James A. Garfield

Garfield, James Abram

James Abram Garfield, 1831–81, 20th President of the United States (Mar.–Sept., 1881). Born on a frontier farm in Cuyahoga co., Ohio, he spent his early years in poverty. As a youth he worked as farmer, carpenter, and canal boatman. After graduation (1856) from Williams College, he became a teacher of ancient languages and literature at the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute at Hiram, Ohio (renamed, largely through his influence, Hiram Institute; now Hiram College), and later (1857–61) was its principal. He was also a lay preacher of the Disciples of Christ, was admitted (1859) to the bar, and was elected an antislavery state senator. During the Civil War he served in the Union army and was a major general of volunteers when he resigned (1863) to take his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. He was a regular Republican, unhesitatingly following his party's postwar program of radical Reconstruction and later of hard-money deflationism and opposition to civil service reform. On the tariff issue he was evasive. Garfield was prominent in the settlement of the disputed election of 1876 (in which Rutherford B. Hayes was ultimately adjudged the winner), but in 1880 he was still only moderately well known nationally.

Garfield, who never sought the presidency, was campaign manager for John Sherman in the Republican convention but on the 36th ballot was himself chosen as compromise candidate for president. Former President Grant, who had wanted the nomination, and his supporter, Roscoe Conkling, gave Garfield only formal aid in the election—and allegedly even that was conditioned on a promise of a share in the president's political favors. After Garfield had defeated W. S. Hancock and was president, he passed over Conkling's "Stalwarts" in his appointments and appointed James G. Blaine, Conkling's political enemy, secretary of state. War was thus declared between the president and the most important faction of the Republican party. Garfield won the first round of the fight, getting his appointee for the New York port collectorship approved over Conkling's objections. He began prosecution of the star route postal frauds. Constantly harassed by office seekers, President Garfield met his death through one of them. On July 2, 1881, he was shot by Charles J. Guiteau. On Sept. 19 he died, and Chester A. Arthur succeeded to the presidency. Garfield was a brilliant orator and an able, knowing, and charming man. He had shown little originality or force in his 17 years as congressman, and his early death prevented him from showing whether or not he might have demonstrated statesmanship as president.

See his diary, ed. by H. J. Brown and F. D. Williams (1967–81); T. C. Smith, Life and Letters of James A. Garfield (1925, repr. 1968); biographies by J. M. Taylor (1970) and A. Peskin (1978); K. D. Ackerman, Dark Horse (2003); C. Millard, Destiny of the Republic (2011).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Garfield: A Biography
Allan Peskin.
Kent State University Press, 1999
Presidential Campaigns
Paul F. Boller Jr.
Oxford University Press, 1996 (Revised edition)
Librarian’s tip: Chap. Twenty-Four "1880: The Triumph of 'Boatman Jim' Garfield"
Presidents from Hayes through McKinley, 1877-1901: Debating the Issues in Pro and Con Primary Documents
Amy H. Sturgis.
Greenwood Press, 2003
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 2 "James A. Garfield"
From Hayes to McKinley: National Party Politics, 1877-1896
H. Wayne Morgan.
Syracuse University Press, 1969
Librarian’s tip: Chap. III "Campaigns and Feuds: 1880-1881"
The Power of the American Presidency: 1789-2000
Michael A. Genovese.
Oxford University Press, 2001
Librarian’s tip: "James A. Garfield, 1881" begins on p. 98
The Press Gang: Newspapers and Politics, 1865-1878
Mark Wahlgren Summers.
University of North Carolina Press, 1994
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 10 "A Little Attention from James A. Garfield"
From Failing Hands: The Story of Presidential Succession
John D. Feerick.
Fordham University Press, 1965
Librarian’s tip: Discussion of James A. Garfield begins on p. 118
Farewell to the Bloody Shirt: Northern Republicans & the Southern Negro, 1877-1893
Stanley P. Hirshson.
Indiana University Press, 1962
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "Garfield: The Search for a Southern Policy"
The Unitary Executive during the Second Half-Century
Calabresi, Steven G.; Yoo, Christopher S.
Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, Vol. 26, No. 3, Summer 2003
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Encyclopedia of American Parties, Campaigns, and Elections
William C. Binning; Larry E. Esterly; Paul A. Sracic.
Greenwood Press, 1999
Librarian’s tip: "Garfield, James A. (1831-1881)" begins on p. 185
James A. Garfield: A Bibliography
Robert O. Rupp.
Greenwood Press, 1997
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