James Abram Garfield
(November 19, 1831 September
19, 1881) was the 20th President of the United
. His death, 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
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
as a member of the Electoral Commission
. Garfield was the second U.S. President to be
assassinated; Abraham Lincoln
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
Garfield at age 16
Birthplace of James Garfield
was born of Welsh ancestry on
November 19, 1831 in a log cabin in
Orange Township, now Moreland Hills, Ohio.
The Garfield homestead
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
College) in Hiram,
Ohio. He then transferred to Williams College in Williamstown,
Massachusetts, where he was a brother of Delta Upsilon fraternity.
in 1856 as an outstanding student who enjoyed all subjects except
preaching a short time at Franklin Circle Christian Church
(1857â€“58), Garfield ruled out preaching and considered a job as
principal of a high school in Poestenkill, New
After losing that job to another applicant,
he taught at the Eclectic Institute. Garfield was an instructor in
1856â€“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 (1860â€“63);
Harry Augustus Garfield
(1863â€“1942); James Rudolph
(1865â€“1950); Mary Garfield (1867â€“1947); Irvin M.
Garfield (1870â€“1951); Abram Garfield (1872â€“1958); and Edward
Garfield (1874â€“76). One son, James R. Garfield, followed him into
politics and became Secretary of the
under President Theodore
. In the mid-1860s, Garfield had an affair with
, 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 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.
He was a Republican
all his political life.
Garfield as a Brigadier General during
the Civil War
With the start of the Civil War
Garfield enlisted in the Union Army
was assigned to command the 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry.
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.
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, 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 Prestonsburg so he could resupply his men.
brought him early recognition and a promotion to the rank of
brigadier general on January 11.
served as a brigade commander under Buell at the Battle of
He then served under Thomas J. Wood in the
subsequent Siege of
His health deteriorated and he was inactive
until autumn, when he served on the commission investigating the
of Fitz John Porter
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
In October 1862, while serving in the field, he was elected by the
Republicans to the United States House of
for Ohio's 19th Congressional District in the
. 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 was re-elected
every two years, from 1864 through 1878. In the House during the
Civil War and the following Reconstruction
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
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
In 1872, he was one of many congressmen involved in the CrÃ©dit Mobilier of
. 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
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
reporters later dubbed Lawnfield, 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
National Historic Site.
Election of 1880
In 1880, Garfield's life underwent tremendous change with the
publication of the Morey letter
the end of Democratic
U.S. Senator Allen Granberry
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
where Garfield supported Secretary of the Treasury
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,
.) 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.
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,
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,
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
Industries Building, of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C.
Administration and Cabinet
Official White House portrait of James
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
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
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
" 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.
Garfield's only official social function made outside the White
House was a visit to the Columbia Institution for the Deaf (later
University) in May 1881.
President Garfield and family
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.
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., 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,
. 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 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
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 Parisâ€”a position
for which he had absolutely no qualifications.
assassination was instrumental to the passage of the Pendleton Civil Service
on January 16, 1883.
Doctors discuss Garfield's
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
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
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
The beach cottage Garfield was taken to has
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.
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
Dr. D. W. Bliss, Garfield's chief doctor, recorded the
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
bacteria into the
President's body and that caused blood
for which at that time there were no
Guiteau was found guilty of assassinating Garfield, despite his
lawyers raising an insanity
. 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.
Charles Guiteau's preserved brain is on display at the MÃ¼tter
Museum 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
Medicine in Washington, D.C. on the grounds of the Walter Reed
Army Medical Center.
was buried, with great solemnity, in a mausoleum in Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio.
The monument is decorated with five
panels by sculptor Caspar
, 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 cenotaph to him is located in Miners Union Cemetery in Bodie,
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.
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
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
- 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.
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
Assassination of 1963.
- The cartoon cat Garfield is
named for artist Jim Davis'
grandfather James A. Garfield Davis, who in turn was named for
- 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
- Daily Show host Jon Stewart
portrayed Garfield in the audiobook version of Assassination Vacation by
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.
Avenue in the suburb of Five
Dock, Sydney, New South
Wales, Australia is named after
James A. Garfield, as is Garfield Street in Chelsea,
Michigan, and the suburb of Brooklyn, Wellington, New
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 Larned. Garfield City is now known as Garfield,
Kansas and had a population of under two hundred people at
sandstone statue of Garfield was dedicated in May 2009 on the
campus of Hiram
A week later, the statue was decapitated
. The missing head was recovered in July
James A. Garfield School District is located in
Garrettsville, Ohio, 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.
- Garfield was a minister and an elder for the Church of Christ
(Christian Church), making him the firstâ€”and to date, onlyâ€”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
- 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
- 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
- Garfield juggled Indian clubs to
build his muscles.
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. 164â€“173.
- 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
Retrieved on February 12, 2008