Presidents and Politicians: The 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry

At the end of the Civil War, many Union officers from Ohio were able to transfer their careers to the political arena. Some were quite successful; others were not. The 23rd Ohio Volunteers had the honor of delivering two future presidents, a Supreme Court justice, and an ambassador to Hawaii.

The 23rd OVI was mustered into service in July 1861 at Camp Chase in Columbus, Ohio. The regimental commander would be William Rosecrans, a man destined for both praise and scorn during the course of his military career. His staff officers were two graduates of Kenyon College: Lieutenant Colonel Stanley Matthews and Major Rutherford B. Hayes. Among the enlisted men was eighteen-year-old William McKinley.

Before leaving Camp Chase, the regiment nearly chose to go on strike. The soldiers went ballistic when they received old muskets probably left over from the Mexican War. Many of the boys refused to accept the ancient guns. While the dispute raged, the officers were alarmed to learn that General John C. Fremont was on his way to inspect the new recruits. A genuine concern developed that the soldiers of the 23rd would boycott the inspection. After much debate the boys agreed to appear in front of General Fremont but still argued they would not go into battle with the outdated weapons.

These members of the 23rd Ohio's color guard stand proudly with their national colors, which have obviously seen a great deal of fighting.  (Ohio Historical Society)

These members of the 23rd Ohio’s color guard stand proudly with their national colors, which have obviously seen a great deal of fighting. (Ohio Historical Society)

While officers tried to coerce the soldiers, Major Hayes went from tent to tent and talked things over with his men. He made no threats, but quietly reminded everybody they had an obligation to defend their country regardless of the poor weapons issued. He assured them better muskets would eventually be issued. The soldiers were impressed with Hayes’s words and agreed to accept the guns. Private McKinley would remark that his fellow soldiers were won over by Major Hayes and readily accepted him as their leader.

Lieutenant Colonel Matthews would not enjoy the respect of his troops. A political appointee, Matthews did not have the ability to instill confidence in his regiment. He was a lawyer by trade, serving as United States Attorney for the District of Ohio. His courtroom skills did not translate well to the Union army. Within a year he would resign from the 23rd.

With Matthews gone, Major Hayes received a promotion to Lieutenant Colonel. By April of 1862 he was appointed commander of the regiment. He proved to be an aggressive leader, always eager to give battle. Sometimes the battles were with superior officers. He tangled with Major General Jesse Reno, who was enraged when the men of the 23rd were caught pilfering straw for their horses and camp site. Hayes defended his soldiers, advising the general he would pay for the straw if need be. After a few tense moments Reno calmed down and headed off to rejoin his division. Hayes was already well thought of by his men. Now they would run through a brick wall for him.

In September 1862 the 23rd was heavily engaged in the battle of South Mountain during the Maryland Campaign that culminated with the bloody battle of Antietam. Hayes ordered his regiment to charge. Moments later he was shot in the left arm, but stayed on the field while the fight continued. Later he was moved to a field hospital and eventually recuperated at home in Ohio.

Rutherford B. Hayes served the Union with distinction throughout the Civil War.  Like many postwar Republicans, his military record made him an appealing candidate for high office.  (NEED SOURCE)

Rutherford B. Hayes served the Union with distinction throughout the Civil War. Like many postwar Republicans, his military record made him an appealing candidate for high office. (Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center)

Hayes missed the battle of Antietam, but Commissary Sergeant William McKinley would prove himself a hero there. The 23rd was on the field all day, taking part in one of the most horrific battles of the Civil War. They had entered the fight without eating breakfast and by late afternoon were exhausted and desperate for food. McKinley seized the moment by loading a wagon with rations and coffee. He took one volunteer with him and rode into the fight. He was stopped by several Union officers who warned him to turn back. The sergeant ignored the advice and spurred the horses forward. A rebel cannon shot damaged the back of the wagon but McKinley did not stop until he reached the 23rd. Word of his bravery reached Hayes, who recommended the nineteen-year-old for promotion to second lieutenant. Several weeks later McKinley was an officer.

Hayes, now a colonel, returned to command in November of 1862. His place had been taken by Major James Comly, a competent officer and a good friend. Along with leading the 23rd, Hayes was given command of the First Brigade of the Second Kanawha Division consisting of the 23rd, the 89th Ohio, and two cavalry companies. They saw little action until July of 1863 when the brigade gave chase to Confederate General John Hunt Morgan and his raiders. The rebels had entered southern Ohio via Kentucky, intent on causing as much mayhem as possible. The first Brigade caught up with Morgan on July 19th and followed him to Buffington Island, where the raiders surrendered.

William McKinley entered Union service as a private.  By war's end, he was a Major with an impressive service record.  (NEED SOURCE)

William McKinley entered Union service as a private. By war’s end, he was a Major with an impressive service record. (William McKinley Presidential Library)

For the balance of the year the First Brigade did not see any significant action. In July of 1864 they were involved in the battle of Winchester, Virginia. The Confederates pushed back Hayes’s brigade, forcing them to a defensive position behind a lengthy stone wall. While holding firm, Colonel Hayes realized the 13th regiment had been left behind. He ordered Lieutenant McKinley to ride through the Confederate position and return with the lost soldiers. McKinley galloped forward, dodging bullets and cannon shot. The Union officers had their spyglasses on the rider, amazed that he was still upright in the saddle. McKinley passed the Rebel lines and continued riding until he located the 13th. He brought them back to the Union lines unscathed, and ready to continue the fight. Another promotion for McKinely was in the works, this time to captain.

There would be more honors for Hayes and McKinley. In December Hayes would be promoted to Brigadier General and McKinley to brevet Major. Both men continued to fight to the utmost. While directing his brigade in one battle, Hayes’s horse was killed, causing the general to take a nasty spill. He fell unconscious causing some of his soldiers to think their commander was dead. He roused himself only to see his brigade retreating with Confederates closing in from all directions. General Hayes scrambled to his feet and somehow staggered his way back to safety. A spent rebel bullet struck him in the head, a perfect end to a day of intense fighting.

Once again Major McKinley would leave the safety of his lines, this time to identify cavalry that was too close to the Union position. He galloped forward directly into a company of Confederate riders. The chase was on but the amazing escapades of the daring young officer would not be ended here. To the astonishment of his fellow officers he outran the pursuing Confederates, arriving safely at the Union position. In four years of service McKinley had risen from a volunteer private to a major while still in his early twenties. He mustered out of the army, studied law, and soon became a prosecuting attorney. Similar to his military career, he took the field of politics by storm. In short order he was a Republican Congressman, Governor of Ohio, and in 1896 elected the 25th President of the United States. McKinley won a second term but was shot by a suspected anarchist and died on September 14, 1901.

Stanley Matthews did not endear himself to the soldiers of the 23rd Ohio, who much preferred the command of Rutherford B. Hayes.  Even so, President James A. Garfield nominated Matthews to the Supreme Court in 1881 on Hayes's recommendation.  (NEED SOURCE)

Stanley Matthews did not endear himself to the soldiers of the 23rd Ohio, who much preferred the command of Rutherford B. Hayes. Even so, President James A. Garfield nominated Matthews to the Supreme Court in 1881 on Hayes’s recommendation. (Library of Congress)

General Hayes entered politics immediately after the Civil War. He served as a Republican Congressman, Governor of Ohio for three non-consecutive terms, then won the presidency in the election of 1876. Hayes selected his old staff officer James Comly to be ambassador to Hawaii, where he functioned for six years. At the end of his term, Hayes nominated Stanley Matthews for a position on the United States Supreme Court. The nomination was tabled but re-submitted by President James A. Garfield in 1881. Matthews got his seat and served with distinction until his death in 1889.

James Comly served as a staff officer to Rutherford B. Hayes during the Civil War.  Later, President Hayes made Comly the U.S. ambassador to Hawaii.  (NEED SOURCE)

James Comly served as a staff officer to Rutherford B. Hayes during the Civil War. Later, President Hayes made Comly the U.S. ambassador to Hawaii. (www.picturehistory.com)

The men of the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry performed admirably during their time in the Civil War. They were skillfully commanded by a fearless Rutherford B. Hayes. Major William McKinley displayed immense courage time and again on the battlefield. Stanley Matthews had some deficiencies in command, but proved to be a capable member of the Supreme Court. James Comly served his general well and was rewarded for his efforts by representing the United States in one of the elite assignments any non-politician could hope to get. The 23rd OVI left quite a legacy during the war, and continued doing so for many years to come.

-Scott Longert, Park Guide

James A. Garfield and the Centennial Exposition of 1876, Part II

By May of 1876, Congressman Garfield appears to have become much less skeptical of the worth of the Centennial Exposition as a means of exciting the minds of visitors. On May 11, 1876, he noted in his diary that he and his wife Crete

“went again to the Expositions Grounds and spent three hours in Memorial Hall and Art Hall. We saw enough to determine us to visit the grounds again – later in the season and if possible bring the children. I have no doubt of two things; first that the Exposition will not be a financial success; second, that it will be [a] great success in the way of education and stimulous [sic] to the people who participate.”

