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

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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

Captain Henry of Geauga, Part II

Henry was always grateful to Congressman Garfield for the railroad job. It allowed him to earn a decent living and not worry too much about farming. He began to pay attention to men having conversations about politics, particularly those in Garfield’s district. Charles wrote letters to his friend reporting on what he heard and how it related to the Congressman. Before long Charles became Garfield’s political agent. He asked questions of local folks on their views of politics in general and on important issues of the day. This was a great help to Garfield who did not have the means to keep close tab on his constituents. Henry sent newspapers to Washington for Garfield to read and decide which editors were favorable to him. Anybody in Garfield’s district that wanted a postmaster job had to have an unofficial visit with Mr. Henry before being recommended.

In 1873 Charles got a promotion to special agent of the post office department. He got a significant raise, free railroad transportation, a gun, and three dollars a day for meals. His new job allowed him to settle disputes between postmasters, investigate people for mail fraud and stealing. His duties allowed him time to stop at various points in Garfield’s district and determine which way the political winds were blowing. He reported any areas where Garfield might be losing support and what to do about it. Charles visited men who supported Garfield to make certain they were doing their utmost to keep the Congressman in office.

Congressman James A. Garfield.  Charles Henry became an important politial advisor and operative for his former commanding officer.  (Library of Congress)

Congressman James A. Garfield. Charles Henry became an important political advisor and operative for his former commanding officer. (Library of Congress)

As special agent, Charles made about one arrest per month. He had a system for catching postal clerks who stole money out of envelopes. He would visit the post office suspected, usually wearing farm clothes so as not to arouse attention. When he had an idea who might be stealing he put several marked small bills, into two envelopes. He then addressed the envelopes for the next town on the route. Charles visited the intended post office and identified himself and alerted the postmaster to watch for the letters. He went back to the suspected post office, mailed the letters there and waited to see if they would arrive at their destination. If they did not he confronted the suspect, searched him and would find the marked money. He would make the arrest and escort the guilty party to the nearest United States marshal’s office.

Henry’s work for Congressman Garfield did not go unappreciated. In the summer of 1874 he visited the Garfields at their Washington home. Charles got a guided tour of all the sights including Mt. Vernon, Arlington and the Smithsonian. Later in the week Garfield took Charles to the White House for a visit with President Grant. His trips to Washington became more frequent, highlighted by an army reunion and dinner with General Phil Sheridan and Colonel George Custer.

Col. George Armstrong Custer.  Charles Henry met Custer, Gen. Philip Sheridan, and other notables during his summer 1874 visit to the Garfields' in Washington.  (Library of Congress)

Col. George Armstrong Custer. Charles Henry met Custer, Gen. Philip Sheridan, and other notables during his summer 1874 visit to the Garfields’ in Washington. (Library of Congress)

Throughout the 1870’s Charles kept a close watch on local and national politics. He counted on friends and political allies to get him inside information he could relay to Congressman Garfield. His most effective work came during Garfield’s bid for a seat in the Senate. Charles canvassed the entire state to determine how much support the candidate had. In February of 1879, Charles wrote to Garfield, “Everything looks hopeful to me and I shall be very much disappointed if you do not have a walkover.”

Soon he opened a campaign office in Columbus, handing out literature and cigars to members of the state legislature. By November he was able to report sixty-four of the ninety members were solidly behind Garfield. The actual election was unanimous, a complete victory. Charles spent only a paltry $148.60 on the campaign. When Garfield came to Columbus for his acceptance speech he grabbed his campaign manager in a bear hug and swung Charles around several times. He had done the same thing almost twenty years ago at the Hiram College graduation. Their friendship was as strong as could be.

James A. Garfield never served a day in the United States Senate. In June of 1880 he unexpectedly received the Republican nomination for President. He won the general election in November to become the 20th President of the United States. Once in office he did not hesitate to appoint Captain Charles Henry as United States Marshal to the District of Columbia. Charles officially took office in May, ready to rid the streets of Washington of all criminals. He had no inkling his first major assignment would be protecting Charles Guiteau, the assassin of President Garfield. Charles did his best to put aside his hatred of Guiteau and make sure his prisoner stayed alive during his confinement. There were two attempts to kill Guiteau along with a number of unsigned letters all swearing that the prisoner would be murdered at any moment.

