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James A. Garfield

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

James A. Garfield
Garfield wears a double breasted suit and has a full beard and receding hairlineJgarfield.jpeg
20th President of the United States
In office
March 4, 1881 – September 19, 1881
Vice PresidentChester A. Arthur
Preceded byRutherford B. Hayes
Succeeded byChester A. Arthur
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Ohio's 19th district
In office
March 4, 1863 – November 8, 1880
Preceded byAlbert G. Riddle
Succeeded byEzra B. Taylor
Chair of the
House Appropriations Committee
In office
March 4, 1871 – March 4, 1875
Preceded byHenry L. Dawes
Succeeded bySamuel J. Randall
Chair of the
House Financial Services Committee
In office
March 4, 1869 – March 4, 1871
Preceded byTheodore M. Pomeroy
Succeeded bySamuel Hooper
Chair of the
House Military Affairs Committee
In office
March 4, 1867 – March 4, 1869
Preceded byRobert C. Schenck
Succeeded byJohn A. Logan
Personal details
James Abram Garfield

(1831-11-19)November 19, 1831
Moreland Hills, Ohio, U.S.
DiedSeptember 19, 1881(1881-09-19) (aged 49)
Elberon, New Jersey, U.S.
Cause of deathAssassination
Resting placeJames A. Garfield Memorial
Political partyRepublican
Children7, including Hal, James, and Abram
EducationHiram College
Williams College (BA)
Cursive signature in ink
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Army
Years of service1861–1863
Union Army major general rank insignia.svg
Major General
Commands42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry
20th Brigade, 6th Division, Army of the Ohio
Battles/warsAmerican Civil War
 • Battle of Middle Creek
 • Battle of Shiloh
 • Siege of Corinth
 • Tullahoma Campaign
 • Battle of Chickamauga

James Abram Garfield (November 19, 1831 – September 19, 1881) was the 20th president of the United States, serving from March 4, 1881 until his death by assassination six and a half months later. He was the first sitting member of Congress to be elected to the presidency, and remains the only sitting House member to gain the White House.[1]

Garfield entered politics as a Republican in 1857. He served as a member of the Ohio State Senate from 1859 to 1861. Garfield opposed Confederate secession, served as a major general in the Union Army during the American Civil War, and fought in the battles of Middle Creek, Shiloh, and Chickamauga. He was first elected to Congress in 1862 to represent Ohio's 19th District. Throughout Garfield's extended congressional service after the Civil War, he firmly supported the gold standard and gained a reputation as a skilled orator. Garfield initially agreed with Radical Republican views regarding Reconstruction, but later favored a moderate approach for civil rights enforcement for freedmen.

At the 1880 Republican National Convention, Senator-elect Garfield attended as campaign manager for Secretary of the Treasury John Sherman, and gave the presidential nomination speech for him. When neither Sherman nor his rivals – Ulysses S. Grant and James G. Blaine – could get enough votes to secure the nomination, delegates chose Garfield as a compromise on the 36th ballot. In the 1880 presidential election, Garfield conducted a low-key front porch campaign and narrowly defeated Democrat Winfield Scott Hancock.

Garfield's accomplishments as president included a resurgence of presidential authority against senatorial courtesy in executive appointments, purging corruption in the Post Office, and appointing a U.S. Supreme Court justice. He enhanced the powers of the presidency when he defied the powerful New York senator Roscoe Conkling by appointing William H. Robertson to the lucrative post of Collector of the Port of New York, starting a fracas that ended with Robertson's confirmation and Conkling's resignation from the Senate. Garfield advocated agricultural technology, an educated electorate, and civil rights for African Americans. He also proposed substantial civil service reforms; those reforms were eventually passed by Congress in 1883 and signed into law by his successor, Chester A. Arthur, as the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act.

On July 2, 1881, Garfield was shot at the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station in Washington D.C. by Charles J. Guiteau, a disappointed and delusional office seeker. The wound was not immediately fatal for Garfield, but a team of doctors, who were preoccupied with finding the bullet, probed the wound with dirty, unsterilized fingers and instruments in vain. Garfield ultimately succumbed on September 19, 1881, from infections caused by his doctors. Guiteau was executed for the murder of Garfield in June 1882. Some historians choose to forgo listing Garfield in rankings of U.S. presidents because of the short duration of his presidency.

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  • ✪ Congressman James A. Garfield and Reconstruction (Lecture)
  • ✪ James Garfield: What Could Have Been? (1881)
  • ✪ AF-167: James A. Garfield: America's Extraordinary 20th President
  • ✪ Candice Millard: James A. Garfield - May 16, 2012
  • ✪ James A. Garfield | 60-Second Presidents | PBS


