Who is James Garfield?

Mary Elizabeth

James Garfield was a professor, a school president, studied law, was ordained as a minister, and became our country’s 20th president. In an election in which the popular vote was very clearly split between North and South, he won by less than 10,000 votes. President Garfield was shot less than four months after taking office, and served for less time than anyone except William Henry Harrison.

James Garfield was assassinated soon after entering office.
James Garfield was assassinated soon after entering office.

James Garfield was born in a log cabin, the last president to be able to make that claim. The cabin was in Ohio, and it was 1831, two years before his father was to die, leaving his mother to try to run the family farm. The family was poor, but he graduated from Williams College and became a professor of ancient languages at Western Reserve Eclectic Institute, where he had taken classes. In 1857, James Garfield became the school’s president, and supported its name change to Hiram College.

The White House, home of the president of the United States.
The White House, home of the president of the United States.

Garfield became interested in the recently formed Republican Party, and was elected to the state legislature in 1859. He became a served in the army during the Civil War, and was elected to the US House of Representatives between being commander of a brigade at the Battle of Shiloh and the Battle of Chickamauga, where his service won him a promotion to major general. After serving nine terms and becoming chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, he was elected to the US Senate in 1880.

That same year, James Garfield made the nominating speech for John Sherman at the Republican presidential convention, which featured a three-way race between Sherman, Ulysses S Grant, and James G. Blaine. Grant, the former president, led the votes for 35 ballots, but could not attain a majority. On the 36th ballot, Garfield was nominated.

In his four active months in office, Garfield began the prosecution of the Star Route trials, which Chester Arthur continued. He supported education and the vote for African Americans, mentioning both these items in his inaugural address. The manner of his death helped bring about major reforms in this area under his successor, Chester Arthur.

How could his death have influenced this? On July 2, 1861, James Garfield was shot by a man who had hoped to be appointed as ambassador to France, Charles J. Guiteau, who was mentally unstable. Garfield’s death, eleven weeks later, is now thought to be due to poor medical care which caused complications, rather than deadly injury.

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Discussion Comments


@DinoLeash: Alexander Graham Bell invented the first metal detector, in hopes to locate the bullet that would later kill President James A. Garfield. This machine was supposed to send a sound to an attached telephone receiver, when it located the bullet. However, on July 26, and August 1, 1881, it could not detect where the bullet was in President Garfield head.

Doctors were baffled by President Garfield injuries and in the efforts to locate the bullet. President Garfield succumbed to his injuries on September 19, 1881.


What is the connection between President James A. Garfield and Alexander Graham Bell?


@dill1971: James A. Garfield was our country’s 20th President. He was shot 4 months after taking office. President Garfield was shot by a mentally unstable man named Charles Guiteau on July 2, 1881. Charles Guiteau thought Garfield owed him a patronage position in the diplomatic corps and that Garfield’s political decisions would destroy the Republican Party.

President Garfield and Secretary of State James Blaine were waiting to board a train at the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station in Washington, DC. When, Guiteau walked up behind the President and shot him in the back of the head. Even though Garfield was shot on July 2, 1881, he didn’t pass away until September 19, 1881. Some believe it was due to poor medical care.

Charles Guiteau was hanged on June 30, 1882.


Why was President James A. Garfield assassinated?

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