BIOGRAPHY OF JAMES A. GARFIELD
Although his presidency lasted only 200 days, James A. Garfield's life reflected a significant portion of American history--from log cabin, to the Ohio & Erie Canal, to an eastern abolitionist college, to Civil War battlefields, to the halls of Congress, and finally, to the White House. His life provides a valuable retrospective of America's transformation from frontier to Industrial Age. He is the epitome of the American success story.
The story of Garfield's early life can be summed up in two words: difficult and poverty-stricken. The youngest of five children, James Garfield was born in a log cabin in Orange Township, Cuyahoga County, Ohio an early settlement in the Western Reserve. His parents were pioneers from New England. On his father Abram's side, he descended from Edward Garfield, who emigrated from Hillmorton, Warwickshire, England in 1630 and settled in Watertown, Massachusetts. His mother, Eliza Ballou Garfield, came from French Huguenot stock and was descended from Maturin Ballou, who fled France during the revocation of the Edict of Nantes and joined the colony of Roger Williams in Cumberland, Rhode Island. Men from both of their families fought in the American Revolution.
The Ballous moved to the Ohio frontier in 1814, settling in Muskingham County. Abram Garfield moved west to Ohio in 1819. He married Eliza Ballou in February 1820, and they moved to the Cuyahoga Valley, settling in a log cabin. Their first four children were born there: Mehitabel in 1821, Thomas in 1822, Mary in 1824, and James Ballou in 1826. Abram worked on digging a portion of the Ohio & Erie Canal and farmed. Life was difficult; they lived under primitive conditions and were often sick with the ague or bilious fever. Their fourth child, James Ballou, died in 1829, the same year the Garfields moved to Orange Township along the Chagrin River. Here they built a new log house and farmed their land.
The death of little James Ballou caused the family to seek a new way of life. Abram and Eliza were among the many converts in the Western Reserve who were influenced by the religious movement promoted by western Virginian minister Alexander Campbell. The Garfields found a brotherhood of friendship and support within their community of Campbel-lites, known as the Disciples of Christ in their region, and were baptized into this new faith.
A new baby, James Abram, was born on November 19, 1831. He was given, as was commonly done, the name of the child who had died, along with the name of his father. The joy of a new baby, as well as in their newfound religion, was short-lived for the Garfield family. Abram suddenly died at age 33 after fighting a forest fire near the family cabin; little James Abram was only eighteen months old. Eliza relates in her diary that, "a few minutes before Abram succumbed, he gazed fondly at his brood and gasped out, 'Eliza, I have planted four saplings in these woods. I leave them in your care.'"
Garfield's mother was left with the difficult task of raising four children in the wilderness. She sold some of their farm acreage to pay off debts and keep her family together. The older children helped her with the farming, and she did sewing for the neighbors to earn a little money. Garfield was perhaps the poorest man ever to become President. He later commented:
"To some men the fact they came up from poverty is a matter of pride I lament it sorely. Cold hearted men frowned upon me and I was made the ridicule and sport of boys that had fathers, and enjoyed the luxuries of life."
As a youngster, James Garfield learned quickly. His passions were hunting and reading, especially history, the Bible, and fictional stories of Indians, pirates, and the sea. He read everything he could lay his hands on and lost himself in imaginary tales of adventure. His day dreaming was often the cause of personal injury which, combined with frontier ailments, gave Garfield the opportunity to read even more while convalescing. As did other farmers' children, he attended district school when it wasn't planting or harvesting season. At age sixteen, he left home and walked to Cleveland with the romantic idea of becoming a sailor on the Great Lakes. Instead, Garfield was hired by his cousin, Captain Amos Letcher, to drive the horses that towed his "Evening Star" barge along the Ohio & Erie Canal. Garfield made several trips between Cleveland and Pittsburgh during the six weeks he spent on the canal, but his sailing career was cut short when he contracted malaria and returned home to the protective care of his mother.
