James Garfield, 20th President of the United States

“A brave man is a man who dares to look the Devil in the face and tell him he is a Devil.” He was the only preacher to serve as president. He was ambidextrous, as well as multilingual, and could even write Greek with one hand while writing Latin with the other! He was also the only person to ever be a congressman, a senator-elect, and a president-elect at the same time. He is James Abram Garfield, 20th President of the United States, serving from March 4, 1881, until September 19, 1881. James was born in a log cabin on November 19, 1831, in Orange Township, Ohio. He was the last of six Presidents born in a log cabin. His father died when he was young and James largely grew up in poverty. He developed a love for reading to avoid other children ridiculing him. James excelled in his academic studies, when he finally started at 17! Jame went on to attend Geauga Academy, becoming an instructor and administrator. He went on to attend Western Reserve Eclectic Institute, now called Hiram College, before moving onto Williams College, where he graduated in 1856 as salutatorian. While in college, James taught and also worked as a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) circuit preacher, after experiencing a religious awakening as a teenager. He met Lucretia Rudolph at Geauga Academy and the two eventually married on November 11, 1858. Together they had seven children, five of which survived into adulthood.

Following his graduation for Williams College in Massachusetts, James returned to Hiram in Ohio to teach, being made president in 1857. While at Williams, James had begun to engage in politics and felt stifled by the opportunities in education. Instead, James began to seek a career in politics, while also studying law. James' first foray into politics was being elected to the state senate in 1859.


In 1861, James left the senate and became a lieutenant colonel in the Union Army. He was soon promoted to brigadier general and was at the Battle of Shiloh in 1862. That summer, James was struck with jaundice and lost a significant amount of weight, forcing him to return home to be nursed back to health. His return to the military was delayed until January 1863, where he was appointed Chief of Staff to Major General William S. Rosecrans, where he held more responsibility than most chief of staffs. Due to James’ actions at the Battle of Chickamauga, he was promoted to major general, which he later resigned in order to take a seat in the US House of Representatives.


In 1862, while recovering from jaundice, James won a seat in Congress. He took his seat in December of 1863. James became opposed to moderates, such as Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Jackson, and became known as an excellent speaker. He supported abolition, even though it made him uneasy, and the exile or execution of rebellion leaders. He also supportive equal rights regardless of color of skin. James advocated against an individual being able to buy their way out of military service, leading to the passage of a conscription bill which excluded this flaw.


In 1865, James began practicing law in order to improve his personal finances. This practice led him to Wall Street the day following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, where he made an impromptu speech. Although lukewarm about Lincoln during his presidency, James offered praise for the President following his assassination.


In 1879, during his ninth term as a Representative, James was recommended by President Hayes to run for Governor of Ohio, however James preferred to run for the senate, which he won in 1880, however, his term was not to start until February 1881. Following the election, James denied any interest in obtaining the presidency and was committed to supporting John Sherman for president. When the delegates reached a deadlock, James was nominated as a tie-breaker. Surprisingly, he ended up receiving the nomination, with Chester Arthur as his running mate.


James was the only president to be elected directly from the House of Representatives. James was sworn into office on March 4, 1881. Even prior to his nomination, there were fractures within the Republican party and James had to work hard to appease all. During his time as president, James advocated against the spoils system, championed civil rights, and recommended a government funded education program to empower African Americans. He also appointed former slaves to prominent government positions. In addition, James worked to reform the Post Office Department, which was ripe with corruption and profiteering, and the US Navy.


James had little foreign policy experience prior to his election as president, causing him to rely heavily on his advisors. James supported free trade and believed it was important to develop good relations with their southern neighbors. James also worked for peace between the warring nations of Chile, Bolivia, and Peru. He also supported the US construction of the Panama Canal.


Four months after being sworn in, on July 2, 1881, James was shot at the Sixth Street Station of the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad in Washington DC by Charles J. Guiteau, who had stalked the president for nearly a month after being denied a meeting with him, and being denied a high level foreign consulship. (The assassination of President Lincoln was considered a fluke due to the civil war and it was deemed unnecessary for the presidents to be protected, with their movements and plans often printed in newspapers.) One bullet grazed James’ arm, while a second bullet lodged behind his pancreas, and was only later found during the autopsy. Robert Todd Lincoln, son of Abraham Lincoln, was at the station and witnessed his second shooting of a president. Charles was arrested, convicted, sentenced to death, and executed on June 30, 1882.


Alexander Graham Bell had developed a primitive metal detector and attempted to locate the bullet, however, it is believed that the metal springs in the bed distorted the image. James survived his injury for 11 weeks. During those 11 weeks, after an initial apparent recovery, James became increasingly weaker, was unable to govern, and in severe pain. It is believed that James had blood poisoning as a result of his doctor probing his wound with unsterilized hands and instruments. During his illness, the first successful air conditioner was installed in the White House in an attempt to cool James and help relive his pain. James was moved to Elberon, New Jersey to escape the heat on September 5, 1881. At 10:35 pm, on September 18, 1881, James died in Elberon at the age of 49.


Chester Arthur succeeded James as President of the United States. Following the death of James, the Secret Service began guarding the presidents.


Happy Birthday Mr. President!


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