James Abram Garfield
James Abram Garfield, photo portrait seated.jpg

In office
March 4, 1881 – September 19, 1881
Vice President Chester A. Arthur
Preceded by Rutherford B. Hayes
Succeeded by Chester A. Arthur

In office
1863 – 1878

Born November 19, 1831(1831-11-19)
Moreland Hills
Died September 19, 1881 (age 49)
Elberon (Long Branch), New Jersey
Nationality American
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Lucretia Rudolph Garfield
Occupation Lawyer, Educator, Minister
Religion Disciples of Christ
Signature James Garfield Signature.png

James Abram Garfield (November 19, 1831September 19, 1881) was a major general in the United States Army, member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and the twentieth President of the United States. He was the second U.S. President to be assassinatedAbraham Lincoln was the first. Garfield had the second shortest presidency in U.S. history, after William Henry Harrison's. In office for six months and fifteen days, President Garfield, a Republican, actually served for less than four months before being fatally shot on July 2, 1881.

Early lifeEdit


Garfield at age 16

Garfield was born in Orange Township, now Moreland Hills. His father died in 1833, when James Abram was two years old; he was brought up and cared for by his mother, a brother, and an uncle.[1] In Orange Township, Garfield attended school, a predecessor of the Orange City Schools. From 1851 to 1854, he attended the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (later named Hiram College) in Hiram. He then transferred to Williams College in Williamstown, where he was a brother of Delta Upsilon fraternity. He graduated in 1856 as an outstanding student who enjoyed all subjects except chemistry. Garfield ruled out becoming a preacher and considered a job as principal of a high school in Poestenkill, New York.[2] After losing that job to another applicant, he taught at the Eclectic Institute. Garfield was an instructor in classical languages for the 1856–1857 academic year, and was made principal of the Institute from 1857 to 1860.

On November 11, 1858, he married Lucretia Rudolph. They had seven children (five sons and two daughters): Eliza Arbella Garfield (1860–63); Harry Augustus Garfield (1863–1942); James Rudolph Garfield (1865–1950); Mary Garfield (1867–1947); Irvin M. Garfield (1870–1951); Abram Garfield (1872–1958); and Edward Garfield (1874–76). One son, James R. Garfield, followed him into politics and became Secretary of the Interior under President Theodore Roosevelt.


Birthplace of James Garfield

Garfield decided that the academic life was not for him and studied law privately. He was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1860. Even before admission to the bar, he entered politics. He was elected an Ohio state senator in 1859, serving until 1861. He was a Republican all his political life.

Military careerEdit

James Abram Garfield
November 19, 1831 - September 19, 1881
General James Garfield - Brady-Handy
General James A. Garfield
Place of birth Moreland Hills
Place of death Long Branch
Allegiance United States of America
Years of service 1861 - 1863
Rank Major General
Commands 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry
20th Brigade, 6th Division, Army of the Ohio
Battles/wars American Civil War
*Battle of Shiloh
*Siege of Corinth
*Battle of Chickamauga
Other work U.S. Representative from Ohio, 20th President of the United States

With the start of the Civil War, Garfield enlisted in the Union Army, and was assigned to command the 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. General Don Carlos Buell assigned Colonel Garfield the task of driving Confederate forces out of eastern Kentucky in November 1861, giving him the 18th Brigade for the campaign. In December, he departed Catlettsburg, with the 40th and 42nd Ohio and the 14th and 22nd Kentucky infantry regiments, as well as the 2nd (West) Virginia Cavalry and McLoughlin's Squadron of Cavalry. The march was uneventful until Union forces reached Paintsville, where Garfield's cavalry engaged the Confederate cavalry at Jenny's Creek on January 6, 1862. The Confederates, under Brig. Gen. Humphrey Marshall, withdrew to the forks of Middle Creek, two miles from Prestonsburg, on the road to Virginia. Garfield attacked on January 9. At the end of the day's fighting, the Confederates withdrew from the field, but Garfield did not pursue them. He ordered a withdrawal to Prestonsburg so he could resupply his men. His victory brought him early recognition and a promotion to the rank of brigadier general on January 11.