While James recovered, Eliza encouraged him to pursue an education, rather than return to the canal. She gave him the entire household savings of seventeen dollars to join a number of other Orange Township boys at the Geauga Seminary, a high school conducted by the Free Will Baptists in the nearby town of Chester, for the spring term of 1849. Here, among the more than 200 students that spring, James met Lucretia Rudolph, a young Disciples of Christ church member from Garrettsville, Ohio.
Following the example of his parents, Garfield was baptized into the Disciples of Christ church in 1850, and in 1851 he enrolled at the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (now Hiram College), a school founded by that denomination. Lucretia's father, Zeb Rudolph, was a founder and trustee of the new school on Hiram Hill. James' and Lucretia's paths crossed again at the Eclectic. In December 1853 he wrote in his diary:
"I have for a series of years been acquainted with Miss Lucretia Rudolph and have been for several months studying her nature and mind. First and most important of all, I think her to be a genuine Christian, with a tender conscience, and with principles predicated upon truth and justiceI feel that under the proper circumstances, I could love her, and unite my destiny to hers."
To support himself, Garfield taught district school in between terms, and worked as a janitor and part-time teacher at the Eclectic Institute. He took over the Greek and Latin classes in the spring of 1853 when the regular teacher became ill and this resulted in bringing James and Lucretia into a closer relationship that of teacher and pupil. Their courtship began with an effusive letter written by James in November 1853 after a day of sightseeing at Niagara Falls. It began, "Lucretia, My Sister, Please pardon the liberty I take in pointing my pen towards your name this evening, for I have taken in so much scenery today I cannot contain it all myself." This letter started an exchange of correspondence with Lucretia--approximately 1,200 lettersthat continued throughout Garfield's lifetime.
He entered Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts in 1854 as a junior--one of the oldest students. He preached and taught Spencerian penmanship classes to supplement the money loaned to him for the completion of his education. Under the guidance of Mark Hopkins, the president of Williams, Garfield matured intellectually and broadened his interests. Aboli-tionist speakers he heard in the autumn of 1855 emotionally inspired Garfield. He now identified with the anti-slavery beliefs of the new Republican Party. He graduated with honors in 1856. While James Garfield attended Williams, back in Ohio Lucretia Rudolph taught school and took classes in art and music.
After graduating, Garfield returned to the Eclectic Institute as professor of ancient languages and mathematics. He served as chairman of its Board of Instruction in 1857, then was made its principal (or president) in 1858. Under Garfield's leadership the Eclectic prospered; enrollment rose and the school became financially sound. His goal was to transform it from a narrow, denominational academy into a regional education center. Garfield would maintain his connections to both Hiram and Williams Colleges throughout his life, attending reunions, making speeches at commencement exercises, and serving on their boards of trustees. Williams conferred on him two honorary degrees, a Masters in 1859 and a Doctorate in 1872.
James Garfield and Lucretia Rudolph were married in a small ceremony at her family home in Hiram on November 11, 1858. The newlyweds moved into a boarding house on the Hiram campus because they didn't have enough money to buy or rent their own home. Garfield spoke of marrying because of a sense of duty and even told "Crete," as he called his wife, that their marriage was a mistake. She was a shy, reserved womanthe exact opposite of Garfield who was very gregarious. He wasn't sure that Crete was the right match for him. Later, they referred to their early years together as "the dark years."
Over the next four years, Garfield would find reasons to be away from home as often as possible. Even the birth on July 3, 1860 of their first child, Eliza, nicknamed "Little Trot," would not keep a restless James Garfield home for long. Lucretia later calculated that they lived together for only twenty weeks during their early marriage.
While James Garfield was president of the Eclectic, his career took an interesting turn. In addition to preaching occasionally, he began a study of the law. His experiences at Williams College had sparked his interest in politics. In fact, he campaigned in Ohio for John C. Fremont and the new Republican Party in the presidential election of 1856. In December 1858, shortly after his wedding, a debate about "Creation" with William Denton in Chagrin Falls, Ohio would elevate Garfield's reputation throughout the Western Reserve.
