James Abram Garfield

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Related to James Abram Garfield: Warren Gamaliel Harding, Chester Alan Arthur

Garfield, James Abram,

1831–81, 20th President of the United States (Mar.–Sept., 1881). Born on a frontier farm in Cuyahoga co., Ohio, he spent his early years in poverty. As a youth he worked as farmer, carpenter, and canal boatman. After graduation (1856) from Williams College, he became a teacher of ancient languages and literature at the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute at Hiram, Ohio (renamed, largely through his influence, Hiram Institute; now Hiram College), and later (1857–61) was its principal. He was also a lay preacher of the Disciples of Christ, was admitted (1859) to the bar, and was elected an antislavery state senator. During the Civil War he served in the Union army and was a major general of volunteers when he resigned (1863) to take his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. He was a regular Republican, unhesitatingly following his party's postwar program of radical Reconstruction and later of hard-money deflationism and opposition to civil service reform. On the tariff issue he was evasive. Garfield was prominent in the settlement of the disputed election of 1876 (in which Rutherford B. HayesHayes, Rutherford Birchard,
1822–93, 19th President of the United States (1877–81), b. Delaware, Ohio, grad. Kenyon College, 1843, and Harvard law school, 1845. He became a moderately successful lawyer in Cincinnati and was made (1858) city solicitor.
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 was ultimately adjudged the winner), but in 1880 he was still only moderately well known nationally.

Garfield, who never sought the presidency, was campaign manager for John ShermanSherman, John,
1823–1900, American statesman, b. Lancaster, Ohio; brother of William Tecumseh Sherman. He studied law, was admitted (1844) to the bar, and practiced law several years in Mansfield, Ohio, before he moved (1853) to Cleveland.
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 in the Republican convention but on the 36th ballot was himself chosen as compromise candidate for president. Former President GrantGrant, Ulysses Simpson,
1822–85, commander in chief of the Union army in the Civil War and 18th President (1869–77) of the United States, b. Point Pleasant, Ohio. He was originally named Hiram Ulysses Grant.
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, who had wanted the nomination, and his supporter, Roscoe ConklingConkling, Roscoe,
1829–88, American politician, b. Albany, N.Y. On his admission to the bar in 1850, he was immediately appointed district attorney of Albany. The son of Alfred Conkling, Congressman and federal judge, he became a U.S.
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, gave Garfield only formal aid in the election—and allegedly even that was conditioned on a promise of a share in the president's political favors. After Garfield had defeated W. S. HancockHancock, Winfield Scott,
1824–86, Union general in the American Civil War, b. Montgomery Square, near Norristown, Pa. He served with distinction in the Mexican War and was chief quartermaster on the Pacific coast when the Civil War broke out.
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 and was president, he passed over Conkling's "Stalwarts" in his appointments and appointed James G. BlaineBlaine, James Gillespie,
1830–93, American politician, b. West Brownsville, Pa. Early Career

Blaine taught school and studied law before moving (1854) to Maine, where he became an influential newspaper editor.
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, Conkling's political enemy, secretary of state. War was thus declared between the president and the most important faction of the Republican party. Garfield won the first round of the fight, getting his appointee for the New York port collectorship approved over Conkling's objections. He began prosecution of the star route postal frauds. Constantly harassed by office seekers, President Garfield met his death through one of them. On July 2, 1881, he was shot by Charles J. Guiteau. On Sept. 19 he died, and Chester A. ArthurArthur, Chester Alan,
1829–86, 21st President of the United States (1881–85), b. Fairfield, Vt. He studied law and before the Civil War practiced in New York City. In the war he was (1861–63) quartermaster general of New York State.
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 succeeded to the presidency. Garfield was a brilliant orator and an able, knowing, and charming man. He had shown little originality or force in his 17 years as congressman, and his early death prevented him from showing whether or not he might have demonstrated statesmanship as president.


See his diary, ed. by H. J. Brown and F. D. Williams (1967–81); T. C. Smith, Life and Letters of James A. Garfield (1925, repr. 1968); biographies by J. M. Taylor (1970) and A. Peskin (1978); K. D. Ackerman, Dark Horse (2003); C. Millard, Destiny of the Republic (2011).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Garfield, James Abram


Born Nov. 19, 1831, in Orange, Ohio; died Sept. 19, 1881, in Elberon, N. J. US statesman and politician. Born into the family of a farmer.

During the Civil War (1861-65), Garfield was one of the commanding officers of Lincoln’s army. In 1862 he was elected to Congress; in the 1870’s he became House Republican leader. After a hard-fought contest he was nominated by the Republican Party for the presidency in the 1880 elections. He became president on Mar. 17, 1881. He died after being seriously wounded by an assassin on July 2, 1881.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.