Good afternoon thanks Chris for that fine introduction, we'll be selling headshots outside after the program today for my work with PBS its really a pleasure to be here with you today I want to thank Chris and everybody here at Gettysburg for the kind invitation. The chance to come back to Gettysburg is always great for me. I've been back a few times during my Park Service career for some details and for the 150th anniversary a few years ago its really a special thing for me to be able to come back here because this is my home my mom and dad still live here Gettysburg High class of 1991 I guess I have a 25 year reunion coming up this year anyway as Chris said I am now working at James A. Garfield National Historic Site in Mentor, Ohio about 25 miles east of downtown Cleveland we just had a great thing happen to us with a PBS American Experience Documentary which aired a few nights ago nationally to an audience of possibly as many as five million people who may have watched it between that film this coming July the Republican National Convention is in Cleveland and of course most of you hopefully know that the National Park Service is this year celebrating its centennial anniversary in 2016 we are expecting a very busy year at James A. Garfield National Historic Site and I'm gonna go ahead and give you the ultimate spoiler here and let you know that James Garfield did not fight at the Battle of Gettysburg. however with the theme of looking at the aftermath of the Civil War and Reconstruction that is something in which James Garfield played a very pivotal role Reconstruction is you know the post-war period where we are trying to bring the country back together figure out what is going to happen to former slaves what is going to happen with the white south how are we going to bring states back into the Union that had seceded or attempted to secede depending on your philosophical bent there its a very complex time in our history its a very important time in our history and its a part of our history in which James Garfield was very intimately involved so what I'm going to try to do today is paint with very broad strokes here I don't expect that in an hour you will walk out of here knowing everything about James Garfield I don't expect you are going to walk out of here knowing everything about Reconstruction what I hope you will walk out of here in an hour or so knowing is that Garfield is a lot more than what he has been given credit for he's a far more interesting guy, a far more important American political figure in fact than you may have been led to believe so I'm gonna tell you a little bit about James Garfield, I'm gonna tell you where he was on really just a couple of issues during Reconstruction there's so many issues we can get into but because of Garfield's own feelings on certain issues I'm really just going to focus on the aftermath of the Civil War as it relates to slavery and the fate of former slaves because this is something Garfield felt very passionate about we'll talk about some things later in Reconstruction such as the impeachment of Andrew Johnson and the election of 1876 I'm happy to give plugs for some books later if you want to know more about some of these issues and where Garfield stood during Reconstruction after the presentation and of course at the end I will be happy to stick around and answer any questions you might have probably the first question you have is who the heck is James Garfield he's not somebody who people know very much about if you've ever heard the old joke that if you wanted to be president after the Civil War you had to be a Republican, you had to have fought in the war, and you had to have a beard well James Garfield met all of these requirements this is a great quote from Garfield that he wrote at one point about trying to understand biography thinking about when you're trying to write the biography or understand the biography of a person what is it that you really need to know [reads quote on screen] this is Garfield's philosophy on how you learn about someone but what most people know about James Garfield is that on July 2, 1881 he got shot and also that there is an orange cat that shares his name, but we do not get into that where I work we don't care to talk about the cat this really is what most people know about James Garfield he was a Republican he did have a beard he did serve in the Union army he was President of the United States very briefly and on July 2, 1881 he was shot and didn't die until about 80 days later and if you did happen to catch the American Experience documentary the other night did a very nice job of explaining who Garfield really was but the vast majority of that film at least half maybe a little bit more than half of the film is detailing what happened to Garfield after he was shot and this horrible medical care that he endured and the fact that he really died of infection not the bullet wounds and all this other stuff and I won't go too much into all of that simply because you can go online now and watch the American Experience documentary for yourself and see all of that but at any rate this really is the sum of what people know about James Garfield and that includes people who come to Mentor, Ohio and walk the grounds of James A. Garfield National Historic Site and want to tour the home they know that Garfield was assassinated and that's really about all they know and unfortunately until fairly recently that has really been his place in history a very brief presidency and a tragic assassination and a long and very tortuous and very painful death fortunately people are paying more attention to Garfield now and realizing he has much to teach us about Reconstruction about the Civil War about abolition and slavery and so many other issues of the 19th century that are so critical to us understanding things like the Battle of Gettysburg even we can't really understand the Battle of Gettysburg without understanding why the Civil War was fought in the first place and that is certainly something that James Garfield had opinions on but before I talk too much about Reconstruction I want to give you a brief biographical portrait of James Garfield he was born November 19, 1831 you perceptive Gettysburg folks will recognize that date of November 19th as of course also the date of the Gettysburg address so the Gettysburg Address was given on James Garfield's 32nd birthday I don't know which one of those was more important to history I dare say it was probably the Gettysburg Address but at any rate Garfield was actually born on November 19, 1831 in a community called Orange Township, its now called Moreland Hills, its near Cleveland, Ohio very close to Cleveland he was very well educated he had to work very hard to get an education he grew up very poor his father died when Garfield was about 18 months old and he worked a series of sort of odd jobs before he finally decided that he wanted to go to school and ended up excelling as a student and became an accomplished academic in his own right became a teacher a college professor and a college president before he was thirty years old and the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute that I have up there on the screen is now still in existence its now Hiram College in Hiram, Ohio but Garfield went to school there left after he had finished there left and went to Williams College in Massachusetts and he wanted to go to Williams because he wanted to go up to New England and get into the atmosphere of New England because there was so much abolition fervor in New England in the 1850s and Garfield had never left the Western Reserve of Ohio so he wanted to go experience another part of the country and really get a sense of what people were thinking and talking about up in New England because he's starting to hear more and more about slavery and abolition and the fact that many people are predicting at this point that the country will go to war at some point about this issue of slavery so he chooses Williams College very specifically because it gives him a chance to go live in New England for a few years but at any rate Garfield becomes fiercely intelligent today a lot of scholars say that he was one of the most purely intelligent people to ever be elected president just a brilliant brilliant man and he had a number of very important and impressive jobs even before he was able to put President of the United States on his resume he's the only president in our history thus far to have been a minister he was a member of the Disciples of Christ, which was along with I believe the Latter Day Saints one of only two Protestant denominations created in the United States of America so he was kind of he was not ordained in that the Disciples of Christ did not ordain people until well into the 20th century he was more like a lay minister almost but he did work as a minister he did preach so he's the only president to have ever worked as a minister he was a teacher a college president he was elected to the Ohio State Senate which was which is where he was when the Civil War began in early 1861 went to the US Congress the House of Representatives for seventeen years in 1880 was elected by the Ohio legislature to represent Ohio in the US Senate beginning in early 1881 and I'll talk more about that later and then of course obviously the 20th President of the United States so a fairly impressive resume for James Garfield who is also a family man married Lucretia Rudolph on November 11 1858 they had seven children five of whom lived to adulthood he and Lucretia did suffer the deaths of two children the first of whom died at about three and a half years old their first child and then their very last child died shortly before his second birthday the other five all survived to adulthood went on to marry and have families of their own and so by the time Mrs. Garfield died in 1918 she had sixteen grandchildren now this being Gettysburg we have of course got to talk about General Garfield because as I said he did serve in the Civil War Garfield grew up in the Western Reserve of Ohio never called himself an abolitionist per se but that is basically what he was his understanding of the law also his understanding of morality from the teachings of the Disciples of Christ he felt slavery was an injustice and a great moral and legal wrong and so when the Civil War came he was still the president of the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute he was also in Columbus as an Ohio State Senator but like so many he felt the need to serve the Union in uniform and Garfield is what Civil War buffs might call a political general he didn't go to West Point he didn't serve in any kind of a militia unit or anything like that he is someone who got a commission as an officer because he was politically connected because he had the ability to raise a regiment help equip a regiment and that regiment eventually became the 42nd Ohio Garfield unlike a lot of political generals actually took to the military fairly well and acquitted himself relatively well in uniform for about two and a half years he commanded the 42nd Ohio he commanded the 20th Brigade of the Army of the Ohio then he spent a few months in Washington D.C. kind of waiting for orders to keep him busy they put him on the Fitz John Porter Court Martial which is a fascinating tail that we don't have time to get into today but you can read more about that if you want to his next assignment was as Chief of Staff for the Army of the Cumberland where he was present and actively engaged at the Battle of Chickamauga in September 1863 and at Chickamauga he undertook this very daring ride to deliver orders to George Thomas who of course was later known as the "Rock of Chickamauga" and Garfield was hailed as a hero perhaps the most impressive thing about Garfield's feat at Chickamauga two things really one he was a staff officer he wasn't commanding troops and when the rest of the army started to retreat and the commanding general William Rosecrans said yeah lets retreat Garfield did not retreat he rode out under Confederate fire to deliver orders to Thomas but the other thing that is fascinating about Garfield's feat at Chickamauga is the fact that he was out there riding under Confederate fire his horse was shot one of his orderlies was killed he's a sitting US Congressman elect he's already been elected to the House of Representatives so he was elected in the fall of 1862 but he didn't have to go to Washington to take his seat until the fall of 1863 and so he was doing all of this staying in the army riding out under Confederate fire at Chickamauga knowing that he was leaving the army soon to go sit in the U.S. Congress so I think that makes the feat all that more impressive he would have been well within his rights to retreat with the rest of the army when the commanding general said lets retreat but he didn't do that so a very impressive military career for Garfield as well he finished as a brevet Major General he is a Brigadier General in this photo as you can see so how does young Garfield feel about slavery as I said he grew up on the Western Reserve of Ohio he grew up in the Disciples of Christ and as a very young man Garfield was actually kind of put off by politics he felt that it wasn't really Christian to be involved in politics and it wasn't until really when he went up to Williams College in Massachusetts and really absorbed some of that abolitionist atmosphere that he started to change his views and started to really view it not just as something acceptable for him to do but as something he needed to do and this quote is a great one where he says [reads first half of quote on screen] He wrote this after going to see two abolitionist speakers one evening at Williams College and I love the part at the end too [reads second half of quote] so here's Garfield at about twenty four years old starting to change his views really on the acceptability of someone from the Disciples of Christ getting involved in politics he is starting to feel like maybe he needs to get more involved instead of just burying his head in the sand and saying I can't really be involved in that because of my religion Garfield also noted in his diary on the day that John Brown was executed he lauded Brown quite heavily in his diary and thought of John Brown as a hero you all know the story of John Brown in trying to incite the slave insurrection at Harpers Ferry and of course being captured by marines led by Robert E. Lee and then executed in December of 1859 and so when the news comes out that Brown has in fact been executed after making the famous statement that I John Brown now feel that the sins of this land can never be purged but with blood and of course it was very evident that he was correct about that Garfield records in his diary when he hears that Brown has been executed [reads quote on screen] so clearly Garfield is getting more and more radical in his anti-slavery views so how did Garfield feel about the war itself keep in mind at the beginning of the Civil War Lincoln said in his First Inaugural he told the South you cannot have a conflict without yourselves being the aggressors the government will not attack you you can have no war without starting it in other words and when the war finally did start on April 12, 1861 with the Confederates firing on Fort Sumter Lincoln said the war shall be fought to preserve the Union here is a quote from one of James Garfield's letters written two days after Fort Sumter [reads quote on screen] today 150 years later most rational people accept that slavery was the main cause of the Civil War we can talk about economics and we can talk about states' rights and those things are all valid to talk about but ultimately they can all be traced back really to the conflict over slavery here is James Garfield recognizing that two days after the firing on Fort Sumter two days it would be a year and a half later before Abraham Lincoln would finally publicly at least come to the same conclusion privately Lincoln came to that conclusion much sooner but he waited for an opportune time to bring that up publicly Garfield knew it from day one or day two if you will here is a quote from another letter written by Garfield on Lincoln's birthday in fact February 12, 1862 [reads quote on screen] so in other words Garfield is saying here fine if you want to say its all about preserving the Union OK as long as we all know what it is really all about until everyone comes around to thinking that abolition is something that needs to happen Garfield actually went to Congress in December of 1863 still wearing his generals uniform he didn't even have any civilian clothes with him that he could wear to Congress which is why I specifically selected this picture of him in uniform and titled the slide Congressman Garfield because he did in fact go to the House of Representatives four days after the death of his first child Eliza in his generals uniform here are just a few more examples of things that Garfield had to say about slavery and really the future of the country after the war in these statements he sounds like a radical Republican [reads quotes on screen] he sounds like a radical and as we start moving in to talking about Reconstruction though Garfield becomes a little tougher to read because at various times in Reconstruction he was very much a radical Republican and at other times he sounds much more like a moderate and at other times he sounds like a conservative so he really was kind of all over the place during Reconstruction Garfield once said of himself that he was cursed because he could see both sides of almost every issue now today maybe if he was running for office today he might be called a flip flopper or wishy washy or whatever I like to think that he wanted to make sure that he was doing right on every single issue and he was very measured in his approach and he could see both sides ultimately it made making decisions that much more of a challenge for him because he could see both sides and of course lets keep in mind too we like to think of people even Abraham Lincoln who have been gone for so long as being above politics but in reality these people were right in the thick of politics they were politicians and so sometimes they were probably saying what they thought they needed to say they were probably saying what they thought their audience wanted to hear they were politicians but in Garfield's case too there is an element of that but there is also this element where he really truly could see merit in both sides of an argument and he called himself cursed for that because it made his life as a political figure very difficult sometimes he wasn't rigidly behind the Republican Party on every issue he was a radical on some issues he was a moderate on others he was a conservative on others so it makes trying to put him in a box or label him during the Reconstruction era very very difficult so unfortunately I will not be able to wrap it all up in a nice bow for you when you walk out of here today because Garfield is a very complex guy he sees issues from many different sides and he doesn't always go in lockstep with the Republican Party on everything he is a radical he is a moderate he is a conservative he's got it all he does it all he feels it all going back to however what he thought in 1864 as a young congressman he was still relatively radical at this point relatively allied with the radical Republicans in Congress and saying things that certainly make him sound like a radical Republican [reads quote displayed on screen] so now he is starting to think forward a little bit about what is going to happen to the country when the war is over what does he have to say about former Confederate leaders like Jefferson Davis for example [reads quote displayed on screen] so the Union is God and his angels the Confederacy is Satan he is drawing some pretty clear distinctions here and in this case he sounds like a pretty radical Republican he is not mincing words he is going along with the radical Republican philosophy that the South must be made to pay for causing the war the South must feel the pain for having caused this war and what did Garfield have to say about Lincoln well frankly not a lot of good stuff Garfield actually didn't say a lot of nice things about Abraham Lincoln he felt that Lincoln was far too slow to make the war about the emancipation of slaves remember that letter I showed you a few slides ago where two days after Fort Sumter Garfield is saying the war will soon assume the shape of slavery and freedom and yet Lincoln waits until September of 1862 to finally publicly say that the Union will make abolition of slavery part of its mission as of January 1, 1863 Garfield felt like Lincoln should have been saying that from day one as soon as the Confederates fired on Fort Sumter we all know its about slavery so lets take it to them and lets tell them that we're gonna fight this war not only to save the Union but to get rid of slavery as well Lincoln didn't do that and Garfield was very upset he felt Lincoln was far too slow to come around to the cause of abolition and in 1864 Garfield somewhat publicly said he kind of wished that the Republicans could find somebody better to run for President in 1864 now if you've read Team of Rivals or if you know anything about Lincoln's Cabinet you know that Salmon P. Chase who was from Ohio and a very good friend of James Garfield's was the Secretary of the Treasury and wanted nothing more in life than to be president and was kind of not so subtlety pushing himself as an alternative to Lincoln in 1864 and approached James Garfield about getting involved with that movement Garfield very wisely said yeah I don't think that's a very good idea I think I will stay out of that Chase of course did not become the Republican nominee Lincoln was reelected Garfield sort of grudgingly said well I guess the people want Lincoln to stay in office so we must support him so ultimately he did support Lincoln in 1864 but here he said of Lincoln [reads quote displayed on screen] and at one point I don't have it quoted here but he even called Lincoln a second rate Illinois lawyer incidentally as much as I like James Garfield I think history has supported Lincoln on this particular issue very well Lincoln certainly had a very good sense of when the country would be willing to accept the idea of the war taking on the purpose of abolition as well as saving the Union so I think Lincoln actually I think many of us can agree that Lincoln had the better side of this issue than James Garfield but again give Garfield credit for being passionate and saying we want abolition to be a part of what we're fighting for as well in July 1864 radical Republicans in Congress proposed the Wade-Davis Bill which was named for Senator Benjamin Wade of Ohio, here on the left Ben Wade of Ohio and Congressman Henry Winter Davis of Maryland two radical Republicans by the way Garfield idolized Henry Winter Davis the Wade-Davis bill basically tried to establish Reconstruction in the South after the war the war was still going on of course at this time but the Wade-Davis bill tried to establish Reconstruction as something that would be managed by the Congress not by the president so this was the radical Republicans first real attempt to take Reconstruction out of Abraham Lincoln's hands and it goes through Congress and James Garfield supports it even though most of the people back home in his district of the 19th Ohio didn't support it Garfield supported the Wade-Davis bill and it went to Lincoln and as you can imagine Lincoln was not too thrilled with it and actually pocket-vetoed the Wade-Davis bill basically just ignored it until the session expired and didn't have to deal with it but at any rate again at this point its early the war is still going on Garfield who is a veteran of the war is at this point still fairly radical here is what he had to say about Lincoln and about the Wade-Davis bill in 1864 at his own Republican convention back in Ohio where he is being nominated to run for the House again [reads quote displayed on screen] he is talking to his constituents here it's pretty bold really he is justifying why he is at odds with Lincoln and he is also saying that I hold it as my right to go to Congress and vote the way I think is best for this district and best for the country and if you don't want me to do that don't send me back and of course he is renominated and reelected in 1864 still fairly radical at this point how about the 13th amendment anyone here see the movie Lincoln a few years ago? You will recall that the film was primarily about the fight to pass the 13th amendment and I think people went into the theater expecting to see sort of a biography of Lincoln and instead they got a small but very important chunk of his life and his presidency but at any rate the 13th amendment which proposed to ban slavery was very controversial and you saw that reflected in the film one thing that they didn't put in the film which I wish they would have was this very powerful speech that James Garfield gave on the floor of the House on January 13 1865 supporting the 13th amendment why they wouldn't put that in the movie I don't know but maybe now that I'm a big movie star if Steven Spielberg calls me I'm gonna suggest that his next film be about Garfield and perhaps he could focus a scene on this speech or something but at any rate Garfield says you know I didn't intend to get up here and talk about slavery again but responding to some of the things that people voting and speaking against the 13th amendment the day before he felt compelled to get up and give this very powerful and moving speech supporting the 13th amendment and of course if you saw the film or if you read a good history book you know that the amendment passed just a couple of weeks later so it was something that Garfield was very much in support of really all of those post-Civil War Reconstruction amendments 13th 14th and 15th how did Garfield feel about black suffrage? well now we are going to start getting into the weeds a little bit here because this is where we start to see Garfield maybe sometimes saying one thing but doing another he was always very publicly supportive of Civil Rights for African Americans after the war very much in favor of doing everything within the government's power to give former slaves every opportunity they could to try to right this wrong that had been done to them over centuries but privately like a lot of political figures including Abraham Lincoln he didn't always have the nicest things to say about African Americans he wasn't sure how he felt about black people getting the right to vote and as he says in this quote at the top "I never could fall in love with the creatures" I mean not a great thing for Garfield to say