His oratorical and debating skills drew notice from local Republican leaders who placed his name in nomination for state senator from Ohio's 26th District. He campaigned hard and well, his more than 30 campaign speeches all devoted to the slavery issue. During the campaign, John Brown, one of Garfield's constituents and probably the district's most zealous abolitionist, was putting his antislavery convictions to the test. Most of his neighbors in the Western Reserve shared his views. Garfield would not condone the bloody raid on Harper's Ferry, but he believed that John Brown was a hero whose execution would "be the dawn of a better day."
On October 11, 1859, Garfield won his district with surprising ease: 5,176 to 3,746 votes. He had now entered the arena of politics news that was grimly received by many of the local Disciples. Nevertheless, Garfield put the Eclectic's affairs in order so that it would run smoothly while he was in Columbus with his legislative duties. He continued his law study while simultaneously maintaining his duties in the Senate and at the Eclectic. He was admitted to the bar January 26, 1861 and served as a lawyer intermittently the rest of his life.
Civil War Service
James Garfield's civilian experiences had more than adequately prepared him for Civil War service. He was attending a regular session of the Ohio legislature in April 1861 when news came that Fort Sumter had been fired upon. Like many others, Garfield offered his services to Ohio Governor Dennison, "in any capacity he may see fit to appoint me." In mid-August 1861 he was sworn in as Lieutenant Colonel of the 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He used the same powers of persuasion that made him a good preacher, orator, and debater to raise troops for the 42nd O.V.I. He recruited many of his former students from Hiram, along with men from other towns in the Western Reserve. They trained for three months at Camp Chase in Columbus. Garfield had no previous military experience but applied his studious habits of a lifetime to become a soldier himself and to master infantry tactics and drills to lead others.
The 42nd was sent to Cincinnati and then into Kentucky at Middle Creek in the Sandy Valley. Garfield won a minor battle there and was promoted to brigadier general. Late in the summer of 1862, he was sent home on sick leave with camp fever. After recovering, he was ordered to Washington, D.C. to await his next assignment from the War Department. There he found allies in Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase, both Ohioans who shared Garfield's views about slavery, the war, and West Point officers. After four months in Washington, he was summoned to Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Brigadier General Garfield carried letters of recommendation from these men to his new boss, General William S. Rosecrans, commander of the Army of the Cumberland. In the fall of 1863, as chief of staff to Rosecrans, Garfield distinguished himself during the Battle of Chickamauga in Georgia. He was promoted to major general, the youngest at the time, for courage and leadership shown during a daring ride to the battlefront under enemy fire. He observed that, "Battles are never the end of war; for the Dead must be buried and the cost of the Conflict must be paid."
General Garfield resigned his army commission shortly afterwards at the urging of President Abraham Lincoln. While still on active duty, and without ever campaigning, Garfield had been elected U.S. Congressman from the 19th District in Ohio. He took his seat in Congress in December 1863, because at that point, Lincoln needed his military expertise more as a congressman than as a general. His military record would prove to be the foundation of his political career.
General Garfield's first assignment as Congressman Garfield was as a member of the Military Affairs Committee (1863-1865). The youngest member of the 38th Congress had a part in the administration of the Civil War this time from the Capital. During the war years, Garfield distinguished himself as a Radical Republican in Congress. He was a Unionist and a military- minded politician, but he supported more moderate reconstruction measures toward the defeated South. He later served as chairman of the Committee of Military Affairs from 1867 to 1869.
During his nine terms as congressman, Garfield became an expert on financial matters. He served on the House Ways and Means Committee (1865-1867) and was chairman of the Banking and Currency Committee (1869-1871) and Appropriations Committee (1871-1875). He advocated hard money policies, in spite of the soft money sentiment of his constituents. He opposed all efforts to inflate the supply of money. He supported a moderate approach to tariff issues. In 1869, Garfield chaired a special sub-committee that introduced a modernized census bill that led to immediate changes in the Census Act of 1850, brought forth a large amount of census literature, and paved the way for the Census Act of 1880.