 

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Art Hall at the 1876 Centennial Exposition.  (Jim Davis collection.)

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Memorial Hall at the 1876 Centennial Exposition.  (Jim Davis collection.)

Mr. and Mrs. Garfield did return to the Centennial in August, and they did bring their children with them, as will be seen shortly.  Based on the diary entry for August 25, it appears that Mrs. Garfield and her children had already arrived at No. 9, Woodland Terrace, when the Congressman arrived at that address at 11:00 p.m., “glad to find all my dear ones well.” The next day, the Garfields, joined by Mr. and Mrs. Chase, who apparently were also staying at Woodland Terrace, made their first visit as a family to the Centennial. What they saw there must have fascinated and delighted them, for they visited the grounds together every day for nearly a week.

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Exterior view of the Main Exhibition Building, 1876 Centennial Exposition.  (Jim Davis collection.)

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Interior view of the Main Exhibition Building, 1876 Centennial Exposition.  (Jim Davis collection.)

Exhibitions of everything from to machines, to art, to plants and livestock were presented in five primary buildings: the Main Exhibition Building, the Art Hall, Machinery Hall, Horticultural Hall, and Agricultural Hall. The Art Hall featured a 150-foot dome, containing “a colossal figure of Columbia.” There were numerous other buildings besides, including restaurants, a Dairy, and exhibit buildings for individual American states, and foreign nations.  The scale of these buildings was impressive, as the images included in this article show.

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Cotton display in Agricultural Hall.  (Jim Davis collection.)

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Interior view, Agricultural Hall.  (Jim Davis collection.)

 

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Exterior view of Agricultural Hall.  (Jim Davis collection.)

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Exterior view, Horticultural Hall.  (Jim Davis collection.)

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Interior view, Horticultural Hall.  (Jim Davis collection.)

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Fountain seen outside Horticultural Hall.  (Jim Davis collection.)

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Interior of Canada Display.  (Jim Davis collection.)

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Exterior of the Kansas Building.  (Jim Davis collection.)

The Main Exhibition Building covered twenty-one acres, and like London’s Crystal Palace, was vast and made of glass. It had a central nave that was nearly 1700 feet long.

In Machinery Hall were to be found many new labor-saving devices, alternative fuels, and other technological innovations. Within the great hall was one of the greatest attractions of exhibition, the Great Corliss Engine. It weighed 700 tons and could do the work of 2500 horses. It was so large and heavy that sixty-five railroad cars were required to transport it.

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Exterior view of Machinery Hall.  (Jim Davis collection.)

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“The Great Corliss Engine,” which supplied power to many of the buildings at the 1876 Centennial Exposition.  (Jim Davis collection.)

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Interior view of Machinery Hall.  (Jim Davis collection.)

A number of restaurants were constructed to satisfy a variety of tastes. There were establishments catering to the American southern cuisine, German specialties, and French cookery. The Turkish Coffee House satisfied many.

James Garfield mentioned the Vienna Bakery and Coffee House in his diary. Twice, on August 29 and 31, the family lunched at the Dairy. It was located in one of the most picturesque spots on the grounds, according to Frank Leslie. The main building was about 360 feet long, built of rough-hewn logs, and decorated with grapevine branches. Many people were impressed with the richness and purity of the cream and milk served in it, and also the high quality of its butter, though Garfield says nothing on this score in his diary.

On August 26, Garfield, accompanied by his wife, his daughter Mollie, Mary McGrath, one of the servants, and “the three boys,” visited the Women’s Pavilion.  (Presumably the “three boys,” in this case were Irvin, Abram, and Edward – the presence of “the baby” being noted earlier in Garfield’s entries. Edward, the last of the Garfield children, called “Neddie” did not survive the year.) Memorial Hall, Machinery Hall, and the Government Building were seen and seen again by James Garfield, his wife Lucretia, and their children while they were at the Centennial.

What might the Garfield’s seen in the Women’s Pavilion? According to Frank Leslie they saw objects made by women from all over the earth, including needlework, paintings, furniture, painted china, fish-scale jewelry and labor-saving devices.

 

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Exterior of the Women’s Pavilion, 1876 Centennial Exposition.  (Jim Davis collection.)

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Inside the Women’s Pavilion, 1876 Centennial Exposition.  (Jim Davis collection.)

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Interior view of the Women’s Pavilion, 1876 Centennial Exposition.  (Jim Davis collection.)

Mrs. Garfield spent at least some time at the “Japanese Department,” in the Main Building, on August 30. Her visit there leads to some unanswerable questions. First, did Congressman Garfield continue to think that the “international aspect” of the Centennial was a mistake?  Second, given that the Garfield home in Mentor, Ohio has more than a few objects of Japanese style, was Mrs. Garfield’s interest in Japanese design inspired by her visit to the 1876 Centennial Exhibition, and did she decide to reflect that interest in the Mentor farmhouse purchased later that year?

There are five objects in the Garfield home today that do have a connection with the 1876 Centennial. They are the “Barge of Venus” in the dining room, and the four bentwood chairs, two of which are located in the parlor, and two in the reception hall.

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These two bentwood chairs are seen in the Reception Hall of the Garfield home at James A. Garfield NHS.  (NPS photo.)

The Barge of Venus now sits on the Garfield dining room table in the home at James A. Garfield NHS.  (NPS photo)

The Barge of Venus now sits on the Garfield dining room table in the home at James A. Garfield NHS. (NPS photo)

One of the attractions that Congressman Garfield did not mention seeing was the torch of the Statue of Liberty. Although the Statue was intended to commemorate the one-hundredth anniversary of the founding of the United States, it was not yet complete. Only the arm bearing the torch of liberty could be seen at the Centennial Exposition.

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The arm of the Statue of Liberty as seen at the 1876 Centennial Exposition.  (Jim Davis collection.)

Among the inventions and new products that were seen at the Centennial were Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone, Hire’s Root Beer, and the typewriter. Over ten million people came to the Centennial, or roughly twenty percent of the population of the United States at the time, so it wasn’t the flop that Garfield thought it might be. In fact, the Centennial was profitable, and proceeds from it were used to construct the second of the Smithsonian museums, the Arts and Industries Building.

Perhaps there is a bit of irony in the fact that the first public event in the new Smithsonian museum building was the Inaugural Ball of President Garfield, held there on March 4, 1881.

 

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The Arts and Industries Building at the Smithsonian, site of President James A. Garfield’s March 4, 1881 inaugural ball.  (Wikipedia.)

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Arts and Industries Building of the Smithsonian Institution.  (Wikipedia.)

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“Statue of America” inside the Arts and Industries Building, representing “the skill, genius, progress, and civilization of the 19th century.”  (Smithsonian Archives.)

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Ballroom inside the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries building decorated for the Garfield inaugural ball.  Note the JAG and CAA cyphers on either side of the arch.  (Smithsonian Archives.)

In the latter part of 1881, the contents of sixty train cars filled with donations from the Centennial were displayed in the Arts and Industries Building – exhibits on geology, metallurgy, zoology, medicine, anthropology, art, history, and technological innovations in printing, ceramics, transportation, fisheries, agriculture, and textiles.

But in 1876, having “visited many places of interest” at the Centennial, it was time for James Garfield to return to Ohio on August 31st. He “bade goodbye to the dear ones, and took the train for N.Y. [alone]…”

It would seem that despite his earlier misgivings, Congressman Garfield, accompanied by his cherished family, did indeed enjoy the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. It was interesting and educational. It promoted the success of the American democratic experiment, and the resulting prosperity of the people of the United States. It had attracted millions and was profitable. It made him proud of his country.

(Special thank to Mr. Jim Davis of Dallas, Texas for use of of stereopticon images in this article!)

-Alan Gephardt, Park Ranger

James A. Garfield and the Centennial Exposition of 1876, Part I

Several months back, while searching the internet for information on stereopticons, I stumbled on a collection of images from the 1876 Centennial Exposition, contributed online by Mr. Jim Davis, of Texas.  The images are a joy to see, and several are included in this article, together with drawings published in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Historical Register of the Centennial Exposition. Having Mr. Davis’s images at hand, locating a facsimile copy of the Leslie book, and knowing that James Garfield visited the Centennial with his family and some friends, it struck me that a blog article was in the making.

Cover of Frank Leslie's Illustrated Historical Register of the Centennial Exposition, 1876.

Cover of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Historical Register of the Centennial Exposition, 1876.  (Wikipedia)

Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Historical Register of the Centennial Exposition called the Philadelphia event the “most stupendous and successful competitive exposition that the world ever saw.” Not that the American Centennial was anything new. Other Expositions grabbed the attentions and the imaginations of people all over the globe, including those held at Paris, Dublin, and Vienna. 