Garfield served as a brigade commander under Buell at the Battle of Shiloh and under Thomas J. Wood in the subsequent Siege of Corinth. His health deteriorated and he was inactive until autumn, when he served on the commission investigating the conduct of Fitz John Porter. In the spring of 1863, Garfield returned to the field as Chief of Staff for William S. Rosecrans, commander of the Army of the Cumberland.

Later political careerEdit

Left Puck

An 1881 Puck cartoon shows Garfield finding a baby at his front door with a tag marked "Civil Service Reform, compliments of R.B. Hayes". Hayes, his predecessor in the presidency is seen in the background dressed like a woman and holding a bag marked "R.B. Hayes' savings, Fremont".

In 1863, he re-entered politics, being elected to the United States House of Representatives for the 38th Congress. Garfield was promoted to major general after the Battle of Chickamauga, shortly after he had been elected. He left the army and returned to Ohio to take his seat in Congress. He succeeded in gaining re-election every two years up through 1878. In the House during the Civil War and the following Reconstruction era, he was one of the most hawkish Republicans. In 1872, he was one of many congressman involved in the Crédit Mobilier of America scandal. Garfield denied the charges against him and it did not put too much of a strain on his political career since the actual impact of the scandal was difficult to determine. In 1876, when James G. Blaine moved from the House to the United States Senate, Garfield became the Republican floor leader of the House.

In 1876, Garfield was a Republican member of the Electoral Commission that awarded 22 hotly-contested electoral votes to Rutherford B. Hayes in his contest for the Presidency against Samuel J. Tilden. That year, he also purchased the property in Mentor that reporters later dubbed Lawnfield, and from which he would go on to conduct the first successful front porch campaign for the Presidency. The home is now maintained by the National Park Service as the James A. Garfield National Historic Site.

Election of 1880Edit

In 1880, Garfield's life underwent tremendous change with the publication of the Morey letter, and the end of Democratic U.S. Senator Allen Granberry Thurman's term. The Ohio legislature, which had recently again come under Republican control, chose Garfield to fill Thurman's seat. However, at the Republican National Convention Garfield gained support for the party's Presidential nomination, and on the 36th ballot Garfield was nominated, with virtually all of Blaine's and John Sherman's delegates breaking ranks to vote for the dark horse nominee. Ironically, the U.S. Senate seat to which Garfield had been chosen ultimately went to Sherman, whose Presidential candidacy Garfield had gone to the convention to support.

In the general election, Garfield defeated the Democratic candidate Winfield Scott Hancock, another distinguished former Union Army general, by 214 electoral votes to 155. (The popular vote had a plurality of 9,464 votes out of more than nine million cast; see U.S. presidential election.) He became the only man ever to be elected to the Presidency straight from the House of Representatives. Garfield took office on March 4, 1881.

Presidency 1881Edit

Administration and CabinetEdit

James Garfield portrait

Official White House portrait of James Garfield

The Garfield Cabinet
Office Name Term
President James A. Garfield1881
Vice President Chester A. Arthur1881
Secretary of State James G. Blaine1881
Secretary of Treasury William Windom1881
Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln1881
Attorney General Wayne MacVeagh1881
Postmaster General Thomas L. James1881
Secretary of the Navy William H. Hunt1881
Secretary of the Interior Samuel J. Kirkwood1881

Between his election and his inauguration, Garfield was occupied with constructing a cabinet that would balance all Republican factions. Blaine was rewarded with the State Department. William Windom of Minnesota was named secretary of the Treasury. The Navy Department was headed by William H. Hunt of Louisiana; the War Department by Robert Todd Lincoln; and the Interior Department by Iowa's Samuel J. Kirkwood. Wayne MacVeagh of Pennsylvania was asked to be Attorney General, and New York was represented by Postmaster General Thomas Lemuel James. This last appointment infuriated Garfield's Stalwart rival Roscoe Conkling, who demanded nothing less for his faction and his state than the Treasury Department. He was so insulted that he, in effect, declared war on the administration.

