NEGenWeb Project
Resource Center
On-Line Library

Portrait or sketch


Letter/label/spacer or doddleTWENTIETH PRESIDENT.Letter/label/spacer or doddle95

Letter/label/spacer or doddle

Letter/label/spacer or doddleLetter/label/spacer or doddleLetter/label/spacer or doddle

AMES A. GARFIELD, twentieth President of the United States, was born Nov. 19, 1831, in the woods of Orange, Cuyahoga Co., 0 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 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 20x3O 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, from a cold contracted in helping to put out a forest fire, died. 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, but undoubtedly very much. He now lives in Michigan, and the two sisters live in Solon, O., 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 a captain of a vessel on Lake Erie. He was anxious to go aboard a vessel, which 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, when he entered Hiram and the Eclectic Institute, teaching a few terms of school in the meantime, and doing other work. This school was started by the Disciples of Christ in 1850, of which church 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. He soon "exhausted Hiram" and needed more; hence, 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 Diciples (sic) Church at Hiram, and was ever after a devoted, zealous member, often preaching in its pulpit and places where he happened to be. Dr. Noah Porter, President of Yale College, says of him in reference to his religion:



96Letter/label/spacer or doddleJAMES A. GARFIELD.Letter/label/spacer or doddle

"President Garfield was more than a man of strong moral and religious convictions. His whole history, from boyhood to the last, shows that duty to man and to God, and devotion to Christ and life and faith and spiritual commission were controlling springs of his being, and to a more than usual degree. In my judgment there is no more interesting feature of his character than his loyal allegiance to the body of Christians in which he was trained, and the fervent sympathy which he ever showed in their Christian communion. Not many of the few 'wise and mighty and noble who are called' show a similar loyalty to the less stately and cultured Christian communions in which they have been reared. Too often it is true that as they step upward in social and political significance they step upward from one degree to another in some of the many types of fashionable Christianity. President Garfield adhered to the church of his mother, the church in which he was trained, and in which he served as a pillar and an evangelist, and yet with the largest and most unsectarian charity for all 'who love our Lord in sincerity.'"
   Mr. Garfield was united in marriage with Miss Lucretia Rudolph, Nov. 11, 1858, who proved herself worthy as the wife of one whom all the world loved and mourned. 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 defend the old flag. He received his commission as Lieut.-Colonel of the Forty-second Regiment of Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Aug. 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 officer (Humphrey Marshall) reputed to be the ablest of those, not educated to war whom Kentucky had given to the Rebellion. This work was bravely and speedily accomplished, although against great odds. President Lincoln, on his success commissioned him Brigadier-General, Jan. 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 then 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 stars of the Major-General.
   Without an effort on his part Gen. 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 member in that body. There he remained by successive reelections 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 tribunel (sic) 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 Jan. 14, 1880, Gen. Garfield was elected to the U. S. Senate, and on the eighth 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, and by the first 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 Blaine, 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 farther injury. It has been very truthfully said that this was "the shot that was heard round 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, and was 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 was teaching the country and the world the noblest of human lessons--how to live grandly in the very clutch of death. Great in life, he was surpassingly great in death. He passed serenely away Sept. 19, 1883, at Elberon, N. J., on the very bank of the ocean, where he had been taken shortly previous. The world wept at his death, as it never had done on the death of any other man who had ever lived upon it. The murderer was duly tried, found guilty and executed, in one year after he committed the foul deed.


Prior page
Names Index
Portrait index
Views index
Next page

© 2000, 2001 for the NEGenWeb Project by Dick Taylor, Ted & Carole Miller