The Crystal Palace, centerpiece of the Crystal Palace Exposition in London.  (

The Crystal Palace, centerpiece of the Crystal Palace Exposition in London. (Wikipedia)

The Paris Exposition of 1867. (

The Paris Exposition of 1867. (Wikipedia)

The mania for these exhibitions, also known as expositions, or “expos,” began in 1851, with the Crystal Palace Exposition in London. Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s consort, labored to make the Crystal Palace Exposition reflect “the advancement of industry,” and an event that would highlight “the interests of the laboring people,” while also demonstrating the material affluence and social well-being of English society. Other expositions held in Paris in 1867, in Vienna in 1873, and in several states of the United States were all similarly forward-looking affairs.

In the same way, the American Centennial project was meant to showcase material progress in the United States, but perhaps as important was its original purpose to help heal a society recently torn apart by civil war. Through the celebration of one hundred years of nationhood, the United States would reexamine its moral, social, and political principles. 

The idea of a Centennial celebration, appealed to many people, but it was not universally embraced. James Garfield was an early skeptic. In a diary entry of December 13, 1872, he wrote,

“Congress has been drawn into this scheme unconsciously and is almost now committed to make large appropriations for that celebration. Perhaps we ought to do it, but it ought to have been done in a more open and avowed manner.”

On May 5, 1874, Garfield said that he was “some troubled about this question, but on the whole think we ought not to incur the expense [$3,000,000].” He also disliked the proposed international aspect of the Centennial, which he called “a great mistake and will result in disaster and failure.” Eliminate that feature, Garfield wrote, “make it a national celebration, [and] I shall be glad to see it go forward.”

Congressman James A. Garfield, who attended the Centennial Exposition in August 1876.  (Wikipedia)

Congressman James A. Garfield, who attended the Centennial Exposition in August 1876. (Wikipedia)

As Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, Garfield may have been irked by the international aspect of the centennial as an unaffordable expense. Like so many major undertakings by government in more recent history, the Centennial also became for a time the hostage of partisan and sectional political matters, as is seen in James Garfield’s diary.

On January 10, 1876, he noted that a bill was pending before Congress to grant a general amnesty to former Confederates, allowing them to hold public office. This was controversial. For the first time since the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment, “rebel” leaders could occupy seats in the House and Senate.

Pennsylvania Congressman William D. Kelley made a speech that offered a quid pro quo – passage of the amnesty in exchange for an appropriation for the Centennial. Garfield thought that such a deal “greatly decreased” the chances for an appropriation for the Centennial.  An attack by a southern Congressman on the Centennial, “on the ground of its being unconstitutional,” bothered him too.  The Centennial might not be affordable, but it was constitutional!

Despite the political maneuverings to which the Centennial was prey, it did proceed, with a mere $500,000 appropriation by Congress. (The bulk of the funding was raised by other means.)  Dozens of nations were invited to participate, and dozens did. These included England, France, Austria, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Japan, China, Russia, Brazil, Egypt, and Australia. Hundreds of laborers worked on the construction of its buildings and grounds, and these included many Japanese, Turkish, and Russian workers.  The American Centennial was indeed an international affair.

Image of the 1876 Centennial Exposition grounds in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Jim Davis Collection)

Image of the 1876 Centennial Exposition grounds in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Jim Davis Collection)

Map of the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.  (Jim Davis Collection)

Map of the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. (Jim Davis Collection)

Upon its completion, the physical plant of the Exposition covered 230 acres of ground at Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. It was said that the “average visitor…could not help but be awed by the sheer size of everything.” President Grant opened the Centennial on May 10, 1876. Congressman Garfield was at the opening, though he missed the President’s remarks:

“At seven o’clock Crete and I drove to the City to do a little shopping, but most of the stores were closed and the processions that filled the streets made it difficult to move. The sky is overcast and some rain is falling while we are in the city. We returned at 9 o’clock and after breakfast went to the Centennial. Old Probabilities promised                                   us a fair day and it came. We sat on the stand in front of the Art Hall and witnessed the imposing ceremonies of the opening of the Exposition. … Nearly one hundred thousand people witnessed the ceremonies. But more than the sight of crowds and of titled officials, I was impressed by the grandeur of the human voice when the thousand trained singers rendered in solemn and beautiful music Whittier’s [Centennial] hymn… Crete and I went to the Art Gallery… [then] through the crowd to Machinery Hall… Just at the door we met the President with [the] Empress of Brazil on his arm, followed by the Emperor and Mrs. Grant.” 

Garfield concluded the diary entry of May 10, 1876 with a comment that reflected the growing industrial power of the United States in the 1870s: “We then spent an hour in Machinery Hall, where the United States will doubtless make relatively the best exhibition.”

Stereopticon of the exterior of Machine Hall at the 1876 Centennial Exposition.  (Jim Davis collection.)

Stereopticon of the exterior of Machine Hall at the 1876 Centennial Exposition. (Jim Davis collection.)

Stereopticon of the interior of Machinery Hall.  (Jim Davis collection.)

Stereopticon of the interior of Machinery Hall. (Jim Davis collection.)

Stereopticon of Memorial Hall with train in front of the building.  (Jim Davis collection.)

Stereopticon of Memorial Hall with train in front of the building. (Jim Davis collection.)

Stereopticon of the interior of Memorial Hall Art Gallery.  (Jim Davis collection.)

Stereopticon of the interior of Memorial Hall Art Gallery. (Jim Davis collection.)

(Check back soon for Part II!)

-Alan Gephardt, Park Rangerl

“A Certain Fatality:” Robert Todd Lincoln and Presidential Assassinations

Status

Robert Todd Lincoln, eldest son of President and Mrs. Abraham Lincoln, felt cursed. One of his brothers, Edward, died as a boy in Springfield, Illinois long before their father became president. A second brother, William, died in the White House on February 20, 1862. The death of “Willie” made the Civil War’s dark days that much darker for the Lincoln family. Robert Lincoln’s last brother, Thomas, whom their father had called “Tad,” died at age 18 in 1871. In the years after his father’s death, Robert Lincoln also watched his mother, Mary, descend into financial hardship and manic depression. At one point, he committed her to an asylum. His mother died at age 63 in 1882.

Sadly, Robert Lincoln was very familiar with death. However, it was not the deaths of his brothers or his mother for which he is most famous or for which he believed himself to be cursed. Rather, it was his close connection to three presidential assassinations in just 36 years.

A young Robert Todd Lincoln in 1865, the year his father was assassinated.  Robert was not present when President Lincoln was shot, but was by his father's sided when he died.  (Library of Congress)

A young Robert Todd Lincoln in 1865, the year his father was assassinated. Robert was not present when President Lincoln was shot, but was by his father’s side when he died. (Library of Congress)

President and Mrs. Lincoln invited their son, then Capt. Robert T. Lincoln of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s staff, to Ford’s Theater to see a performance of Our American Cousin on the night of April 14, 1865. The younger Lincoln declined, telling his father that he planned to retire early that night. Several different people claimed to have been the one to inform him of John Wilkes Booth’s attack on his father at the theater, and Lincoln himself remembered only that numerous people came to him that night with the awful news. He immediately left for the Petersen house, where his father, unconscious but alive, had been taken after Booth shot him. Future Secretary of State John Hay, one of Abraham Lincoln’s private secretaries and a lifelong friend of Robert’s, wrote that, “After a natural outburst of grief, young Lincoln devoted himself the rest of the night to soothing and comforting his mother.” Robert was there at 7:22 a.m. on April 15 when President Lincoln died.

Over the next decade-and-a-half, many Republicans tried to talk Robert Lincoln into running for political office. Lincoln always declined, partially due to lack of interest but also because he knew his greatest appeal to the Republican Party was not his ability but his surname. In early 1881, however, he relented and agreed to serve as Secretary of War under President James A. Garfield.

Robert T. Lincoln as U.S. Secretary of War.  He was about 40 feet away when President James A. Garfield was shot on July 2, 1881.  (Library of Congress)

Robert T. Lincoln as U.S. Secretary of War. He was about 40 feet away when President James A. Garfield was shot on July 2, 1881. (Library of Congress)

On July 2, 1881, President Garfield was scheduled to leave for a trip to New England. While some cabinet members and their wives were scheduled to go on the trip, Lincoln was unable to depart until the following day. He went to Washington, D.C.’s Baltimore and Potomac train station that morning to meet the President and let him know that the Lincolns would be along on July 3. He was about forty feet away and walking toward President Garfield and Secretary of State James G. Blaine when Charles Guiteau approached from behind and shot Garfield twice. By Lincoln’s own recollection, “I think I reached him in fifteen seconds.” Secretary Lincoln immediately sent for Dr. D.W. Bliss, then ordered four companies of soldiers to immediately come to the train depot for security. When Garfield was moved back to the White House, Lincoln made sure that “all intruders were out of the grounds and a strong military guard on duty there and another at the jail to prevent lynching and a reserve between.” As historian Jason Emerson notes, Lincoln’s decisive actions after the attack on Garfield were reminiscent of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton’s on the night Booth shot Abraham Lincoln. However, the memory of his father’s murder sixteen years before haunted him. “My god,” he said to a New York Times reporter the day after the shooting. “How many hours of sorrow I have passed in this town.”