This unedifying squabble would consume the energies of the brief Garfield presidency. It overshadowed promising activities such as Blaine's efforts to build closer ties with Latin America, Postmaster General James's investigation of the "star route" postal frauds, and Windom's successful refinancing of the federal debt.

The feud with Conkling reached a climax when the President, at Blaine's instigation, nominated Conkling's enemy, Judge William H. Robertson, to be collector of the port of New York. Conkling raised the time-honored principle of senatorial courtesy in attempting to defeat the nomination but to no avail. Finally he and his junior colleague, Thomas C. Platt, resigned their Senate seats to seek vindication, but they found only further humiliation. Garfield's victory was complete. He had routed his foes, weakened the principle of senatorial courtesy, and revitalized the presidential office.[3]

Supreme Court appointmentsEdit


Garfield family

President Garfield and family

Garfield had little time to savor his triumph. He was shot by Charles Julius Guiteau, disgruntled by failed efforts to secure a federal post, on July 2, 1881, at 9:30 a.m., less than four months after taking office. The President had been walking through the Sixth Street Station of the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad (a predecessor of the Pennsylvania Railroad) Washington, on his way to his alma mater, Williams College, where he was scheduled to deliver a speech, accompanied by Secretary of State James G. Blaine, Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln and two of his sons, James and Harry. The station was located on the southwest corner of present day Sixth Street Northwest and Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C., a site that is now occupied by the National Gallery of Art. As he was being arrested after the shooting, Guiteau excitedly said, "I am a Stalwart of the Stalwarts! I did it and I want to be arrested! Arthur is President now," which briefly led to unfounded suspicions that Arthur or his supporters had put Guiteau up to the crime. (The Stalwarts strongly opposed Garfield's Half-Breeds; like many Vice Presidents, Arthur was chosen for political advantage, to placate his faction, rather than for skills or loyalty to his running-mate.) Guiteau was upset because of the rejection of his repeated attempts to be appointed as the United States consul in Paris—a position for which he had absolutely no qualifications. Garfield's assassination was instrumental to the passage of the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act on January 16, 1883.

Garfield assassination engraving cropped

President Garfield with James G. Blaine after being shot by Charles Guiteau, as depicted in a period engraving from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper[4][5]

One bullet grazed Garfield's arm; the second bullet lodged in his spine and could not be found, although scientists today think that the bullet was near his lung. Alexander Graham Bell devised a metal detector specifically for the purpose of finding the bullet, but the metal bed frame Garfield was lying on made the instrument malfunction. Because metal bed frames were relatively rare, the cause of the instrument's deviation was unknown at the time. Garfield became increasingly ill over a period of several weeks due to infection, which caused his heart to weaken. He remained bedridden in the White House with fevers and extreme pains. In early September, the ailing President was moved to the Jersey Shore in the vain hope that the fresh air and quiet there might aid his recovery. He died of a massive heart attack or a ruptured splenic artery aneurysm, following blood poisoning and bronchial pneumonia, at 10:35 p.m. on Monday, September 19, 1881, in the Elberon section of Long Branch. The wounded president died exactly two months before his 50th birthday. During the eighty days between his shooting and death, his only official act was to sign an extradition paper.

Most historians and medical experts now believe that Garfield probably would have survived his wound had the doctors attending him been more capable.[6] Several inserted their unsterilized fingers into the wound to probe for the bullet, and one doctor punctured Garfield's liver in doing so. This alone would not have brought about death as the liver is one of the few organs in the human body that can regenerate itself. However, this physician probably introduced Streptococcus bacteria into the President's body and that caused blood poisoning for which at that time there were no antibiotics.


President Garfield's casket lying in state at the Capitol Rotunda.

Guiteau was found guilty of assassinating Garfield, despite his lawyers raising an insanity defense. He insisted that incompetent medical care had really killed the President. Although historians generally agree that while poor medical care was a contributing factor, it was not a legal defense. Guiteau was sentenced to death, and was executed by hanging on June 30, 1882, in Washington, D.C.