but again as I said at the beginning he was a complicated guy he didn't necessarily feel that black men were equal to white men nor did Abraham Lincoln for a long part of his life and yet he still didn't think that justified keeping black people in bondage and felt that the Civil War needed to be fought to rid the country of the scourge of slavery so even though he says some things privately that maybe we are a little uncomfortable with today in 2016 publicly he is still very supportive of laws and legal actions to give former slaves and African Americans full civil and political rights [reads second quote displayed on screen] this is Garfield speaking publicly on the Fourth of July in 1865 so how did Garfield feel about former Confederates we already talked a few slides ago about him saying early on in 1864 that they should be banished or executed here's a couple of quotes where he talks about what should happen to former Confederates [reads first quote displayed on screen] so there's this big debate going on about letting former Confederates come back to Washington as Congressmen restoring citizenship this kind of thing so Garfield is obviously at this point at least opposing that [reads second quote on screen] and then yet here in a private letter on September 13, 1865 really just around the same time that he is writing these other things [reads third quote displayed on screen] so again he is sort of of two minds here isn't he it is making it very hard for us to pin down what he feels he is saying these things publicly and privately that they are traitors and should be executed or banished and yet but I personally don't feel any hard feelings towards them so it makes Garfield not always easy to understand where he stood on things what about Andrew Johnson who of course becomes president after Lincoln is assassinated we all remember Johnson as a Southern Democrat put on the ticket with Lincoln in 1864 really as a show of unity really it didn't matter that Johnson was a vicious racist it only mattered that he was a southerner he had stayed loyal to the Union and he was a Democrat so what a great show of loyalty and it really doesn't matter because we will stick him in the Vice Presidency and never have to worry about him again and then of course Lincoln is assassinated and suddenly Andrew Johnson is president Johnson tried to continue Lincoln's lenient Reconstruction policy on the South Johnson of course did not have the political skill or the standing with Congress that Lincoln had and Johnson is very quickly overrun by the radicals in Congress who sense an opportunity here it is like a shark smelling blood in the water they know they can pounce on Andrew Johnson and that is what they do Garfield knows Andrew Johnson they are friendly Johnson was actually hoping to kind of use Garfield as kind of a mediator between the president and radical Republicans and that did not really work out well for either one of them Garfield and the other radicals held African American suffrage as the most important thing to come out of these Reconstruction amendments and the thing that was really a litmus test for Southern states to come back into the Union Johnson did not want black people to have the right to vote as I said he was a vicious racist he wanted Southern states to be able to come easily back into the Union as did Lincoln but he did not want to see black people get the right to the ballot and so this put the radicals and Johnson on a very dangerous course that was going to lead eventually to Andrew Johnson being impeached now this is a quote from Garfield in 1866 when he is still relatively friendly with Johnson it is a year and a half before the impeachment thing comes up but he is running for reelection so here is an example of Garfield telling the people what he thinks they want to hear [reads quote displayed on screen] doesn't sound much like a moderate here does he? if you think partisan politics is a relatively recent invention I can assure you it is not frankly it is fairly tame today compared to what it was so again this is Garfield trying to appeal to his constituents to reelect him again in 1866 to the House of Representatives which they do again at this point he is still on relatively good terms with Johnson but he is trying to straddle his friendship with Johnson with the growing fervor among radical Republicans to get rid of Johnson and of course they eventually try to do that when Johnson violates the Tenure of Office Act the Tenure of Office Act was basically a law that was passed that said that a president could not remove cabinet officers with the approval of the Senate so it basically gave the Senate control over who presidents had working for them and James Garfield voted for the Tenure of Office Act when it came up for a vote now this is something that during his brief presidency that he would very much come to regret because he would then and I will talk about that at the end he would then be faced with really quite a challenge from a senator from his own party trying to control appointments but that is 1881 this is 1867 and 1868 Garfield who is trying to stay on good terms with Johnson who is trying to stay on good terms with his radical Republican colleagues as impeachment starts to come up and the call for impeachment starts to gain steam Garfield says this is not a good idea not because he doesn't think Johnson should be kicked out but because he just doesn't think its going to work so he is against it really because he thinks it will fail but then Johnson violates the tenure of office act he tries to fire Edwin Stanton as Secretary of War without consulting the Senate and Garfield finally says ok Johnson has got to go and again remember Garfield had supported and voted for the Tenure of Office Act the Tenure of Office Act was later deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court so no question that the Tenure of Office Act was wrong headed and wrong spirited and really just a political ploy to try to get Andrew Johnson so it was later taken off the books because it was ruled unconstitutional at any rate Garfield supported the impeachment once Johnson had violated the Tenure of Office Act but interestingly enough Garfield was not in Washington when the vote came up he had actually left Washington in addition to everything else he was also a self taught lawyer and he got called away to do some legal work back in Ohio and so he missed the vote on Andrew Johnson and if you know Johnson was acquitted so we've had two presidential impeachments in our history and both of those presidents were acquitted they were both impeached but neither was convicted so Johnson escaped conviction but didn't have much of a chance to run for president again in 1868 even if he had wanted to so Garfield again is kind of floating back and forth between the moderates and the radicals and then the former Confederate states begin to reject the 14th amendment begin to reject giving former slaves suffrage so now Garfield starts to swing again and starts to go back to being more of a dyed in the wool radical Republican a moderate policy at this point in his mind has been a disastrous failure [reads bottom quote on the screen] so he is really supporting the idea of a military occupation of the South [reads quote displayed on the screen] so the success of the Republican Party and the rights of former slaves are forever entwined here in Garfield's mind but by 1870 the 13th 14th and 15th amendments have passed now Garfield is starting to swing back toward being in the moderate camp again the 15th amendment guaranteeing the right to vote to all citizens regardless of whether they were black or white or had been slaves or not once this amendment passed Garfield thought you know I think we have given black people all the tools they need to start to take on their own responsibility for their own success so he is starting to swing back to the moderate camp a little bit and hes hoping that by swinging back toward being a moderate swinging back toward being more conciliatory toward the South might actually encourage some Southern whites to join the Republican Party so again he is trying to look out now for not only the future of African Americans and he feels like the government had kind of really fulfilled its responsibility to them at this point but he is also now looking to the future of the Republican Party as well and realizing that if the Republican Party is just regionalized in the North it really is going to have a hard time its gotta be able to start widening its appeal it needs some white southerners to come on as well and so by backing off the radical Republican policy once the 13th 14th and 15th amendments have passed will allow the Republican party to appeal to some Southern whites Garfield was not pleased with the Grant administration's two terms he didn't feel that Grant handled Reconstruction very well and the biggest example of the Grant's administrations failures in Reconstruction was Louisiana Louisiana was kind of the shining example of just how awful Reconstruction was going in parts of the South the Democratic government in Louisiana openly oppressing African Americans openly turning their backs on lynching and things like that Louisiana was the example that Garfield used to to explain how badly the Grant administration had really botched Reconstruction in the South by 1876 of course Grant has served two terms as president there was no constitutional amendment at the time that said Grant had to leave office after two terms but that's what everyone had done living up to the example of George Washington and so the Republican Party needed a presidential candidate in 1876 and kind of like today there were many many people who wanted the job and this is just a few of the people who were trying to win the Republican nomination in 1876 Grant basically took himself out of the running by saying he would not seek a third term Rutherford B. Hayes Roscoe Conkling James Blaine some very well known and very long serving Republicans in Washington thinking about seeking this nomination Garfield wanted James Blaine to be the nominee but instead it was Rutherford B. Hayes who also met all of the post-Civil War requirements a Union veteran and a bearded Republican so why not Hayes Hayes was governor of Ohio had actually been twice governor of Ohio and Hayes became the Republican nominee in 1876 Garfield wanted Blaine but supported Hayes of course because Garfield was relatively strong on backing the Republican Party on most things at least so he was willing to back Hayes he has a nice little quote here in this letter [reads quote displayed on screen] so in other words don't elect Hayes because he's Hayes elect Hayes because he's a Republican the Republican Party is the party of Lincoln the party of abolition the party of emancipation the party that stood by the flag and preserved the Union Congress is basically running the show at this point anyway right these weak post-Civil War presidents or at least people think that they were weak they weren't all it doesn't really matter who the Republican is as long as he is a Republican and in this case it is Rutherford B. Hayes so the 1876 presidential election came down to Hayes the Republican from Ohio and Samuel Tilden the democratic governor of New York how many of you have ever heard of President Samuel J. Tilden? The election was disputed at the end of the day on election day Tilden won the popular vote ok Tilden won the popular vote and this has happened several times in American history where the person who wins the popular vote doesn't become president in 1876 Tilden won the popular vote but the Republican Party was very concerned by what it was seeing in South Carolina, Louisiana, and Florida anybody here remember 2000? Florida again at any rate the Republicans are concerned about the legality of the election especially in Louisiana they are concerned about stories of black voters being intimidated or killed or not being allowed to vote so they sent party operatives out to these states to try to figure out what was going on so when the sun set on election day 1876 nobody quite knew who was going to be president because the votes of these three southern states were in question so in 2000 it was just Florida in 1876 it was these three Louisiana South Carolina and Florida now how many people do you think you know white people are really voting Republican in Louisiana South Carolina and Florida in 1876 probably not very many because Reconstruction was still going on Federal troops are still in parts of the South the memory of Lincoln is still very much alive the war is still very much alive there aren't very many white Southern Republicans in 1876 but the Republican party is concerned about some of these reports of voter intimidation and other things and so they start sending operatives out to some of these states to figure out what was going on and Garfield himself was sent by Grant to Louisiana Garfield goes to Louisiana to try to figure out what the heck was going on in Louisiana was there voter intimidation who really won Louisiana who really won the electoral votes of Louisiana because if Hayes wins Louisiana South Carolina and Florida he wins the Electoral College by one vote who is going to be the 19th President of the United States and of course Democrats are threatening revolt Tilden or blood they say, Tilden won the popular vote nothing illegal was going on in these states Samuel J. Tilden will be the 19th president so its an open question nobody knows just like 2000 where we didn't know for a month and a half or whatever it was the same situation in 1876 it was a disputed election nobody knew who was going to win James Garfield in talking to Rutherford B. Hayes tells Hayes it would be a great help if in some discreet way you could let the South know that you would treat them fairly if you became president and I've quoted Allen Peskin here and Peskin is the author of Garfield which even though it was published in 1978 is still the authoritative academic biography of James Garfield and so Peskin has his view as well that if Hayes can become president maybe that helps create the Republican Party or help create for the Republican Party starting to build this white power base in the South Garfield was talking about previously so whereas in 2000 the decision was finally kicked over to the Supreme Court in 1876 they didn't send it to the Supreme Court they created an electoral commission to try to figure out who exactly was going to win these electoral votes and James Garfield for his part very publicly said this is a terrible idea this commission its a terrible way to solve a constitutional crisis and in the spirit of no good deed goes unpunished for saying that they put him on the commission the commission was made up of 15 members 5 senators 5 members of the House and 5 Supreme Court Justices 7 of them were Republicans 7 of them were Democrats and one called himself an Independent and again Garfield was opposed to this idea but ended up on the commission and the commission basically voted right along party lines 7 Republicans voted for Hayes 7 Democrats voted for Tilden and it all came down to that one Independent who ended up voting for Hayes so Rutherford B. Hayes is the 19th President of the United States not Samuel J. Tilden and there is a lot of speculation that Hayes and the way that his operatives basically got those electoral votes basically got those three states to turn their electoral votes over to him was he agreed to begin to pull Federal troops out of specifically Louisiana but really the South as a whole there is some confusion on whether or not Hayes himself had anything to do with that Hayes was a relatively seems to have been a relatively honest guy but certainly Republican operatives in the South may have been or made that deal that allowed Hayes to become president allowed the Republicans to keep their hold on the White House and denied the Democrats who had not had a president elected since James Buchanan in 1856 the only president from our home state of Pennsylvania widely considered the worst president in American history that is why he is the only one from Pennsylvania perhaps who knows so by 1880 of course Hayes says very early on he is only going to serve one term so once again in 1880 the Republican Party doesn't know who its nominee is going to be and at the 1880 Republican Convention in Chicago James Garfield goes there to give a speech nominating a guy named John Sherman brother of William Tecumseh Sherman to nominate Sherman to be the Republican presidential candidate in 1880 the convention is deadlocked there are many candidates who want to be the nominee including Ulysses S. Grant who now has decided to come back and save the Union one more time and the Republican party starts going through ballot after ballot after ballot after ballot after ballot after ballot after ballot thirty six ballots before they could finally pick a nominee and hey we're in presidential politics season right now the Iowa Caucuses and New Hampshire next week so lets face it by the time these conventions come up in the summer we're gonna know who the candidates are long before the conventions but in 1880 nobody had a clue who was going to emerge as the Republican presidential nominee so when it became clear that none of the announced candidates Grant Blaine people like that could actually Sherman get the nomination they started looking for what they called a compromise candidate and eventually on that 36th ballot settled on none other than James Garfield himself Garfield who had gone there and given a speech nominating Sherman the speech was so good that people said well we don't want to vote for Sherman but we would vote for that guy so Garfield becomes the nominee and as his votes are being cast and his name is being nominated he's standing on a table saying wait wait wait I have not put my name forward you cannot nominate me without my permission and they bang him down from the stand and tell him he is out of order so Garfield becomes the Republican presidential nominee in 1880 does anyone know who he ran against in 1880? Winfield Scott Hancock probably no one here has ever heard of Winfield Scott Hancock (laughter) in Gettysburg yeah Hancock so you know that old joke that I told at the beginning that after the Civil War to be president you only had to be a Republican have a beard and have a Union Civil War vet record that worked that was a very strong platform the war record at least was a very strong platform in every election after the Civil War except for 1880 because James Garfield's military career while impressive couldn't hold a candle to Winfield Scott Hancock he could not sit back and say vote for me because I fought for the Union because certainly Winfield Scott Hancock had gone to West Point and served twenty some years in the army already he certainly had a good military record as well Garfield wins the election and in his inaugural address keep in mind you know Reconstruction is really kind of ending at this point Federal troops are being pulled out of the South because of that deal with the Hayes people four years before and really Republicans are now trying to move away from Reconstruction they want to be done with it they want to move on to bigger and better things and yet interestingly in 1881 when he gives his Inaugural Address Garfield is still one of the few talking about the need to make sure that we are doing everything we can for former slaves "the elevation of the negro race from slavery to the full rights of citizenship is the most important political change we have known since the adoption of the Constitution of 1787" he doesn't have to say that in 1881 he doesn't have to talk about civil rights for African Americans in 1881 the party is trying to move past that and yet Garfield comes back to it clearly is something that even though he maybe sometimes has said things privately that weren't as kind as we would like them to be here in 2016 it does seem to have been something of a personal conviction for him Garfield of course as we know doesn't stay president for very long the big issue that he has to deal with during his brief presidency is civil service reform which is represented in this cartoon by the baby there is Hayes leaving this on Garfield's doorstep Hayes had actually wanted to reform the civil service to get rid of the patronage system and make the civil service a system based on merit you had to be qualified to get a job not just to know somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody and so here is Hayes who had tried to get it through Congress during his presidency leaving it on Garfield's doorstep for Garfield to deal with and Garfield has to deal with it from a number of different angles this is Senator Roscoe Conkling of New York who was the king the absolute king of the patronage system Conkling is an old radical Republican and Conkling does not want anyone touching the patronage system because that is how he builds his power base in New York so he doesn't want to get rid of the patronage system that allows him to give people jobs because that's how he builds loyalty and power in New York and this other guy happens to be the Vice President of the United States Chester A. Arthur also from New York owes his entire career to Roscoe Conkling Arthur is put on the ticket in 1880 with Garfield as a concession really to the so called stalwart Republicans that are led by Roscoe Conkling so Garfield has his own Vice President working against his own administration trying to oppose reforming the civil service and this young fella named Charles Guiteau who is clearly mentally unstable but also considers himself a good stalwart Republican and also wants a job with the administration that he doesn't get eventually decides that the best thing he can do to save the country and save the Republican Party is to kill James Garfield and make Chester A. Arthur president because Arthur is an acolyte of Conkling and will maintain the patronage system Arthur will save the Union and save the Republican Party and Charles Guiteau will get his job that he wanted that was American consulate to Paris for which he has no experience no qualifications or anything else so we are back to where we started July 2, 1881 Charles Guiteau walks up behind James Garfield in a train station at a distance of four or five feet and fires two shots Garfield is hit and goes down onto the floor of the train station and over the next 80 days is treated with some pretty awful medical care doctors aren't quite accepting of listerian theory about the existence of germs and the need to sterilize hands and instruments and are constantly probing Garfield's wounds with dirty instruments and dirty fingers and they introduce infection into his body and Garfield dies on September 19 so he is shot on July 2 and he doesn't die until September 19 so he lingers for about 80 days and during that time the country is effectively without a president Garfield is still alive although he can't really do the job Arthur is just kind of hanging around not knowing what's going to happen Arthur has also been accused by some people of being involved in this plot which he certainly was not but any rate Arthur is trying to avoid looking like he is doing anything to try to take over the presidency so really for 80 days the country is basically leaderless until exactly two months shy of his 50th birthday September 19, 1881 Garfield dies so what is Garfield's legacy during Reconstruction it's very hard to pin down as I've said he was at various times a radical he was a moderate he was a conservative sometimes he has a very very difficult record to put a label on in Reconstruction because he was all over the place remember that statement he made about being cursed by being able to see both sides of every issue that really manifests itself in the stances he takes on certain issues during Reconstruction there are other issues we could talk about here as well but of course without much more time we can't do that I've really just tried to focus on the major issues of Reconstruction that people are aware of and that led me to concentrate on the fate of former slaves and here's a couple of final quotes from James Garfield [reads first quote displayed on screen] it just wasn't in his personality to hold grudges or to really be just as vicious as perhaps he needed to be to be a radical Republican [reads second quote displayed on screen] and then of course I'm obligated to tell you about James A. Garfield National Historic Site and if anyone here is ever passing through Ohio near Cleveland I hope you will come see us we are a relatively small site this is the home that James Garfield the property that he and his wife purchased in 1876 this is the home from which James Garfield ran his 1880 presidential campaign it was the nation's first ever front porch presidential campaign where people came to Mentor, Ohio and gathered in the front and listened to Garfield give speeches from the front porch of the house Garfield you know if you really get tired of politics over the next 8 or 10 months as we are heading towards a presidential election you can partially blame James Garfield because he really began to revolutionize presidential campaigning he didn't go all over the country giving speeches and when he did give speeches he didn't talk so much about himself he talked more about the party but he did directly communicate with the public which was relatively revolutionary for that time so when people would come to Mentor Ohio and come to the property they would get to actually see Garfield and hear him talk and get a chance to shake his hand or actually have a word with him or a laugh with him so this is the home and we do take people on guided tours through the house we do have Mrs. Garfield's windmill here that was built after the president's death this is the memorial library that was built onto the house after Garfield's death as well Mrs. Garfield had this constructed and it is the we call it the nation's first presidential library because in addition to Garfield's book collection she did also keep his papers his letters his everything that had anything to do with his public career in this library they're not there now they're in the Library of Congress now but they were there for about fifty years so this is where the idea for presidential libraries was born Garfield and the Civil War I had to throw that in because this is Gettysburg again and then finally just how you can find us if you're ever coming in Ohio or you can find us online or anything like that with that I will stop I'm over my time I realize I apologize but I will be glad if anyone has questions to take any questions anyone might have thank you very much for coming today [applause]