Charles E. Henry as Marshal of the District of Columbia.  His old friend and commanding officer, President James A. Garfield, appointed him to this position.  (From the book "Captain Henry of Geauga")

Charles E. Henry as Marshal of the District of Columbia. His old friend and commanding officer, President James A. Garfield, appointed him to this position. (From the book “Captain Henry of Geauga”)

 

Charles managed to keep Guiteau healthy throughout his trial and all the way to the execution. How he kept his composure during the ordeal is a testament to his sense of duty and personal honor. Very few men have been put to the test like Marshal Henry.
With a new President in the White House Charles knew his time in office would be brief. He survived until November of 1882 when Chester Arthur dismissed him from service. He returned home to Bainbridge to once again take up farming. For several years he produced great quantities of maple syrup and wrote article for several newspapers. Charles enjoyed being home with his family, but farm life did not agree with him. He was quite relieved when a letter from Don Pardee, now a federal judge, arrived. Pardee employed him on behalf of the court to travel to Texas and investigate a railroad labor strike. The job took several years to complete and paid Charles several thousand dollars.

Due to his success in sorting out the railroad problems, other opportunities presented themselves. In December of 1892, attorneys Harry A. and James R. Garfield, the eldest sons of the late President, called on Charles to assist them in an embezzlement case. Their clients, a lumber company in Cleveland had lost $20,000 to one of their agents in Philadelphia. The alleged embezzler Harpin A. Botsford, pocketed company receipts and fled to Brazil where there was no extradition agreement with the United States. The Garfields believed Charles had the skills to track down the fugitive. All he had to work with was a photo of the suspect and a sample of his handwriting.
On Christmas Eve Charles boarded a steamer out of New York. His initial destination was Rio de Janeiro, a place where felons where known to frequent. After twenty-six days at sea Charles arrived in port. He immediately paid a call on the American consulate who filed the necessary paperwork for Charles to make the arrest. The Brazilian government agreed to allow Charles to take the fugitive out of Brazil should he find the culprit.

The detective work began in earnest. Charles showed the photo to a number of locals. One of the men recognized Botsford and told Charles the man in the photo was said to be on his way to Sao Paulo to buy a coffee plantation. Captain Henry located the office of a United States coffee broker who gave another positive identification of the photo. The broker knew that the suspect, now using the name H. B. Ford was on the move. Charles boarded the first train to Sao Paulo, arriving fifteen hours later.

Now hot on the trail, Charles visited the town hotels and reviewed the guest registers. At his third stop he found the name H. B. Ford, December 27, 1892. The trail was burning up. A walk to the local coffee warehouse found a worker from Scotland who had seen Mr. Ford. Charles learned through his new friend that the suspect had gone north on a narrow road to the back country. The two men boarded the only train running and arrived at a small village some twenty miles north.

Charles E. Henry around 1900.  This is the last known photo of him.  He died in November 1906.  (From the book "Captain Henry of Geauga")

Charles E. Henry around 1900. This is the last known photo of him. He died in November 1906. (From the book “Captain Henry of Geauga”)

The trip turned out to be well worth the effort. Mr. Ford had been there less than a week ago. Charles learned that Botsford/Ford had hired a guide and rented mules to take him further north. They were no more than twenty miles away. Captain Henry hired the same guide to take him where he might find the fugitive. They traveled slowly through the dense, tropical forest. The road was quite rough, forcing them to dismount their mules and lead them forward. Despite encountering groups of monkeys and the occasional snake, Charles arrived at Jacutinga where his adversary was hiding. He drew both of his revolvers and moved forward.

It had been almost thirty years since Charles had worn his Union uniform but he quickly fell back to soldier mode. Ford opened his front door carrying a revolver and a machete in his boot. He looked curiously at Charles who marched up the steps, grabbed the revolver and machete and advised Ford he was under arrest. They mounted the mules and started south for the long journey that would take them back to the United States. The trip took several months, not arriving in home until April 2, 1893. For his efforts Charles received $2,000 plus extensive coverage in the newspapers.

Due to his remarkable adventure, Charles received a job offer from the American Surety Company to serve as an inspector. He continued to bring embezzlers and thieves to justice for a number of years. He did some farming, spent time with his family and kept in touch with old friends from the 42nd OVI. His eyesight began to fail and his heart weakened but Charles carried on into the 20th century. Six years later he passed away on November 3, 1906. He was seventy years old.

