History of the United States
Volume IV


Chapter XXV
Administrations of Garfield and Arthur, 1881-1885

James A. Garfield, twentieth President of the United States, was born at Orange, Cuyahoga county, Ohio, November 19th, 1831. He was left in infancy to the care of his mother and to the rude surroundings of a backwoods home. Blest with great native energy, the boy gathered from country toil a sound constitution, and from country schools the rudiments of education. In boyhood his services were in frequent demand by the farmers of the neighborhood--for he developed unusual skill as a mechanic. Afterwards he served as a driver and pilot of a canal boat plying the Ohio and Pennsylvania canal. At the age of seventeen he attended the High School in Chester, and in the fall of 1851 he entered Hiram College. In 1854 he entered William College, from which, in August of 1856, he was graduated with honor. He then returned to Ohio, and was made first a professor and afterwards president of Hiram College. This position he held, meantime serving two years in the Ohio legislature, until the outbreak of the Civil War, when he left his post to enter the army.

As a soldier, Garfield rapidly rose to distinction, and while still in the field he was, in 1862, elected by the people of his district to the Lower House of Congress. In 1879 he was elected to the United States Senate, and hard upon this followed his nomination and election to the presidency. American history has furnished but few instances of a more steady and brilliant rise from the poverty of an obscure boyhood to the most distinguished elective office in the gift of mankind.

On the 4th of March, 1881, President Garfield, according to custom, delivered his inaugural address. A retrospect of the progress of American civilization during the last quarter of a century was given, and the country was congratulated on its high rank among the mations. The policy of the executive department of the government, with respect to the great questions likely to engross the attention of the people, was set forth with clearness and precision. The public school system of the United States should be guarded with jealous care; the old wounds of the South should be healed; the National banking system should be maintained; the practice of polygamy should be repressed; Chinese immigration should be curbed by treaty; the equal rights of the enfranchised blacks should be asserted and maintained.

On the day following the inauguration the President sent to the Senate for confirmation the names of the members of his cabinet. The nominations were, for secretary of state, James G. Blaine, of Maine; for secretary of the treasury, William Windom, of Minnesota; for secretary of war, Robert T. Lincoln, of Illinois; for secretary of the navy, William H. Hunt, of Louisiana; for secretary of the interior, Samuel J. Kirkwood, of Iowa; for attorney-general, Wayne MacVeagh, of Pennsylvania; for postmaster-general, Thomas L. James, of New York. These nominations were promptly confirmed, and the new administration entered upon its course with omens of an auspicious future.

The prospects of the new administration were soon darkened with political difficulties. A division arose in the ranks of the Republican party, threatening the disruption and ruin of that organization. The two wings of the Republicans were nicknamed the "Halfbreeds" and the "Stalwarts"; the latter, headed by Senator Conkling, resolutely supported General Grant for the presidency in the Chicago Convention; the former, led by Mr. Blaine, the Secretary of State, and indorsed by the President himself, had control of the government, and were numerically stronger than their opponents. The Stalwarts claimed the right of dispensing a large share of the appointive offices of the Government, after the manner which prevailed for several preceding administrations; that is, the distribution of the offices in the several States, under the name of patronage, by the Senators and Representatives of those States in Congress. The President, supported by his division of the party, and in general by the reform element in politics, insisted on naming the officers in the various States according to his own wishes and what he conceived to be the fitness of things.

The chief clash between the two influences in the party occurred in respect to the offices in New York. The collectorship of customs for the port of New York is one of the best appointive offices in the gift of the Government. To fill this position the President appointed Judge William Robertson, and the appointment was bitterly antagonized by the New York Senators, Roscoe Conkling and Thomas C. Platt, who, failing to prevent the confirmation of Robertson, resigned their seats, returned to their State, and failed of a re-election. The breach thus effected in the Republican ranks was such as to threaten the dismemberment of the party.

Such was the condition of affairs at the adjournment of the Senate in June. A few days afterward the President made arrangements to visit Williams College, where his two sons were to be placed at school, and to pass a short vacation with his sick wife at the seaside. On the morning of July 2d, in company with Secretary Blaine and a few friends, he entered the Baltimore depot at Washington, preparatory to taking the train for Long Branch, New Jersey. A moment afterward he was approached by a miserable political miscreant named Charles Jules Guiteau, who from behind, and unperceived, came within a few feet of the company, drew a pistol, and fired upon the chief magistrate of the Republic. The aim of the assassin was too well taken, and the first shot struck the President centrally in the right side of the back, inflicting a dreadful wound. The bleeding chieftain was quickly borne away to the executive mansion, and the vile wretch who had committed the crime was hurried to prison.