Childhood and early life

A log cabin with a statue and a tree in front
Replica of the log cabin where Garfield was born

James Garfield was born the youngest of five children on November 19, 1831, in a log cabin in Orange Township, now Moreland Hills, Ohio. Orange Township had been in the Western Reserve until 1800, and like many who settled there, Garfield's ancestors were from New England, his ancestor, Edward Garfield immigrating from Hillmorton, Warwickshire, England, to Massachusetts in around 1630. James' father Abram had been born in Worcester, New York, and came to Ohio to woo his childhood sweetheart, Mehitabel Ballou, only to find her married. He instead wed her sister Eliza, who had been born in New Hampshire. James was named for an older brother, who died in infancy.[2]

In early 1833, Abram and Eliza Garfield joined the Church of Christ, a decision that would help shape their youngest son's life.[3] Abram Garfield died later that year; his son was raised in poverty in a household led by the strong-willed Eliza.[4] James was her favorite child, and the two remained close for the rest of his life.[5] Eliza Garfield remarried in 1842, but soon left her second husband, Warren Belden (possibly Alfred Belden), and a then-scandalous divorce was awarded against her in 1850. James took his mother's side and when Belden died in 1880, noted the fact in his diary with satisfaction.[6] Garfield enjoyed his mother's stories about his ancestry, especially his Welsh great-great-grandfathers and his ancestor who served as a knight of Caerffili Castle.[7]

Poor and fatherless, Garfield was mocked by his fellow boys, and throughout his life was very sensitive to slights. He escaped through reading, devouring all the books he could find.[6] He left home at age 16 in 1847. Rejected by the only ship in port in Cleveland, Garfield instead found work on a canal boat, responsible for managing the mules that pulled it.[8] This labor would be used to good effect by Horatio Alger, who penned Garfield's campaign biography in 1880.[9]

After six weeks, illness forced Garfield to return home and, during his recuperation, his mother and a local education official got him to promise to postpone his return to the canals for a year and go to school. Accordingly, in 1848, he began at Geauga Seminary, in nearby Chester Township.[10] Garfield later said of his childhood, "I lament that I was born to poverty, and in this chaos of childhood, seventeen years passed before I caught any inspiration ... a precious 17 years when a boy with a father and some wealth might have become fixed in manly ways."[11]

Education, marriage and early career

An unsmiling young man with curly hair wearing a three piece suit
Garfield at age 16

At Geauga Academy, which he attended from 1848 to 1850, Garfield learned academic subjects for which he had not previously had time. He shone as a student, and was especially interested in languages and elocution. He began to appreciate the power a speaker had over an audience, writing that the speaker's platform "creates some excitement. I love agitation and investigation and glory in defending unpopular truth against popular error."[12] Geauga was co-educational, and Garfield was attracted to one of his fellow students, Lucretia Rudolph, whom he later married.[13] To support himself at Geauga, he worked as a carpenter's assistant and as a teacher.[14] The need to go from town to town to find a place as a teacher disgusted Garfield, and he thereafter developed a dislike of what he called "place-seeking", which became, he said, "the law of my life."[15] In later years, he would astound his friends by letting positions pass that could have been his with a little politicking.[15] Garfield had attended church more to please his mother than to worship God, but in his late teens underwent a religious awakening, and attended many camp meetings, at one of which he was born again. The next day, March 4, 1850, he was baptized into Christ by being submerged in the icy waters of the Chagrin River.[16][a]

Lucretia Garfield in the 1870s
Lucretia Garfield in the 1870s

After leaving Geauga, Garfield worked for a year at various jobs, including teaching.[18] Finding that some New Englanders worked their way through college, Garfield determined to do the same, and first sought a school that could prepare him for the entrance examinations. From 1851 to 1854, he attended the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (later named Hiram College) in Hiram, Ohio, a school run by the Disciples. While there, he was most interested in the study of Greek and Latin, but was inclined to learn about and discuss any new thing he encountered.[19] Securing a position on entry as janitor, he was hired to teach while still a student.[20] Lucretia Rudolph had also enrolled at the Institute, and Garfield wooed her while teaching her Greek.[21] He developed a regular preaching circuit at neighboring churches, in some cases earning a gold dollar per service. By 1854, Garfield had learned all the Institute could teach him and was a full-time teacher.[22] Garfield then enrolled at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, as a third-year student, given credit for two years' study at the Institute after passing a cursory examination. Garfield was impressed with the college president, Mark Hopkins, who had responded warmly to Garfield's letter inquiring about admission. He said of Hopkins, "The ideal college is Mark Hopkins on one end of a log with a student on the other."[23] Hopkins later stated about Garfield in his student days, "There was a large general capacity applicable to any subject. There was no pretense of genius, or alternation of spasmodic effort, but a satisfactory accomplishment in all directions."[24] After his first term, Garfield was hired to teach penmanship to the students of nearby Pownal, Vermont, a post whose previous incumbent was Chester A. Arthur.[24]

Garfield graduated from Williams in August 1856 as salutatorian, giving an address at the commencement. Garfield biographer Ira Rutkow pointed out that the future president's years at Williams gave Garfield the opportunity to know and respect those of different social backgrounds, and despite his origin as an unsophisticated Westerner, he was liked and respected by socially conscious New Englanders. "In short", as Rutkow later wrote, "Garfield had an extensive and positive first experience with the world outside the Western Reserve of Ohio."[24]

On his return to Ohio, the degree from a prestigious Eastern school made Garfield a man of distinction. He returned to Hiram to teach at the Institute, and in 1857 was made its president. He did not see education as a field that would realize his full potential. At Williams, he had become more politically aware in the intensely anti-slavery atmosphere of the Massachusetts school, and began to consider politics as a career.[25] In 1858, he married Lucretia; they would have seven children, five of whom survived infancy.[26] Soon after the wedding, he formally entered his name to read law at a Cleveland firm, although he did his studying in Hiram.[27] He was admitted to the bar in 1861.[28]

Local Republican Party leaders invited Garfield to enter politics upon the death of Cyrus Prentiss, the presumptive nominee for the local state senate seat. He was nominated by the party convention on the sixth ballot, and was elected, serving until 1861.[29] Garfield's major effort in the state senate was a bill providing for Ohio's first geological survey to measure its mineral resources, though it failed.[30]

Civil War

Seated portrait in army uniform. Garfield has a full beard and mustache
Garfield as a brigadier general during the Civil War

After Abraham Lincoln's election as president, several Southern states announced their secession from the Union to form a new government, the Confederate States of America. Garfield read military texts while anxiously awaiting the war effort, which he regarded as a holy crusade against the Slave Power.[31] In April 1861, the rebels bombarded Fort Sumter, one of the last federal outposts in the South, beginning the Civil War. Although he had no military training, Garfield knew that his place was in the Union Army.[31]

At Governor William Dennison's request, Garfield deferred his military ambitions to remain in the legislature, where he helped appropriate the funds to raise and equip Ohio's volunteer regiments.[32] Afterward, the legislature adjourned and Garfield spent the spring and early summer on a speaking tour of northeastern Ohio, encouraging enlistment in the new regiments.[32] Following a trip to Illinois to purchase muskets, Garfield returned to Ohio and, in August 1861, received a commission as a colonel in the 42nd Ohio Infantry regiment.[33] The 42nd Ohio existed only on paper, so Garfield's first task was to fill its ranks. He did so quickly, recruiting many of his neighbors and former students.[33] The regiment traveled to Camp Chase, outside Columbus, Ohio, to complete training.[33] In December, Garfield was ordered to bring the 42nd to Kentucky, where they joined the Army of the Ohio under Brigadier General Don Carlos Buell.[34]

Buell's command

Buell quickly assigned Garfield the task of driving Confederate forces out of eastern Kentucky, giving him the 18th Brigade for the campaign, which, besides his own 42nd, included the 40th Ohio Infantry, two Kentucky infantry regiments and two cavalry units.[35] They departed Catlettsburg, Kentucky, in mid-December, advancing through the valley of the Big Sandy River.[35] The march was uneventful until Union forces reached Paintsville, Kentucky, on January 6, 1862, where Garfield's cavalry engaged the rebels at Jenny's Creek.[36] Confederate troops under Brigadier General Humphrey Marshall held the town in numbers roughly equal to Garfield's own, but Garfield positioned his troops so as to deceive Marshall into believing that rebel forces were outnumbered.[36] Marshall ordered his troops to withdraw to the forks of Middle Creek, on the road to Virginia; Garfield ordered his troops to pursue the Confederates.[37] They attacked the rebel positions on January 9, 1862, in the Battle of Middle Creek, the only pitched battle Garfield personally commanded.[38] At the end of the fighting, the Confederates withdrew from the field, and Garfield sent his troops to Prestonsburg to reprovision.[39]

Middle Creek battlefield; Garfield commanded from the distant hill in the center of the photo.
Middle Creek battlefield; Garfield commanded from the distant hill in the center of the photo.

In recognition of his success, Garfield was promoted to brigadier general, at the age of 30.[40] After Marshall's retreat, Garfield's command was the sole remaining Union force in eastern Kentucky, and he announced that any men who had fought for the Confederacy would be granted amnesty if they returned to their homes and lived peaceably and remained loyal to the Union.[41] The proclamation was surprisingly lenient, as Garfield now believed the war was a crusade for eradication of slavery.[41] Following a brief skirmish at Pound Gap, the last rebel units in the area were outflanked, and they retreated to Virginia.[42]

Garfield's promotion gave him command of the 20th Brigade of the Army of the Ohio, which was ordered in early 1862 to join Major General Ulysses S. Grant's forces as they advanced on Corinth, Mississippi.[43] Before the 20th Brigade arrived, however, Confederate forces under General Albert Sidney Johnston surprised Grant's men in their camps, driving them back.[44] Garfield's troops got word of the battle and advanced quickly, joining the rest of the army on the second day to drive the Confederates back across the field and into retreat.[45] The action, later known as the Battle of Shiloh, was the bloodiest of the war to date; Garfield was exposed to fire for much of the day, but emerged uninjured.[45] Major General Henry W. Halleck, Grant's superior, took charge of the combined armies and advanced ponderously toward Corinth; when they arrived, the Confederates had fled.[46]

That summer Garfield suffered from jaundice and significant weight loss.[b][48] He was forced to return home, where his wife nursed him back to health.[48] While he was home, Garfield's friends worked to gain him the Republican nomination for Congress, although he refused to politick with the delegates.[49] He returned to military duty that autumn and went to Washington to await his next assignment.[50] During this period of idleness, a rumor of an extra-marital affair caused friction in the Garfield marriage until Lucretia eventually chose to overlook it.[51] Garfield repeatedly received tentative assignments that were quickly withdrawn, to his frustration.[52] In the meantime, he served on the court-martial of Fitz John Porter for his tardiness at the Second Battle of Bull Run.[53] He was convinced of Porter's guilt, and voted with his fellow generals to convict.[53] The trial lasted almost two months, from November 1862 to January 1863, and by the end of it, Garfield had at last procured an assignment as Chief of Staff to Major General William S. Rosecrans.[54]

Chief of staff for Rosecrans

General William S. Rosecrans
General William S. Rosecrans

The position of Chief of Staff for a general was usually held by a more junior officer, but Garfield's influence with Rosecrans was greater than usual, with duties extending beyond mere communication of orders to duties that involved actual management of his Army of the Cumberland.[55] Rosecrans had a voracious appetite for conversation, especially when he was unable to sleep; in Garfield, he found "the first well read person in the Army" and the ideal candidate for discussions that ran deep into the night.[56] The two became close in spite of Garfield's being twelve years junior to Rosecrans, and their talks covered all topics, especially religion; Rosecrans, who had converted from Methodism to Roman Catholicism, succeeded in softening Garfield's view of his faith.[57] Garfield recommended that Rosecrans replace wing commanders Alexander McCook and Thomas Crittenden, whom he believed ineffective, but Rosecrans ignored the suggestions.[58] With Rosecrans, Garfield devised the Tullahoma Campaign to pursue and trap Confederate General Braxton Bragg in Tullahoma. After initial Union success, Bragg retreated toward Chattanooga, where Rosecrans stalled and requested more troops and supplies.[59] Garfield argued for an immediate advance, in line with demands from Halleck and Lincoln.[59] After a council of war and lengthy deliberations, Rosecrans agreed to attack.[60]

At the ensuing Battle of Chickamauga on September 19 and 20, 1863, confusion among the wing commanders over Rosecrans's orders created a gap in the lines, resulting in a rout of the right flank. Rosecrans concluded that the battle was lost and fell back on Chattanooga to establish a defensive line.[61] Garfield, however, thought that part of the army had held and, with Rosecrans's approval, headed across Missionary Ridge to survey the scene. Garfield's hunch was correct.[61] His ride became legendary, while Rosecrans' error reignited criticism about his leadership.[61] While Rosecrans's army had avoided disaster, they were stranded in Chattanooga, surrounded by Bragg's army. Garfield sent a telegram to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton alerting Washington to the need for reinforcements to avoid annihilation, and Lincoln and Halleck delivered 20,000 troops by rail within nine days.[62] In the meantime, Grant was promoted to command of the western armies, and quickly replaced Rosecrans with George H. Thomas.[63] Garfield was ordered to report to Washington, where he was promoted to major general, a commission he would resign before taking a seat in the House of Representatives.[64] According to historian Jean Edward Smith, Grant and Garfield had a "guarded relationship", since Grant promoted Thomas to command of the Army of the Cumberland, rather than Garfield, after Rosecrans was dismissed.[65]

Congressional career

Election in 1862; Civil War years

Salmon P. Chase was Garfield's ally until Andrew Johnson's impeachment trial.
Salmon P. Chase was Garfield's ally until Andrew Johnson's impeachment trial.

