Presidents of the United States



James A. Garfield

From: Portrait and Biographical record of Rockland and Orange Counties, New York
By: Chapman Publishing Company
Published: 1895

JAMES A. GARFIELD, twentieth President of the United States, was born November 19, 1831, in the woods of Orange, Cuyahoga County, Ohio. His parents were Abram and Eliza (Ballou) Garfield, both of New England ancestry, and from families well known in the early history of that section of our country, but who had moved to the Western Reserve, in Ohio, early in its settlement.

The house in which James A. was born was not unlike the houses of poor Ohio farmers of that day. It was about 20 X 30 feet, built of logs, with the spaces between the logs filled with clay. His father was a hard-working farmer, and he soon had his fields cleared, an orchard planted, and a log barn built. The household comprised the father and mother and their four children, Mehetabel, Thomas, Mary and James. In May, 1823, the father died from a cold contracted in helping to put out a forest fire. At this time James was about eighteen months old, and Thomas about ten years old. No one, perhaps, can tell how much James was indebted to his brother's toil and self-sacrifice during the twenty years succeeding his father's death. He now lives in Michigan, and the two sisters live in Solon, Ohio, near their birthplace.

The early educational advantages young Garfield enjoyed were very limited, yet he made the most of them. He labored at farm work for others, did carpenter work, chopped wood, or did anything that would bring in a few dollars to aid his widowed mother in her struggles to keep the little family together. Nor was Gen. Garfield ever ashamed of his origin, and he never forgot the friends of his struggling childhood, youth and manhood; neither did they ever forget him. When in the highest seats of honor, the humblest friend of his boyhood was as kindly greeted as ever. The poorest laborer was sure of the sympathy of one who had known all the bitterness of want and the sweetness of bread earned by the sweat of the brow. He was ever the simple, plain, modest gentleman.

The highest ambition of young Garfield until he was about sixteen years old was to be captain of a vessel on Lake Erie. He was anxious to go aboard a vessel, but this his mother strongly opposed. She finally consented to his going to Cleveland, with the understanding, however, that he should try to obtain some other kind of employment. He walked all the way to Cleveland. This was his first visit to the city. After making many applications for work, and trying to get aboard a lake vessel and not meeting with success, he engaged as a driver for his cousin, Amos Letcher, on the Ohio & Pennsylvania Canal. He remained at this work but a short time, when he went home, and attended the seminary at Chester for about three years. He then entered Hiram and the Eclectic Institute, teaching a few terms of school in the mean time, and doing other work. This school was started by the Disciples of Christ in 1850, of which body he was then a member. He became janitor and bell-ringer in order to help pay his way. He then became both teacher and pupil. Soon "exhausting Hiram," and needing a higher education, in the fall of 1854 he entered Williams College, from which he graduated in 1856, taking one of the highest honors of his class. He afterwards returned to Hiram College as its President. As above stated, he early united with the Christian, or Disciples, Church at Hiram, and was ever after a devoted, zealous member, often preaching in its pulpit and places where he happened to be.

Mr. Garfield was united in mairiage, November 11, 1858, with Miss Lucretia Rudolph, who proved herself worthy as the wife of one whom all the world loved. To them were born seven children, five of whom are still living, four boys and one girl.

Mr. Garfield made his first political speeches in 1856, in Hiram and the neighboring villages, and three years later he began to speak at county mass-meetings, and became the favorite speaker wherever he was. During this year he was elected to the Ohio Senate. He also began to study law at Cleveland, and in 1861 was admitted to the Bar. The great Rebellion broke out in the early part of this year, and Mr. Garfield at once resolved to fight as he had talked, and enlisted to ilefend the Old Flag. He received his commission as Lieutenant-Colonel of the Forty-second Regiment of Ohio Infantry August 14, 1861. He was immediately put into active service, and before he had ever seen a gun fired in action, was placed in command of four regiments of infantry and eight companies of cavalry, charged with the work of driving out of his native State the able rebel officer, Humphrey Marshall, of Kentucky. This work was bravely and speedily accomplished, although against great odds, and President Lincoln commissioned him Brigadier-General, January 10, 1862; and "as he had been the youngest man in the Ohio Senate two years before, so now he was the youngest General in the army." He was with Gen. Buell's army at Shiloh, in its operations around Corinth and its march through Alabama. He was then detailed as a member of the general court martial for the trial of Gen. Fitz-John Porter. He was next ordered to report to Gen. Rosecrans, and was assigned to the "Chief of Staff." The military history of Gen. Garfield closed with his brilliant services at Chickamauga, where he won the rank of Major-General.

Without an effort on his part, Geu, Garfield was elected to Congress in the fall of 1862, from the Nineteenth District of Ohio. This section of Ohio had been represented in Congress for sixty years mainly by two men-Elisha Whittlesey and Joshua R. Giddings. It was not without a struggle that he resigned his place in the army. At the time he entered Congress he was the youngest meniber in that body. There he remained by successive re-elections until he was elected President, in 1880. Of his labors in Congress, Senator Hoar says: "Since the year 1864 you cannot think of a question which has been debated in Congress, or discussed before a tribunal of the American people, in regard to which you will not find, if you wish instruction, the argument on one side stated, in almost every instance better than by anybody else, in some speech made in the House of Representatives or on the hustings by Mr. Garfield."

Upon January 14, 1880, Gen. Garfield was elected to the United States Senate, and on the 8th of June, of the same year, was nominated as the candidate of his party for President at the great Chicago Convention. He was elected in the following November, and on March 4, 1881, was inaugurated. Probably no administration ever opened its existence under brighter auspices than that of President Garfield, and every day it grew in favor with the people. By the 1st of July he had completed all the initiatory and preliminary work of his administration, and was preparing to leave the city to meet his friends at Williams College. While on his way and at the depot, in company with Secretary Blame, a man stepped behind him, drew a revolver, and fired directly at his back. The President tottered and fell, and as he did so the assassin fired a second shot, the bullet cutting the left coat sleeve of his victim, but inflicting no further injury. It has been very truthfully said that this was "the shot that was heard around the world." Never before in the history of the nation had anything occurred which so nearly froze the blood of the people for the moment as this awful deed. He was smitten on the brightest, gladdest day of all his life, at the summit of his power and hope. For eighty days, all during the hot months of July and August, he lingered and suffered. He, however, remained master of himself till the last, and by his magnificent bearing taught the country and the world one of the noblest of human lessons-how to live grandly in the very clutch of death. Great in life, lie was surpassingly great in death. He passed serenely away September 19, 1883, at Elberon, N. J., on the very bank of the ocean, where he had been taken shortly before. The world wept at his death, as it rarely ever had done on the death of any other great and noble man.

clear gif

Return to [
Presidents Biographies] [Online Biographies]


All pages copyright 2009. All items on this site are copyrighted by their author(s). These pages may be linked to but not used on another web site. Anyone may copy and use the information provided here freely for personal use only. Privacy Policy