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James A. Garfield

James A. Garfield
James A. Garfield
Order: 20th President
Term of Office: March 4, 1881 - September 19, 1881
Followed: Rutherford B. Hayes
Succeeded by: Chester A. Arthur
Date of Birth November 19, 1831
Place of Birth: Orange, Ohio
Date of Death: September 19, 1881
Place of Death: Elberon (Long Branch), New Jersey
First Lady: Lucretia Garfield
Occupation: teacher
Political Party: Republican
Vice President: Chester A. Arthur

James Abram Garfield (November 19, 1831 - September 19, 1881) was the 20th (1881) President of the United States, the first left-handed President, and the second U.S. President to be assassinated.

His term was the second shortest in US history, just above William Henry Harrison's. Holding office from March to September of 1881, he was in power for a total of six months and 15 days.


Early life

He was born in Orange, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, southeast of Cleveland to Abram Garfield and Eliza Ballou. He was named for his older brother James Ballou Garfield, who died in infancy, and his father who died in 1833, when James Abram was 18 months old. He grew up cared for by his mother and an uncle.

From 1851-1854 he attended the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (later named Hiram College) in Hiram, Ohio. He then transferred to Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, from which he graduated in 1856, as an outstanding student who enjoyed all subjects except chemistry. He then taught at the Eclectic Institute. He was an instructor in classical languages for the 1856-1857 year, and was made president of the Institute from 1857 to 1860. (The ambidextrous Garfield could simultaneously write in Greek with one hand and in Latin with the other).

On November 11, 1858, he married Lucretia Randolph. They had five children. A son, James Rudolph Garfield , followed him into politics and became Secretary of the Interior under Theodore Roosevelt.

Garfield decided that being an academician was not his desire, and studied law privately, becoming admitted to the bar in Ohio in 1860. Even before admission to the bar, he entered politics, becoming an Ohio state senator in 1859, serving until 1861. He was an enthusiastic Republican all his political life.

He notably found a new proof for the Pythagorean theorem in 1876.

Military career

With the start of the Civil War, Garfield entered the Union Army. He took command of the 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Gen. Don Carlos Buell assigned Garfield the task of driving the Confederate forces out of Eastern Kentucky in November, 1861. He was given the 18th Brigade for the campaign. In December, he departed Catlettsburg, Kentucky with the 40th and 42nd Ohio Infantries, the 14th and 22nd Kentucky Infantries, along with the 2nd (West) Virginia Cavalry and McLoughlin's Squadron of Cavalry. The march was uneventful until reaching Paintsville, Kentucky, where his cavalry engaged the Confederate cavalry at Jenny's Creek on Jan. 6th, 1862. The Confederate withdrew to the forks of Middle Creek, two miles from Prestonsburg, Kentucky on the road to Virginia. Garfield attacked on Jan. 9th. At the end of the day's fighting, the Confederates withdrew from the field. Garfield did not pursue them. He ordered a withdraw to Prestonsburg so he could resupply his men. His victory brought early recognition to him.

He was transferred in April to the west in time to participate in the Battle of Shiloh. He also fought at Chickamuaga , eventually reaching the rank of major general.

Later political career


In 1863, he re-entered politics, being elected to the House of Representatives that year. He succeeded in gaining re-election every two years up until 1878. In the House of Representatives during the Civil War period and the following Reconstruction Era, he was one of the most hawkish Republicans, seeking to defeat and later weaken the South at every opportunity. In 1876, when James G. Blaine moved from the House to the Senate, Garfield became the Republican floor leader of the House.

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


In 1880, Garfield's life underwent tremendous change. It began with the impending end of Democratic Senator Allen Granberry Thurman's term. The Ohio legislature, which had recently come under Republican control, chose Garfield as his replacement, commencing in 1881. He would never serve a day in the Senate however.

Later that year at their presidential nominating convention, the Republicans were split between former President Ulysses S. Grant, Maine's James Gillespie Blaine, and Secretary of the Treasury John Sherman, a fellow Ohioan. Garfield strongly supported Sherman and made a speech formally nominating him, but early balloting it was clear Sherman would not be the nominee.

With neither Grant, Blaine nor Sherman able to win a majority of delegates after the first day of balloting, on the first ballot of the second day (and 34th overall) Wisconsin's delegation suddenly shifted all its votes to Garfield, who was aghast at the thought that he might be trying to thwart his friend Sherman's effort. The 35th ballot saw a greater groundswell of support from the former Blaine and Sherman supporters (Grant's supporters remained unanimously behind the former President), and on the 36th ballot Garfield was nominated - virtually all of Blaine and Sherman's delegates breaking ranks to vote for the dark horse nominee. Ironically, the Senate seat to which Garfield had been chosen ultimately went to John Sherman, whose presidential candidacy Garfield had gone to the convention to support.

Garfield defeated the Democratic candidate, Censored page, by 214 electoral votes to 155. (The popular vote was much closer; see U.S. presidential election, 1880.) He took office on March 4, 1881. During his administration Garfield did his best to mediate intra-Republican Party infighting. Garfield was a leader of the "Half-Breeds," who supported civil service reform and Hayes' relatively lenient treatment of the South. His Vice President Chester A. Arthur was a member of the "Stalwarts," which advocated the retention of the patronage system and a tougher stance regarding the former Confederate states.


President James A. Garfield 1881
Vice President Chester A. Arthur 1881
Secretary of State James G. Blaine 1881
Secretary of the Treasury William Windom 1881
Secretary of War Robert T. Lincoln 1881
Attorney General Wayne MacVeagh 1881
Postmaster General Thomas L. James 1881
Secretary of the Navy William H. Hunt 1881
Secretary of the Interior Samuel J. Kirkwood 1881

Supreme Court appointments

Garfield appointed the following Justices to the Supreme Court of the United States:


President Garfield's assassination depicted in engraving from 1881 newspaper.
President Garfield's assassination depicted in engraving from 1881 newspaper.

Garfield was shot by Charles J. Guiteau on July 2, 1881, just a few months after taking office. Guiteau, who stated "I am a Stalwart and Arthur is President now.," was apparently upset by being passed over as the United States consul in Paris. One of the bullets that struck Garfield lodged in his back and could not be found. (Alexander Graham Bell devised a metal detector in an attempt to find the bullet, but the metal bedframe he was lying on confused the instrument, which was not realized at the time, bedframes being very rare.) He became increasingly ill over a period of several months because of infection and died 80 days after he was shot, on September 19, 1881 in Elberon, New Jersey. Garfield probably would have lived if the doctors had not done such things as stick their unsterilized fingers into the wound probing for the bullet, one doctor having punctured his liver doing so. Guiteau was found guilty of assassination despite claiming an insanity defense and sentenced to death by hanging in 1882. He was hanged June 30, 1882 in Washington, D.C.

Places named for James Garfield

Related articles

External links

  • Official biography
  • Inaugural Address
  • Article about assassination and "treatment" by doctors
  • Encarta
  • Raw Deal
  • MathWorld: Pythagorean Theorem
  • Biography from John T. Brown's Churches of Christ (1904)
  • James A Garfield National Historic Site

Preceded by:
Rutherford B. Hayes
President of the United States
Succeeded by:
Chester A. Arthur

Preceded by:
Rutherford B. Hayes
Republican Party Presidential candidate
1880 (won)
Followed by:
James G. Blaine

Last updated: 02-07-2005 00:58:02
Last updated: 05-01-2005 03:36:34