James Abram Garfield

(1831-1881 / Moreland Hills, Ohio)

Biography of James Abram Garfield

James Abram Garfield poet

James Abram Garfield (November 19, 1831 – September 19, 1881) served as the 20th President of the United States, after completing nine consecutive terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. Garfield's accomplishments as President included a controversial resurgence of Presidential authority above Senatorial courtesy in executive appointments; energizing U.S. naval power; and purging corruption in the Post Office Department. Garfield made notable diplomatic and judiciary appointments, including a U.S. Supreme Court justice. Garfield appointed several African-Americans to prominent federal positions.

Garfield was raised in humble circumstances on an Ohio farm by his widowed mother and elder brother, next door to their cousins, the Boyntons, with whom he remained very close. He worked at many jobs to finance his higher education at Williams College, Massachusetts, from where he graduated in 1856.

A year later, Garfield entered politics as a Republican, after campaigning for the party's antislavery platform in Ohio. He married Lucretia Rudolph in 1858, and in 1860 was admitted to practice law while serving as an Ohio State Senator (1859–1861). Garfield opposed Confederate secession, served as a Major General in the Union Army during the American Civil War, and fought in the battles of Middle Creek, Shiloh and Chickamauga. He was first elected to Congress in 1862 as Representative of the 19th District of Ohio.

Throughout Garfield's extended Congressional service after the Civil War, he fervently opposed the Greenback, and gained a reputation as a skilled orator. He was Chairman of the Military Affairs Committee and the Appropriations Committee and a member of the Ways and Means Committee. Garfield initially agreed with Radical Republican views regarding Reconstruction, then favored a moderate approach for civil rights enforcement for Freedmen. In 1880, the Ohio legislature elected him to the U.S. Senate; in that same year, the leading Republican presidential contenders – Ulysses S. Grant, James G. Blaine and John Sherman – failed to garner the requisite support at their convention. Garfield became the party's compromise nominee for the 1880 Presidential Election and successfully campaigned to defeat Democrat Winfield Hancock in the election. He is thus far the only sitting Representative to have been elected to the presidency.

Garfield's presidency lasted just 200 days—from March 4, 1881, until his death on September 19, 1881, as a result of being shot by assassin Charles J. Guiteau on July 2, 1881. Only William Henry Harrison's presidency, of 32 days, was shorter. Garfield was the second of four United States Presidents who were assassinated. President Garfield advocated a bi-metal monetary system, agricultural technology, an educated electorate, and civil rights for African-Americans. He proposed substantial civil service reform, eventually passed by Congress in 1883 and signed into law by his successor, Chester A. Arthur, as the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act.

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