James Garfield Biography
A biography about our twentieth president: when and how long he was in office, what he accomplished while he was in office.
James Garfield 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 graduated from Williams College in Massachusetts in 1856, and he returned to the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute in Ohio as a classics professor. Within a year he was made president of the school.
Garfield was elected to the Ohio Senate in 1859 as a Republican. In 1862, when Union military victories had been few, he successfully led a brigade at Middle Creek, Kentucky against Confederate troops. At 31, Garfield became a brigadier general and two years later a major general of volunteers.
Meanwhile, in 1862, Ohio voters 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 House. 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 nominee. By a margin of only 10,000 popular votes, Garfield defeated the Democratic nominee, General Winfield Scott Hancock.
As President, Garfield strengthened Federal authority over the New York Customs House. 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
senator." Conkling maneuvered to have the Senate confirm Garfield's uncontested nominations. 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. 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 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.
James A Garfield served only in 1881.