James Garfield was also appointed to several special committees during his congressional career. He served on the House Rules Committee (1879), the Committee on the Pacific Railroad (1877), and as a Special Commissioner of Indian Affairs (1872), he negotiated with the Flathead Indians in Montana. He was one of fifteen men who served on the Electoral Commission that investigated and settled the disputed Hayes-Tilden presidential election of 1876. Garfield rose through the ranks to become the minority leader of the House during President Rutherford B. Hayes' administration. Garfield's tenure in Congress also included work on education and scientific progress issues, civil service reform, and safeguarding the rights of Southern blacks.
Several scandals tainted his tenure in the House of Representatives: Credit Mobilier, the "Salary Grab," and the DeGolyer Pavement affair. None of the investigations conclusively proved that Garfield acted improperly, but some Republicans called for his ouster. He wrote to his friend, Burke Hinsdale, in 1874:
"I am too proud to confess to any but my most intimate friends how deeply this whole matter has grieved me. While I did nothing that can be construed [as] impropriety, much less corruption the shadow of the cursed thing [will] cling to my name for many years."
He would not allow himself to be driven out of public life in disgrace. Garfield defended his record by using newspapers whose editors were aligned with him to publish written explanations and refutations, and by personally making speeches throughout the Western Reserve. His constituents continued to re-elect him by large margins. In 1877 he said:
"The people are responsible for the character of their Congress. If that body be ignorant, reckless, and corrupt, it is because the people have tolerated ignorance, recklessness, and corruption. If it be intelligent, brave, and pure, it is because the people demand these high qualities to represent them in the national legislature."
As a legislator, Garfield had many strengths. He was a well-rounded man with a strong desire to excel. He was well educated and intellectually curious and devoted long hours to researching and preparing the subjects of his debates in Congress. In discussions, he took the high road by avoiding personal accusations and animus. Garfield "was an outstanding speaker his major speeches were characterized by sound organization, clarity, and rationality, and they were delivered with force and effect." He also became a skilled parliamentarian. As James Blaine said in his memorial address of 1882, "The great measure of Garfield's fame was filled by his service in the House of Representatives."
Garfield's family life was one of the constants during his military and political careers, despite the frequent separations. After almost five years of marriage and one child, James Garfield fell in love with his wife. While recuperating from camp fever at Howland Springs near Warren, Ohio with his wife and daughter, Garfield discovered the "real" Lucretia. This was the first opportunity for their little family to be truly alone together. These weeks were the turning point in their marriage. Many letters he wrote afterwards from the army spoke of his love, gratitude, and joy in "the fragrance of the 'alabaster box,' which, so long sealed, has been broken at last."
Lucretia's earlier emotional restraint was due to her formal and reserved upbringing. Her parents valued education but stressed the virtue of "self-government" and were not openly affectionate with their children. She recalled being kissed by her mother only once, and did not remember ever being kissed by her father. Perhaps this emotional inequality was the cause of Garfield's several indiscretions. He would come to rely on Crete's quiet strength and forgiving nature.
Lucretia dedicated her life to creating a pleasant home and raising their children. She did, however, struggle with her inner self, as shown in a passage from a letter to her husband in June 1877:
"It is horrible to be a man but the grinding misery of being a woman between the upper and nether millstone of household cares and training children is almost as bad. To be half civilized with some aspirations for enlightenment, and obliged to spend the largest part of time the victim of young barbarians keeps one in a perpetual ferment."
Lucretia had a keen intellect and a natural ability in art and languages. She also was very pragmatic and especially adept in handling construction matters. She personally oversaw many of the additions, renovations, and redecorating projects of their homes in Hiram, Washington, D.C., and Mentor. Lucretia shared a love of books with her husband, and they took pleasure in reading together. They also enjoyed attending the theater and socializing with their friends. James confided in her and trusted her advice. They came to believe that theirs was the perfect union.