Garfield was buried, with great and solemn ceremony, in a mausoleum in Lakeview Cemetery in Cleveland. The monument is decorated with five terra cotta bas relief panels by sculptor Caspar Buberl, depicting various stages in Garfield's life. In 1887, the James A. Garfield Monument was dedicated in Washington, D.C.

At the time of his death, Garfield was survived by his mother. He is one of only three presidents to have predeceased their mothers.


  • Garfield and fellow Ohio President Rutherford B. Hayes both served on the first board of trustees of Western Reserve University (now Case Western Reserve University) following the school's move from Hudson to Cleveland.
  • Garfield was a minister and an elder for the Christian Church, making him the first—and to date, only—member of the clergy to serve as President. [7] He is also claimed as a member of the Church of Christ, as the different branches did not split until the 20th century. Garfield preached his first sermon in Poestenkill, New York.[8] When Garfield relinquished his Eldership, it is said that he stated, "I resign the highest office in the land to become President of the United States."

    Garfield Monument at Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland.

  • Garfield was a member of the Delta Upsilon International Fraternity.[9]
  • Garfield is the only person in US history to be a Representative, Senator-elect, and President-elect at the same time. To date, he is the only Representative to be directly elected President of the United States.
  • In 1876, Garfield discovered a novel proof of the Pythagorean Theorem using a trapezoid while serving as a member of the House of Representatives.[10]
  • Garfield was the first ambidextrous president. It was said that one could ask him a question in English and he could simultaneously write the answer in Latin with one hand, and Ancient Greek with the other.[11]
  • In the famous drawing of Guiteau shooting Garfield, it is believed that the color of their suits at the time was reversed.
  • The assassination is also mentioned in the Johnny Cash tune, "Mister Garfield (Has Been Shot Down)" according to the album sleeve written by J. Elliot, released in 1965 by Columbia Records, and re-recorded for the 1972 album America - A 200 Year Salute in Story And Song, as well in the song "Charles Guiteau" by Kelly Harrell & the Virginia String Band as included in the Anthology of American Folk Music.
  • In the 1992 film Unforgiven, set in 1881, the character English Bob mocks his (American) fellow travelers for the murder of President Garfield, comparing the republican system of government unfavorably with the monarchical. "If you were to try to assassinate a king, sir, the, how shall I say it, the majesty of royalty would cause you to miss. But, a President, I mean, why not shoot a President?"
  • Garfield was assassinated only months after Czar Alexander II of Russia was assassinated.
  • Robert Lincoln, son of Abraham Lincoln, was a witness to Garfield's assassination.[12]
  • Stephen Sondheim's musical Assassins includes the story of Charles J. Guiteau and his assassination of Garfield and features a song, "The Ballad of Guiteau."

    Garfield Monument in Washington

  • Part of Charles Guiteau's preserved brain is on display at the Mütter Museum at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.[13] Guiteau's bones and more of his brain, along with Garfield's backbone and a couple ribs, are kept at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, D.C. on the grounds of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.[14]
  • Garfield was a direct descendant of Mayflower passenger John Billington through his son Francis, another Mayflower passenger.[15] John Billington was convicted of murder at Plymouth Mass. 1630.[16]
  • Garfield juggled Indian clubs to build his muscles.[17]
  • James Garfield was featured on series 1882 $5 National Currency notes, and the series 1886 $20 Gold Certificate.[18] Both of these currency notes are considered to be of moderate rarity, and are quite valuable to collectors.
  • Garfield has a street in Brooklyn a suburb in Wellington, New Zealand named after him - Garfield Street.
  • Garfield was related to Owen Tudor, and both were descendents of Rhys ap Tewdwr.[19]

See also Edit

Further readingEdit

  • Ackerman, Kenneth D. Dark Horse: The Surprise Election and Political Murder of James A. Garfield, Avalon Publishing, 2004. ISBN 0-7867-1396-8 (paperback) and ISBN 0-7867-1151-5 (cloth).
  • Freemon, Frank R., 2001: Gangrene and glory: medical care during the American Civil War; Urbana: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0252070100
  • King, Lester Snow: 1991 Transformations in American Medicine : from Benjamin Rush to William Osler / Lester S. King. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, c1991. ISBN 0801840570
  • Peskin, Allan Garfield: A Biography, The Kent State University Press, 1978. ISBN 0-8733-8210-2.


