A Little Attention from James A. Garfield
At the height of their friendship, journalist Donn Piatt spotted the fatal weakness that held James A. Garfield of Ohio back. It was that deplorable good-naturedness that kept him a mere chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. "If you were a shade more aggressive, had a little audacity in your composition, you would be Senator, President anything you pleased," the journalist mused, "--but then you would not be Garfield."1
Like so many of Piatt's political judgments, this one missed the mark. Garfield would be senator and president both, and that within seven years. Yet he was Garfield still, the diligent, intelligent partisan of no remarkable merit that he had always been. What made his rise the more astonishing was that it happened in spite of a record tarnished by scandal. Contemporaries who did no worse than he found their careers cut short. How could Garfield have come so far?
There were many reasons, of course. A clumsy Democratic campaign and a united Republican one, "soap" (as Election Day cash was called) to buy voters in Indiana, a deadlocked and desperate conven-