The Garfields were very devoted to their children and were greatly involved in their education and daily lives. They had seven, but sadly witnessed the death of two of them as toddlers: Eliza "Trot" died from diphtheria at the age of three and one-half, and Edward "Neddie" died from whooping cough when he was only eighteen months old. The five remaining children grew up to be successful and productive citizens. Harry Augustus (1863-1942), lawyer, professor, and civic leader, was the president of Williams College from 1908-1934. Prior to that, he worked for Woodrow Wilson twice, at Princeton University and in Washington during World War I. James R. (1865-1950), also a lawyer and civic leader, served as Ohio State Senator as well as Secretary of the Interior in Theodore Roosevelt's Cabinet. Mary ("Mollie"-1867-1947), who married her father's private secretary, Joseph Stanley-Brown, was active in civic affairs in New York City and Pasadena. Irvin McDowell (1870-1951) became a lawyer with a firm in Boston. Abram (1872-1958) was a prominent architect in Cleveland.
James Garfield always held a special place in his heart for his mother, Eliza, to whom he credited his success in life. He wrote in his diary on his 24th birthday:
"In reviewing the various scenes of my short yet eventful life, in examining the tangled web of circumstance and earthly influences, I can see one golden thread running through the wholemy mother's influence upon me. At almost every turning point in my life she has been the moulding agent."
She lived with his family, off and on, for about twenty years. She survived his death by seven years and died at Lawnfield in January 1888.
Election of 1880
The election year of 1880 held several surprises for Congressman Garfield, his family, and his supporters. The Ohio legislature had elected him to the U.S. Senate in January 1880. Before he could take his seat there, he took part in the Republican National Convention in Chicago in June 1880. The party was severely divided between the Half-Breeds, who nominated James Blaine, and the Stalwarts, who wanted former President Ulysses S. Grant for a third term in office. James Garfield, an Ohio delegate and chairman of the Convention Rules Committee, nominated Secretary of the Treasury John Sherman as a compromise candidate.
The convention was deadlocked through 33 ballots; none of the proposed candidates secured a majority of votes. By the 36th ballot, the Blaine and Sherman forces gave their votes to Garfield, who won by 399 votes to Grant's 306. It was the first time that a president-to-be was present at his own nomination! The convention selected Chester A. Arthur, a Stalwart who was formerly the Collector of the Port of New York, for vice president.
James Garfield returned to his Mentor farm as the "dark horse" candidate. This was the first autumn in over twenty years that he was not required to take part in canvassing votes for the Republican Party. Following the established standard of the period, Garfield-the-candidate stayed at home and made no overtly political speeches. However, this tradition was uncomfortable for him, as he confessed to his diary on September 26, 1880, "If I could but take the stump and bear a fighting share in the campaign, I should feel happier." So, while he portrayed the country gentleman and farmer, Garfield, who was one of the best known and most skillful orators of his time, spoke to the many groups and delegations that made their way to Mentor to meet the candidate. These speeches, to perhaps 17, 000 visitors over the course of the campaign, have been described as "small masterpieces, each appropriate to the occasion" but they never addressed the issues and personalities of the campaign.
Garfield also planned and oversaw campaign strategy and fundraising. He received reports from party members around the country and managed inevitable crises that arose. The volume of mail that arrived for the candidate was nearly overwhelming. A second post office was opened in Mentor, and Garfield employed three secretaries to help him deal with the correspondence. Much of this campaign work was conducted in the small library behind his farmhouse. A telegraph line was installed in the building, which allowed quicker communication with supporters around the country.
The work of the farm continued during that "busy though pleasant summer." Even on Election Day, part of Garfield's time was spent on farm business. His diary entry for November 2, 1880 reads:
"The day opened clear and bright with indications here, and in the weather reports, of a fair day throughout the country. Very quiet in the officefew callers and few telegrams in the forenoon. Dictated and wrote many letters. At 2 P.M. went to town hall and voted for Republican electors. On return stopped at cheese house and settled dairy accounts. During afternoon telegrams indicated peaceful election and heavy vote. At 6 returns began to come in, Judd and Jeffers taking dispatches. Some reporters and friends from Cleveland came. Later in evening many neighbors came in. By 11 P.M. it became evident that we had carried N.Y. At 12 P.M. we gave supper to about 15 friends. At 3 A.M. we closed the office, secure in all northern states except N.J. and the Pacific states, which are yet in doubt."
