James A. Garfield served as the 20th president of the US for 166 days. He was shot by an assassin, but did not immediately die. Chester Arthur was his Vice President. He was not chosen by Garfield for this position, but by the political machine of New York. As Garfield fought for his life, the nation realized that, at any moment, its fate might be placed into the hands of Chester Arthur. Across the country, men and women of both parties were horrified, for Arthur was a conniving man, doing whatever his political boss (Roscoe Conkling of NY) wanted done. Some even believed that Conkling and his puppet, Arthur, had arranged the shooting of Garfield. Some Americans even threatened to “shoulder their muskets and go to Washington to prevent the inauguration of Arthur.”
Arthur actually hid-out (in fear) in New York City as Garfield lay fatally ill at the White House. While there, cringing with fear and trepidation, he began to receive letters from a woman named Julia Sand. He had never met her and knew nothing about her. Julia was an unmarried, 32-year-old invalid. For five years she had felt, “dead and buried,” but the attempt on Garfield’s life, the complete lack of faith of the American people in Arthur, inspired her to attempt to inspire him through letters.
“But making a man President can change him,” she wrote. “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!” Julia believed Chester Arthur capable of change. “Once in a while,” she wrote in one letter, “there comes a crisis which rends miracles feasible. The great tidal wave of sorrow which has rolled over the country, has swept you loose from your old moorings, and set you on a mountaintop, alone.”
On August 20, 1882 Chester Arthur met his encourager for the first time. He saved 23 of Julia’s letters, each one encouraging him to be a better man than he once believed he could be. At 2:15 a.m. on September 20, 1882, Chester Arthur became the 21st president of the United States and finished Garfield’s term of office and did it well. The power of the written, spoken, and encouraging word can make a difference.