James A. Garfield Explained

Order:20th President of the United States
Term Start:March 4, 1881
Term End:September 19, 1881
Predecessor:Rutherford B. Hayes
Successor:Chester A. Arthur
Term Start2:March 4, 1863
Term End2:March 3, 1881
Predecessor2:Albert G. Riddle
Successor2:Ezra B. Taylor
Birth Date:1831 11, mf=yes
Birth Place:Moreland Hills, Ohio
Birthname:James Abram Garfield
Death Place:Elberon (Long Branch), New Jersey
Restingplace:Cleveland, Ohio
Spouse:Lucretia Rudolph Garfield
Children:Eliza Arbella Garfield
Harry Augustus Garfield
James Rudolph Garfield
Mary Garfield
Irvin M. Garfield
Abram Garfield
Edward Garfield
Occupation:Lawyer, Educator, Minister
Vicepresident:Chester A. Arthur
Religion:Church of Christ
Alma Mater:Western Reserve Eclectic Institute
Williams College
Allegiance:United States of America
Rank:Major General
Commands:42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry
20th Brigade, 6th Division, Army of the Ohio

James Abram Garfield (November 19, 1831 September 19, 1881) was the 20th President of the United States. His death, two months after being shot and six months after his inauguration, made his tenure the second shortest (after William Henry Harrison) in United States history.

Before his election as president, Garfield served as a major general in the United States Army and as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and as a member of the Electoral Commission of 1876. Garfield was the second U.S. President to be assassinated; Abraham Lincoln was the first. President Garfield, a Republican, had been in office a scant four months when he was shot and fatally wounded on July 2, 1881. He lived until September 19, having served for six months and fifteen days. To date, Garfield is the only sitting member of the House of Representatives to have been elected President.

Early life

Garfield was born of Welsh ancestry on November 19, 1831 in a log cabin in Orange Township, now Moreland Hills, Ohio. His father, Abram Garfield, died in 1833, when James Abram was 17 months old.[1] He was brought up and cared for by his mother, Eliza Ballou, sisters, and an uncle.[2]

In Orange Township, Garfield attended a predecessor of the Orange City Schools. From 1851 to 1854, he attended the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (later named Hiram College) in Hiram, Ohio. He then transferred to Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, where he was a brother of Delta Upsilon fraternity.[3] He graduated in 1856 as an outstanding student who enjoyed all subjects except chemistry.

After preaching a short time at Franklin Circle Christian Church (1857–58), Garfield ruled out preaching and considered a job as principal of a high school in Poestenkill, New York.[4] After losing that job to another applicant, he taught at the Eclectic Institute. Garfield was an instructor in classical languages for the 1856–1857 academic year, and was made principal of the Institute from 1857 to 1860. On November 11, 1858, he married Lucretia Rudolph. They had seven children (five sons and two daughters): Eliza Arabella Garfield (1860–63); Harry Augustus Garfield (1863–1942); James Rudolph Garfield (1865–1950); Mary Garfield (1867–1947); Irvin M. Garfield (1870–1951); Abram Garfield (1872–1958); and Edward Garfield (1874–76). One son, James R. Garfield, followed him into politics and became Secretary of the Interior under President Theodore Roosevelt. In the mid-1860s, Garfield had an affair with Lucia Calhoun, which he later admitted to his wife, who forgave him.[5]

Garfield decided that the academic life was not for him and studied law privately. He was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1860. Even before admission to the bar, he entered politics. He was elected an Ohio state senator in 1859, serving until 1861.[1] He was a Republican all his political life.