The "front porch campaign," combined with Garfield's life story as the ideal self-made man, gave him the necessary edge to win the electionby approximately 10,000 votes over his Democratic opponent, Winfield S. Hancock. His support was stronger in the Electoral College, 214 to 155, than with the popular vote. It was one of the closest elections in history.
James A. Garfield was inaugurated as the nation's twentieth president on March 4, 1881. He is one of the only "modern" presidents to give his inaugural address first, then take the oath of office. After taking the pledge prescribed by the Constitution before Chief Justice Morrison Waite, Garfield's first act as president was to lean over and kiss his "dear old mother." Eliza Ballou Garfield was the first mother in American history to see her son inaugurated President of the United States. Lucretia admiringly commented that James was a "majestic figure" who "stood out before the people and with the inspiration of the time and the occasion lifting him up into his fullest grandeur he became in the magnificence with which he pronounced his Inaugural almost superhuman." The day's festivities continued with a parade, led by Grand Marshall William Tecumseh Sherman, past the viewing stand in front of the White House. The inaugural ball was held in the National Museum (now called the Arts and Industries Building, part of the Smithsonian Institution).
James Garfield served as President of the United States for only a little more than six months, so he had little time to accomplish much during his presidency. He began his administration as the head of a divided party. He appointed his Cabinet members despite having to struggle with party leaders over patronage: James Blaine, Secretary of State; William Windom, Secretary of the Treasury; Robert Todd Lincoln, Secretary of War; Wayne MacVeagh, Attorney General; Thomas L. James, Postmaster General; William H. Hunt, Secretary of the Navy; and Samuel Kirkwood, Secretary of the Interior. In putting his own men in these positions, Garfield defeated Roscoe Conkling's corrupt New York political machine, and became the undisputed party leader: "I wanted it known soon whether I was the registering clerk of the Senate or the Executive of the Government." The era of "senatorial courtesy" a practice that allowed senators, rather than the president, to choose federal officials in their states had come to an end.
During his administration, President Garfield put the financial expertise he acquired in Congress to work by recalling government bonds and having the Treasury refinance them, which saved the country $10 million annually. Also, corruption in the post office was exposed by his Postmaster General, and the resulting Star Route investigation began during Garfield's presidency. His foreign policy activities were somewhat limited to filling vacant diplomatic positions. However, his high priority issues included cultivating closer ties with Latin America, the Chinese immigration question, and fishing disputes with Britain. He requested that Secretary of State Blaine begin planning for a Pan-American conference as soon as possible.
As First Lady, Lucretia Garfield planned to restore the Executive Mansion's furnishings. The President accompanied her to the Library of Congress where she studied the history of the house. She even began shopping for replacement furnishings. Unfortunately, Lucretia became very ill in early May 1881 and was diagnosed with malaria. The President devoted his energies to nursing his wife back to health. By the end of May she was finally out of immediate danger, and her family accompanied her to Elberon (now Long Branch), New Jersey where she could recuperate near the ocean breezes. The President returned to Washington knowing that his "dear one" was getting stronger every day.
On July 2, 1881, in the Baltimore and Potomac railroad station in Washington, D.C., Charles Guiteau shot President James Garfield. The President was on his way to attend the Williams College commencement and his 25th reunion, and to enroll his sons, Harry and Jim, as freshmen for the fall semester. One bullet from the .44 caliber British Bulldog revolver grazed Garfield's arm; a second bullet entered his back, passed through his spine, and lodged near his pancreas. Guiteau was apprehended by police officer Patrick Kearney and taken to the police station, while the President was attended to.
The assassin's actions were premeditated and meticulous. The inspiration to "remove" the President struck Charles Julius Guiteau on May 18, 1881 and obsessed him until he finally convinced himself that God wanted him to do it. Guiteau, a mentally unstable drifter who had delusions of being a foreign diplomat in Garfield's administration, purchased the ivory-handled revolver specifically because it would look more impressive in a museum. He had never handled a revolver before, so he had several sessions of target practice. Guiteau also visited the jail to examine it for his comfort and security, stalked the President for a month to learn his routine, and prepared several statements to explain the motives for his actions:
"The President's tragic death was a sad necessity, but it will unite the Republican
party and save the Republic I had no ill-will toward the President His death was a political necessity...I am a Stalwart of the Stalwarts."