Captain Charles Henry was an extraordinary man: soldier, political ally, lawman, and dedicated family man. His strength of character and honesty brought him to a plateau few men occupy.

-Scott Longert, Park Guide

Captain Henry of Geauga, Part I

Of all the soldiers that filled the ranks of the 42nd Ohio Volunteers, perhaps none had a more adventurous life than that of Captain Charles E. Henry. This is no easy assertion to make considering the regimental commander was future President James A. Garfield. Besides our twentieth President, there would be Colonel Lionel Sheldon, a congressman and territorial Governor, and Colonel Don Pardee, a United States Circuit Court judge. These are men of great distinction, but their lives were somewhat sedate when compared to that of Captain Henry.

Charles Henry was born in Bainbridge, Ohio, November 29, 1835. He was the seventh of nine children born to John and Polly Henry. He weighed in at a shade under five pounds, so tiny that his family had great doubts of his survival. Despite a harsh northeast Ohio winter, little Charlie persevered. As a young boy he would note that travelers stopping by for a visit would often give him a few pennies to save. Charles took the coins and buried them near the Henry home. Months later he would forget where the treasure was buried.

Charles E. Henry as he looked in 1900.  (From the book "Captain Henry of Geauga," by Frederick A. Henry)

Charles E. Henry as he looked in 1900. (From the book “Captain Henry of Geauga,” by Frederick A. Henry)

Henry quit school at age sixteen to take on full time work. The jobs included labor in the fields, making hoops for barrels and driving teams on road construction. In just several years he had saved five hundred dollars. With the accumulated wealth, Charles decided to enroll at Hiram College. He was quite proud of the fact that he could easily pay for tuition, room and board and books. In the fall of 1857 he started classes.

An early view of the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (now Hiram College) around the time Charles Henry was a student and James A. Garfield was the school's principal.  (Hiram College Archives)

An early view of the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (now Hiram College) around the time Charles Henry was a student and James A. Garfield was the school’s principal. (Hiram College Archives)

Within a short time Charles became friends with James A. Garfield, currently the college principal. Despite an age difference of four years the two men became well acquainted. A year later Garfield helped his new friend find a place for room and board. For that year’s term, Charles stayed at the home of Zeb Rudolph. Charles had a fine time there, making another friend in Joe Rudolph. The two would remain pals for the remainder of their lives.

In 1859 Charles began to teach school. His first assignment was in Auburn where the school directors told him he was hired due his large size (six feet tall) and his likely ability to whip the older boys when necessary. Henry was paid twenty dollars a month for the term. The directors were probably right in hiring Charles. There were no fights during the entire school term.

The year of 1860 was a significant one for Mr. Henry. Back at Hiram, he scheduled the most challenging classes he could find, including algebra, chemistry and German. He joined the Delphic Literary Society, sometimes donating his own books to the society library. Charles recalled a particular meeting where he made eye contact with one of the members of the Olive Branch, the only female society on campus. Her name was Sophia Williams; quiet a beauty in her day. Charles left the gathering early but was stopped in the street by one of his friends. Apparently Ms. Williams was miffed that Charles left and asked his friend to bring him back. The two sat together and talked, the beginning of a courtship that would later result in marriage.

By the spring of 1861, Henry was near graduation. He spent a lot of time doing military drills on the common. The attack on Fort Sumter had already taken place, prompting many of the Hiram boys to ready themselves for war. Some would drop out of school and enlist. Charles stayed the course and graduated on June 6, 1861. His commencement oration received high praise from Principal Garfield who lifted Charles off the ground and swung him around in admiration. They were now the best of friends.

For the next two months Charles Henry mulled over his future. He had an offer to teach the winter term at the Solon school district. Dr. David Shipherd, an old family friend wanted Charles to study medicine and take over his long established practice. While debating the offers, two visitors came to see the recent graduate. They were Lieutenant Colonel Garfield and Frederick Williams, a classmate of Charles. They were on their way to Hiram to recruit soldiers for the newly formed 42nd Ohio volunteer Infantry. They would not leave until Charles accompanied them. The meeting took place that evening and the first recruit to sign up was Private Henry. Company “A” soon held elections for officers. The vote for Lieutenant was hotly contested with Charles losing by a single vote. The next day he was appointed first sergeant.

