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James Abram Garfield (November 19, 1831 September 19, 1881) was the 20th President of the United States. His deathmarker, two months after being shot and six months after his inauguration, made his tenure, at 199 days, the second shortest (after William Henry Harrison) in United Statesmarker 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 at age 16
Birthplace of James Garfield
The Garfield homestead
Garfield was born of Welshmarker ancestry on November 19, 1831 in a log cabin in Orange Townshipmarker, now Moreland Hills, Ohiomarker. His father, Abram Garfield, died in 1833, when James Abram was 17 months old. He was brought up and cared for by his mother, Eliza Ballou, sisters, and an uncle.

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 Collegemarker) in Hiram, Ohiomarker. He then transferred to Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusettsmarker, where he was a brother of Delta Upsilon fraternity. 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 Yorkmarker. 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.

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

Military career

Garfield as a Brigadier General during the Civil War
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 Kentuckymarker in November 1861, giving him the 18th Brigade for the campaign. In December, he departed Catlettsburg, Kentuckymarker, 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, Kentuckymarker, 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, Kentuckymarker, on the road to Virginiamarker. Garfield attacked on January 9, 1862. 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 Prestonsburgmarker 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 Shilohmarker. He then served under Thomas J. Wood in the subsequent Siege of Corinthmarker. 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

Garfield's large Lawnfield estate
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. 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 Chickamaugamarker. He resigned his commission, effective December 5, 1863, to take his seat in Congress. He was re-elected every two years, from 1864 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 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. 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 Mentormarker that reporters later dubbed Lawnfieldmarker, and from which he would conduct the first successful front porch campaign for the presidency. The home is now maintained by the National Park Service as the James A.marker Garfield National Historic Sitemarker.

Election of 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. 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 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.


Inaugural address

Snow covered much of the Capitol grounds during Garfield's inaugural address with a low turn out, about 7,000 people, who came to inauguration. Garfield was sworn into office by Chief Justice Morrison Waite on Friday, March 4, 1881.

Inaugural parade and ball

John Philip Sousa led Marine Corps band both the inaugural parade and ball. The ball was held in the National Museum, now the Arts and Industries Buildingmarker, of the Smithsonian Institutionmarker in Washington D.C.marker

Administration and Cabinet

Official White House portrait of James Garfield
Between his election and his inauguration, Garfield was occupied with constructing a cabinet that would balance all Republican factions. He rewarded Blaine by appointing him Secretary of State. He also 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, Samuel J. Kirkwood of Iowa as Secretary of the Interior. He appointed Wayne MacVeagh of Pennsylvania Attorney General. New York was represented by Thomas Lemuel James as Postmaster General.

This last appointment infuriated Garfield's Stalwart rival Roscoe Conkling, who demanded nothing less for his faction and his state than the Treasury Department. The resulting squabble consumed 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.

President Garfield's only official social function made outside the White House was a visit to the Columbia Institution for the Deaf (later Gallaudet Universitymarker) in May 1881.
President Garfield and family

Judicial appointments

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

Supreme Court

Judge Seat State Began active

Ended active

Stanley Matthews seat 6 Ohiomarker 18810512May 12, 1881 18890322March 22, 1889

Lower courts

Judge Court Began active

Ended active


W.D. La.


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) in Washington, D.C.marker, 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) 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 now occupied by the West Building of the National Gallery of Artmarker. 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!" 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-Breed; 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 Parismarker—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.

Doctors discuss Garfield's wounds.
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 to find 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. On September 6, 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 Housemarker. 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 Elberonmarker section of Long Branch, New Jerseymarker. The wounded President died exactly two months before his 50th birthday. During the eighty days between his shooting and death, his only official act was to sign an extradition paper.

Dr. D. W. Bliss, Garfield's chief doctor, recorded the following:

Most historians and medical experts now believe that Garfield probably would have survived his wound had the doctors attending him been more capable. 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 caused 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 an element, 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 Museummarker at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. 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 Medicinemarker in Washington, D.C. on the grounds of the Walter Reed Army Medical Centermarker.

Garfield was buried, with great solemnity, in a mausoleum in Lake View Cemeterymarker in Cleveland, Ohiomarker. The monument is decorated with five terracotta bas relief panels by sculptor Caspar Buberl, depicting various stages in Garfield's life. Originally, he was interred in a temporary brick vault in the same cemetery. In 1887, the James A. Garfield Monument was dedicated in Washington, D.C. A cenotaphmarker to him is located in Miners Union Cemetery in Bodie, Californiamarker.