Military career

With the start of the Civil War, Garfield enlisted in the Union Army, and was assigned to command the 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. General Don Carlos Buell assigned Colonel Garfield the task of driving Confederate forces out of eastern Kentucky in November 1861, giving him the 18th Brigade for the campaign. In December, he departed Catlettsburg, Kentucky, with the 40th and 42nd Ohio and the 14th and 22nd Kentucky infantry regiments, as well as the 2nd (West) Virginia Cavalry and McLoughlin's Squadron of Cavalry. The march was uneventful until Union forces reached Paintsville, Kentucky, where Garfield's cavalry engaged the Confederate cavalry at Jenny's Creek on January 6, 1862. The Confederates, under Brig. Gen. Humphrey Marshall, withdrew to the forks of Middle Creek, two miles (3 km) from Prestonsburg, Kentucky, on the road to Virginia. Garfield attacked on January 9. At the end of the day's fighting, the Confederates withdrew from the field, but Garfield did not pursue them. He ordered a withdrawal to Prestonsburg so he could resupply his men. His victory brought him early recognition and a promotion to the rank of brigadier general on January 11.

Garfield served as a brigade commander under Buell at the Battle of Shiloh.[1] He then served under Thomas J. Wood in the subsequent Siege of Corinth. His health deteriorated and he was inactive until autumn, when he served on the commission investigating the conduct of Fitz John Porter. In the spring of 1863, Garfield returned to the field as Chief of Staff for William S. Rosecrans, commander of the Army of the Cumberland.

Later political career

In October 1862, while serving in the field, he was elected by the Republicans to the United States House of Representatives for Ohio's 19th Congressional District in the 38th Congress.[1] As Congress did not meet until December 1863, Garfield continued to serve with the army and was promoted to major general after the Battle of Chickamauga. He resigned his commission effective December 5, 1863 to take his seat in Congress. He succeeded in gaining re-election every two years up through 1878. In the House during the Civil War and the following Reconstruction era, he was one of the most hawkish Republicans.

In spite of his hawkishness, Garfield was one of three attorneys who argued for the petitioners in the famous Supreme Court case Ex parte Milligan (1866). The petitioners were pro-Confederate northerners who had been found guilty and sentenced to death by a military court for treasonous activities. The case turned on whether the defendants should have been tried in a civilian court instead. Garfield went on to plead other cases before the high court, but none was as high profile as his first argument before the Supreme Court in Milligan.

In 1872, he was one of many congressmen involved in the Crédit Mobilier of America scandal. Garfield denied the charges against him and it did not put too much of a strain on his political career since the actual impact of the scandal was difficult to determine. In 1876, when James G. Blaine moved from the House to the United States Senate, Garfield became the Republican floor leader of the House.

In 1876, Garfield was a Republican member of the Electoral Commission that awarded 22 hotly-contested electoral votes to Rutherford B. Hayes in his contest for the Presidency against Samuel J. Tilden. That year, he also purchased the property in Mentor that reporters later dubbed Lawnfield, and from which he would go on to conduct the first successful front porch campaign for the Presidency. The home is now maintained by the National Park Service as the James A. Garfield National Historic Site.

Election of 1880

See main article: 1880 Republican National Convention.

See main article: United States presidential election, 1880. In 1880, Garfield's life underwent tremendous change with the publication of the Morey letter, and the end of Democratic U.S. Senator Allen Granberry Thurman's term. In January the Ohio legislature, which had recently again come under Republican control, chose Garfield to fill Thurman's seat for the term beginning March 4, 1881.[6] However, at the Republican National Convention where Garfield supported Secretary of the Treasury John Sherman for the party's Presidential nomination, a long deadlock between the Grant and Blaine forces caused the delegates to look elsewhere for a compromise choice and on the 36th ballot Garfield was nominated. Virtually all of Blaine's and John Sherman's delegates broke ranks to vote for the dark horse nominee in the end. As it happened, the U.S. Senate seat to which Garfield had been chosen ultimately went to Sherman, whose Presidential candidacy Garfield had gone to the convention to support.