President James A. Garfield died on September 19, 1881, eighty days after being shot. Vice President Chester A. Arthur was sworn in as the 21st President of the United States and traveled to Elberon, New Jersey, where Garfield died, to escort his predecessor’s body back to the capital. After Garfield’s late September funeral and once Congress convened in December 1881, Arthur kept only one cabinet officer appointed by Garfield: Robert Todd Lincoln, who served as Secretary of War until the end of the Arthur presidency.

Charles Guiteau shot President James A. Garfield on July 2, 1881.  Secretary of State James G. Blaine was standing next to the President when Guiteau attacked.  Secretary of War Robert T. Lincoln was about 40 feet away and walking toward Blaine and Garfield.  (

Charles Guiteau shot President James A. Garfield on July 2, 1881. Secretary of State James G. Blaine was standing next to the President when Guiteau attacked. Secretary of War Robert T. Lincoln was about 40 feet away and walking toward Blaine and Garfield. (Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper)

After finishing his time as Secretary of War, Lincoln returned to private legal practice, then served as U.S. Minister to the Court of Saint James (the United Kingdom) under President Benjamin Harrison from 1889-1893. While living in England, Lincoln’s son, Abraham Lincoln II, called “Jack,” died of a post-surgery infection at just 16 years old.

After returning from England, Robert Lincoln became general counsel of the Pullman Palace Car Company. When founder George Pullman died in 1897, Lincoln was elevated to the company’s presidency. In 1901, the Lincolns vacationed all summer in New Jersey. As they traveled back to Chicago in early September, they decided to make a stop in Buffalo, New York to visit the Pan-American Exposition, a world’s fair intended to promote trade and friendship between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. The Lincolns’ train pulled into the Buffalo train station on the evening of Friday, September 6. A Pullman employee was waiting and immediately handed Lincoln a telegram that read: “President McKinley was shot down by an anarchist in Buffalo this afternoon. He was hit twice in the abdomen. Condition serious.”

Lincoln immediately went to the home of John G. Milburn, president of the Pan-American Exposition, where McKinley was resting after a seemingly successful surgery to repair internal damage caused by Leon Czolgosz’s bullets. Lincoln spent a few minutes with the President and was convinced that McKinley would be fine. Lincoln saw the President again two days later and still believed he was improving, saying, “My visit has given me great encouragement” for McKinley’s recovery. He and his family left Buffalo for Chicago having enjoyed a visit to the Exposition and glad that McKinley was on the mend.

A week later, McKinley was dead of infection. Vice President Theodore Roosevelt had visited the wounded president at the same time as Robert Lincoln the previous week and then departed for a trip to the Adirondacks. Roosevelt hurried back to Buffalo and was sworn in as the 26th President of the United States on September 14, 1901. Shortly afterwards, Lincoln sent President Roosevelt a letter that read in part, “I do not congratulate you, for I have seen too much of the seamy side of the Presidential Robe to think of it as an enviable garment.”

Leon Czolgosz shoots President William McKinley at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo on September 6, 1901.  Robert Lincoln and his family were approaching Buffalo via train when the shooting occurred.  (

Leon Czolgosz shoots President William McKinley at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo on September 6, 1901. Robert Lincoln and his family were approaching Buffalo via train when the shooting occurred. (Library of Congress)

Amazingly, Robert Todd Lincoln had very close ties to three presidential assassinations. While the rational mind scoffs at the idea of any human as “cursed,” the emotions lead us to wonder if such a thing might actually be possible. However, the popular old stories about Robert Lincoln being “present” at the three murders are certainly untrue. He was not with his father when Booth attacked on April 14, 1865, though he was at the Petersen house when the elder Lincoln died the next morning. He was across the room but walking toward the President when Charles Guiteau felled Garfield on July 2, 1881. Lincoln personally attended and spoke with Garfield while the President lay on the train station floor. Finally, he was just entering the city of Buffalo when McKinley was shot on September 6, 1901.

While Robert Lincoln was certainly not cursed, it is understandable that many people-including Lincoln himself-feared he may be. More likely, however, is that Lincoln’s last name and his positions in life put him in close proximity to presidents far more often than most people. Also, Lincoln lived a very long life in times of great social and political upheaval that often resulted in violence. The cataclysmic Civil War, passionate debates over patronage and civil service reform, fears of government growing so powerful that anarchy seemed a plausible alternative—all of these issues came to the fore during Lincoln’s life and resulted in murders of American presidents. That his name was Lincoln and he attained high office and business success made Lincoln far more likely to be near presidents than most people, and the upheavals of the era made attacks on presidents far more likely. In other words, it was something of a macabre numbers game.

That certainly and understandably did not ease Robert Lincoln’s mind, though the idea that after McKinley’s death Lincoln refused to ever go around presidents again is a myth. Supposedly he once scoffed at an invitation to an event at the White House by saying, “If only they knew, they wouldn’t want me there. There is a certain fatality about presidential functions when I am present.” While there is no direct evidence that Lincoln ever actually said this, it certainly seems like a thought that might have crossed his mind.

Robert Lincoln’s last public appearance was on May 30, 1922, when he attended the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. President Warren G. Harding presided over that dedication. Harding, of course, died in office just fourteen months later. Since he was not assassinated, however, it does not appear that anyone tried very hard to attribute his death to having shared a platform with Robert Lincoln just over a year earlier.

Robert Todd Lincoln (right) at the May 30, 1922 dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.  At left is William Howard Taft, former President of the United States and then Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.  At center is President Warren G. Harding.  (National Park Service)

Robert Todd Lincoln (right) at the May 30, 1922 dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. At left is William Howard Taft, former President of the United States and then Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. At center is President Warren G. Harding. (National Park Service)

Robert Todd Lincoln died on July 26, 1926, just six days before his 83rd birthday. He was seemingly surrounded by death his entire life, yet persevered to carve out his own successes and legacy while also honoring his famous name. His was a long, extraordinary, and accomplished life, and he certainly deserves to be remembered as more than just his father’s son or the subject of silly myths about curses.

-Todd Arrington, Chief of Interpretation & Education

Harry Garfield and the Spirit of Cooperation

In reading and learning about James Garfield, I have wondered what his attitude toward the concerns of laborers would have been as clashes between labor and capital increased in the late nineteenth century. Looking through his published diaries, one can only speculate about how his views about the relationship between labor and capital might have evolved. This article will attempt to look broadly at the interplay of business, labor, and social order, and how James Garfield and his son Harry responded to those concerns.

Certainly, James Garfield was aware of “labor” as a political cause. In 1873, he noted having “made a call on [former North Carolina Republican] Senator [John] Pool, who is organizing a national workingmen’s association…I think it means a new party, based on the labor question.”  With the end of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery there was talk in some quarters of the Republican Party that its purpose had come to an end. Garfield believed that economic issues were coming to the fore, and his comment above affirms that understanding.

James A. Garfield became very interested in economic issues during this many years in the House of Representatives.  He recognized that economic and labor issues were growing in importanct to the public and the Republican Party.  (Library of Congress)

James A. Garfield became very interested in economic issues during his many years in the House of Representatives. He recognized that economic and labor issues were growing in importance to the public and the Republican Party. (Library of Congress)

When the Railroad Strike of July 1877 erupted into violence in the cities of Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and elsewhere in the country, James Garfield saw the two sides of the labor-capital divide: “I have no doubt the RR men have been unjust and oppressive to their employees; but the form in which the contest presents itself leaves us no choice between suppressing the rioters, and the rule of the mob.” Like many of his contemporaries, who had already experienced the disruptions of the Civil War, Garfield saw social upheaval as something to be averted. Social disturbances were associated with the less educated, immigrants, and communist influence. It was a commonly held belief that capitalists had the right to control their businesses without interference from their workers.

In one more observation that may have echoes in today’s political debates, Garfield wrote, “Isn’t the strike the legitimate offspring of the paternal theory of government? If we raise up a generation of men to believe that the object of protection [a high tariff to protect American industries and jobs] is to give laborers better wages, don’t they feel when times are hard that they have a right to take good wages by force? Studentum est. [It must be studied.]“

The destruction of the Union Depot in Pittsburgh, Penn., July 21-22, 1877.  This event took place during the Railroad Stike of 1877, which began in Martinsburg, West Virginia and soon spread to other industrial cities like Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and more.  (Harper's Weekly)

The destruction of the Union Depot in Pittsburgh, Penn., July 21-22, 1877. This event took place during the Railroad Stike of 1877, which began in Martinsburg, West Virginia and soon spread to other industrial cities like Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and more. (Harper’s Weekly)

In the later 1880s and 1890s, would James Garfield have supported rights of capital and the use of military force against striking workers, or would he have favored the laboring masses, among whom he found himself in earlier chapters of his life? Would he have remained steadfast to an unregulated form of laissez faire capitalism, or would he have agreed to regulation of the market? Or was there some other model for solving the capital-labor issues of his day?