While serving in the Army in early 1862, Garfield was approached by friends about running for Congress from Ohio's newly redrawn, heavily Republican 19th district. He was worried that he and other state-appointed generals would get obscure assignments, and running for Congress would allow him to resume his political career. The fact that the new Congress would not hold its first regular session until December 1863[c] would allow him to continue his war service for a time. Home on medical leave, he refused to campaign for the nomination, leaving that to political managers who secured it at the local convention in September 1862, on the eighth ballot. In October, he defeated D.B. Woods by a two-to-one margin in the general election for a seat in the 38th Congress.[66]

Soon after the nomination, Garfield was ordered to report to War Secretary Edwin Stanton in Washington to discuss his military future. There, Garfield met Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, who befriended him, seeing him as a younger version of himself. The two men agreed politically, and both were part of the Radical wing of the Republican Party.[67] Once he took his seat in December 1863, Garfield was frustrated that Lincoln seemed reluctant to press the South hard. Many radicals, led in the House by Pennsylvania's Thaddeus Stevens, wanted rebel-owned lands confiscated, but Lincoln threatened to veto any bill that would do that on a widespread basis. Garfield, in debate on the House floor, supported such legislation and, discussing England's Glorious Revolution, hinted that Lincoln might be thrown out of office for resisting the bills.[68] Although Garfield had supported Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, the congressman marveled that it was a "...strange phenomenon in the world's history, when a second-rate Illinois lawyer is the instrument to utter words which shall form an epoch memorable in all future ages."[69]

Garfield not only favored abolition of slavery, but believed that the leaders of the rebellion had forfeited their constitutional rights. He supported the confiscation of southern plantations and even exile or execution of rebellion leaders as a means to ensure the permanent destruction of slavery.[70] Garfield felt Congress was obliged "to determine what legislation is necessary to secure equal justice to all loyal persons, without regard to color."[71] Garfield was more supportive of Lincoln when Lincoln took action against slavery.[72] Early in his tenure, he differed from his party on several issues; his was the solitary Republican vote to terminate the use of bounties in recruiting. Some financially able recruits had used the bounty system to buy their way out of service (called commutation), which Garfield considered reprehensible.[73] Garfield gave a speech pointing out the flaws in the existing conscription law: that of 300,000 called upon to enlist, barely 10,000 had, the remainder claiming exemption or providing money or a substitute. Lincoln appeared before the Military Affairs committee on which Garfield served, demanding a more effective bill; even if it cost him re-election, Lincoln was confident he could win the war before his term expired.[74] After many false starts, Garfield, with the support of Lincoln, procured the passage of a conscription bill that excluded commutation.[75]

Under Chase's influence, Garfield became a staunch proponent of a dollar backed by a gold standard, and was therefore a strong opponent of the "greenback"; he regretted very much, but understood, the necessity for suspension of payment in gold or silver during the emergency presented by the Civil War.[76] Garfield voted with the Radical Republicans in passing the Wade–Davis Bill, designed to give Congress more authority over Reconstruction, but it was defeated by Lincoln's pocket veto.[77]

Garfield did not consider Lincoln particularly worthy of re-election, but no viable alternative seemed available. "He will probably be the man, though I think we could do better."[69] The Ohioan attended the party convention and promoted Rosecrans as Lincoln's running mate, but delegates chose Military Governor of Tennessee Andrew Johnson.[78] Both Lincoln and Garfield were re-elected.[79] By then, Chase had left the Cabinet and had been appointed Chief Justice, and his relations with Garfield became more distant.[80]

Garfield took up the practice of law in 1865 as a means to improve his personal finances. His efforts took him to Wall Street where, the day after Lincoln's assassination, a riotous crowd led him into an impromptu speech to calm it: "Fellow citizens! Clouds and darkness are round about Him! His pavilion is dark waters and thick clouds of the skies! Justice and judgment are the establishment of His throne! Mercy and truth shall go before His face! Fellow citizens! God reigns, and the Government at Washington still lives!"[81] The speech, with no mention or praise of Lincoln, was according to Garfield biographer Robert G. Caldwell "...quite as significant for what it did not contain as for what it did."[82] In the following years, Garfield had more praise for Lincoln; a year after the Illinoisan's death Garfield stated that, "Greatest among all these developments were the character and fame of Abraham Lincoln," and in 1878 called Lincoln " of the few great rulers whose wisdom increased with his power."[83]


Garfield was as firm a supporter of black suffrage as he had been of abolition, though he admitted that the idea of African Americans as political equals with whites gave him "a strong feeling of repugnance."[84][d] The new president, Johnson, sought the rapid restoration of the Southern states during the months between his accession and the meeting of Congress in December 1865; Garfield hesitantly supported this policy as an experiment. Johnson, an old friend, sought Garfield's backing, and their conversations led Garfield to assume that differences between president and Congress were not large. When Congress assembled in December (to Johnson's chagrin without the elected representatives of the Southern states, who were excluded), Garfield urged conciliation on his colleagues, although he feared that Johnson, a former Democrat, might combine with other Democrats to gain political control if he rejoined the party. Garfield foresaw conflict even before February 1866 when Johnson vetoed a bill to extend the life of the Freedmen's Bureau, charged with aiding the former slaves. By April, Garfield had concluded that Johnson was either "crazy or drunk with opium."[86]

Garfield Monument, by the Capitol, where he served almost twenty years
Garfield Monument, by the Capitol, where he served almost twenty years

The conflict between the branches of government was the major issue of the 1866 campaign, with Johnson taking to the campaign trail in a Swing Around the Circle and Garfield facing opposition within his party in his home district. With the South still disenfranchised and Northern public opinion behind the Republicans, they gained a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress. Garfield, having overcome his challengers at his district nominating convention, was easily re-elected.[87]

Garfield opposed the initial talk of impeaching President Johnson when Congress convened in December 1866.[88] However, he supported legislation to limit Johnson's powers, such as the Tenure of Office Act, which restricted Johnson in removing presidential appointees. Distracted by committee duties, he rarely spoke in connection with these bills, but was a loyal Republican vote against Johnson. Due to a court case, he was absent on the day in April 1868 when the House impeached Johnson, but soon gave a speech aligning himself with Thaddeus Stevens and others who sought Johnson's removal. When the president was acquitted in trial before the Senate, Garfield was shocked, and blamed the outcome of the trial on its presiding officer, Chief Justice Chase, his onetime mentor.[89]

By the time Ulysses S. Grant succeeded Johnson in 1869, Garfield had moved away from the remaining radicals (Stevens, their leader, had died in 1868). He hailed the ratification of the 15th Amendment in 1870 as a triumph, and he favored the re-admission of Georgia to the Union as a matter of right, not politics. In 1871, Garfield opposed passage of the Ku Klux Klan Act, saying, "I have never been more perplexed by a piece of legislation." He was torn between his indignation at "these terrorists" and his concern for the freedoms endangered by the power the bill gave to the president to enforce the act through suspension of habeas corpus.[90]

Tariffs and finance

The greenback so despised by Garfield
The greenback so despised by Garfield

Throughout his political career, Garfield favored the gold standard and decried attempts to increase the money supply through the issuance of paper money not backed by gold, and later, through the free and unlimited coinage of silver.[91] In 1865, Garfield was placed on the House Ways and Means Committee, a long-awaited opportunity to focus on financial and economic issues. He reprised his opposition to the greenback, saying, "Any party which commits itself to paper money will go down amid the general disaster, covered with the curses of a ruined people."[92] In 1868 Garfield gave a two-hour speech on currency in the House, which was widely applauded as his best oratory to that point; in it he advocated a gradual resumption of specie payments, that is, the government paying out silver and gold, rather than paper money that could not be redeemed.[93]

Tariffs had been raised to high levels during the Civil War. Afterwards, Garfield, who made a close study of financial affairs, advocated moving towards free trade, though the standard Republican position was a protective tariff that would allow American industries to grow. This break with his party likely cost him his place on the Ways and Means Committee in 1867, and though Republicans held the majority in the House until 1875, Garfield remained off that committee during that time. Garfield came to chair the powerful House Appropriations Committee, but it was Ways and Means, with its influence over fiscal policy, that he really wanted to lead.[94] Part of the reason Garfield was denied a place on Ways and Means was the opposition of the influential Republican editor, Horace Greeley.[95]

A blackboard with columns of numbers. Across the top is a banner that says "Black Friday" and below is a hand written note
Garfield's handwriting on evidence used during the Gold Panic investigation in 1870

In September 1870, Garfield, who was then chairman of the House Banking Committee, led an investigation into the Black Friday Gold Panic scandal. The committee investigation into corruption was thorough, but found no indictable offenses. Garfield blamed the easy availability of fiat money greenbacks for financing the speculation that led to the scandal.[96]

Garfield was not at all enthused about the re-election of President Grant in 1872—until Horace Greeley, who emerged as the candidate of the Democrats and Liberal Republicans, became the only serious alternative. Garfield opined, "I would say Grant was not fit to be nominated and Greeley is not fit to be elected."[97] Both Grant and Garfield won overwhelming re-election victories.[97]

Crédit Mobilier scandal; Salary Grab

The Crédit Mobilier of America scandal involved corruption in the financing of the Union Pacific Railroad, part of the transcontinental railroad that was completed in 1869. Union Pacific officers and directors secretly purchased control of the Crédit Mobilier of America company, then contracted with the firm to have it undertake the construction of the railroad. The grossly inflated invoices submitted by the company were paid by the railroad, using federal funds appropriated to subsidize the project, and the company was allowed to purchase Union Pacific securities at par value, well below the market rate. Crédit Mobilier showed large profits and stock gains, and distributed substantial dividends. The high expenses meant that Congress was called upon to appropriate more funds. One of the railroad officials who controlled Crédit Mobilier was also a congressman, Oakes Ames of Massachusetts. He offered some of his colleagues the opportunity to buy Crédit Mobilier stock at par value, well below what it sold for on the market, and the railroad got its additional appropriations.[98]

Editorial cartoon: Uncle Sam directs U.S. Senators and Representatives implicated in the Crédit Mobilier scheme to commit Hara-Kiri.
Editorial cartoon: Uncle Sam directs U.S. Senators and Representatives implicated in the Crédit Mobilier scheme to commit Hara-Kiri.

The story broke in July 1872, in the middle of the presidential campaign. Among those named were Vice President (and former House Speaker) Schuyler Colfax, Grant's second-term running mate (Massachusetts Senator Henry Wilson), Speaker James G. Blaine of Maine, and Garfield. Greeley had little luck taking advantage of the scandal. When Congress reconvened after the election, Blaine, seeking to clear his name, demanded a House investigation. Evidence before the special committee exonerated Blaine. Garfield had stated, in September 1872, that Ames had offered him stock, but he had repeatedly refused it. Testifying before the committee in January, Ames alleged that he had offered Garfield ten shares of stock at par value, but that Garfield had never taken the shares, or paid for them. A year had passed, from 1867 to 1868, before Garfield had finally refused it. Garfield, appearing before the committee on January 14, 1873, confirmed much of this. Ames testified several weeks later that Garfield agreed to take the stock on credit, and that it was paid for by the company's huge dividends.[99] The two men differed over a sum of some $300 that Garfield received and later paid back, with Garfield deeming it a loan and Ames a dividend.[100]

Garfield's biographers were unwilling to exonerate him in Crédit Mobilier, with Allan Peskin writing, "Did Garfield lie? Not exactly. Did he tell the truth? Not completely. Was he corrupted? Not really. Even Garfield's enemies never claimed that his involvement ... influenced his behavior."[101] Rutkow wrote that "Garfield's real offense was that he knowingly denied to the House investigating committee that he had agreed to accept the stock and that he had also received a dividend of $329."[102] Caldwell suggested that Garfield "...while he told the truth [before the committee], certainly failed to tell the whole truth, clearly evading an answer to certain vital questions and thus giving the impression of worse faults than those of which he was guilty."[103] That Crédit Mobilier was a corrupt organization had been a secret badly kept, even mentioned on the floor of Congress, and editor Sam Bowles wrote at the time that Garfield, in his positions on committees dealing with finance, "...had no more right to be ignorant in a matter of such grave importance as this, than the sentinel has to snore on his post."[101]

Another issue that caused Garfield trouble in his 1874 re-election bid was the so-called "Salary Grab" of 1873, which increased the compensation for members of Congress by 50 percent, retroactive to 1871. Garfield was responsible, as Appropriations Committee chairman, for shepherding the legislative appropriations bill through the House; during the debate in February 1873, Massachusetts Representative Benjamin Butler offered the increase as an amendment, and despite Garfield's opposition, it passed the House and eventually became law. The law was very popular in the House, as almost half the members were lame ducks, but the public was outraged, and many of Garfield's constituents blamed him, though he refused to accept the increase. In what was a bad year for Republicans, who lost control of the House for the first time since the Civil War, Garfield had his closest congressional election, winning with only 57 percent of the vote.[e][105]

