It is one of those classic “What If” questions in history. I heard Candice Millard today at the National Book Festival talk about her new book on James Garfield - arguably the most incredible man ever elected president. Born into poverty, he was a tenured professor by age 23, a university president by 26, a mathematics genius, could recite the entire Aeneid in Latin, rose from a volunteer to a major General in the Civil War, and was later a Congressman who gave spellbinding speeches. When he got to the podium to speak at the 1880 Republican National Convention, he had no intention of becoming the nominee. After his speech, he was chosen as the GOP nominee over Ulysses S. Grant against his own will and was elected President beholden to nobody except the electors - which in those days of entrenched machine politics was absolutely unfathomable.
Unfortunately, Garfield was gunned down by an deranged officeseeker just four months into his presidency. But before he did, he professed support for Chinese immigration - and probably would’ve opposed the Chinese Exclusion Act that his Vice President Chester Arthur signed just a year after Garfield’s death.
Who really knows if he would’ve been powerful enough to stop the bill from passing. But that thought has been in my head all day. There are too many what ifs in history because of assassinations, but as an Asian-American, this one should be remembered more so than it is.