The New International Encyclopædia/Garfield, James Abram

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Edition of 1906.  See also James A. Garfield on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

GARFIELD, James Abram (1831-81). Twentieth President of the United States. He was born at Orange, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, November 19, 1831; was early left fatherless, and spent his youth in alternate periods of study at school and hard manual work for his own support. He worked on a farm; is said to have driven horses for a time on the Ohio Canal; learned the carpenter's trade, and worked at it during his school vacation in 1850. He had already entered the Geauga Seminary at Chester, Ohio, where he began the study of Latin, Greek, and algebra. In 1851 he entered the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (now Hiram College) at Hiram, Ohio, and in 1854 entered Williams College, Mass., where he graduated with distinguished honor in 1856. He then became teacher of Latin and Greek in the institute at Hiram, Ohio, of which he was elected the head one year later. Before entering college, he had united with the Disciples Church, in which he had been brought up, and, according to the usage of that denomination, though never formally ordained to the ministry, he often preached. In 1858 he entered his name as a student with a law firm in Cleveland, Ohio, though his study was carried on by himself at Hiram. Having taken some part as a Republican in the campaign of 1856, he was in 1859 elected to represent the counties of Portage and Summit in the State Senate. In August, 1861, he was appointed lieutenant-colonel of volunteers, and in September colonel. In December he reported for duty to General Buell at Louisville, Ky., and was ordered in command of a brigade of four regiments of infantry, to repel the Confederates under General Marshall from the valley of the Big Sandy River. He accomplished the task in January, 1862, defeating Marshall in the battle of Middle Creek, and forcing him to retreat from the State. He was commissioned brigadier-general, was placed in command of the Twentieth Brigade, and was ordered to join General Buell. He reached, with his brigade, the field of Shiloh on the second day of the battle, and aided in the final repulse of the enemy; and next day, at the front with Sherman, took part in the attack on the enemy's rear guard. He participated in the siege of Corinth, and, after its evacuation, was detailed to rebuild the railroad to Decatur. In October, 1862, he served on a court of inquiry, and in November on the court-martial which tried General Fitz-John Porter. In February, 1863, he joined the Army of the Cumberland under Rosecrans, just after the battle of Stone River, and was appointed chief of staff. In the discussion with regard to a forward movement, Garfield, as chief of staff, collated the written opinions of the seventeen corps, division, and cavalry generals, and summarized their substance with cogent arguments of his own. This report induced Rosecrans to move forward, contrary to the opinions of most of his generals, in the Tullahoma campaign, opening the way for the advance on Chattanooga. In the battle of Chickamauga, September 19th, Garfield issued the orders, as chief of staff, and after the retreat of the right of the army rode under fire across country, and took word to Thomas, commanding the left wing, of the necessities of the situation, and, under Thomas, assisted in retrieving the disaster. Garfield was sent to Washington with dispatches, and was promoted to be a major-general for his services in the battle.

Having been elected a Representative in Congress, he resigned his commission December 3, 1863, and took his seat in the House of Representatives, where he served as member of the Military Committee until the close of the war. Largely through his efforts and arguments, the commutation clause of the Enrollment Act was repealed, and the draft enforced at a time when otherwise the army would have been fatally depleted. Tn 1865 he was assigned to the Committee of Ways and Means, and on March 10, 1866, made an elaborate speech on the public debt and specie payments. In 1867-68, as also later, he took strong ground against the improper inflation of the currency. In December, 1867, he returned to the Military Committee as chairman, and held that place during the discussions on the reconstruction of the Southern States, delivering a speech January 17, 1868, on the power of Congress in this relation, in which he severely criticised the action of the President, and the course of Major-General Hancock in his celebrated ‘Order No. 40.’ He also sustained the motion to impeach the President. Later he was chairman of the Committee on Banking and Currency, and of a special committee to investigate the cause of the gold panic in September, 1869, which culminuted in the crisis of ‘Black Friday.’ He also draughted a bill for the taking of the census of 1870, which was rejected by Congress, but was made the basis of the law passed ten years later for the census of 1880. In 1871-75 he served as chairman of the Committee on Appropriations, and in this capacity introduced many important reforms. In 1873 charges of corruption were made against him in relation to the Crédit Mobilier (q.v.). These attracted attention throughout the country, and especially in his own Congressional district. After earnest discussion he was renominated by the three-fourths vote of the convention, and was reëlected by a large majority. The charges were renewed two years later, but were met with greater strength. In 1876 there was no opposition in the convention, and in 1878 he was reëlected by a large majority. In the Forty-fourth Congress (1875-77) the Democratic Party was in the majority. Garfield became a member of the Committee of Ways and Means. He was a frequent and careful speaker on important measures, and was recognized as one of the leaders of the minority. After the Presidential election of 1876, he was one of the prominent Republicans requested to witness the counting of votes in Louisiana, and one of two Republican members appointed by the House of Representatives to sit in the Electoral Commission (q.v.). In December, 1876, he was nominated by his party for Speaker of the House of Representatives, and received the same nomination on two subsequent occasions. In the Forty-fifth Congress (1877-79) he earnestly advocated the resumption of specie payments, and spoke against the Bland Silver Bill. In 1880 he was elected by the Ohio Legislature United States Senator for six years from March 4, 1881.

