Wednesday, September 15, 2010

James A. Garfield

Name: James Garfield

Term: 1881

Party: Republican

Nickname: Canal Boy

Not-as-short-as-it-used-to-be bio:
James Abram Garfield was not a fat orange cat, but a man and beard enthusiast. I think I did Garfield a large disservice by giving him such a short bio originally. On learning about his life, I've gained a new found respect for this often forgotten president. Garfield was a lover of knowledge, learning all he could throughout his life, including Spanish. Garfield's life story would be a popular one at the time of his presidency, due to his coming from basically nothing and working his way up to being a congressman. Garfield came from a very poor family, so he had to work to fund his education. He worked as a carpenter, a janitor, a canal worker, and a preacher to get his higher education. After graduating, Garfield eventually married Lucretia Rudolph and started to serve as an Ohio State Senator. That was until the Civil War started. Garfield joined the Union army, due in part to his strong abolitionist feelings. He rose all the way up to Major General in the Army of Ohio and fought in the battles of Chickamauga, Middle Creek, and Shiloh. Garfield eventually left the war when he was needed in his newly won seat in Congress. He served as a congressman until 1880 when opportunity, instead of knocking, barged in and forced him into something he didn't really want to do.

Garfield was perfectly happy as a congressman. That's why he was completely horrified to learn that he had won the Republican nomination for President of the United States in 1880. Garfield had seen many of his friends in Congress get burned out and lose direction from he called the "presidential fever." He swore that he would never devote his life to gaining the presidency, lest he become a shell of his former self. The Republican Party at the time was split between two warring parties: The Stalwarts and the Half-Breeds. The Stalwarts supported the Spoils System, in which candidates for the presidency would reward those who gave them money by giving them positions in their administration. The Half-Breeds were the moderates and supported Civil Service Reform, which would see only those best qualified to be in administrative positions. Other than that, they agreed on everything. Greeeeeeaaat! Roscoe Conkling(pictured left) was the political strongman of the Stalwarts and his sole purpose at the convention was to get Ulysses S. Grant another term in the White House (he had served two before Hayes won in 1876). Garfield on the other hand was trying to get fellow moderate and brother to William Tecumseh Sherman, John Sherman nominated. Garfield gave his speech, and people were so impressed by it that they began to instead consider Garfield as a good compromise candidate. When it became clear after many ballots were cast but none defined a clear winner, people started to vote for Garfield. This was all to Garfield's horror. He didn't want the presidency and all its burdens. He asked several times that his name be taken out of consideration, but it was continuously ignored. In the end, Garfield was the nominee, much to his chagrin.

Now, don't get me wrong, Garfield eventually warmed up to being the most powerful man in America, it just wasn't something he explicitly wanted. Chester A. Arthur was chosen as his vice-president, not because Garfield and him got along, but because Garfield was a moderate, and Arthur a Stalwart. In fact, Arthur was Conkling's protege. With both a moderate and a Stalwart on the ticket, the Republicans hoped that they could patch things up long enough to get into the White House...again. Seriously, except for Cleveland and whatever the hell Andrew Johnson was, everyone was a Republican from 1860 through 1912. Before Garfield could do anything, he had to do something about Roscoe Conkling. Conkling had driven President Hayes insane and was liable to do the same thing to Garfield. To make matters worse, Conkling and Arthur were in cahoots. Arthur literally badmouthed the president to the press. Can you imagine Joe Biden doing that to President Obama? Or in fact any Vice-President doing that to any President in the last hundred years? NOPE! Garfield was kind of in a pickle, so what did he do? Nothing. Though not one to be walked on, Garfield never went looking for a fight. He knew that Conkling was trying to basically run the show, though he was only a New York congressman, but he also knew that Conkling would do something drastic. After Garfield posted half-breeds in government positions in New York, Conkling threw a hissy-fit and resigned, confident that the New York legislature would vote him back in, as that's how things worked back then. They didn't, and the Stalwarts lost their champion. With Conkling out of the way, Garfield could finally get something done. He knew Civil Service reform needed to be done, so he supported George Pendleton's bill for Civil Service Reform. If the bill passed, people would have to take a test to see if they were experienced enough to hold a government position.

This was about three months into his presidency. So, Garfield didn't really get anything done for the first three months. A month later, Garfield was gunned down by Stalwart and possible lunatic, Charles Guiteau. Guiteau was convinced he had helped get Garfield elected with a speech he had written and thus wanted a consulship as thanks. When he was denied this and told to never come back to the White House, Guiteau decided that it was God's will that Garfield we killed. Garfield at the time was walking with Secretary of State Blaine, when he was shot in the back twice with the second shot going through back and eventually resting inside his pancreas. Garfield was looked at by doctors, but it ended up being the worst thing for him. The doctors poked and prodded the president with dirty tools and unwashed hands which eventually led to Garfield's death. Alexander Graham Bell even tried to find the bullet with a makeshift metal detector. Too bad the bed springs were made of metal; he may have been able to find it. After Garfield passed away from a heart attack brought on by blood poisoning, the doctors took an autopsy and discovered that the bullet was four inches away from his spine, lodged in a protective cyst. This meant that Garfield would have been fine had it not been for his doctors. Well done! If you want to learn more about his assassin, please check out my post on Charles Guiteau!

Grade: ???
Like William Henry Harrison, it’s not fair to give Garfield a grade. Modern historians disagree and grade them anyway giving them below average marks. Garfield simply didn’t live long enough to do anything or mess anything up. Who knows what could of come from his presidency. Judging by his past accomplishments and his personality, I would think that Garfield would've had a great presidency. Alas, he was gunned down by a delusional man. The only good thing that came from his assassination was a feeling of unity. Garfield was mourned by all, which had brought the country closer together after all the resentment of reconstruction. Also, Arthur, now President, felt the need to get the Pendleton Act passed, seeing as everyone literally hated Stalwarts. I'm not joking, after the assassination, if you claimed to be one, you were liable to get lynched right then and there. Hooray!

All information from Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President.

1 comment:

  1. I love the Garfield the cat section. I remember when I was little, that was all I could think about when I heard President Garfield's name, lol.

    It's so crazy about his death and the doctors, btw.