  1. ^ "Section One: The Log Cabin". James Garfield Study Guide. SparkNotes. Retrieved 2007-08-28. 
  2. ^ Peskin, Allan (1978). Garfield. Kent State University Press. pp. p. 45. ISBN 0873382102. 
  3. ^ Garfield, James Abram. American National Biography, 2000, American Council of Learned Societies.
  4. ^ Cheney, Lynne Vincent. "Mrs. Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper". American Heritage Magazine. October 1975. Volume 26, Issue 6. URL retrieved on January 24, 2007.
  5. ^ "The attack on the President's life". Library of Congress. URL retrieved on January 24, 2007.
  6. ^ A President Felled by an Assassin and 1880’s Medical Care New York Times, July 25, 2006.
  7. ^ James A. Garfield. Mr. President. Profiles of Our Nation's Leaders. Smithsonian Education. URL retrieved on May 11 2007.
  8. ^ Sullivan, James (1927). "Chapter VI. Rensselaer County". The History of New York State, Book III. Lewis Historical Publishing Company. Retrieved 2007-06-06. 
  9. ^ Notable DUs. Delta Upsilon Fraternity. Politics and Government. URL retrieved February 20, 2007.
  10. ^ "Pythagoras and President Garfield", PBS Teacher Source, URL retrieved on February 1, 2007.
  11. ^ American Presidents: Life Portraits, C-SPAN, Retrieved November 29, 2006
  12. ^ Mr. Lincoln's Whitehouse: Robert Todd Lincoln, The Lincoln Institute, Retrieved November 29, 2006.
  13. ^ Siera, J.J. "Come see Dead People at the Mutter Museum". Venue Magazine. Rowan University. Issue 41. Volume 2. URL retrieved February 19, 2007.
  14. ^ Carlson, Peter. "Rest in Pieces". The Washington Post. January 24, 2006. Page C1. URL retrieved February 19, 2007.
  15. ^ "Famous Descendants of Mayflower Passengers". Mayflower History. URL retrieved 31 March 2007.
  16. ^ Borowitz, Alfred. "The Mayflower Murderer". The University of Texas at Austin. Tarlton Law Library. URL retrieved March 30 2007.
  17. ^ Paletta, Lu Ann; Worth, Fred L (1988). The World Almanac of Presidential Facts. World Almanac Books. ISBN 0345348885. 
  18. ^ Orzano, Michele. "Learning the language". Coin World. November 2 2004. Retrieved May 9 2007.
  19. ^ [ Genealogy Report: Ancestors of Pres. James Abram Garfield

External linksEdit

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Political offices
Preceded by
Rutherford B. Hayes
President of the United States
March 4, 1881 – September 19, 1881
Succeeded by
Chester A. Arthur
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Albert G. Riddle
Member from Ohio's 19th congressional district
1863 – 1881
Succeeded by
Ezra B. Taylor
Party political offices
Preceded by
Rutherford B. Hayes
Republican Party presidential candidate
Succeeded by
James G. Blaine
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Henry Wilson
Persons who have lain in state or honor
in the United States Capitol rotunda

September 21, 1881 – September 23, 1881
Succeeded by
John A. Logan

NAME Garfield, James Abram
SHORT DESCRIPTION 20th President of the United States
DATE OF BIRTH November 19, 1831
PLACE OF BIRTH Moreland Hills, United States
DATE OF DEATH November 19, 1931
PLACE OF DEATH Elberon (Long Branch), New Jersey, United States

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