Minority leader; Hayes administration

With the Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives in 1875, Garfield lost his chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee. The Democratic leadership in the House appointed Garfield as a Republican member of Ways and Means. With many of his leadership rivals defeated in the 1874 Democratic landslide, and Blaine elected to the Senate, Garfield was seen as the Republican floor leader and the likely Speaker should the party regain control of the chamber.[106]

As the 1876 presidential election approached, Garfield was loyal to the candidacy of Senator Blaine, and fought for the former Speaker's nomination at the 1876 Republican National Convention in Cincinnati. When it became clear, after six ballots, that Blaine could not prevail, the convention nominated Ohio Governor Rutherford B. Hayes. Although Garfield had supported Blaine, he had kept good relations with Hayes, and wholeheartedly supported the governor.[107] Garfield had hoped to retire from politics after his term expired to devote himself full-time to the practice of law, but to help his party, he sought re-election, and won it easily that October. Any celebration was short lived, as Garfield's youngest son, Neddie, fell ill with whooping cough shortly after the congressional election, and soon died.[108]

Garfield (second from right in the row of commissioners just below the gallery) served on the Electoral Commission that decided the disputed 1876 presidential election. (Painting by Cornelia Adele Strong Fassett)
Garfield (second from right in the row of commissioners just below the gallery) served on the Electoral Commission that decided the disputed 1876 presidential election. (Painting by Cornelia Adele Strong Fassett)

When Hayes appeared to have lost the presidential election the following month to Democrat Samuel Tilden, the Republicans launched efforts to reverse the result in Southern states where they held the governorship: South Carolina, Louisiana, and Florida. If Hayes won all three states, he would take the election by a single electoral vote. Grant asked Garfield to serve as a "neutral observer" in the recount in Louisiana. The observers soon recommended to the state electoral commissions that Hayes be declared the winner—Garfield recommended that the entire vote of West Feliciana Parish, which had given Tilden a sizable majority, be thrown out. The Republican governors of the three states certified that Hayes had won their states, to the outrage of Democrats, who had the state legislatures submit rival returns, and threatened to prevent the counting of the electoral vote—under the Constitution, Congress is the final arbiter of the election. Congress then passed a bill establishing the Electoral Commission, to determine the winner. Although he opposed the Commission, feeling that Congress should count the vote and proclaim Hayes victorious, Garfield was appointed to it over the objections of Democrats that he was too partisan. Hayes emerged the victor by a Commission vote of 8 to 7, with all eight votes being cast by Republican politicians or appointees of that party to the Supreme Court. As part of the deal whereby they recognized Hayes as president, Southern Democrats secured the removal of federal troops from the South, ending Reconstruction.[109]

Although a Senate seat would be disposed of by the Ohio General Assembly after the resignation of John Sherman to become Treasury Secretary, Hayes needed Garfield's expertise to protect him from the agenda of a hostile Congress, and asked him not to seek it. Garfield, as the president's key legislator, gained considerable prestige and respect for his role.[110] When Congress debated what became the Bland-Allison Act, to have the government purchase large quantities of silver and strike it into fully legal tender dollar coins, Garfield fought against this deviation from the gold standard, but it was enacted over Hayes's veto in February 1878.[111]

Garfield during this time purchased the property in Mentor that reporters later dubbed Lawnfield,[112] and from which he would conduct the first successful front porch campaign for the presidency. Hayes suggested that Garfield run for governor in 1879, seeing that as a road that would likely put Garfield in the White House. Garfield preferred to seek election as senator, and devoted his efforts to seeing that Republicans won the 1879 election for the General Assembly, with the likely Democratic candidate the incumbent, Allen G. Thurman. The Republicans swept the legislative elections. Rivals were spoken of for the seat, such as Secretary Sherman, but he had presidential ambitions (for which he sought Garfield's support), and other candidates fell by the wayside. Garfield was elected to the Senate by the General Assembly in January 1880, though his term was not to begin until March 4, 1881.[113]

Legal career and other activities

Garfield was one of three attorneys who argued for the petitioners in the landmark Supreme Court case Ex parte Milligan in 1866. His clients were pro-Confederate northern men who had been found guilty and sentenced to death by a military court for treasonous activities. The case turned on whether the defendants should instead have been tried by a civilian court, and resulted in a ruling that civilians could not be tried before military tribunals while the civil courts were operating. The oral argument was Garfield's first court appearance. Jeremiah Black had taken him in as a junior partner a year before, and assigned the case to him in light of his highly regarded oratory skills. With the result, Garfield instantly achieved a reputation as a preeminent appellate lawyer.[114]

During Grant's first term, discontented with public service, Garfield pursued opportunities in the law, but declined a partnership offer when told his prospective partner was of "intemperate and licentious" reputation.[115] In 1873, after the death of Chase, Garfield appealed to Grant to appoint Justice Noah H. Swayne as Chief Justice. Grant, however, appointed Morrison R. Waite.[116]

Garfield thought the land grants given to expanding railroads was an unjust practice. He also opposed some monopolistic practices by corporations, as well as the power sought by workers' unions.[117] Garfield supported the proposed establishment of the United States civil service as a means of ridding officials of the annoyance of aggressive office seekers. He especially wished to eliminate the common practice whereby government workers, in exchange for their positions, were forced to kick back a percentage of their wages as political contributions.[118]

In 1876, Garfield displayed his mathematical talent when he developed a trapezoid proof of the Pythagorean theorem. His finding was placed in the New England Journal of Education. Mathematics historian William Dunham wrote that Garfield's trapezoid work was "really a very clever proof."[119]

Presidential election of 1880

Republican nomination

A cartoon. Grant, on the right, is semi-kneeling while others kneel behind him. Garfield stands upright and receives a sword from Grant. Behind him are cheering throngs, and two men raise a flag in the background.
Following Grant's defeat for the nomination Puck magazine satirized Robert E. Lee's surrender to him at Appomattox by depicting Grant giving up his sword to Garfield.

Having just been elected to the Senate with Sherman's support, Garfield entered the 1880 campaign season committed to Sherman as his choice for the Republican presidential nominee.[120] Even before the convention began, however, a few Republicans, including Wharton Barker of Philadelphia, thought Garfield the best choice for the nomination.[120] Garfield denied any interest in the position, but the attention was enough to make Sherman suspicious of his lieutenant's ambitions.[121] Besides Sherman, the early favorites for the nomination were Blaine and former President Grant, but several other candidates attracted delegates as well.[122]

As the convention began, Senator Roscoe Conkling of New York, the floor leader for the Grant forces (known as the Stalwart faction), proposed that the delegates pledge to support the eventual nominee in the general election.[123] When three West Virginia delegates declined to be so bound, Conkling sought to expel them from the convention. Garfield rose to defend the men, giving a passionate speech in defense of their right to reserve judgment.[123] The crowd turned against Conkling, and he withdrew the motion.[123] The performance delighted Garfield's boosters, who now believed more than ever that he was the only man who could attract a majority of the delegates' votes.[124]

After speeches in favor of the other front-runners, Garfield rose to place Sherman's name in nomination; his nominating speech was well-received, but the delegates mustered little excitement for the idea of Sherman as the next president.[125] The first ballot showed Grant leading with 304 votes and Blaine in second with 284; Sherman's 93 placed him in a distant third. Subsequent ballots quickly demonstrated a deadlock between the Grant and Blaine forces, with neither having the 379 votes needed for nomination.[126] Jeremiah McLain Rusk, a member of the Wisconsin delegation, and Benjamin Harrison, an Indiana delegate, sought to break the deadlock by shifting a few of the anti-Grant votes to a dark horse candidate—Garfield.[127] Garfield gained 50 votes on the 35th ballot, and the stampede began. Garfield protested to the other members of his Ohio delegation that he had not sought the nomination and had never intended to betray Sherman, but they overruled his objections and cast their ballots for him.[128] In the next round of voting, nearly all of the Sherman and Blaine delegates shifted their support to Garfield, giving him 399 votes and the Republican nomination. Most of the Grant forces backed the former president to the end, creating a disgruntled Stalwart minority in the party.[129] To obtain that faction's support for the ticket, former New York customs collector Chester A. Arthur, a member of Conkling's political machine, was chosen as the vice presidential nominee.[130]

Campaign against Hancock

Garfield–Arthur election poster
Garfield–Arthur election poster

Despite including a Stalwart on the ticket, animosity between the Republican factions carried over from the convention, and Garfield traveled to New York to meet with party leaders there.[131] After convincing the Stalwart crowd to put aside their differences and unite for the coming campaign, Garfield returned to Ohio, leaving the active campaigning to others, as was traditional at the time.[132] Meanwhile, the Democrats settled on their nominee, Major General Winfield Scott Hancock of Pennsylvania, a career military officer.[131] Hancock and the Democrats expected to carry the Solid South, while much of the North was considered safe territory for Garfield and the Republicans; most of the campaign would involve a few close states, including New York and Indiana.[133]

A large three-story house of wood and stone
The rear of the house at Garfield's Lawnfield estate, from which he conducted his "front porch campaign"
1880 electoral vote results
1880 electoral vote results

Practical differences between the candidates were few, and Republicans began the campaign with the familiar theme of waving the bloody shirt: reminding Northern voters that the Democratic Party was responsible for secession and four years of civil war, and that if Democrats held power they would reverse the gains of that war, dishonor Union veterans, and pay Confederate veterans pensions out of the federal treasury.[134] With fifteen years having passed since the end of the war, and Union generals at the head of both tickets, the bloody shirt was of diminishing value in exciting the voters.[135] With a few months to go before the election, the Republicans switched tactics to emphasize the tariff. Seizing on the Democratic platform's call for a "tariff for revenue only", Republicans told Northern workers that a Hancock presidency would weaken the tariff protection that kept them in good jobs.[136] Hancock made the situation worse when, attempting to strike a moderate stance, he said, "The tariff question is a local question."[135] The ploy proved effective in uniting the North behind Garfield.[137] In the end, fewer than two thousand votes, of the more than 9.2 million popular votes cast, separated the two candidates,[138] but in the Electoral College Garfield had an easy victory over Hancock, 214 to 155.[139]

Presidency, 1881

Garfield wears an informal frock coat suit and has one hand inserted into the front of the jacket.
President Garfield

Cabinet and inauguration

Between his election and his inauguration, Garfield was occupied with assembling a cabinet that would establish peace between Conkling's and Blaine's warring factions. Blaine's delegates had provided much of the support for Garfield's nomination, and the Maine senator received the place of honor: Secretary of State.[140] Blaine was not only the president's closest advisor, he was obsessed with knowing all that took place in the White House, and was even said to have spies posted there in his absence.[141] Garfield nominated William Windom of Minnesota as Secretary of the Treasury, William H. Hunt of Louisiana as Secretary of the Navy, Robert Todd Lincoln as Secretary of War, and Samuel J. Kirkwood of Iowa as Secretary of the Interior. New York was represented by Thomas Lemuel James as Postmaster General. Garfield appointed Pennsylvania's Wayne MacVeagh, an adversary of Blaine's, as Attorney General.[142] Blaine tried to sabotage the appointment by convincing Garfield to name an opponent of MacVeagh, William E. Chandler, as Solicitor General under MacVeagh. Only Chandler's rejection by the Senate forestalled MacVeagh's resignation over the matter.[143]

Distracted by cabinet maneuvering, Garfield's inaugural address was not up to his typical oratorical standards.[144] In one high point, Garfield emphasized the civil rights of African-Americans, saying "Freedom can never yield its fullness of blessings so long as the law or its administration places the smallest obstacle in the pathway of any virtuous citizen."[145] After discussing the gold standard, the need for education, and an unexpected denunciation of Mormon polygamy, the speech ended. The crowd applauded, but the speech, according to Peskin, "however sincerely intended, betrayed its hasty composition by the flatness of its tone and the conventionality of its subject matter."[146]

Garfield's appointment of James infuriated Conkling, a factional opponent of the Postmaster General, who demanded a compensatory appointment for his faction, such as the position of Secretary of the Treasury. The resulting squabble occupied much of Garfield's brief presidency. The feud with Conkling reached a climax when the president, at Blaine's instigation, nominated Conkling's enemy, Judge William H. Robertson, to be Collector of the Port of New York. This was one of the prize patronage positions below cabinet level, and was then held by Edwin A. Merritt. Conkling raised the time-honored principle of senatorial courtesy in an attempt to defeat the nomination, to no avail. Garfield, who believed the practice was corrupt, would not back down and threatened to withdraw all nominations unless Robertson was confirmed, intending to "settle the question whether the president is registering clerk of the Senate or the Executive of the United States."[147] Ultimately, Conkling and his New York colleague, Senator Thomas C. Platt, resigned their Senate seats to seek vindication, but found only further humiliation when the New York legislature elected others in their places. Robertson was confirmed as Collector and Garfield's victory was clear. To Blaine's chagrin, the victorious Garfield returned to his goal of balancing the interests of party factions, and nominated a number of Conkling's Stalwart friends to offices.[148]

Supreme Court nomination

In 1880, President Hayes had nominated Stanley Matthews to the Supreme Court of the United States. The U.S. Senate declined to act on the Matthews nomination. In March 1881, Garfield re-nominated Matthews to the Supreme Court.[149] The Senate confirmed Matthews to the high Court by a vote of 24-23.[150] According to The New York Times, "opposition to Matthews's Supreme Court appointment...stemmed from his prosecution in 1859 of a newspaper editor who had assisted two runaway slaves." Because Matthews was "a professed abolitionist at the time, the case was later framed as political expediency triumphing over moral principle."[149] Matthews served on the Court until his death in 1889.[149]


A cartoon. Garfield, in night clothes and slippers, is on the doorstep looking at an ugly crying baby in a basket on the ground.
An 1881 Puck cartoon shows Garfield finding a baby at his front door with a tag marked "Civil Service Reform, compliments of R.B. Hayes." Hayes, his predecessor in the presidency, is seen in the background dressed like a woman and holding a bag marked "R.B. Hayes' Savings, Fremont, Ohio."