James A. Garfield was principal of the "Eclectic" when he got to know Charles Henry.  Garfield was commander of the 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry when Henry enlisted.  (Library of Congress)

James A. Garfield was principal of the “Eclectic” when he got to know Charles Henry. Garfield was commander of the 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry when Henry enlisted. (Library of Congress)

The 42nd OVI saw action in Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi. They took part in General Grant’s Vicksburg campaign which ended with the siege of Vicksburg. Company “A” was at the thick of it in most of the battles. A significant number of Hiram boys were killed or wounded during their three years of service. On May 22, 1863 the 42nd received orders to storm the Rebel forts protecting Vicksburg. Lieutenant Henry (a recent promotion) led the advance of Company A through a narrow valley and up the steep hills. The Rebels blasted away at the Union soldiers. Lieutenant Henry took a bullet in his left foot which shattered a small bone. He managed to slide down the slope and painfully limped to the field hospital. He received treatment and a twenty day leave to recuperate.

The twenty days leave turned into several months before Lieutenant Henry was able to report for duty. Upon his return he received orders to report to Baton Rouge, Louisiana where he would be appointed Assistant Provost Marshall. His new boss would be Colonel Don Pardee, temporarily detached from the 42nd OVI. Though not well acquainted, the two men became fast friends. The Provost Marshall’s office had a wide variety of duties to perform including keeping the peace among the residents, trying military cases and making sure the occupying army did not get too out of control. Charles made a thorough study of the law, soon acting as representation for soldiers on trial. He was not a practicing attorney but learned how to prepare an adequate defense.

Henry became adept at identifying ladies of the community who were actively involved in smuggling. After signing an oath of loyalty to the Union these women went to the area druggists and bought illegal medical supplies for sick Confederates hiding out in the country. The ladies sewed small bags inside their dresses and would load up for a visit outside town. Charles developed a knack for eyeing the ladies and recognizing strange bulges in their clothes. Most of the women he stopped were carrying contraband and wound up paying heavy fines.

Company A of the 42nd Ohio, the regiment in which Charles Henry served.   (Hiram College Archives)

Company A of the 42nd Ohio, the regiment in which Charles Henry served. (Hiram College Archives)

As an advocate for people brought to court on charges, Charles began collecting some steady fees. He and a friend represented a druggist accused of smuggling. They got him a reduced sentence and received $600 in payment. At one point a Union general ordered Henry to legally marry any freed slaves who wanted a license. Before he was relieved of duty he performed nearly 2,500 weddings. He was a popular man in Baton Rouge during his one year of service. Upon his departure a local newspaper would write, “We regret we are compelled to announce the speedy departure of our friend, Lieutenant Charles Henry. The Judge is one of those genial souls whose loss the community at large will regret.”

Charles left for home where he was mustered out of the army and brevetted to the rank of Captain. A month later he married the pretty girl from the Olive Branch Society, Sophia Williams. After a honeymoon at Niagara Falls, Charles returned to Baton Rouge where he acted as an independent advocate for soldiers and civilians. In just a few months he earned $3,000, enough to buy a one hundred acre farm in Bainbridge. Business was booming for him, enough to bring Sophia to Baton Rouge. She was not a fan of the sweltering temperature, but the Henrys stayed for a while to build up their savings.

The 42nd Ohio, including Charles Henry, saw heavy action in the fighting around Vicksburg, Mississippi. (Library of Congress)

The 42nd Ohio, including Charles Henry, saw heavy action in the fighting around Vicksburg, Mississippi. (Library of Congress)

Eventually they returned to Bainbridge where Charles put away the law books and took up farming. He threw himself into the work but the results were not promising. For some reason he never took to farming. He did not make money no matter how hard he tried to succeed. In 1867, he supplemented his income by becoming the local postmaster. This worked for two years until the job was eliminated. He then wrote a letter to old friend (now Congressman) James A. Garfield, asking for a postal clerk position with the railroad. In short order Charles got a job with the rail line from Cleveland to Youngstown to Sharon, Pennsylvania. He manned the rail car five days a week, sorting letters and newspapers and filling mailbags.

Several months later Charles proved his value to the railroad. A group of tough guys boarded his train, carrying roosters on their way to a cock fight. On the return trip the men were obviously drunk and harassing the passengers. Though not part of his duties Charles confronted the men, grabbed several and threw them off the train. This action would benefit him in later years.