In the general election, Garfield defeated the Democratic candidate Winfield Scott Hancock, another distinguished former Union Army general, by 214 electoral votes to 155. (The popular vote had a plurality of 9,464 votes out of more than nine million cast; see U.S. presidential election, 1880.) He became the only man ever to be elected to the Presidency straight from the House of Representatives and was, for a short period, a sitting Representative, a Senator-elect, and President-elect. Technically, he was the first Senator to be elected President (Warren G. Harding was the second). However, Garfield never actually sat in the Senate, as the term was not scheduled to begin until 1881. Garfield resigned his other positions and accepted the Presidency. He took office as President on March 4, 1881.


Administration and Cabinet

Between his election and his inauguration, Garfield was occupied with constructing a cabinet that would balance all Republican factions. Blaine was rewarded with the State Department. William Windom of Minnesota was named secretary of the Treasury. The Navy Department was headed by William H. Hunt of Louisiana; the War Department by Robert Todd Lincoln; and the Interior Department by Iowa's Samuel J. Kirkwood. Wayne MacVeagh of Pennsylvania was asked to be Attorney General, and New York was represented by Postmaster General Thomas Lemuel James. This last appointment infuriated Garfield's Stalwart rival Roscoe Conkling, who demanded nothing less for his faction and his state than the Treasury Department. He was so insulted that he, in effect, declared war on the administration.

This unedifying squabble would consume the energies of the brief Garfield presidency. It overshadowed promising activities such as Blaine's efforts to build closer ties with Latin America, Postmaster General James's investigation of the "star route" postal frauds, and Windom's successful refinancing of the federal debt.

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. Conkling raised the time-honored principle of senatorial courtesy in attempting to defeat the nomination but to no avail. Finally he and his junior colleague, Thomas C. Platt, resigned their Senate seats to seek vindication, but they found only further humiliation when the New York legislature elected others in their places. Garfield's victory was complete. He had routed his foes, weakened the principle of senatorial courtesy, and revitalized the presidential office.[7]

President Garfield's only official social function made outside the White House was a visit to the Columbia Institution for the Deaf (later Gallaudet University) in May, 1881.[8]

President:James A. Garfield
President Date:1881
Vice President:Chester A. Arthur
Vice President Date:1881
State:James G. Blaine
State Date:1881
War:Robert Todd Lincoln
War Date:1881
Treasury:William Windom
Treasury Date:1881
Justice:Wayne MacVeagh
Justice Date:1881
Post:Thomas L. James
Post Date:1881
Navy:William H. Hunt
Navy Date:1881
Interior:Samuel J. Kirkwood
Interior Date:1881

Judicial appointments

Despite his short tenure in office, Garfield was able to appoint a Justice to the Supreme Court of the United States, and four other federal judges.

Supreme Court

Lower courts

JudgeCourtBegan active
Ended active
Don Albert PardeeFifth CircuitMay 13, 1881September 26, 1919[9]
Alexander BoarmanW.D.La.May 18, 1881August 30, 1916
Addison BrownS.D.N.Y.June 2, 1881[10] August 30, 1901
LeBaron Bradford ColtD.R.I.March 21, 1881July 23, 1884[11]


See main article: James A. Garfield assassination. Garfield had little time to savor his triumph. He was shot by Charles J. Guiteau, disgruntled by failed efforts to secure a federal post, on July 2, 1881, at 9:30 a.m. The President had been walking through the Sixth Street Station of the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad (a predecessor of the Pennsylvania Railroad) Washington, D.C., on his way to his alma mater, Williams College, where he was scheduled to deliver a speech, accompanied by Secretary of State James G. Blaine, Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln (son of Abraham Lincoln[12]) and two of his sons, James and Harry. The station was located on the southwest corner of present day Sixth Street Northwest and Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C., a site that is now occupied by the National Gallery of Art. As he was being arrested after the shooting, Guiteau repeatedly said, "I am a Stalwart of the Stalwarts! I did it and I want to be arrested! Arthur is President now!"[13] which briefly led to unfounded suspicions that Arthur or his supporters had put Guiteau up to the crime. (The Stalwarts strongly opposed Garfield's Half-Breeds; like many Vice Presidents, Arthur was chosen for political advantage, to placate his faction, rather than for skills or loyalty to his running-mate.) Guiteau was upset because of the rejection of his repeated attempts to be appointed as the United States consul in Paris - a position for which he had absolutely no qualifications. Garfield's assassination was instrumental to the passage of the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act on January 16, 1883.