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

  • Garfield's assassination is mentioned in the Johnny Cash tune, "Mister Garfield (Has Been Shot Down)" according to the album sleeve written by J. Elliot, released in 1965 by Columbia Records, and re-recorded for the 1972 album America - A 200 Year Salute in Story And Song; as well as in "Charles Guiteau" by Kelly Harrell & the Virginia String Band as included in the Anthology of American Folk Music.
  • In the 1992 film Unforgiven, set in 1881, the character English Bob mocks his (American) fellow travelers for the murder of President Garfield, comparing the republican system of government unfavorably with the monarchical. "If you were to point a pistol at a king or a queen your hand would shake as though palsied. The very sight of royalty would dismiss all thoughts of bloodshed and you would stand, how shall I put it? In awe. Now, a president? Well, I mean, why not shoot a president?"
  • Stephen Sondheim's musical Assassins includes the story of Charles J. Guiteau and his assassination of Garfield and features a song, "The Ballad of Guiteau."
  • The Twilight Zone original episode "No Time Like the Past", features the main character, Paul Driscoll, traveling back in time to stop various events in history. One event he revisits is the assassination of James Garfield.
  • The Spaghetti Western The Price of Power (1969) features Van Johnson as Garfield, and his assassination figures prominently in the film's plot; however, the setting of the assassination is relocated to Dallas, and the killing itself is clearly modeled after the Kennedy Assassinationmarker of 1963.
  • The cartoon cat Garfield is named for artist Jim Davis' grandfather James A. Garfield Davis, who in turn was named for president Garfield.
  • Berkeley Breathed's Bloom County comic strip once featured a Garfield comic strip based around President Garfield. A diminutive Garfield told Jon to shut up, because "Presidents don't respond on Mondays."
  • In a Daily Show segment with John Hodgman, cartoon cat Garfield is interchanged with President Garfield in a picture showing Garfield's assassination and the cartoon character's caption "I hate Mondays."
  • Daily Show host Jon Stewart portrayed Garfield in the audiobook version of Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell.


Hiram College, Ohio, hosts the Garfield Institute for Public Leadership. Drawing upon James Garfield's legacy as a citizen-soldier and leader, the Garfield Institute prepares students to assume the responsibilities of public leadership by developing expertise in matters of public policy, foreign and domestic, grounded in Hiram's traditional liberal arts education. The Garfield Institute offers an interdisciplinary minor, with tracks in domestic public leadership, foreign policy and international leadership. The Institute also provides the Garfield Scholars program through which a select group of students actively participate in the Garfield Seminars, engage public leaders on and off campus, and demonstrate scholarship. The objective of the Garfield Scholars program is to provide students with opportunities to develop intellectual and social skills for careers in public leadership and scholarship related to public policy and international relations. The former Mecca Church, where James Garfield is believed to have spoken, was purchased and moved to the current site, and serves as the residence for the Garfield Institute for Public Leadership. The Center's twenty-four competitively selected Garfield Student Scholars will study and work in the building with their professors whose offices will be located in a newly designed lower level.

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

Garfield Avenue in the suburb of Five Dockmarker, Sydneymarker, New South Walesmarker, Australia is named after James A. Garfield, as is Garfield Street in Chelsea, Michiganmarker, and the suburb of Brooklyn, Wellington, New Zealand.

Upon officially becoming a town, a Kansas settlement that went by the name Camp Riley renamed itself Garfield City to pay tribute to the politician, who once visited the settlement during military duty at the nearby Fort Larnedmarker. Garfield City is now known as Garfield, Kansasmarker and had a population of under two hundred people at the 2000 census.

A sandstone statue of Garfield was dedicated in May 2009 on the campus of Hiram Collegemarker. A week later, the statue was decapitated by vandals. The missing head was recovered in July 2009.

James A. Garfield School District is located in Garrettsville, Ohiomarker, about 5 miles east of Hiram College, where Garfield studied, taught and later became president in 1857 at the age of 26. The district consists of 1,580 students in grades kindergarten through 12.

Individual distinctions

  • Garfield was a minister and an elder for the Church of Christ (Christian Church), making him the first—and to date, only—member of the clergy to serve as President. He is also claimed as a member of the Disciples of Christ, as the different branches did not split until the 20th century. Garfield preached his first sermon in Poestenkill, New Yorkmarker.
  • Garfield is the only person in U.S. history to be a Representative, Senator-elect, and President-elect at the same time. To date, he is the only Representative to be directly elected President of the United States.
  • In 1876, Garfield discovered a novel proof of the Pythagorean Theorem using a trapezoid while serving as a member of the House of Representatives.
  • Garfield was the first ambidextrous president. It was said that one could ask him a question in English and he could simultaneously write the answer in Latin with one hand, and Ancient Greek with the other.
  • Garfield was a descendant of Mayflower passenger John Billington through his son Francis, another Mayflower passenger. John Billington was convicted of murder at Plymouth Mass. 1630.
  • Garfield was related to Owen Tudor, and both were descendents of Rhys ap Tewdwr.
  • Garfield juggled Indian clubs to build his muscles.

See also

Further reading

President Garfield's Death Site, Long Branch, New Jersey
  • Ackerman, Kenneth D. Dark Horse: The Surprise Election and Political Murder of James A. Garfield, Avalon Publishing, 2004. ISBN 0786713968

  • Freemon, Frank R., 2001: Gangrene and glory: medical care during the American Civil War; Urbana: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0252070100

  • Peskin, Allan "James A. Garfield: Supreme Court Counsel" in Gross, Norman, ed., America's Lawyer-Presidents: From Law Office to Oval Office, Chicago: Northwestern University Press and the American Bar Association Museum of Law, 2004, pp. 164–173. ISBN 0810112183

  • King, Lester Snow: 1991 Transformations in American Medicine : from Benjamin Rush to William Osler / Lester S. King. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, c1991. ISBN 0801840570

  • Peskin, Allan Garfield: A Biography, The Kent State University Press, 1978. ISBN 0873382102

  • Vowell, Sarah "Assassination Vacation", Simon & Schuster, 2005 ISBN 074326004X


External links

 Retrieved on February 12, 2008

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