President Garfield did not live to witness the increasing economic tensions of the last quarter of the nineteenth century – but his sons did. Might there be any clues about how he saw the economics of the new industrial age in the careers of his sons? Such an approach is tenuous, certainly, but it might shed some “reflected” light.

Unlike his father, Harry Garfield was not a diligent student in his younger years. However, in time, he did improve, and like his father and brothers, he attended Williams College, in Massachusetts (in time becoming its president). He was involved in student government, football, and baseball. After Williams, he became a successful Cleveland lawyer, practicing jointly with his brother James R. for several years.

In 1903, Princeton president Woodrow Wilson invited Harry Garfield to join the faculty, to teach government and political science. Garfield was completely taken with Wilson’s personality and his plans for Princeton. According to Professor Robert Cuff, Garfield was so impressed with Wilson that he left the Republican Party for the Democrats. When Wilson, as president, took the United States into the Great War, he asked Harry Garfield to lead the Federal Fuel Administration, which was tasked with insuring a steady supply of coal for military and civilian needs, and with conserving the use of oil.

Harry A. Garfield, eldest son of President and Mrs. James A. Garfield, had known President Woodrow Wilson since the latter was President of Princeton University and invited Garfield to teach there.  In the early days of World War I, President Wilson tapped Garfield to lead the Federal Fuel Administration.  (Williams College)

Harry A. Garfield, eldest son of President and Mrs. James A. Garfield, had known Woodrow Wilson since the latter was President of Princeton University and invited Garfield to teach there. In the early days of U.S. involvement in World War I, President Wilson tapped Garfield to lead the Federal Fuel Administration. (Williams College)

According to Cuff, Wilson and Garfield shared a commitment to liberal academic culture and to the belief in an organic, evolutionary process of social change. They both believed that “cultivated” men should promote the cause of civilization. They did not believe that social progress would be achieved by “starting over from scratch.” Harry Garfield’s way was to “remodel, renovate, improve rather than start with a new plan…”

And, like many of his contemporaries, Garfield subscribed to the Progressive idea of “efficiency.” He was greatly influenced by Charles Steinmetz’s “America and the New Epoch,” in which the author argued that solutions to modern problems could be found not in the Federal government, but in the efficiency, competence, and responsibility of corporate administration. Cooperation, not competition, would create a better world. “We… have come to a time when the old individualistic principle of competition must be set aside and we must boldly embark upon the new principle of cooperation and combination.”

When Garfield came to Washington in August 1917, to head the newly formed Fuel Administration, he had to deal with both the owners of coal mines and the United Mine Workers. He meant to deal justly with the owners and the workers. A case in point concerns the price of coal set by the federal government in the wake of the war.

President Woodrow Wilson made Harry A. Garfield head of the Federal Fuel Administration.  Garfield's dedication to Wilson's brand of progressivism led to President Garfield's son leaving the Republican party to become a Wilsonian Democrat.  (Library of Congress)

President Woodrow Wilson made Harry A. Garfield head of the Federal Fuel Administration. Garfield’s dedication to Wilson’s brand of progressivism led to President Garfield’s son leaving the Republican party to become a Wilsonian Democrat. (Library of Congress)

Just prior to the creation of the Fuel Administration, President Wilson imposed a price for coal that was lower than the price offered by the coal industry. This dissatisfied the mine owners, so Garfield adjusted the price of coal more to their liking. At the same time, he negotiated wage agreements with the United Mine Workers that would keep the mine operating. He invited representatives of the owners and of the miners to become part of the Fuel Administration, ushering in what Professor Cuff called “something of a golden age in the [coal] industry’s history.”

There were controversies, to be sure. Railroads used the availability of cars to force bidding wars among rival coal companies for the lowest transportation price. Garfield ordered periodic work stoppages to prevent supply from outstripping demand, and in 1918, he resisted a wage hike for miners. He ordered conservation measures that angered parts of the general public He caught a lot of heat for such measures.

What Garfield was aiming at was cooperative administration between government, industry, and labor that would serve society not only in times of war, but also in times of peace. In this effort, he was praised by the Coal Trade Journal, for a “steadfastness of purpose… that is reminiscent of his father’s resolute spirit.” For Harry Garfield, it was the community interest, not the interest group, whose needs mattered most.

Under Harry Garfield's leadership, the Fuel Administration ensured a steady supply of coal to support military operations as well as to produce energy for the American public.  (Wikepedia)

Under Harry Garfield’s leadership, the Fuel Administration ensured a steady supply of coal to support military operations as well as to produce energy for the American public. (Wikipedia)

Perhaps the old saying, “like father, like son,” applies. In a “time of peace,” James Garfield saw the injustices that the owners of railroad committed, but believed that strikes, and the violence that attended them, were not a solution to the disputes of the day. During the emergency of war in 1917-1918, Harry Garfield attempted to satisfy the concerns of capital, labor, and the general public by encouraging cooperation with the goal of maintaining social order.

The competition of “interests” in James Garfield’s America, and the need to seek justice and maintain order was no less a phenomenon in Harry Garfield’s America forty years later – and nearly a century since Harry Garfield’s work as Fuel Administrator, what has changed?

-Alan Gephardt, Park Ranger

“The Rough and Tumble of a Public School”

In March, I noticed two articles about Franklin School in Washington, DC. The building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, stands vacant at the corner of 13th and K Streets, NW. It is being considered as the site of a new museum in the capital. The news stories caught my eye because Franklin School is just a block from the site of James and Lucretia Garfield’s Washington, DC home at 13th and I Street.

The Garfield home at 13th and I Streets in Washington, D.C. was just around the corner from the Franklin School.  (Bundy)

The Garfield home at 13th and I Streets in Washington, D.C. was just down the street from the Franklin School. (Bundy)

When Franklin School was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1996, its significance was explained:

“The Franklin School was the flagship building of a group of seven modern urban public school buildings constructed between 1862-1875 to house, for the first time, a comprehensive system of free universal public education in the capital of the Republic. It was hoped that this new public school system would serve as a model for the nation as the need to provide equal educational opportunities for all Americans was finally recognized as essential to the survival of a democratic society.”

The building was designed by Adolf Cluss, and built in 1869. It had a bust of Benjamin Franklin on the façade, large windows, airy spaces, and an auditorium that seated 1,000. With its location in a prominent neighborhood, and its offices for the Superintendent and the Board of Education, Franklin School was a symbol of the new graded system of classes for boys and girls. Were the Garfield children among its students?

It is clear from Garfield’s diaries that the older boys, Harry and Jim, attended public school in Washington, DC for some time in the 1870s. Confirmation comes from Lucretia Garfield Comer, daughter of Harry and granddaughter of President Garfield. In her biography of her father, Harry Garfield’s First Forty Years: Man of Action in a Troubled World, she writes about Hal’s early schooling:

“In the fall of 1869, Harry was entered in the Primary Department of the Franklin Union School, and there he continued through the spring of his ninth year…The parents tried Jim there too, but scarlet fever intervened; and after the weeks of quarantine were over they put the younger boy in a small private school.”

It seems that Hal attended the Franklin School for the 1869-70 through 1873-74 school years; Jim’s time there is less clear.

The Franklin School is now vacant but is the proposed location for a new Washington, D.C. museum.  (Author photo)

The Franklin School is now vacant but is the proposed location for a new Washington, D.C. museum. (Author photo)

As a father and an educator, Garfield thought seriously about the boys’ school experience. His diary entry for Tuesday, February 13, 1872 indicates concern: “…Am troubled about Harry’s school. Scholars are a rough set. Must try to find a private school though the rough and tumble of a public school is good for a boy.” In November, 1873 he was still worried about “the most difficult question I have ever confronted, namely what shall I do with my children in the matter of education. I believe that the mind naturally hungers and thirsts for knowledge. I cannot doubt that something is wrong with our system of education which has made both my boys hate the sight of a school book.”