One bullet grazed Garfield's arm; the second bullet lodged in his spine and could not be found, although scientists today think that the bullet was near his lung. Alexander Graham Bell devised a metal detector specifically for the purpose of finding the bullet, but the metal bed frame Garfield was lying on made the instrument malfunction. Because metal bed frames were relatively rare, the cause of the instrument's deviation was unknown at the time. Garfield became increasingly ill over a period of several weeks due to infection, which caused his heart to weaken. He remained bedridden in the White House with fevers and extreme pains. In early September, the ailing President was moved to the Jersey Shore in the vain hope that the fresh air and quiet there might aid his recovery. In a matter of hours, local residents put down a special rail spur for Garfield's train; some of the ties are now part of the Garfield Tea House. The beach cottage Garfield was taken to has been demolished.

Garfield died of a massive heart attack or a ruptured splenic artery aneurysm, following blood poisoning and bronchial pneumonia, at 10:35 p.m. on Monday, September 19, 1881, in the Elberon section of Long Branch, New Jersey. During the eighty days between his shooting and death, his only official act was to sign an extradition paper.

Most historians and medical experts now believe that Garfield probably would have survived his wound had the doctors attending him been more capable.[14] Several inserted their unsterilized fingers into the wound to probe for the bullet, and one doctor punctured Garfield's liver in doing so. This alone would not have brought about death as the liver is one of the few organs in the human body that can regenerate itself. However, this physician probably introduced Streptococcus bacteria into the President's body and that caused blood poisoning for which at that time there were no antibiotics.

Guiteau was found guilty of assassinating Garfield, despite his lawyers raising an insanity defense. He insisted that incompetent medical care had really killed the President. Although historians generally agree that poor medical care was a contributing factor, it was not a legal defense. Guiteau was sentenced to death, and was executed by hanging on June 30, 1882, in Washington, D.C.

Part of Charles Guiteau's preserved brain is on display at the Mütter Museum at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.[15] Guiteau's bones and more of his brain, along with Garfield's backbone and a couple of ribs, are kept at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, D.C. on the grounds of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.[16] Garfield was buried, with great solemnity, in a mausoleum in Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio.[17] The monument is decorated with five terra cotta bas relief panels by sculptor Caspar Buberl, depicting various stages in Garfield's life. In 1887, the James A. Garfield Monument was dedicated in Washington, D.C.

At the time of his death, Garfield was survived by his mother. He is one of only three presidents to have predeceased their mothers. The others were James K. Polk and John F. Kennedy.

The U.S. has twice had three presidents in the same year. The first such year was 1841. Martin Van Buren ended his single term, William Henry Harrison was inaugurated and died a month later, then Vice President John Tyler stepped into the vacant office. The second occurrence was in 1881. Rutherford B. Hayes relinquished the office to James A. Garfield. Upon Garfield's death, Chester A. Arthur became president.

Garfield in popular culture

-In the episode "Fast Times at Buddy Cianci High" in the show Family Guy, Brian Griffin says "Just like the Presidency of James Garfield!", after a student says something was corrupt.


James Garfield was featured on the series 1886 $20 Gold Certificate,[23] a currency note considered to be of moderate rarity and quite valuable to collectors.

Garfield Avenue in the suburb of Five Dock, Sydney, NSW, Australia is named after James A. Garfield, as is Garfield Street in the suburb of Brooklyn, Wellington, New Zealand.

