The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Garfield, James Abram

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Edition of 1920. See also James A. Garfield on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

GARFIELD, James Abram, 20th President of the United States: b. Orange, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, 19 Nov. 1831; d. Elberon, N. J., 19 Sept. 1881. On his father's side he was of English Puritan descent; on his mother's, Huguenot. The father, a native of New York, settled in the “Western Reserve” in 1830 and died in 1833, leaving his widow with four small children, James being the youngest. Garfield's boyhood was passed amid the harsh but by no means destitute conditions of frontier life. He worked hard on the farm, helped in the support of the family, attended school three months each winter and read and reread every book which fell in his way. For a short time he was a driver and steersman on the Ohio Canal. Supporting himself chiefly by teaching, he studied successively at Geauga Seminary 1849, Eclectic Institute, Hiram, Ohio (now Hiram College), 1851-54, and Williams College, Mass., entering the junior class in 1854 and graduating with high honors in 1856. Returning to Ohio, he taught the classics at Hiram Institute 1856-57, and became its president 1857-59. Coincident with his teaching he studied law, was admitted to the bar in 1859 and, resigning his presidency, was elected to the Ohio State senate. The Civil War breaking out, he threw himself enthusiastically into the Northern cause, was commissioned lieutenant-colonel of the 42d Ohio and given command of a brigade, with orders to operate as an independent force in eastern Kentucky, December 1861. With a force of 1,100 men and no artillery he signally defeated 5,000 Confederates under the veteran general Humphrey Marshall, driving them from fortified positions of their own choosing, 10 Jan. 1862. For this exploit Lincoln promoted him brigadier-general. Subsequently he took part in the battle of Shiloh, in the operations around Corinth, and served with distinction on several courts-martial at Washington, one being that of Gen. Fitz-John Porter (q.v.). Appointed chief of staff to General Rosecrans, February 1863, his notable services at Chickamauga (see Chickamauga, Battle of) caused Lincoln to make him a major-general, 19 Sept. 1863. In 1862 his home district had elected him to Congress. Thus, within six years he had been president of a college, State senator, major-general and representative-elect, a combination of honors without parallel in the national annals. Upon the advice of Lincoln and Stanton he resigned his major-general's commission 5 Dec. 1863 and took his seat as a representative on December 7. In this field his talents and genius found their true sphere. He stepped to the front at once, taking a prominent part in every debate of importance and becoming an authority on questions of finance, tariff, education and constitutional rights. Always the champion of sound money, his speech in March 1866 clearly outlined the policy which resulted in the resumption of specie payments 1 Jan. 1879. An eminent contemporary has well said of Garfield's speeches, that they are a compendium of the political history of the time and would give a connected history and complete defense of the important legislation of the 17 eventful years that comprised his legislative career. He was eight times re-elected to Congress, serving on such important committees as those on military affairs and on ways and means, and was the first chairman of the Committee on Banking and Currency. In the Reconstruction period he steadily opposed the theories of President Johnson (see Johnson, Andrew); in 1876 he went to New Orleans at President Grant's request to watch the counting of the Louisiana vote, and in 1877 was chosen by acclamation one of the two members of the Electoral Commission allotted to the House of Representatives. In the 45th Congress Garfield displayed masterly qualities as a leader of opposition. His speech at Faneuil Hall, Boston, in 1878 on the national finances was circulated by thousands as a campaign document. On 13 Jan. 1880 the Ohio legislature unanimously elected him United States senator to succeed Hon. Allen G. Thurman (q.v.), and his last speech in Congress was delivered 23 April 1880. At the Republican National Convention at Chicago, 2-8 June 1880, he headed the Ohio delegation, nominated John Sherman (q.v.) for the Presidency, opposed the nomination of General Grant for a third term and was himself nominated on the 36th ballot as a compromise candidate. Contrary to all precedent, Garfield himself took part in the campaign that followed, making some 70 speeches in all, chiefly extemporaneous. At the November election he received 214 electoral votes to 155 given his Democratic opponent, General Hancock. The first months of Garfield's administration were disturbed by the opposition of the New York senators to certain of his appointments. Senators Conkling and Platt claimed the right to control the Presidential appointments in their State. This the President refused to concede. The senators resigned and appealed to their legislature to vindicate their attitude by a re-election, but failed to get it. On the morning of 2 July 1881, while in the Baltimore and Potomac station at Washington, on his way to New England, where he intended to deliver the commencement address at Williams College, President Garfield was shot by Charles Jules Guiteau (q.v.), a disappointed office-seeker. For weeks he lingered between life and death, suffering the greatest agony but bearing it with a magnificent fortitude that won the admiration and sympathy of the civilized world. A removal to Elberon, N. J., in the hope that the sea air might benefit him was of no avail. Blood poisoning set in on 15 September and he died on the 19th at 10.30 P.M. In February 1882 an impressive memorial service was held in the House of Representatives, the Hon. James G. Blaine delivering a commemorative address, which for eloquence, dignity and truth has rarely been equaled on such occasions. Garfield's body lies in a beautiful cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio, a stately monument marking the spot. His life was the fullest realization of the opportunities of American citizenship. Rising from nothing, by his own exertions he won high places in various spheres and filled them all adequately and with dignity. His ‘Works’ have been edited by Prof. B. A. Hinsdale (Boston 1882-83). Consult Hinsdale, ‘President Garfield and Education’ (Boston 1882).

W. N. C. Carlton,
Librarian, Newberry Library, Chicago.

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Twentieth President of the United States