The busy congressman had time to be involved with his sons’ school. On May 19, 1873: “…In the evening took Crete and Mother to the Franklin School concert, and staid till half-past nine.” Perhaps in an effort to understand the “system of education,” on May 15 “…In the Evening Miss Perkins and Miss McCall took dinner with us. They are the teachers, respectively of Jimmy and Harry, and I am glad to talk of late methods, and see how the teaching world has been going since I left it…” And on June 4th that year: “…Attended Harry’s examination at the Franklin School Building. Harry did very well; though I think he is like me in this, that he does better under pressure than on ordinary occasions. Some of the nervous boys did not do themselves justice. I am persuaded that our public schools are overworking their scholars. I saw many signs of nervous exhaustion among the little fellows in Miss McMahon’s class…”

James and Lucretia Garfield were very involved in their childrens' educations.  Despite President Garfield's early death, all of the Garfield children went on to academic success.  (Library of Congress)

James and Lucretia Garfield were very involved in their childrens’ educations. Despite President Garfield’s early death, all of the Garfield children went on to academic success. (Library of Congress)

The next school year Hal, Jim and Mollie Garfield attended a local “kindergarten.” In May, 1874, Garfield wrote, “I am troubled to know what to do with the children next in regard to their education. They do not seem to have that hunger and thirst after knowledge that I always felt when I was a child.”

That fall the Garfields ended their experiment with public school. October 26, 1874: “Crete and I started out early to settle Harry and Jimmy in school. We have determined to keep Mollie at home this Winter and teach her a little of housekeeping and something of books. Harry and Jimmy need the hand of a master at school and after much discussion of the subject, we concluded to send them to Mr. Young’s private school on the west side of Franklin Square. Terms, twenty dollars each for ten weeks…” Mr. Young’s school was the Emerson Institute, established in 1853 as “a select, classical, and mathematical school for boys.” The school was on 14th Street, between I and K streets. Harry Garfield was ten years old, and Jimmy was eight when they were enrolled there.

-Joan Kapsch, Park Guide

James A. Garfield and a Black Washingtonian, Part II

After the war, Wormley had become so successful that, in 1869, he purchased the initial portion of the previously mentioned Wormley Hotel main building, located at the SW corner of 15th and H Streets to add to his business locations. He then alternately referred to the original collection of five boarding houses and a restaurant on I Street as the “Annex” and the “Branch Hotel”. While Garfield was spreading his national image and building his house in the city, Wormley’s newest structure had become the privately owned, yet public, seat of political maneuvering, high society and statesmanship in the District.

James Wormley as he appeared around 1869.  (Historical Society of Washington, D.C.)

James Wormley as he appeared around 1869. (Historical Society of Washington, D.C.)

As a military and political leader in support of the rights of Blacks, Garfield had to be in touch with Wormley fairly frequently. Unfortunately, since this research regarding Garfield has just begun we have not, as yet, uncovered expansive direct information about their personal relationship. We do know that as Mr. Garfield entered upon his life in the White House the existence of the relationship became more widely known.

In the fall of 1879 John Hay and his wife had taken up a two month residence at Wormley’s Hotel while they waited for their new home a block away on H Street to be finished. Just a few years previously in this same building it was reported that the Presidential election of Rutherford B. Hayes had been negotiated. During the period 1880 to 1881 the patrons of the hotel included famous and wealthy aristocrats like the Astors, Henry Adams, the Alexander Graham Bell family, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Garfield’s presidential election Democratic opponent General Winfield Scott Hancock, Robert Lincoln and family and the Hawaiian Annexation Commission.

John Hay was one of President Abraham Lincoln's private secretaries during the Civil War.  President-elect James A. Garfield asked Hay to take the same job in early 1881 while Hay was staying at Wormley's Hotel, but Hay declined.  John Hay was later Secretary of State under Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt.  (Library of Congress)

John Hay was one of President Abraham Lincoln’s private secretaries during the Civil War. President-elect James A. Garfield asked Hay to take the same job in early 1881, but Hay declined. John Hay was later Secretary of State under Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. (Library of Congress)

During his Presidency Garfield appointed several close black friends of Wormley to prominent federal appointments including Frederick Douglass, John M. Langston, and Blanche K. Bruce. The well known Post Office “Star Route Scandal” investigations originating under Garfield’s administration included an allegation that Henry Bowen attempted a $25,000 bribe while at the hotel. Garfield’s Postmaster Thomas L. James, charged by Garfield to clean out the corruption, was a Wormley’s patron and was honored at a banquet at the hotel on March 16, 1881 which was attended by members of the Cabinet and Supreme Court.

Garfield, as part of his pre-inauguration activities on the evening of March 3, 1881, spoke at the hotel to his fellow Williams College alumni and is quoted as saying, “…Tonight I am a private citizen. Tomorrow I shall be called to assume new responsibilities and, on the day after, the broadside of the world’s wrath will strike.”

For the next few months the new President would settle into his duties at the White House, which brings us to Saturday, July 2, 1881, the day of his shooting. After the attack by Charles J. Guiteau, the President was brought to the White House to minister to his wounds. Among the early attendees to the needs of the President was James Wormley. James had been known to be called to attend to the care of many prominent men of the 19th century including President Lincoln after his shooting and also to attend to his son Willie who had lain dying in the White House nearly 20 years earlier. According to many accounts Wormley also had been a “nurse” to political luminaries the likes of Clay, Calhoun, Webster, Sumner and many others. As likely the most famous caterer and nurse of his time, James was asked to care for the needs of Garfield as he lay attempting to recuperate from his wounds and the ministrations of his physicians in the White House.

A look at James A. Garfield's March 3, 1881 diary entry, in which he mentions Wormley's Hotel.  Garfield was inaugurated as President of the United States the next day.  (Library of Congress)

A look at James A. Garfield’s March 3, 1881 diary entry, in which he mentions Wormley’s Hotel. Garfield was inaugurated as President of the United States the next day. (Library of Congress)

According to an article in the New York Herald dated July 26, 1881, Wormley was immediately sought out to prepare the meals of the President by the attending physician, Dr. Willard Bliss. One of the foods most requested by the President was something called “beef tea.” This concoction was prepared from the finest tenderloin available. The meat was placed upon a broiling iron, not to cook but to sear the surface. It was then placed into a mechanical press provided from Wormley’s which compressed the meat with a pressure of 300-400 pounds until all the juices had been squeezed out of the steak. The juice or “tea” according to contemporary sources was one of the most nutritious foods provided to the President as he attempted to recuperate. Multiple news accounts, such as that in the Times Picayune on August 9, 1881, report that most of the foods provided for the suffering President came from Wormley’s farm and country homes on Pierce Mill Road on the outskirts of the city.

Despite the best care available and the aid of mechanical appliances devised by inventors like Alexander Graham Bell, the President died on September 19, 1881. Wormley, as an expression of his sorrow, commissioned a large white funerary bouquet in the shape of an angel holding a silver trumpet and about the size of a five year old child which was suspended above the coffin as the President lay in state.

The body was transported to Cleveland in a train from Washington with members of the family. It was followed approximately 20 minutes later by a train for dignitaries. This train was catered by James Wormley and his staff as it made its way to Cleveland. This catering for the train resulted in a bill for liquors, wines and lunches in an amount exceeding $1,700.00 and was the source of some consternation as reported in the Daily Globe on March 29, 1882.

Garfield’s Vice President and successor, Chester A. Arthur, had already been a patron of Wormley’s and that continued throughout his administration. One of the most important accomplishments of Garfield and, ultimately, Arthur was the viable creation of the Civil Service Commission. The first meetings of the Commission were held in the rooms of Chairman Dorman B. Eaton at Wormley’s.

Chester A. Arthur, a regular patron of Wormley's became president when James A. Garfield died on September 19, 1881.  (Library of Congress)

Chester A. Arthur, a regular patron of Wormley’s became president when James A. Garfield died on September 19, 1881. (Library of Congress)

James Wormley survived Garfield for only a few short years, dying from complications from surgery in Boston in 1884. It seems that both of these significant men would have survived but for the relatively primitive medical procedures undertaken on their behalf. Perhaps the scholarship around these two men will bring greater illumination to how the leader of the nation would have engaged in regular intercourse with a Black man in our nation’s capital over their twenty years of daily prominent existence within a few blocks of each other.

-Donet D. Graves, Esq., Volunteer Contributor

James A. Garfield and a Black Washingtonian, Part I

On Friday evening, July 1, 1881, Charles Guiteau was skulking on Lafayette Square opposite the White House, trying to find his best opportunity to carry out his crazed ambition: the death of President James A. Garfield. That evening, according to his own statement, Guiteau felt he had a splendid chance to achieve his objective. The President had come out of the White House alone and was walking north along the east side of the Square passing in front of the former Washington Club (which became the home of Lincoln’s Secretary of State William Seward) and the Dolley Madison House, where Gen. George B. McClellan lived for several months in 1861-62. Turning east on H Street the President walked the short distance to the next corner of 15th and H Street to the residence of Secretary of State James G. Blaine, which he entered.

Map showing the route President James A. Garfield took to Secretary Blaine's house the evening of July 1, 1881.  Charles Guiteau followed the President as he pondered the assassination attempt he would make the following day.  (Author's image)

Map showing the route President James A. Garfield took to Secretary Blaine’s house the evening of July 1, 1881. Charles Guiteau followed the President and pondered the assassination attempt he would make the following day. (Author’s image)

Guiteau following nearby, and after checking the readiness of his gun, took up a vantage point directly across the street by sitting on the front stoop of Wormley’s Hotel. This building was the flagship of African American entrepreneur James Wormley’s renowned hospitality enterprises in Washington.