Grant and Hayes had both advocated civil service reform, and by 1881, civil service reform associations had organized with renewed energy across the nation. Garfield sympathized with them, believing that the spoils system damaged the presidency and distracted from more important concerns.[151] Some reformers were disappointed that Garfield had advocated limited tenure only to minor office seekers and had given appointments to his old friends, but many remained loyal and supported Garfield.[151]

Corruption in the post office also cried out for reform. In April 1880, there had been a congressional investigation into corruption in the Post Office Department, in which profiteering rings allegedly stole millions of dollars, securing bogus mail contracts on star routes.[152] After obtaining contracts with the lowest bid, costs to run the mail routes would be escalated and profits would be divided among ring members. That year, Hayes stopped the implementation of any new star route contracts. Shortly after taking office, Garfield received information from Attorney General MacVeagh and Postmaster General James of postal corruption by an alleged star route ringleader, Second Assistant Postmaster-General Thomas J. Brady.[153] Garfield demanded Brady's resignation and ordered prosecutions that would end in trials for conspiracy. When told that his party, including his own campaign manager, Stephen W. Dorsey, was involved, Garfield directed MacVeagh and James to root out the corruption in the Post Office Department "to the bone", regardless of where it might lead.[152] Brady resigned and was eventually indicted for conspiracy. After two "star route" ring trials in 1882 and 1883, the jury found Brady not guilty.[154]

Civil rights and education

Formal seated portrait in oils
Official White House portrait of James Garfield

Garfield believed that the key to improving the state of African American civil rights would be found in education aided by the federal government.[155] During Reconstruction, freedmen had gained citizenship and suffrage that enabled them to participate in government, but Garfield believed their rights were being eroded by Southern white resistance and illiteracy, and was concerned that blacks would become America's permanent "peasantry."[156] He answered by proposing a "universal" education system funded by the federal government. Congress and the northern white public, however, had lost interest in African-American rights, and federal funding for universal education did not find support in Congress during Garfield's term.[156] Garfield also worked to appoint several African Americans to prominent positions: Frederick Douglass, recorder of deeds in Washington; Robert Elliot, special agent to the Treasury; John M. Langston, Haitian minister; and Blanche K. Bruce, register to the Treasury. Garfield believed that Southern support for the Republican party could be gained by "commercial and industrial" interests rather than race issues and began to reverse Hayes's policy of conciliating Southern Democrats.[157] He appointed William H. Hunt, a carpetbagger Republican from Louisiana, as Secretary of the Navy.[157] To break the hold of the resurgent Democratic Party in the Solid South, Garfield took patronage advice from Virginia Senator William Mahone of the biracial independent Readjuster Party, hoping to add the independents' strength to the Republicans' there.[158]

Foreign policy and naval reform

James G. Blaine, Garfield's Secretary of State
James G. Blaine, Garfield's Secretary of State

Entering the presidency, Garfield had little foreign policy experience, so he leaned heavily on Blaine. Blaine, a former protectionist, now agreed with Garfield on the need to promote freer trade, especially within the Western Hemisphere.[159] Their reasons were twofold: firstly, Garfield and Blaine believed that increasing trade with Latin America would be the best way to keep Great Britain from dominating the region.[159] Secondly, by encouraging exports, they believed they could increase American prosperity.[159] Garfield authorized Blaine to call for a Pan-American conference in 1882 to mediate disputes among the Latin American nations and to serve as a forum for talks on increasing trade.[160] At the same time, they hoped to negotiate a peace in the War of the Pacific then being fought by Bolivia, Chile, and Peru.[160] Blaine favored a resolution that would not result in Peru yielding any territory, but Chile, which by 1881 had occupied the Peruvian capital, Lima, rejected any settlement that restored the previous status quo.[161] Garfield sought to expand American influence in other areas, calling for renegotiation of the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty to allow the United States to construct a canal through Panama without British involvement, as well as attempting to reduce British influence in the strategically located Kingdom of Hawaii.[162] Garfield's and Blaine's plans for the United States' involvement in the world stretched even beyond the Western Hemisphere, as he sought commercial treaties with Korea and Madagascar.[163] Garfield also considered enhancing the United States' military strength abroad, asking Navy Secretary Hunt to investigate the condition of the navy with an eye toward expansion and modernization.[164] In the end, these ambitious plans came to nothing after Garfield was assassinated. Nine countries had accepted invitations to the Pan-American conference, but the invitations were withdrawn in April 1882 after Blaine resigned from the cabinet and Arthur, Garfield's successor, cancelled the conference.[165][f] Naval reform continued under Arthur, if on a more modest scale than Garfield and Hunt had envisioned, ultimately ending in the construction of the Squadron of Evolution.[166]

Administration and cabinet


Guiteau and shooting

Garfield was shot by Charles J. Guiteau, a disgruntled office seeker, at the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station in Washington, D.C. on July 2, 1881. After eleven weeks of intensive and other care Garfield died in Elberon, New Jersey, the second of four presidents to be assassinated, following Abraham Lincoln.

Guiteau had followed various professions in his life, but in 1880 had determined to gain federal office by supporting what he expected would be the winning Republican ticket.[167] He composed a speech, "Garfield vs. Hancock", and got it printed by the Republican National Committee. One means of persuading the voters in that era was through orators expounding on the candidate's merits, but with the Republicans seeking more famous men, Guiteau received few opportunities to speak.[168] On one occasion, according to Kenneth D. Ackerman in his book about Garfield's candidacy and assassination, Guiteau was unable to finish his speech due to nerves. Guiteau, who considered himself a Stalwart, deemed his contribution to Garfield's victory sufficient to justify the position of consul in Paris, despite the fact he spoke no French, nor any foreign language.[169] Guiteau has since been described by one medical expert as possibly being a narcissistic schizophrenic;[170] neuroscientist Kent Kiehl assessed him as being a clinical psychopath.[171]

Garfield, shot by Charles J. Guiteau, collapses as Secretary of State Blaine gestures for help. Engraving from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper.
Garfield, shot by Charles J. Guiteau, collapses as Secretary of State Blaine gestures for help. Engraving from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper.

One of President Garfield's more wearying duties was seeing office seekers, and he saw Guiteau at least once. White House officials suggested to Guiteau that he approach Blaine, as the consulship was within the Department of State.[172] Blaine also saw the public regularly, and Guiteau became a regular at these sessions. Blaine, who had no intention of giving Guiteau a position he was unqualified for and had not earned, simply stated that the deadlock in the Senate over Robertson's nomination made it impossible to consider the Paris consulship, which required Senate confirmation.[173] Once the New York senators had resigned, and Robertson had been confirmed as Collector, Guiteau pressed his claim, and Blaine told him he would not receive the position.[174]

Guiteau came to believe he had lost the position because he was a Stalwart. The office-seeker decided that the only way to end the internecine warfare in the Republican Party was for Garfield to die—though he had nothing personal against the president. Arthur's succession would restore peace, he felt, and lead to rewards for fellow Stalwarts, including Guiteau.[175]

The assassination of Abraham Lincoln was deemed a fluke due to the Civil War, and Garfield, like most people, saw no reason why the president should be guarded; Garfield's movements and plans were often printed in the newspapers. Guiteau knew the president would leave Washington for a cooler climate on July 2, and made plans to kill him before then. He purchased a gun he thought would look good in a museum, and followed Garfield several times, but each time his plans were frustrated, or he lost his nerve.[176] His opportunities dwindled to one—Garfield's departure by train for New Jersey on the morning of July 2, 1881.[177]

Guiteau concealed himself by the ladies' waiting room at the Sixth Street Station of the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad, from where Garfield was scheduled to depart. Most of Garfield's cabinet planned to accompany him at least part of the way. Blaine, who was to remain in Washington, came to the station to see him off. The two men were deep in conversation and did not notice Guiteau before he took out his revolver and shot Garfield twice, once in the back and once in the arm. The time was 9:30 a.m. The assassin attempted to leave the station, but was quickly captured.[178] As Blaine recognized him and Guiteau made no secret of why he had shot Garfield, the assassin's motivation to benefit the Stalwarts reached many with the early news of the shooting, causing rage against that faction.[179]

Treatment and death

Garfield was struck by two shots; one glanced off his arm while the other pierced his back, shattering a rib and embedding itself in his abdomen. "My God, what is this?" he exclaimed.[180] Guiteau, as he was led away, stated, "I did it. I will go to jail for it. I am a Stalwart and Arthur will be President."[g][181]

Among those at the station was Robert Todd Lincoln, who was deeply upset, thinking back to when his father Abraham Lincoln was assassinated 16 years earlier. Garfield was taken on a mattress upstairs to a private office, where several doctors examined him, probing the wound with unwashed fingers. At his request, Garfield was taken back to the White House, and his wife, then in New Jersey, was sent for.[182] Blaine sent word to Vice President Arthur in New York City, who received threats against his life because of his animosity toward Garfield and Guiteau's statements.[183]

An ornate Victorian Gothic style building with a square tower
Baltimore & Potomac Railroad Passenger Terminal in Washington, where Garfield was shot July 2, 1881

Although Joseph Lister's pioneering work in antisepsis was known to American doctors, with Lister himself having visited America in 1876, few of them had confidence in it, and none of his advocates were among Garfield's treating physicians.[184] The physician who took charge at the depot and then at the White House was Doctor Willard Bliss.[h] A noted physician and surgeon, Bliss was an old friend of Garfield, and about a dozen doctors, led by Bliss, were soon probing the wound with unsterilized fingers and instruments. Garfield was given morphine for the pain, and asked Bliss to frankly tell him his chances, which Bliss put at one in a hundred. "Well, Doctor, we'll take that chance."[185]

Over the next few days, Garfield made some improvement, as the nation viewed the news from the capital and prayed. Although he never stood again, he was able to sit up and write several times, and his recovery was viewed so positively that a steamer was fitted out as a seagoing hospital to aid with his convalescence. He was nourished on oatmeal porridge (which he detested) and milk from a cow on the White House lawn. When told that Indian chief Sitting Bull, a prisoner of the army, was starving, Garfield said, "Let him starve," then, "Oh, no, send him my oatmeal."[186] X-radiation (or X-ray) usage, which likely would have helped the president's physicians determine exactly where the bullet was lodged in his body, would not be invented for another fourteen years. Alexander Graham Bell tried to locate the bullet with a primitive metal detector; he was not successful. One means of keeping the president comfortable in Washington's summer heat was one of the first successful air conditioning units: air that was propelled by fans over ice and then dried had reduced the temperature in the sickroom by 20 degrees Fahrenheit (11 degrees Celsius).[186]

Beginning on July 23, Garfield took a turn for the worse. His temperature increased to 104 °F (40 °C); doctors, concerned by an abscess that had developed by the wound, operated and inserted a drainage tube. This initially seemed to help, and Garfield, in his bed, was able to hold a brief cabinet meeting on July 29, though members were under orders from Bliss to discuss nothing that might excite Garfield.[187] Doctors probed the abscess, which went into Garfield's body, hoping to find the bullet; they most likely only made the infections worse. Garfield performed only one state act in August, signing an extradition paper. By the end of the month, the president was much more feeble than he had been, and his weight had decreased from 210[188] to 130 pounds (59 kg).[189]

Garfield had long been anxious to escape hot, unhealthy Washington, and in early September the doctors agreed to move him to Elberon, part of Long Branch, New Jersey, where his wife had recovered earlier in the summer. He left the White House for the last time on September 5, traveling in a specially cushioned railway car; a spur line to the Francklyn Cottage, a seaside mansion given over to his use, was built in a night by volunteers. There, Garfield could see the ocean as officials and reporters maintained what became (after an initial rally) a death watch. Garfield's personal secretary, Joe Stanley Brown, wrote 40 years later, "to this day I cannot hear the sound of the low slow roll of the Atlantic on the shore, the sound which filled my ears as I walked from my cottage to his bedside, without recalling again that ghastly tragedy."[190]

On September 18, Garfield asked Colonel A.F. Rockwell, a friend, if he would have a place in history. Rockwell assured him he would, and told Garfield he had much work still before him. But his response was, "No, my work is done."[191] The following day, Garfield, by then also suffering from pneumonia and heart pains, marveled that he could not pick up a glass despite feeling well, and went to sleep without discomfort. He awoke that evening around 10:15 p.m. with great pain in his chest. According to his chief of staff and friend General David Swaim, who was watching him, Garfield complained, "Oh Swaim, this terrible pain." as he placed his hand on his breast over his heart. The president then requested a drink of water from Swaim. After he finished his glass, Garfield said, "Oh Swaim, this terrible pain – press your hand on it."[192] As Swaim put his hand on Garfield's chest, Garfield's hands went up reflexively and he exclaimed, "Oh, Swaim, can't you stop this? Oh, Swaim!"[193] The attendant sent for Bliss, who found him unconscious. Despite efforts to revive him, Garfield never awoke, and died at 10:35 p.m.[194] Learning from a reporter of Garfield's death, Arthur took the presidential oath of office administered by New York Supreme Court Justice John R. Brady.[195]

According to some historians and medical experts, Garfield might have survived his wounds had the doctors attending him had at their disposal today's medical research, knowledge, techniques, and equipment.[196][197][198] Standard medical practice at the time dictated that priority be given to locating the path of the bullet. Several of his doctors inserted their unsterilized fingers into the wound to probe for the bullet, a common practice in the 1880s.[196] Historians agree that massive infection was a significant factor in President Garfield's demise.[196] Biographer Peskin stated that medical malpractice did not contribute to Garfield's death; the inevitable infection and blood poisoning that would ensue from a deep bullet wound resulted in damage to multiple organs and spinal bone fragmentation.[199] Rutkow, a professor of surgery at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, has argued that starvation also played a role. Rutkow suggests that "Garfield had such a nonlethal wound. In today's world, he would have gone home in a matter of two or three days."[196]

Guiteau was indicted on October 14, 1881, for the murder of the president. In a chaotic trial in which Guiteau often interrupted and argued, and in which his counsel used the insanity defense, the jury found him guilty on January 5, 1882, and he was sentenced to death by hanging. Guiteau might have had neurosyphilis, a disease that causes physiological mental impairment.[200] He was executed on June 30, 1882.[201]

