As you pull into our driveway, one of the first things you probably notice is the sign that says “James A. Garfield National Historic Site; National Park Service/U.S. Department of the Interior.” Chances are, if you have been to another National Park, you have probably seen a similar entrance sign there, too. You might then wonder, “Well, is this site part of the National Park Service or the U.S. Department of the Interior?” The short answer is “both.”
The National Park Service (www.nps.gov) is an agency of the United States Department of the Interior. The Department of the Interior (www.doi.gov) is our “parent” Cabinet-level, Executive Branch department, which oversees the Service. (You are probably harkening back to your high school or college government class right now.)
The Department of the Interior is one of the 15 departments of the Executive Branch, which comprise the President’s Cabinet. Of the current fifteen Cabinet departments, the Department of the Interior is the fourth oldest, behind the Department of State (1789); the Department of the Treasury (1789); and the Department of Justice (1789). The Department of the Interior was established on March 3, 1849, and is responsible for relations with American Indian tribes, the preservation and maintenance of public lands and certain natural resources, and the preservation of the nation’s historical and cultural treasures, among other duties. Unlike the United States, the Interior Departments of many other nations are primarily law enforcement-based, much like our Department of Homeland Security.
Our current Secretary is The Honorable Sally Jewell, who took office in April 2013. Secretary Jewell is the 51st Secretary of the Interior since the Department’s creation. Secretary Jewell hails from the State of Washington, which follows the tradition of the Secretary of the Interior being from a western state. The previous four Secretaries-Ken Salazar, Dirk Kempthorne, Gail Norton, and Bruce Babbitt-were from Colorado, Idaho, Colorado, and Arizona, respectively. The last Secretary of the Interior from a state east of the Mississippi River was Secretary Donald Hodel, a Virginian, who served during the second term of President Ronald Reagan from 1985-89.
In addition to James A. Garfield NHS being a part of the Department of the Interior, there is another significant Garfield tie to the Department. Often, the Rangers or Volunteers will be asked if any of the President and Mrs. Garfield’s children entered public service. The answer is yes, as the second oldest son, James Rudolph Garfield served in three appointed positions within the federal government, including serving as the 23rd Secretary of the Interior under President Theodore Roosevelt. Secretary Garfield served during the final two years of President Roosevelt’s administration, and was the second leader of our Department during that Presidency. (James R.’s older brother, Harry A. Garfield, served the American people as head of the Federal Fuel Administration during World War One. His youngest brother, Abram, served as a member of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts from 1925-30.)
Secretary Garfield was not the only Secretary of the Interior to come from Ohio. In fact, the first Secretary of the Interior, Thomas Ewing, was a graduate of Ohio University and a lawyer in southern Ohio. Secretary Ewing served as Secretary for about 16 months under President Zachary Taylor. He was also a United States Senator (twice), and Secretary of the Treasury for Presidents William Henry Harrison and John Tyler. Following the Civil War, Secretary Ewing had an opportunity to serve as a Cabinet Secretary for a third time, as he was nominated to serve as the Secretary of War for President Andrew Johnson, but the Senate refused to take action on their former colleague.
One other note about Secretary Ewing is that he was the foster father to General William Tecumseh Sherman and Senator John Sherman. I mention this because of the recognition we give to those two of the brothers Sherman at the Site. There, of course, is a portrait of General Sherman in the Memorial Library, hung on the wall above the bookcases to the right, as soon as you walk in. The portrait of General Sherman is to the left of the portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte, and two portraits to the left of Otto Von Bismarck. With regards to John Sherman, who served as Secretary of the Treasury under President Rutherford B. Hayes and who would go on to serve as Secretary of State for President William McKinley, then-Congressman James A. Garfield nominated him on the first ballot at the 1880 Republican National Convention to be the Republican nominee for President of the United States. Of course, Secretary Sherman did not receive the Republican nomination that year as the deadlocked convention eventually (on the 36th ballot) turned to Garfield himself.
The other two Secretaries of the Interior to come from Ohio are our Department’s 10th and 11th Secretaries, respectively. Our Department’s 10th Secretary was Jacob Dolson Cox. Secretary Cox has, as of late, become a person I have become interested in conducting more research about. In a recent presentation about the State Senate tenure of James A. Garfield, I mentioned quite a bit about Secretary Cox. Secretary Cox and President Garfield were roommates in the home of the Chairman of the Ohio Republican Central Committee while they served in the State Senate as Members whose respective districts were side-by-side. He, like Garfield, would receive command of a Volunteer Infantry unit, when they were commissioned as officers in the summer of 1861 by Governor William Denison. Following the Civil War, Cox would serve as Secretary of the Interior for a little over a year-and-a-half for President Ulysses S. Grant. Much like Garfield, who would call for civil service reform during his brief presidency, Cox left his position as Interior Secretary because those who wanted positions filled via political patronage had the ear of President Grant, and the President would not support Cox’s reform efforts within the Department. Secretary Cox would come out once again to enter public life beginning in 1876, when he ran for Congress, and would serve one term – and be re-united with his very close friend, Congressman James A. Garfield.
Finally, the last of the Secretaries of the Interior from the State of Ohio is our 11th Secretary, Columbus Delano. Secretary Delano succeeded Secretary Cox, and served in President Grant’s administration from 1870 – 1875. One of the major accomplishments of Secretary Delano’s was the establishment of Yellowstone National Park (www.nps.gov/yell) in 1872. As has been discussed, the issue of patronage permeated throughout the political landscape since the days of President Andrew Jackson. It has been argued by historians that President Grant’s administration may have been one of the most corrupt ever – especially with the amount of patronage jobs doled out. Thus, this created a situation where political reward was ever-present throughout the 8 years of the Grant presidency. With that said, although the first steps to preserve the natural wonder of Yellowstone were taken, the American people were not well-served by Secretary Delano.
Secretary Delano ended up resigning his post as Interior Secretary because of certain misdeeds that occurred within the Department, including the awarding of contracts to the Secretary’s son, as well as DOI employees in the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Patent Office profiting at the expense of the American people.
All four secretaries were buried in Ohio, including Mentor’s own Secretary James R. Garfield. Secretary Garfield and his wife Helen are buried in Mentor at Mentor Municipal Cemetery. Since Secretary Garfield, including Secretary Hodel, six Secretaries have come from the eastern half of the United States.
While three of the Secretaries discussed were waist-deep in issues related to political patronage, it must be clearly stated that the Department of the Interior today is a highly professional organization made up of uniformed and non-uniformed employees and volunteers. Due to the civil service reforms proposed by President Garfield and later instituted by President Chester A. Arthur, the issue of political patronage with regards to the handing out of jobs and politics dictating official actions were mitigated through the passage of the Pendleton Act of 1883 and the Hatch Act of 1939.
-Andrew Mizsak, Site Volunteer