(Check back soon for Part II of this article!)

-Scott Longert, Park Guide

Mollie Garfield’s Commemorative Coin

Displayed in the Visitor Center (the converted Carriage House) at James A. Garfield National Historic Site is a beautiful coin donated by Mollie Garfield, daughter of President and Mrs. James A. Garfield.

The coin is an 1881 Morgan Silver dollar. The Morgan dollars were minted from 1878 until 1904 and again in 1921. They were minted in five different U.S. mints: Denver (D), Philadelphia (no mint mark), New Orleans (O), Carson City (CC), and San Francisco (S). They were designed by George T. Morgan and hence named after him. These were the only dollar coins minted throughout this period and were often given as keepsakes (and still are today).  Many wives of soldiers gave one to their husbands to take to war or wherever else they went.  However, few Morgan dollars are ever engraved as Mollie’s is.  Her coin is engraved with the exact date it was minted: September 19, 1881, the day of her father’s death.

This specially-minted coin was given to Mollie Garfield to honor her father's life and commemorate his death.  It was struck on September 19, 1881, the day her father died.  (NPS photo)

This specially-minted coin was given to Mollie Garfield to honor her father’s life and commemorate his death. It was struck on September 19, 1881, the day her father died. (NPS photo)

Mary (Mollie) Garfield was born January 16, 1867, one of seven children born to James and Lucretia Garfield.  She was one of the five Garfield children who lived to adulthood (sister Eliza and brother Edward both died at an early age).  She was raised in Ohio and Washington, D.C. and in 1888, seven years after her father’s death, she married Joseph Stanley-Brown, former personal secretary to President Garfield.  She and her husband eventually settled in Pasadena, California.  Mollie died in 1947 at age 80. 

Of the five Garfield children that survived to adulthood, Mollie was the only daughter.  She and her father were very close.  (Western Reserve Historical Society)

Of the five Garfield children that survived to adulthood, Mollie was the only daughter. She and her father were very close. (Western Reserve Historical Society)

Though this was a specially-engraved, one-time coin to commemorate President James A. Garfield’s death, other coins have been minted to mark former presidents’ deaths. The most common of these coins is the John F. Kennedy half-dollar. The coin was proposed a month after President Kennedy’s assassination and the bill to strike the coin was quickly passed.  Jacqueline Kennedy, President Kennedy’s widow, was given the choice to have her late husband’s portrait on the half-dollar, dollar, or quarter.  She chose the half-dollar, replacing Benjamin Franklin’s likeness on the coin.  The first Kennedy half-dollars were struck in 1964 and are still being struck today.

While the death of a president is important, so is his birth.  This is exemplified by the Lincoln cent, first introduced in 1909 on the centennial of Lincoln’s birth.  When these cents were first introduced, the back of the coin depicted two pieces of wheat.  This was changed to an image of the Lincoln Memorial in 1959 during the sesquicentennial of Lincoln’s birth.  In 2009, to honor the bicentennial, the U.S. Mint produced four different backs on the penny showing Lincoln during four different stages of his life.  The first features a log cabin, representing his birth and early childhood in Kentucky.  Second is his formative years in Indiana, showing him sitting on a log.  Next, his professional life in Illinois is interpreted with an image of Lincoln in front of the Illinois State Capitol.  Finally, the U.S. Capitol represents his presidency.

Though President Garfield never had a coin (other than Mollie’s) struck to honor his death or birth, he is depicted on one coin.  The new gold dollars depict former presidents, starting with George Washington in 2007.  Four coins were released each year, with Garfield, the 20th President, going into circulation in late 2011.

The James A. Garfield presidential dollar was officially released into circulation at a November 17, 2011 ceremony held at James A. Garfield National Historic Site.  (U.S. Treasury image)

The James A. Garfield presidential dollar was officially released into circulation at a November 17, 2011 ceremony held at James A. Garfield National Historic Site. (U.S. Treasury image)

Coins can be looked at in one of two ways. The first is looking at them purely as forms of currency. The second is one that coin collectors and a few others can understand and appreciate. This is looking at coins as pieces of history, things that will be preserved for many years honoring an important person or occasion. This is the way I view my coins, and perhaps the next time someone hands you change, you will consider yours in the same light.

-Samuel Fuller, age 17, Cleveland, Ohio-Volunteer Contributor