For a week or two the hearts of the American people vibrated between hope and fear. The best surgical aid was procured, and bulletins were issued daily containing a brief outline of the President's condition. The conviction grew day by day that he would ultimately recover. Two surgical operations were performed with a view of improving his chances for life; but a series of relapses occurred, and the President gradually weakened under his sufferings. As a last hope he was, on the 6th of September, carefully conveyed from Washington City to Elberon, where he was placed in a cottage only a few yards from the surf. Here, for a brief period, hope again revived; but the symptoms were aggravated at intervals, and the patient sank day by day.

At half-past ten on the evening of September 19th, the anniversary of the battle of Chickamauga, in which President Garfield had won his chief military reputation, his vital powers suddenly gave way under the destructive influence of blood-poisoning and exhaustion, and in a few moments death closed the scene. For eighty days he had borne the pain and anguish of his situation with a fortitude and heroism rarely witnessed among men. The dark shadow of the crime which had laid him low heightened rather than eclipsed the luster and glory of his life.

On the day following this deplorable event Vice-President Arthur took the oath of office in New York, and immediately repaired to Washington. For the fourth time in the history of the American Republic the duties of the Presidency had been devolved by death upon the man constitutionally provided for such an emergency. The hearts of the people, however, clung for a time to the dead rather than to the living President. The funeral of Garfield was observed first of all at Washington, whither the body was taken and placed in state in the rotunda of the Capitol. Here it was viewed by tens of thousands of people during the 22d and 23d of September. In his lifetime the illustrious dead had chosen, as his place of burial, Lakeview Cemetery, at Cleveland, Ohio, and thither, on the 24th of the month, the remains were conveyed by way of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. As in the case of the dead Lincoln, the funeral processions and ceremonies were a pageant, exhibiting everywhere the loyal respect and love of the American people for him who had so lately been their pride. On the 26th of September his body was laid in its final resting place. The day of the burial was observed throughout the country in great assemblies gathered from hamlet and town and city, all anxious to testify, by some appropriate word or token, their sorrow for the great national calamity.

Chester A. Arthur, called by the sad event to be President of the United States, was born in Vernon, Franklin County, Vermont, October 5, 1830. He was of Irish descent, and was educated at Union College, from which institution he was graduated in 1849. For awhile he taught school in his native State, and then came to New York City to study law. Here he was soon admitted to the bar, and rapidly rose to distinction. During the Civil War he was Quartermaster-General of the State of New York, a very important and trying office, which he filled with great credit to himself and the Government. After 1865 he returned to the practice of law, and was appointed Collector of Customs for the port of New York in 1871. This position he held until July, 1878, when he was removed by President Hayes. Again he returned to his law practice, but was soon called by the voice of his party to be a standard-bearer in the Presidential canvass of 1880. His election to the Vice-Presidency followed, and then, by the death of President Garfield, he rose to the post of chief honor among the American people.

The assumption of the duties of his high office by President Arthur was attended with but little ceremony or formality. On the 22d of September the oath of office was again administered to him, in the Vice-President's room in the Capitol, Chief Justice Waite officiating. After this, in the presence of a few who were gathered in the partment, he delivered a brief and appropriate address, referring in a touching manner to the death of his predecessor. Those present--including General Grant, ex-President Hayes, Senator Sherman, and his brother the General of the army--then paid their respects, and the ceremony was at an end.

In accordance with custom, the members of the Cabinet, as so recently constituted by President Garfield, immediately tendered their resignations. These were not at once accepted, the President, instead, inviting all the members to retain their places as his constitutional advisers. For the time all did so, except Mr. Windom, Secretary of the Treasury, who was succeeded by Judge Charles J. Folger, of New York. Mr. MacVeagh, the Attorney-General, also resigned a short time afterwards, and the President appointed as his successor Hon. Benjamin H. Brewster, of Philadelphia. The next to retire from the Garfield Cabinet were Mr. Blaine, Secretary of State, and Mr. James, Postmaster-General, who were succeeded in their respective offices by Hon. F. T. Frelinghuysen, of New Jersey, and Hon. Timothy O. Howe, of Wisconsin. No disposition to make radical changes in the policy of the Government was manifested by the new administration, and the people generally, without respect to party lines, were well pleased with the spirit of him who had so suddenly been called to the chief magistracy of the Union.

It is fortunate that the pen of History is sometimes occupied with themes more worthy than the public affairs of the state. In our own day, one of the most striking features of civilization is the rapid progress in discovery and invention. Especially is this true of the application of science to the practical affairs of life. At no other age in the history of the world has the knowledge of nature's laws been so rapidly and widely diffused. As a result of this, the means of physical comfort have been greatly increased. The new life of mankind is in a large measure based on science; and, in proportion as the laws of the natural world are discovered and applied, it is found that men become great and free and happy.