This ca. 1884 image shows Wormley' Hotel and the approximate seat Guiteau occupied the evening of July 1, 1881.  (Author's image)

This ca. 1884 image shows Wormley’ Hotel and the approximate seat Guiteau occupied the evening of July 1, 1881. (Author’s image)

According to reportage in the New York Herald, Guiteau waited at this location for one half-hour for the President to emerge. Unfortunately for the assassin, the President came out of the house with Secretary Blaine, directly opposite where Guiteau was waiting in ambush. The two men walked arm-in-arm along the same path in the opposite direction taken by the President earlier that evening, returning to the White House. With Secretary Blaine on the left side of the President between the assassin and his target, it seemed that even after days of trailing the President, this would no longer be the optimum time for the attempt. Unfortunately the assassin did not have long to wait and completed his attack on the President the next day, Saturday July 2, at the Baltimore and Ohio railroad depot.

Interestingly, as we begin to report here, this was not the first occasion when the lives of this leader of the United States and his African American business acquaintance became intertwined. James Wormley’s reputation as a nurse, caterer and hotelier had already been widespread, both nationally and internationally, in the decade prior to the Civil War. Beginning with Buchanan’s administration James Wormley, the son of a free Black couple who had arrived in Washington in 1814, had operated a row of boarding houses and his restaurant from his properties on I Street NW between 15th and 16th Streets.  This location was just one block to the north of Lafayette Square just beyond St. John’s church (sometimes referred to as the President’s Church). At that time James’s businesses as a restaurateur and hotelier were in addition to his duties as the steward for the Washington Club on Lafayette Square during the 1850s. The patrons of this Club had included men like Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, Charles Sumner, William Corcoran and some of the most powerful men from both the North and South.

Before he was president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis spent years in Washington, D.C. as a Senator and presidential cabinet member.  During those years, he was a frequent guest to Wormley's.  (

Before he was president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis spent years in Washington, D.C. as a Senator and presidential cabinet member. During those years, he was a frequent guest to Wormley’s. (History.com)

 

All the while, from its propitious location on I Street, Wormley’s had become one of the favorite places for the leading citizens of the capital city where they could find the finest accommodations and delicious food. Prior to the war General Winfield Scott had made those houses his Washington residence. In May 1860 Wormley was engaged to cater the first Japanese Commission to visit the United States on their trip to Washington aboard the Steamer Philadelphia from Old Point Comfort, Virginia. Once they left the capital he once again was engaged to have his staff attend to the culinary wishes of these foreign dignitaries as they proceeded to Philadelphia. As an illustration of the high regard for his accommodations, Senator Wigfall from Alabama had set up his household at Wormley’s in the winter of 1860 which was outlined in a book by his daughter. She described James’ boarding house as “… a synonym for delightful living and in even those days the acme of comfort”.

When General McClellan was living in the Dolley Madison House on Lafayette Square during his tenure as head of the Union Army he was a regular and frequent patron of James’s dining rooms. In a letter to his wife on August 23, 1861 the general told his wife: “We (the general and his staff) take our meals at Wormley’s, a colored gentleman who keeps a restaurant just around the corner on I St.” On November 20 of that year, in an article in the Evening Star, Col. John H. Forney gave a dinner there for about 50 gentlemen including the Secretary of War, several army generals, and John Hay and John Nicholay, the private secretaries to President Lincoln.

Like many of the nation’s prominent figures, while Garfield served in the House of Representatives he would also have likely partaken of Wormley’s hospitality. Members of the Cabinet, Justices of the Supreme Court, foreign delegations, artists, financiers and Congressmen would tend to come to this famous establishment to live, to eat some of the finest food available, to conduct private political meetings and to be seen at the “in” place in Washington. In September 1868 Wormley and his staff catered the wedding of Robert Todd Lincoln (Garfield’s future Secretary of War) and then, the next day, the wedding train to New York. Robert’s mother Mary and his brother Tad were also in attendance.

Robert Todd Lincoln was the only one of Abraham and Mary Lincoln's sons to survive to adulthood.  He was Secretary of War under President James A. Garfield and was in the building when Charles Guiteau shot the president on July 2, 1881.  Thriteen years before, James Wormley catered Robert Lincoln's wedding.  (Library of Congress)

Robert Todd Lincoln was the only one of Abraham and Mary Lincoln’s four sons to survive to adulthood. He was Secretary of War under President James A. Garfield and was in the building when Charles Guiteau shot the president on July 2, 1881. Thriteen years before, James Wormley catered Robert Lincoln’s wedding. (Library of Congress)

 

In 1869, after six years of living in Washington as a Congressional representative from Ohio, Garfield and his wife built a house just two blocks east of Wormley’s on I Street at the corner of 13th Street.  His Congressional colleagues from Ohio, Americus V. Rice and Frank H. Hurd, would spend some of their years in the city taking up residence at the hotel, additionally leading to the conjecture about the visits to Wormley’s from Garfield. His good friend, former Ohio governor Salmon P. Chase, who was also a customer and friend of Wormley, was named Treasury Secretary by Lincoln. In fact, James Wormley was frequently called upon to cater meals for several Cabinet members such as Gideon Welles, William H. Seward and Edward Bates. James Wormley was so fond of anti-slavery activist Chase that in 1872 he purchased the portrait of then Chief Justice Chase, which had been commissioned by Jay Cooke.

(Check back soon for Part II.)

-Donet D. Graves, Esq., Volunteer Contributor

“It Bristles with Law Points”: James A. Garfield’s Career as a Lawyer, Part II

Throughout his congressional career, Garfield maintained an active part-time law practice. Following his spectacular debut with the Milligan case, biographer T.C. Smith states, “He had patent interference and infringement cases, lawsuits for civil damages, suits involving the interpretation of the powers of territorial governments and suits involving the fulfillment of contracts.” Eleven of those cases were before the Supreme Court. Garfield saw his legal work as an intellectual challenge, and an important way to supplement his income. Writing to a friend in the spring of 1871, Garfield reported, “In addition to my Congressional work I have kept up and increased my law practice in the State courts and in the Supreme Court of the U. S. and have, from that source realized about $2000 a year for the last four years.”

Lawyer James A. Garfield argued many cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, seen here in 1868.  Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase had been a close friend of Garfield's during the Civil War while the former was Secretary of the Treasury and the latter a young Union officer awaiting orders in Washington, D.C.  Chase was Chief Justice from 1864-1873.  (U.S. Supreme Court)

Lawyer James A. Garfield argued many cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, seen here in 1868. Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase had been a close friend of Garfield’s during the Civil War while the former was Secretary of the Treasury and the latter a young Union officer awaiting orders in Washington, D.C. Chase was Chief Justice from 1864-1873. (U.S. Supreme Court)

Other cases arose out of the Civil War. In 1870, again before the Supreme Court, Garfield argued In re Bennet vs. Hunter. At the beginning of the war, Congress passed a law “for the collection of direct taxes in insurrectionary districts within the United States” in order to raise revenue for the war effort. The law stipulated that if the taxes could not be paid, the land would be forfeited and sold by the government. B. W. Hunter owned a tract of land in Alexandria, Virginia upon which a tax was levied in 1862. Mr. Hunter died, his son, a Confederate soldier, inherited, and the tax went unpaid. His property was advertised for sale in January, 1864. After the land was advertised, but before it was sold, Hunter sent a tenant to pay the full amount of the taxes owed, plus penalties. The tax commissioners refused to receive the money because it was not offered by the owner in person. So the land was sold, and Hunter sued. Since both the tax levy and the property sale were undertaken by the federal government, the case rose to the U. S. Supreme Court. In his argument in behalf of Mr. Hunter, Garfield made this appeal:

“The last time I had the honor to appear before this court you were then considering in the case of ex parte Milligan what were the rights of an American citizen on trial before the law. And you decreed that the shield of equal justice covered all the citizens of the republic, the highest and the lowest, the proudest and the humblest, the innocent and the guilty until found unworthy by conviction before a court of competent jurisdiction. You established the right to life and liberty. You are now called upon to make a similar decision relating to the rights of property which the law gives to every citizen of the Republic.”

The Court endorsed Garfield’s position; Hunter’s land was restored to him.

Garfield described another case that arose from the war: “…It was a great question on the effect of war on a life insurance policy—whether it vitiated the insurance policy of a man who lived in the South, a belligerent. We took the ground that it did; it was a question that had never been tested in the Supreme Court. It was a new question.”

Because of the absence of one Justice, the Court failed to reach a decision, tying four to four. The next year a similar case brought by the New York Life Insurance Company rose to the Supreme Court and Garfield was retained by the company to argue both cases. All through the winter of 1875 Garfield prepared his arguments and briefs. The case was heard on April 26, 1876; the Court ruled in favor of the insurance companies.

