackerman is also the author of YOUNG J. EDGAR: Hoover and the Red Scare, 1919-1920; BOSS TWEED: the Corrupt Pol who Conceived the Soul of Modern New York; and THE GOLD RING: Jim Fisk, Jay Gould, and Black Friday 1869. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

More About the Author


I'm Ken Ackerman and writing history has been a passion of mine for over twenty years,and politics an obsession since the 1960s. To me, history has to have a purpose, to expose truth, to point direction, to provoke thought. It has to tell a story.

I'm especially drawn to neglected topics like the Gilded Age, the post-World War I Red Scare, or old ocean divers -- blind spots in our collective memory that often point to raw nerves.

When not writing, I practice law in Washington, D.C. at OFW Law. Before that, I held a long line of political spots on Capitol Hill (staff counsel to two US Senate Committees, Governmental Affairs and Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry) and in two Administrations (under Bill Clinton at the US Department of Agriculture and under Ronald Reagan at a regulatory commission called the CFTC).

But enough about me. Hope you enjoy the books. Humor me on the attitude. -KenA


Check out my web site at www.KennethAckerman.com

Check out my blog at www.viralhistory.com

Contact me at kackerman@viralhistory.com

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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This book reads like a novel.
Indiana Jeff Reynolds
A wonderfully written, wonderfully researched, and wonderfully presented book about a very interesting time in our history.
Dean Allison
The Stalwarts were led by Roscoe Conkling and the Half-breeds by James G. Blaine.
Jefferson Mitchell

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

54 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Jon Hunt on July 30, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I bought a copy of Kenneth Ackerman's new book recently while visiting "Lawnfield", the Mentor, Ohio home of our twentieth president, James Abram Garfield. A bit dubious about a 400-plus page offering on a man who was president for only six months or so, I nonetheless sat down to read it and was both surprised and pleased by the terrific way that the author relates the intertwined lives of Garfield, his vice-president, Chester Alan Arthur and the two most powerful senators of their times, James G. Blaine and Roscoe Conkling.
Ackerman, at his best, is a good storyteller. Like a tug-of-war unfolding, he tells of the immense and bitter rivalry between Blaine and Conkling, with Garfield siding with the former and Arthur the latter. The real power in the post-Civil War years lay in the hands of the Congress and while this book is centered around Garfield, it's really more about the "play" that went on among these four men. And always looming in the background was former president, Ulysses S. Grant.
It is amazing to think that so much of a president's time could have been spent dealing with office-seekers, but Garfield's short administration was largely about that (and his trying to please both factions of the Republican party....the Half-Breeds, led by Blaine and the Stalwarts, led by Conkling.) Garfield's assassination was, indeed, about as darkly political as an event can get.
The author occasionally slips into being too enamored of his subject although what I've read about Garfield in other books leads me to believe he was a decent enough man. Unfortunately, because of his short tenure in the White House most historians don't bother rating him with our other presidents.
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42 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Brian D. Rubendall HALL OF FAME on June 23, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Let me first issue this advisory: To truly enjoy Kenneth D. Ackerman's book, "The Dark Horse" you have to love reading about politics. Ackerman is a Washington type, and his love of the political game and all of its intricaces is very much evident in his writing. Fortunately, he is such a good writer that he can make even the most mundane and obscure political manuevering as compelling as any suspense thriller.
"The Dark Horse," as the subtitle indicates, tells the tragic tale of President James A. Garfield, who was the surprise Republican nominee in 1880 and won a razor thin victory that Novemeber. Garfield had not desired the Presidency, and was only beginning to become comfortable in the office when he was felled by an assasssin's bullet four months into his term. He died a slow, agonizing death, and in the process became a martyred hero to the country.
Ackerman argues that Garflied's killing, remembered (if at all) for being perpetrated by a "disappointed office seeker" was a residual effect of the wars going on within the Republican Party between two competing factions: the Stalwarts and the Half Breeds. Though the Stalwarts, led by irascible New York Senator Roscoe Conkling, were not directly complicit in Garfield's murder, their strident rhetoric helped set the political climate that made it possible.
Ackerman tells his story in great detail (the narrative portion of the book runs to well over 400 pages). The is a decent illustrations section and a number of helpful charts for the reader. Overall, this is an excellently well written book that will appeal most strongly to American History and politics buffs.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Eric Hobart VINE VOICE on August 11, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Dark Horse: The surprise election and Political Murder of President James A. Garfield, by Kenneth D. Ackerman, is an extremely well written book about an era frequently bypassed by today's historians.
The Gilded Age has been largely ignored it seems by historians, but this book is a tremendous addition to the literature available on the political history of the era.
Ackerman has provided us with a book that truly chronicles Garfield's rise from semi-obscurity to the Presidency and then his assassination by a deranged man that claimed he was "removing" the President for the good of the Republican party and the country.
Starting with the Republican national convention of 1880, where Garfield was truly the "dark horse" candidate (U.S. Grant, James Blaine, and John Sherman were the leading contenders for the nomination), Ackerman has given us a fantastic political history of what transpired at the convention to earn Garfield the nomination.
He then proceeds to the national campaign against the Democratic nominee (General Winfield Hancock) and Garfield's "front porch" campaign. His description of the national race that ended in Garfield winning the Presidency is unmatched in writing today.
Ackerman intermixes Charles Guiteau into the history in appropriate places, and finally brings Guiteau to the forefront when he shoots Garfield in the railway station as Garfield was preparing for vacation. The subsequent trial and execution of Guiteau are also covered in the book.
I must commend Ackerman for ending with the elevation of Chester Arthur to the Presidency - other books might go into detail on how Arthur's Presidency was similar to and different than Garfield's, but Ackerman holds true to his title and stops with the ascendancy of Chester Arthur.
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