One of the best examples of the application of scientific discovery to the affairs of everyday life is that of the Telephone. It has remained for our day to discover the possibility of transmitting or reproducing the human voice at a distance of hundreds or even thousands of miles. By means of a simple contrivance, a person in one part of the country is enabled to converse with friends in another part, as if face to face. The invention of this wonderful instrument is to be credited to Professor A. Graham Bell, of Massachusetts, and Elisha P. Gray, of Chicago.

From the telegraph to the Phonograph was but a step. Both instruments are based on the same principle of science. The invention of the phonograph was made in 1877, by Thomas A. Edison, of Menlo Park, New Jersey. It is the nature of the instrument to receive and retain the wave lines and figures of sound, whether of the human voice or some other, and by an ingenious contrivance to reproduce these sounds as if they were the original utterance. It is to be regretted that thus far the phonograph has proved to be of little or no practical utility. Nor is it certain that it will ever accomplish the great works which fancy has been pleased to predict.

Perhaps the greatest and most valuable invention of the age is the Electric Light. The project of using electricity for the purpose of illumination began to be agitated about 1870. Long before this time, however, the possibility of electric lighting had been shown by the philosopher Gramme, of Paris. About the same time, the Russian scientist Jablokoff also succeeded in converting electricity into light. It remained, however, for the great American inventor, Thomas A. Edison, to remove the difficulties in the way of electric lighting, and to make the invention practical. The systems produced by him and others have been sufficiently tested to demonstrate that the old methods of illumination must soon be displaced by the electric light.

The latter years in the history of our country have been noted for the number and character of the great public works which have been projected or brought to completion within a limited period. Chief among these may be mentioned the great East River Bridge, joining New York with Brooklyn. This structure is the largest of the kind in the world, being a suspension bridge with a total length of 5,989 feet. The span from pier to pier is 1,595 feet, and the estimated capacity of resistance is 49,200 tons. The engineer under whose direction the great bridge was constructed was Mr. John A. Roebling, who may properly be regarded as the originator of wire suspension bridges. Though he himself did not live to see the completion of the work which he had planned, the same was taken up and finished by his son, Washington A. Roebling, an architect, scarcely less noted than his father.

The administration of President Arthur proved to be uneventful. The government pursued the even tenor of its way, and the progress of the country was unchecked by calamity. In politics there was a gradual obliteration of those sharply defined issues which for a quarter of a century had divided the two great parties. Partisan animosity in some measure abated, and it was with difficulty that the managers were able to direct the people in the political contest of 1884. The issue most clearly defined was that of tariff and free trade, and even this, when much discussed, tended to break up both the existing political organizations. The usual agitation of the people, however, relative to the Presidency, began at an early date of Arthur's administration. Hardly had the crime of Garfield's murder been committed, until the question of Arthur's successor was raised by the politicians.

During the year 1883 many distinguished men were named for the presidential office. The first national convention was that of the Greenback Labor party, held at Indianapolis, in April of 1884. By this party, General Benjamin F. Butler, of Massachusetts, and Hon. A. N. West, of Texas, were put in nomination. The Republican convention met on the 3d of June, in Chicago, and, after a session of three days, closed its labors by the nomination of James G. Blaine, of Maine, and General John A. Logan, of Illinois. The Democratic convention met in the same city, on the 9th of July, and chose for its standard-bearers Grover Cleveland, of New York, and Thomas A. Hendricks, of Indiana. These nominations were received with much favor by the respective parties, but strong factions in both the Republican and Democratic organizations resented the work of the conventions. The result showed that the Democratic party had drawn to its banners a majority of the American people. Cleveland and Hendircks were elected, receiving 219 ballots in the Electoral College, against 182 votes, which were cast for Blaine and Logan. New York, the pivotal State, was so close that several anxious days passed before the result was positively known.

In the last year of Arthur's administration the command of the army of the United States was transferred from General William T. Sherman to General Philip H. Sheridan. The former eminent soldier having reached the age at which, according to an act of Congress, he might retire from active service, availed himself of the provision and laid down the command which he had so long and honorably held. Nor could it be said that the new General to whom the command of the American army was now given was less a patriot and soldier than his illustrious predecessor.

The recurrence of the birthday of Washington, 1885, was noted for the completion of the great monument erected at the Capital in honor of the Father of his Country. The cost of the complete structure was about $1,500,000. The shaft of the monument, exclusive of the foundation, is 555 feet in height, being 30 feet higher than the Cathedral of Cologne, and 75 feet higher than the pyramid of Cheops. The structure is composed of more than 18,000 blocks of stone. One hundred and eighty-five memorial stones are set at different places in the monument. The dedication occurred on the 21st of February, 1885. The ceremonies were of a most imposing character. A procession of more than 6,000 persons passed from the site of the monument along Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol, while salutes were fired from the batteries of the Navy-yard. The exercises were concluded in the hall of the House of Representatives, where a great throng had assembled to do honor to the memory of him who was "first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen."


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