James A. Garfield
Born: November 19, 1831, in Orange, Ohio
Died: September 19, 1881, in Elbberon,
New Jersey after being shot July 2 in Washington D.C.
Married to Lucretia
As the last of the log cabin Presidents, James A. Garfield
attacked political corruption and won back for the Presidency a measure
of prestige it had lost during the Reconstruction period.
He was born in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, in 1831. Fatherless at two, he
later drove canal boat teams, somehow earning enough money for an education.
He was graduated from Williams College in Massachusetts in 1856, and
he returned to the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (later Hiram College)
in Ohio as a classics professor. Within a year he was made its president.
Garfield was elected to the Ohio Senate in 1859 as a Republican. During
the secession crisis, he advocated coercing the seceding states back
into the Union.
In 1862, when Union military victories had been few,
he successfully led a brigade at Middle Creek, Kentucky, against Confederate
At 31, Garfield became a brigadier general, two years later a major general
Meanwhile, in 1862, Ohioans elected him to Congress. President Lincoln
persuaded him to resign his commission: It was easier to find major generals
than to obtain effective Republicans for Congress. Garfield repeatedly
won re-election for 18 years, and became the leading Republican in the
At the 1880 Republican Convention, Garfield failed to win the Presidential
nomination for his friend John Sherman. Finally, on the 36th ballot,
Garfield himself became the "dark horse" nominee.
By a margin of only 10,000 popular votes, Garfield defeated the Democratic
nominee, Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock.
As President, Garfield strengthened Federal authority over the New York
Customs House, stronghold of Senator Roscoe Conkling, who was leader
of the Stalwart Republicans and dispenser of patronage in New York. When
Garfield submitted to the Senate a list of appointments including many
of Conkling's friends, he named Conkling's arch-rival William H. Robertson
to run the Customs House. Conkling contested the nomination, tried to
persuade the Senate to block it, and appealed to the Republican caucus
to compel its withdrawal.
But Garfield would not submit: "This...will settle the question
whether the President is registering clerk of the Senate or the Executive
of the United States.... shall the principal port of entry ... be under
the control of the administration or under the local control of a factional
Conkling maneuvered to have the Senate confirm Garfield's uncontested
nominations and adjourn without acting on Robertson. Garfield countered
by withdrawing all nominations except Robertson's; the Senators would
have to confirm him or sacrifice all the appointments of Conkling's friends.
In a final desperate move, Conkling and his fellow-Senator from New
York resigned, confident that their legislature would vindicate their
stand and re-elect them. Instead, the legislature elected two other men;
the Senate confirmed Robertson. Garfield's victory was complete.
In foreign affairs, Garfield's Secretary of State invited all American
republics to a conference to meet in Washington in 1882. But the conference
never took place. On July 2, 1881, in a Washington railroad station,
an embittered attorney who had sought a consular post shot the President.
Mortally wounded, Garfield lay in the White House for weeks. Alexander
Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, tried unsuccessfully to find
the bullet with an induction-balance electrical device which he had designed.
On September 6, Garfield was taken to the New Jersey seaside. For a few
days he seemed to be recuperating, but on September 19, 1881, he died
from an infection and internal hemorrhage.