Individual distinctions

See also

Further reading

External links

Retrieved on 2008-02-12

Notes and References

  1. Book: Reeves, Thomas C.. Gentleman Boss. Alfred A. Knopf. 1975. NY, NY. 164. 0-394-46095-2.
  2. Book: Conwell, Russell H.. Russell Conwell

    . The Life, Speeches, and Public Services of James A. Garfield. Russell Conwell. John Davis Long. 1881. 2009-01-22. B.B. Russell. Boston. 34, 53.

  3. http://www.deltau.org/default.aspx?action=Content&ContentId=1 Notable DUs
  4. Book: Peskin, Allan. Garfield. Kent State University Press. 1978. 45. 0873382102.
  5. Web site: Garfield, James A.. 2008-03-04. Encyclopædia Britannica's Guide to American Presidents. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc..
  6. State legislatures, not voters, chose U.S. senators until the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment.
  7. Garfield, James Abram. American National Biography, 2000, American Council of Learned Societies.
  8. Gallaudet, Edward Miner. History of the Columbia Institution for the Deaf.
  9. The old Fifth Circuit was abolished on June 16, 1891 in favor of the newly created United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, to which Pardee was assigned by operation of law, and on which he served until his death on September 26, 1919.
  10. Brown took office as a recess appointment, and was later confirmed by the United States Senate on October 14, 1881.
  11. Colt resigned from the District of Rhode Island after being elevated to the United States First Circuit Court by Chester A. Arthur.
  12. http://www.mrlincolnswhitehouse.org/inside.asp?ID=16&subjectID=2 Mr. Lincoln's Whitehouse: Robert Todd Lincoln
  13. Book: Doyle, Burton T.. Lives of James A. Garfield and Chester A. Arthur. Swaney, Homer H. 1881. R.H. Darby. Washington. 0104575468. 61.
  14. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/25/health/25garf.html A President Felled by an Assassin and 1880’s Medical Care
  15. Siera, J.J. "Come see Dead People at the Mutter Museum". Venue Magazine. Rowan University. Issue 41. Volume 2. URL retrieved February 19, 2007.
  16. Carlson, Peter. "Rest in Pieces". The Washington Post. January 24, 2006. Page C1. URL retrieved February 19, 2007.
  17. Vigil, Vicki Blum (2007). Cemeteries of Northeast Ohio: Stones, Symbols & Stories. Cleveland, OH: Gray & Company, Publishers. ISBN 978-1-59851-025-6
  18. [The Twilight Zone]
  19. Web site: The cat's meow. October 6, 2000. CNN. Gerrard. Hall.
  20. http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780345452047 In Dog Years I'd be Dead: Garfield at 25
  21. http://www.comic-book-and-strip-service.com/garfield.html Garfield
  22. http://www.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/8008 The Namesakes of 10 Legendary Drawn Characters
  23. Orzano, Michele. "Learning the language". Coin World. November 2, 2004. Retrieved May 9, 2007.
  24. http://www.smithsonianeducation.org/president/gallery/detail.cfm?prez_ID=20 James A. Garfield
  25. Web site: Sullivan. James. Chapter VI. Rensselaer County. The History of New York State, Book III. Lewis Historical Publishing Company. 1927. 2007-06-06.
  26. http://www.pbs.org/teachersource/mathline/concepts/president/activity2.shtm "Pythagoras and President Garfield"
  27. http://www.americanpresidents.org/presidents/president.asp?PresidentNumber=20 American Presidents: Life Portraits
  28. "Famous Descendants of Mayflower Passengers". Mayflower History. URL retrieved March 31, 2007.
  29. Borowitz, Alfred. "The Mayflower Murderer". The University of Texas at Austin. Tarlton Law Library. URL retrieved March 30, 2007.
  30. http://familytreemaker.genealogy.com/users/g/a/r/J-H-Garner/FILE/0141page.html#subj10000000 Genealogy Report: Ancestors of Pres. James Abram Garfield
  31. Book: Paletta, Lu Ann. Worth, Fred L. The World Almanac of Presidential Facts. World Almanac Books. 1988. 0345348885.