Steve Yeaton tells a story he discovered in Candice Millard’s 2011 book, Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President. When James Garfield was nominated for president, the party leaders paired him with a candidate from the losing faction, Chester Arthur, to be his vice-president. Garfield was opposed to the spoils system, but Arthur had come up through that very corrupt system—a system that paid off people with government positions regardless of qualification. He had no experience and certainly no qualifications to be vice-president; but there he was, a heartbeat away from the presidency. Garfield sought to end this practice and replace it with a system whereby people were appointed based on their credentials rather than connections. Garfield was shot by a disgruntled office seeker who wanted Arthur to be president. Some wondered if Arthur might have had something to do with the assassination attempt. He didn’t, but that didn’t stop the rumors. As Garfield struggled to recover from the bullet wound, Arthur genuinely worried he might become president. He knew he was in over his head.
In the midst of it all, he began receiving letters from an invalid woman he never had met by the name of Julia Sand. She wrote, “Your kindest opponents say, ‘Arthur will try to do right’—adding gloomily—‘He won’t succeed, though—making a man a president cannot change him.'” She went on, “(M)aking a man president can change him! Great emergencies awaken generous traits which have lain dormant half a life. If there is a spark of true nobility in you, now is the occasion to let it shine. Faith in your better nature forces me to write to you—but not to beg you to resign. Do what is more difficult and more brave. Reform!” With each letter, she urged him to be a better man than he ever could have imagined. That’s what happened. Arthur rose to the occasion, and upon Garfield’s death did what nobody expected. He went against his own patrons and implemented the reform policies of Garfield. Arthur became the better man Julia Sand knew he could be. There are people who believe in you. Even if no one else does, God does.
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