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James Garfield

  • James Garfield Gravesite 12316 Euclid Avenue Cleveland, OH, 44106 United States (map)

James Garfield

20TH PRESIDENT (1881)

Birth: November 19, 1831 at Cuyahoga County, Ohio as James Abram Garfield
Death: September 19, 1881 at Elberon, New Jersey

James Abram Garfield (November 19, 1831 – September 19, 1881) was the 20th president of the United States, serving from March 4, 1881 until his death by assassination six and a half months later. He was the first sitting member of Congress to be elected to the presidency, and remains the only sitting House member to gain the White House.[1]

Garfield entered politics as a Republican in 1857. He served as a member of the Ohio State Senate from 1859 to 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 to represent Ohio's 19th District. Throughout Garfield's extended congressional service after the Civil War, he firmly supported the gold standard and gained a reputation as a skilled orator. Garfield initially agreed with Radical Republican views regarding Reconstruction, but later favored a moderate approach for civil rights enforcement for freedmen.

At the 1880 Republican National Convention, Senator-elect Garfield attended as campaign manager for Secretary of the Treasury John Sherman, and gave the presidential nomination speech for him. When neither Sherman nor his rivals – Ulysses S. Grant and James G. Blaine – could get enough votes to secure the nomination, delegates chose Garfield as a compromise on the 36th ballot. In the 1880 presidential election, Garfield conducted a low-key front porch campaign and narrowly defeated Democrat Winfield Scott Hancock.

Garfield's accomplishments as president included a resurgence of presidential authority against senatorial courtesy in executive appointments, purging corruption in the Post Office, and appointing a U.S. Supreme Court justice. He enhanced the powers of the presidency when he defied the powerful New York senator Roscoe Conkling by appointing William H. Robertson to the lucrative post of Collector of the Port of New York, starting a fracas that ended with Robertson's confirmation and Conkling's resignation from the Senate. Garfield advocated agricultural technology, an educated electorate, and civil rights for African Americans. He also proposed substantial civil service reforms; those reforms were eventually passed by Congress in 1883 and signed into law by his successor, Chester A. Arthur, as the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act.

On July 2, 1881, Garfield was shot at the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station in Washington D.C. by Charles J. Guiteau, a disappointed office seeker. The wound was not immediately fatal for Garfield, but he succumbed on September 19, 1881. Guiteau was executed for the murder of Garfield in June 1882.

Earlier Event: April 20
William McKinley
Later Event: April 21
Millard Fillmore