Congressman James A. Garfield as he appeared in the 1870s while doing a great deal of legal work.  (Library of Congress)

Congressman James A. Garfield as he appeared in the 1870s while doing a great deal of legal work. (Library of Congress)

Not every case Garfield handled involved a great constitutional question or a question of law in times of insurrection. Take for example the 1872 case of U.S. vs. 100 Barrels distilled spirits, aka Henderson’s Distilled Spirits. In accepting this case, Garfield said, “The amount in controversy is not large but it bristles with law points.”

The law in question, being a tax law, was long and exceedingly complex. Passed in July, 1866, the statute levied taxes on hundreds of products; it had seventy-one sections and covered “seventy-five large and closely printed pages of the statute book.” One of the sections addressed distilled spirits, levying a tax payable by the distiller before the liquor was sold or moved to a bonded warehouse. The distiller in this case, a man named Nimrod Johnson, deposited the 100 barrels of liquor at a bonded warehouse in New Orleans, but did not pay the taxes due. Henderson bought them, paid the tax, and transported the spirits to St. Louis where they were again placed in a bonded warehouse awaiting sale. It was there that federal agents seized the liquor, because Johnson had not paid the taxes he owed on it. Everyone involved in the case agreed that Henderson was an innocent and bona fide purchaser, and he won his case in federal district court. At the Supreme Court Garfield defended Mr. Henderson in a two hour oral argument and declared, “I am pretty well satisfied with the case as I have presented it.” He did not convince the Court, which ruled in favor of the government.

Several times during his nine terms in Congress, Garfield considered ending his political career for full-time law practice. Each time, a political or personal reason prevented him from making the change. In 1875 he worried in his diary, “My fear is that I have delayed too long…” and by the next year Garfield determined that his leadership position in the House required all his time and effort. He began to take new cases in 1879, as he saw the possibility of his House leadership ending and a less demanding Senate career beginning. His Presidential nomination in June of 1880 effectively ended James Garfield’s legal career.

Garfield's legal career ended when he became the Republican presidential nominee in 1880.  This campaign banner shows Garfield with his running mate (and successor), Chester A. Arthur.  (National Park Service)

Garfield’s legal career ended when he became the Republican presidential nominee in 1880. This campaign banner shows Garfield with his running mate (and successor), Chester A. Arthur. (National Park Service)

In his Eulogy on the Late President Garfield, delivered by James G. Blaine in the House of Representatives, February 27, 1882, Garfield’s colleague and good friend assessed the late President’s legal career with these words:

“As a lawyer, though admirably equipped for the profession, he can scarcely be said to have entered on its practice. The few efforts he made at the bar were distinguished by the same high order of talent which he exhibited on every field where he was put to the test, and if a man may be accepted as a competent judge of his own capacities and adaptations, the law was the profession to which Garfield should have devoted himself. But fate ordained otherwise, and his reputation in history will rest largely upon his service in the House of Representatives.”

James G. Blaine was Garfield's friend from their years of congressional service together.  Blaine sought the 1880 Republican presidential nomination that went to Garfield and became Secretary of State for his old friend.  Blaine was the Republican presidential nominee in 1884 but lost the election to Democrat Grover Cleveland.  (Library of Congress)

James G. Blaine was Garfield’s friend from their years of congressional service together. Blaine sought the 1880 Republican presidential nomination that went to Garfield and instead became Secretary of State for his old friend. Blaine was the Republican presidential nominee in 1884 but lost the election to Democrat Grover Cleveland. (Library of Congress)

-Joan Kapsch, Park Guide

“It Bristles with Law Points”: James A. Garfield’s Career as a Lawyer, Part I

In 1852, twenty year old James Garfield was considering possible future career paths. He rather vehemently rejected any thought of politics. “I am exceedingly disgusted with the wire pulling of politicians and the total disregard for truth in all their operations. Miserable, low, ungentlemanly trash fills the columns of the political press, unfit for refined feelings, tender consciences, or kind hearts.” Two years later he considered the law. “Though I do not regard the Legal Profession incompatible with Christianity, still I think it would be much more difficult to cultivate and preserve that purity of heart and devotedness to the cause of Christ while partak[ing] of those ambitious aspirations that accompany the Gentlemen of the Bar.” Ironically, it was in those two fields that Garfield was most successful, and made lasting marks on American law.

A young James A. Garfield, who overcame extreme poverty to obtain an education and careers as a teacher, college president, soldier, congressman, lawyer, and president.  Though some of his private remarks about blacks seem harsh today, his public support for black suffrage was consistent.  (Western Reserve Historical Society)

A young James A. Garfield, who overcame extreme poverty to obtain an education and careers as a teacher, college president, soldier, congressman, lawyer, and president.  (Western Reserve Historical Society)

After two years of private study—while also teaching, regularly preaching, and campaigning for a seat in the Ohio Senate—James Garfield presented himself to a board of examiners seeking admission to the Ohio Bar. Following a “thorough and searching examination,” the board complimented his “unusual and phenomenal” mastery and admitted Garfield to the practice of law on January 26, 1861. Almost immediately the Civil War intervened and teacher, preacher, politician, lawyer Garfield became a soldier.

James Garfield’s legal career didn’t begin until the war was over and he was serving in Congress. He was asked by Jeremiah Sullivan Black—a friend, a fellow Disciple of Christ, and a Democrat—to join him in arguing a case called Ex parte Milligan before the United States Supreme Court. It would be Garfield’s first appearance as a lawyer in any courtroom.

Lambdin P. Milligan was the main defendant in the Ex Parte Milligan case.  He and four others had been arrested for treason and argued that as civilians, the military had no jurisdiction to try them. This case was the first ever argued by lawyer James A. Garfield.  (Yale University Law School)

Lambdin P. Milligan was the main defendant in the Ex Parte Milligan case. He and four others had been arrested for treason and argued that as civilians, the military had no jurisdiction to try them. This case was the first ever argued by lawyer James A. Garfield. (Yale University Law School)

The Milligan case came out of the Civil War. Lambdin P. Milligan and four co-defendants had been arrested in Indiana in the fall of 1864 and charged with treason. Milligan and his southern-sympathizing friends were accused of plotting to release Confederate prisoners of war and giving aid to Rebel raiding parties in southern Indiana. They were tried by the army in a military tribunal, convicted, and sentenced to hang. They appealed, arguing that as civilians, they should not have been tried by the military in a state of the Union where civilian courts were operating. The case reached the Supreme Court in 1866.

Garfield’s argument on behalf of Milligan and his co-defendants was lengthy and learned—he had spent weeks in preparation. He told the Justices that a ruling for the defendants would demonstrate “that a republic can wield the vast enginery of war without breaking down the safeguards of liberty; can suppress insurrection, and put down rebellion, however formidable, without destroying the bulwarks of law.” The Supreme Court unanimously agreed that the military did not have jurisdiction in the case, upholding Garfield’s position. Writing for the court, Justice David Davis said that the Constitution was “a law for rulers and people, equally in time of war and peace.”

Ex parte Milligan is recognized as one of the Supreme Court’s most important decisions about the rights of citizens to due process as outlined in the Constitution, and it gave Garfield instant recognition as a constitutional lawyer.

Pennsylvania Congressman Thaddeus Stevens was a fierce abolitionist with whom Garfield disagreed over equal pay for black soldiers.  (Library of Congress)

Pennsylvania Congressman Thaddeus Stevens was a Radical Republican that opposed the final decision in Ex Parte Milligan.  He feared it would be used by those opposed to military courts in the South to get those courts disbanded. (Library of Congress)

But Milligan was not decided in a vacuum. Immediately following the war, President Andrew Johnson, the Radical Republicans in Congress, and the people of the South were facing the issues of reconstruction. Following their overwhelming victory at the polls in 1866, Republicans in Congress, including James Garfield, quickly outlawed President Johnson’s very accommodating Reconstruction program. Fearing that essentially unreconstructed southern states would “substitute a degrading peonage for slavery and make a mockery of the moral fruits of northern victory,” Congress passed the First Reconstruction Act, establishing military rule in the former Confederacy. A feature of congressional reconstruction was a series of military courts established to maintain order and protect freedmen. President Johnson cited Milligan to oppose these courts. One of the most radical of the Republicans in Congress, Thaddeus Stevens worried that the Milligan decision, “although in terms perhaps not as infamous as the Dred Scott decision, is yet far more dangerous in its operation.” But Milligan did not address the appropriateness of the use of military courts in the states that had rebelled. Contrary to the fears of some that the decision by the Supreme Court had nullified at least a part of Reconstruction Act, what the Justices carefully declared was that military jurisdiction “can never be applied to citizens in states which have upheld the authority of the government, and where the courts are open”—exactly the argument Garfield had made.

(check back soon for Part II)

-Joan Kapsch, Park Guide