President Garfield would lay mortally wounded in the White House for two months. His doctors were unable to locate or remove the bullet, despite help from Alexander Graham Bell and his metal detector. The First Lady was summoned back to Washington, even though she had not fully recovered from her illness. A biography of Garfield written in 1881, described her courageous guardianship:
"She never left him in all those weary days of pain, and it was she, who, on many occasions, brought him back to consciousness and life by tender care, when it seemed to others that the slender thread which bound him to earth was too weak longer to hold Even medical attendants were unanimous in according her the first praise for attentions which were more important to the patient than any they could render This toil was constant, day by day, without intermission, except for a few hours for sleep, and to the exclusion of all thoughts
for her own health or comfort, she may well be cited as one of the noblest examples of true wifehood in any age or country."
A special track was laid so that the ailing President could be taken away from the oppressive heat of Washington to the seashore at Elberon. Charles G. Francklyn, an industrialist in New York and London, offered his "cottage" for the President's recuperation. Garfield's condition slightly improved. However, all the efforts were for naught. President James A. Garfield died at 10:35 p.m. on September 19, 1881, just two months before his 50th birthday, of blood poisoning (infection) and cardiac arrest.
The aftermath of the President's death was felt in the United States and abroad. An out-pouring of grief brought condolences from Great Britain, Italy, Ireland, and other countries, including a day of mourning proclaimed in the royal courts of Europe. His funeral ceremonies lasted almost a week, with his body lying in state in the Capitol rotunda in Washington, D.C. and in an immense pavilion erected on the Public Square in Cleveland. President Garfield was temporarily laid to rest in a vault in Lake View Cemetery, five miles from Public Square. On May 30, 1890, a 180-foot high, Romanesque-style memorial building in the cemetery was dedicated to house his remainsbuilt from monies raised through public donations.
Chester A. Arthur was sworn in as the 21st President shortly after President Garfield's death. He would oversee the passage of the Pendleton Act in 1883, a civil service reform measure changing the patronage system that contributed to Garfield's death. It would take the assassination of another president, William McKinley, in 1901, before the Secret Service was assigned to guard the president and his family. Charles Julius Guiteau was tried, convicted, and hanged in 1882 despite his protestations that, "the doctors killed the President; I merely shot him."
James A. Garfield's legacy would take shape in a variety of ways. A few days after President Garfield was shot, Cyrus W. Field, a New York businessman and friend of the family, esta-blished a subscription fund for Lucretia Garfield and her children. A sorrowful public, who essentially lived through the ordeal with the family due to newspaper bulletins, contributed over $350,000. Lucretia used a portion of the money to build a Memorial Library addition onto the rear of the Mentor farmhouse in 1885-1886. She created the first memorial library for an U.S. presidenta room where her husband's books, letters, speeches, and documents would be organized, displayed, and protected. It would be a proper commemoration of Garfield's years in public service and potent evidence of her devotion to him. Lucretia and her family resided at 968 Prospect St. (the Worthington house) in Cleveland while the Memorial Library addition was constructed.
In 1904, Lucretia Garfield had a house built in Pasadena, California by Arts and Crafts' architects Greene and Greene. She spent her winters there, returning to Lawnfield for the spring through autumn months. Lucretia had sixteen grandchildren who enjoyed spending summers at the Mentor farm. She died in Pasadena on March 14, 1918 at the age of 85 and was placed next to her husband in the Garfield Monument at Lake View Cemetery.
The Garfield family continues on, with members living all across the country. They take pride in their heritage, and gather together for reunions to rekindle relationships and to teach the younger generations about the family's history. Shortly before he died, James Garfield asked his friend, Colonel Rockwell, "do you think my name will have a place in human history?" Rockwell replied, "Yes, a grand one, but a grander place in human hearts."
Living Historian, Portrayer of Lucretia R. Garfield
& Former Interpreter/Educator/Researcher at the
James A. Garfield National Historic Site, Mentor, OH