In the Republican national convention at Chicago, June, 1880, he was an earnest advocate of the nomination of John Sherman of Ohio. The convention was divided between the advocates of General Grant and the opposition favoring James G. Blaine, John Sherman, and others. Garfield was not at first considered a candidate, but after more than thirty ballots without a choice, and earnest discussion in which, as well as in the advocacy of his favorite candidate, he won the admiration of delegates from all sections, he received the nomination. In November he received 214 electoral votes as against 155 for his opponent on the Democratic ticket, Gen. Winfield S. Hancock, and was inaugurated on March 4, 1881. With the single exception of Robert T. Lincoln, Secretary of War, his Cabinet, headed by James G. Blaine, as Secretary of State, was drawn from that wing of the Republican Party of which Garfield himself was a member, and which antagonized the so-called ‘Stalwarts’ (q.v.), among whom the Vice-President, Arthur, ranked himself. Both in public and in private, however, Garfield had signified his earnest desire to unite all factions in support of his Administration, and the people in general were disposed to trust in his promises. On March 23d the President sent in the name of William H. Robertson as his appointee to the office of Collector of the Port of New York. As Mr. Robertson was known to be a political enemy of Senator Conkling, the leading spirit among the ‘Stalwarts,’ Conkling looked upon the nomination as an affront to himself, and when he found that he could not prevent the Senate from confirming it, he and his colleague, Thomas C. Platt, resigned their offices (May 16th) and returned to New York to seek vindication by reëlection. The New York Legislature, however, refused to reëelect either one, and after a long and tedious struggle Messrs. Lapham and Warner Miller were chosen in their stead. Meanwhile the President's nomination had been confirmed in the Senate, and the breach between the Stalwarts and the Administration was hopelessly widened. On July 2d Charles J. Guiteau, a man whose vanity had been offended by the refusal of an office, and whose unbalanced brain had been excited by the dissensions in the Republican Party, shot Garfield in the railway station at Washington. The crime excited the horror and execration of all parties alike; and foreign nations joined in the universal sorrow and indignation. For eighty days Garfield lingered between life and death. Toward the end of August his medical attendants felt that his last chance of recovery depended on his removal from the malarious climate of Washington, and on September 6th he was taken by train to Elberon, N. J., where he died thirteen days later, on the 19th. His body was taken to Washington, where it lay in state September 22d-23d, and then to Cleveland, Ohio, where it was buried, September 20th. A subscription started in New York for the bereaved family soon reached the sum of $360,000. The assassin Guiteau was convicted after a protracted trial in which the only defense offered was that of insanity, and was hanged in the jail at Washington on June 30, 1882.

Many of Garfield's speeches were published at the time of their delivery, and after his death B. A. Hinsdale collected his writings and published them in two volumes (Boston, 1882). For his biography, consult: Gilmore (New York, 1880); Collin (Boston, 1880); Bundy (New York, 1880); Mason (London, 1881); and Stoddard (New York, 1889).