Funeral, memorials and commemorations

Garfield's funeral train left Long Branch on the same special track that brought him there, traveling over tracks blanketed with flowers and past houses adorned with flags. His body was transported to the Capitol and then continued on to Cleveland for burial.[202] More than 70,000 citizens, some waiting over three hours, passed by Garfield's coffin as his body lay in state at the United States Capitol rotunda; later, on September 25, 1881, in Cleveland, more than 150,000—a number equal to the entire population of that city—likewise paid their respects.[202] His body was temporarily interred in a vault in Cleveland's Lake View Cemetery until his permanent memorial was built.[202]

Memorial services for Garfield in Seattle, Washington's Occidental Square September 27, 1881 in front of the Occidental Hotel
Memorial services for Garfield in Seattle, Washington's Occidental Square September 27, 1881 in front of the Occidental Hotel

Memorials to Garfield were erected across the country. On April 10, 1882, seven months after Garfield's death, the U.S. Post Office issued a postage stamp in his honor, the second stamp issued by the U.S. to honor an assassinated president.[203] In 1884, sculptor Frank Happersberger completed a monument on the grounds of the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers.[204] In 1887, the James A. Garfield Monument was dedicated in Washington.[205] Another monument, in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park, was erected in 1896.[206] In Victoria, Australia, Cannibal Creek was renamed Garfield in his honor.[207]

On May 19, 1890, Garfield's body was permanently interred, with great solemnity and fanfare, in a mausoleum in Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland. Attending the dedication ceremonies were former President Hayes, President Benjamin Harrison, and future president William McKinley.[208] Garfield's Treasury Secretary, William Windom, also attended.[208] Harrison said that Garfield was always a "student and instructor" and that his life works and death would "...continue to be instructive and inspiring incidents in American history."[209] Three panels on the monument display Garfield as a teacher, Union major general, and orator; another shows him taking the presidential oath, and a fifth shows his body lying in state at the Capitol rotunda in Washington, D.C.[210]

Garfield's murder by a deranged office-seeker awakened public awareness of the need for civil service reform legislation. Senator George H. Pendleton, a Democrat from Ohio, launched a reform effort that resulted in the Pendleton Act in January 1883.[211] This act reversed the "spoils system" where office seekers paid up or gave political service to obtain or keep federally appointed positions.[211] Under the act, appointments were awarded on merit and competitive examination.[212] To ensure the reform was implemented, Congress and Arthur established and funded the Civil Service Commission. The Pendleton Act, however, covered only 10% of federal government workers.[212] For Arthur, previously known for having been a "veteran spoilsman," civil service reform became his most noteworthy achievement.[213]

A marble statue of Garfield by Charles Niehaus was added to the National Statuary Hall Collection in the Capitol in Washington D.C., a gift from the State of Ohio in 1886.[214]

On March 2, 2019, the National Park Service erected exhibit panels in Washington to mark the site of the assassination.[215]

Legacy and historical view

For a few years after his assassination, Garfield's life story was seen as an exemplar of the American success story—that even the poorest boy might someday become President of the United States. Peskin noted that, "In mourning Garfield, Americans were not only honoring a president; they were paying tribute to a man whose life story embodied their own most cherished aspirations."[216] As the rivalry between Stalwarts and Half-Breeds faded from the scene in the late 1880s and after, so too did memories of Garfield. Beginning in 1882, the year after Garfield's death, the U.S. Post Office began issuing postage stamps honoring the late president. Despite his short term as president, nine different issues were printed over the years.[203] In the 1890s, Americans became disillusioned with politicians, and looked elsewhere for inspiration, focusing on industrialists, labor leaders, scientists, and others as their heroes. Increasingly, Garfield's short time as president was forgotten.[217]

The 20th century saw no revival for Garfield. Thomas Wolfe deemed the presidents of the Gilded Age, including Garfield, "lost Americans" whose "gravely vacant and bewhiskered faces mixed, melted, swam together."[218] The politicians of the Gilded Age faded from the public eye, their luster eclipsed by those who had influenced America outside of political office during that time: the robber barons, the inventors, those who had sought social reform, and others who had lived as America rapidly changed. Current events and more recent figures occupied America's attention: according to Ackerman, "the busy Twentieth Century has made Garfield's era seem remote and irrelevant, its leaders ridiculed for their very obscurity."[218]

Garfield's biographers, and those who have studied his presidency, tend to think well of him, and that his presidency saw a promising start before its untimely end. Historian Justus D. Doenecke, while deeming Garfield a bit of an enigma, chronicles his achievements, "by winning a victory over the Stalwarts, he enhanced both the power and prestige of his office. As a man, he was intelligent, sensitive, and alert, and his knowledge of how government worked was unmatched."[219] Yet Doenecke criticizes Garfield's dismissal of Merritt in Robertson's favor, and wonders if the president was truly in command of the situation even after the latter's confirmation.[220] According to Caldwell, writing in 1931, "If Garfield lives in history, it will be partly on account of the charm of his personality—but also because in life and in death, he struck the first shrewd blows against a dangerous system of boss rule which seemed for a time about to engulf the politics of the nation. Perhaps if he had lived he could have done no more."[221] Rutkow writes, "James Abram Garfield's presidency is reduced to a tantalizing 'what if.'"[217]

Peskin believes Garfield deserves more credit for his political career than he has received:

True, his accomplishments were neither bold nor heroic, but his was not an age that called for heroism. His stormy presidency was brief, and in some respects, unfortunate, but he did leave the office stronger than he found it. As a public man he had a hand in almost every issue of national importance for almost two decades, while as a party leader he, along with Blaine, forged the Republican Party into the instrument that would lead the United States into the twentieth century.[222]

See also


  1. ^ Church of Christ, Christian Church, and Disciples of Christ were names that were used interchangeably amongst members of a unified movement until the turn of the 20th century when they separated.[17]
  2. ^ Biographer Allan Peskin speculated this may have been infectious hepatitis.[47]
  3. ^ Until the ratification of the Twentieth Amendment in 1933, Congress convened annually in December.
  4. ^ In a July 1865 letter to Governor Jacob Dolson Cox, Garfield wrote that he felt "a strong sense of repugnance when I think of the negro being made our political equal and I would be glad if they could be colonized, sent to heaven, or got rid of in any decent way .... but colonization has proved a hopeless failure everywhere."[85]
  5. ^ Garfield typically won two or three times his Democratic opponents' votes.[104]
  6. ^ In October 1883, the War of the Pacific was settled without American involvement, with the Treaty of Ancón.
  7. ^ The words vary in some sources
  8. ^ "Doctor" was his given name.


  1. ^ "The election of President James Garfield of Ohio". United States House of Representatives. Retrieved June 23, 2015.
  2. ^ Peskin 1978, pp. 4–6.
  3. ^ Peskin 1978, pp. 6–7.
  4. ^ Peskin 1978, pp. 8–10.
  5. ^ Rutkow 2006, p. 4.
  6. ^ a b Peskin 1978, pp. 10–11.
  7. ^ Brown 1881, p. 23.
  8. ^ Brown 1881, pp. 30–33.
  9. ^ Rutkow 2006, p. 10.
  10. ^ Peskin 1978, pp. 14–17.
  11. ^ Peskin 1978, p. 13.
  12. ^ Rutkow 2006, p. 6.
  13. ^ Brown 1881, pp. 71–73.
  14. ^ Brown 1881, pp. 47–49.
  15. ^ a b Peskin 1978, p. 16.
  16. ^ Peskin 1978, p. 17.
  17. ^ McAlister & Tucker 1975, p. 252.
  18. ^ Peskin 1978, p. 21.
  19. ^ Peskin 1978, pp. 27–28.
  20. ^ Peskin 1978, pp. 22–23.
  21. ^ Peskin 1978, p. 29.
  22. ^ Brown 1881, p. 56; Peskin 1978, p. 30.
  23. ^ Peskin 1978, p. 34.
  24. ^ a b c Rutkow 2006, p. 8.
  25. ^ Rutkow 2006, p. 11.
  26. ^ Rutkow 2006, p. 44.
  27. ^ Brown 1881, pp. 74–75.
  28. ^ Peskin 1978, p. 82.
  29. ^ Peskin 1978, pp. 60–61.
  30. ^ Peskin 1978, p. 73.
  31. ^ a b Peskin 1978, pp. 86–87.
  32. ^ a b Peskin 1978, pp. 87–89.
  33. ^ a b c Peskin 1978, pp. 90–93.
  34. ^ Peskin 1978, pp. 98–101.
  35. ^ a b Peskin 1978, pp. 101–103.
  36. ^ a b Peskin 1978, pp. 106–112.
  37. ^ Peskin 1978, pp. 112–115.
  38. ^ Caldwell 1965, pp. 76–78.
  39. ^ Peskin 1978, pp. 116–120.
  40. ^ Peskin 1978, p. 128.
  41. ^ a b Peskin 1978, pp. 122–127.
  42. ^ Caldwell 1965, pp. 81–82.
  43. ^ Peskin 1978, pp. 131–133.
  44. ^ Peskin 1978, pp. 134–135.
  45. ^ a b Peskin 1978, pp. 135–137.
  46. ^ Peskin 1978, pp. 138–139.
  47. ^ Peskin 1978, pp. 632–633.
  48. ^ a b Peskin 1978, pp. 146–147.
  49. ^ Peskin 1978, pp. 147–148.
  50. ^ Peskin 1978, pp. 149–151.
  51. ^ Peskin 1978, pp. 160–161.
  52. ^ Peskin 1978, pp. 161–162.
  53. ^ a b Peskin 1978, pp. 162–165.
  54. ^ Peskin 1978, p. 166.
  55. ^ Peskin 1978, p. 176.
  56. ^ Peskin 1978, p. 169.
  57. ^ Peskin 1978, p. 170.
  58. ^ Peskin 1978, p. 177.
  59. ^ a b Peskin 1978, pp. 180–182.
  60. ^ Peskin 1978, pp. 183–189.
  61. ^ a b c Peskin 1978, pp. 205–208.
  62. ^ Peskin 1978, p. 210.
  63. ^ Peskin 1978, p. 213.
  64. ^ Peskin 1978, pp. 219–220.
  65. ^ Smith 2001, pp. 550–551.
  66. ^ Rutkow 2006, p. 17; Peskin 1978, p. 148.
  67. ^ Rutkow 2006, p. 18.
  68. ^ Caldwell 1965, pp. 139–142.
  69. ^ a b Rutkow 2006, pp. 25–26.
  70. ^ Peskin 1978, p. 233.
  71. ^ Peskin 1978, p. 234.
  72. ^ Peskin 1978, p. 152.
  73. ^ Peskin 1978, p. 224.
  74. ^ Caldwell 1965, pp. 145–147.
  75. ^ Peskin 1978, p. 232.
  76. ^ Peskin 1978, p. 156.
  77. ^ Peskin 1978, p. 241.
  78. ^ Peskin 1978, p. 240.
  79. ^ Brown 1881, pp. 134–137.
  80. ^ Caldwell 1965, p. 153.
  81. ^ Peskin 1978, p. 250.
  82. ^ Caldwell 1965, pp. 154–155.
  83. ^ Caldwell 1965, pp. 155–156.
  84. ^ Doenecke 1981, pp. 47–48.
  85. ^ George M. Fredrickson, The Black Image in the White Mind: The Debate on Afro-American Character and Destiny, 1817-1914 (Wesleyan University Press, 1971), p. 185.
  86. ^ Peskin 1978, p. 279.
  87. ^ Caldwell 1965, pp. 170–172.
  88. ^ Peskin 1978, p. 278.
  89. ^ Caldwell 1965, pp. 173–174; Peskin 1978, pp. 287–289.
  90. ^ Peskin 1978, pp. 332–334.
  91. ^ Caldwell 1965, pp. 205–218.
  92. ^ Peskin 1978, p. 261.
  93. ^ Peskin 1978, p. 268.
  94. ^ Rutkow 2006, pp. 31–32.
  95. ^ Peskin 1978, pp. 265, 327.
  96. ^ McFeely 1981, p. 328; Peskin 1978, p. 311.
  97. ^ a b Peskin 1978, pp. 350–351.
  98. ^ Caldwell 1965, pp. 219.
  99. ^ Caldwell 1965, pp. 224–226.
  100. ^ Peskin 1978, pp. 354–359.
  101. ^ a b Peskin 1978, p. 362.
  102. ^ Rutkow 2006, p. 34.
  103. ^ Caldwell 1965, p. 230.
  104. ^ Peskin 1978, pp. 148, 244, 277, 292.
  105. ^ Caldwell 1965, pp. 233–236; Rutkow 2006, pp. 34–35.
  106. ^ Rutkow 2006, pp. 37–39.
  107. ^ Peskin 1978, pp. 398–400.
  108. ^ Peskin 1978, pp. 401–405.
  109. ^ Caldwell 1965, pp. 251–261; Rutkow 2006, p. 40.
  110. ^ Rutkow 2006, p. 41.
  111. ^ Caldwell 1965, p. 261.
  112. ^ Peskin 1978, p. 498.
  113. ^ Peskin 1978, pp. 442–447.
  114. ^ Peskin 1978, p. 270.
  115. ^ Peskin 1978, p. 347.
  116. ^ McFeely 1981, pp. 387–389, 392.
  117. ^ Peskin 1978, p. 331.
  118. ^ Peskin 1978, pp. 335–338.
  119. ^ Dunham, William (1994). The Mathematical Universe: An Alphabetical Journey Through the Great Proofs, Problems, and Personalities. Wiley & Sons. p. 99.
  120. ^ a b Peskin 1978, pp. 454–455.
  121. ^ Peskin 1978, pp. 456–457.
  122. ^ Doenecke 1981, pp. 17–19.
  123. ^ a b c Ackerman 2003, pp. 81–83.
  124. ^ Peskin 1978, pp. 464–465.
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Works cited




Further reading

  • Graff, Henry F., ed. The Presidents: A Reference History (3rd ed. 2002) online
  • Millard, Candice (2012). Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President. New York, New York: Anchor Books. ISBN 978-0767929714.

External links

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