Education Congressman, Education President (Part II)

Congressman Garfield’s interest in education was not confined to the common schools.  In 1868 he drafted a bill supporting military instruction in colleges, similar to today’s ROTC. It did not pass.  But two years earlier Garfield had added a provision for schools on military posts to the annual budget for the army.  That provision remained in the army appropriation each year, without much action until 1878.  Then “measures were taken at nearly all the permanent military posts toward the establishment of schools for promoting the intelligence of soldiers and affording education to their children, as well as to those of officers and civilians at the remote frontier posts.”

Garfield was ambivalent on the idea of land grant colleges. “I do not believe in a college to educate men for the profession of farming.  A liberal education almost always draws men away from farming.  But schools of science in general technology are valuable.”  As a trustee of Hampton Institute, a new school for the education of freedmen in Norfolk, Virginia, Garfield recognized the need for industrial and agricultural training to promote self-sufficiency in a previously dependent population. He hoped, however, that the curriculum at Hampton would quickly evolve past an emphasis on manual labor and subsistence farming, and strongly encouraged the normal school, which trained teachers.   In 1870 he supported an appropriation for the School for the Deaf and Dumb (now Gallaudet College) in the District of Columbia, which, he argued, was essentially a normal school for teachers of the disabled.


James A. Garfield served as a trustee of the Hampton Institute (now Hampton University), a school for freedmen in Virginia.  (Image courtesy of the University of North Carolina)

From 1865 to 1873, and again from 1877 to 1880, Garfield served as a Regent of the Smithsonian Institution, “the most pleasant duty of my official life.”  In Congress he reminded his colleagues that the Smithsonian “is not a mere statistical establishment…supporting a corps of men whose only duty is the exhibition of the articles of a show museum; but a living, active organization that has, by its publications, researches, [and] explorations…vindicated the intelligence and good faith of the government in administrating a fund intended for the good of the whole community of civilized men.”  Two notes from his diary show the ways that the Garfield family enjoyed the museum.  Saturday, November 13, 1875: “…I took Crete, Mother and the children to the Smithsonian to examine the 16 birds I had read about from Audubon…”  Saturday, April 1, 1876: “…At half-past eight Crete and I attended the meeting of the Literary Club at the Smithsonian Institution.  A paper was read on art by Mr. Clarke, followed by a lecture on sound by Prof. Henry.  A large number of interesting people were present.”


Congressman James A. Garfield spent many years as a Regent of the Smithsonian Institution, seen here in its early days. Garfield said this one of his most enjoyable public duties. (Smithsonian Institution)

Congressman Garfield was also an enthusiastic supporter of the US Geological Survey and the Naval Observatory.

We don’t know, of course, what kind of education President Garfield might have been, but we do have two hints, the first from his letter of acceptance of the Republican presidential nomination:

“Next in importance to freedom and justice is popular education, without which neither freedom nor justice can be permanently maintained.  Its interests are entrusted to the States, and to the voluntary action of the people.  Whatever help the nation can justly afford should be generously given to aid the States in supporting common schools.”

He was more eloquent and more inspiring in his Inaugural Address.

“It is the high privilege and sacred duty of those now living to educate their successors, and fit them, by intelligence and virtue for the inheritance which awaits them.”


James A. Garfield is inaugurated as President of the United States on March 4, 1881.  He referenced the importance of education in his inaugural address.  (Architect of the Capitol)

These statements, while forceful and inspiring, do not explain why Garfield was so committed to the education of every American.  For that, we need to look back at a speech before the National Education Association in February, 1879. In concluding his remarks to the nation’s school superintendents, Garfield offered a warning.

“…[British historian Thomas B.]  Macaulay said that a government like ours must inevitably lead to anarchy; and I believe there is no answer to his prophecy unless the schoolhouse can give it.  If we can fill the minds of all our children who are to be voters with intelligence which will fit them wisely to vote, and fill them with the spirit of liberty, then we will have averted the fatal prophesy.  But if, on the other hand, we allow our youth to grow up in ignorance, this Republic will end in disastrous failure.  All the encouragement that the National Government can give, everything that States can do, all that good citizens everywhere can do, and most of all what the teacher himself can do, ought to be hailed as the deliverance of our country from the saddest distress.”

-Joan Kapsch, Park Guide



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

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

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



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


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

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


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


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

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


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


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



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


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


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


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


Interior of Canada Display.  (Jim Davis collection.)


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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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



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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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



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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

-Alan Gephardt, Park Ranger

“Special Preparations”: The Crafting of an Inaugural Address

New York Governor Mario Cuomo once said, “You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.” In between is the inaugural address. Except in the cases of those five presidents who rose to the office from the vice-presidency and did not earn another term, every American president has begun his administration with an inaugural speech. It must be assumed that each of them sought to inspire the nation with the poetry of their vision; certainly most have used the opportunity to outline the prose of their goals for the years ahead.

James A. Garfield, the nation’s 20th president, was recognized as an effective and inspiring speaker. His contemporaries described his speeches as “models of effective eloquence,” and observed that he was “strongest…on the rostrum [addressing] the assembled people.” But after leading a divided party to a very narrow victory in 1880, Garfield approached the task of preparing an inaugural address with great trepidation.

Until 1937, presidents were inaugurated on the fourth of March. With plenty of time to prepare, Garfield attacked the task of preparing his speech, which he always refers to as the “inaugural,” in his usual, scholarly way. He began to read the addresses of his predecessors, in order, starting just before Christmas.

A draft of Garfield's inaugural address in his own handwriting.  Note the corrections and the "Mentor, Ohio" heading on the paper.  (Library of Congress)

A draft of Garfield’s inaugural address in his own handwriting. Note the corrections and the “Mentor, Ohio” heading on the paper. (Library of Congress)

From the Diary of James A. Garfield:

Monday, 12/20/1880 Made the first actual study for inaugural by commencing to read those of my predecessors. Read and made notes on the two Inaugurals of Washington. This was done however in intervals of interruptions.

Tuesday, 12/21/1880 Read John Adams’ inaugural address and made notes. Far more vigorous in ideas than Washington’s. His next to last sentence contains more than 700 words. Strong but too cumbrous….At noon Harry Rhodes came. He read aloud Jefferson’s inaugural. Stronger than Washington’s, more ornate than Adams’. All apologetic, and unnecessary self-deprecating.

Wednesday, 12/22/1880 …in company with Rhodes and Crete,(Garfield’s wife, Lucretia) read the Inaugurals of Jefferson, Madison and Monroe. Curious tone of self-deprecation runs through them all—which I cannot quite believe was genuine. Madison’s speeches were not quite up to my expectations. Monroe’s first was rather above. Since John Adams he was the first to review the experiment of Independence and the Constitution, in an inaugural address.

Garfield soon abandoned the study of those earlier speeches. By mid-January he had concluded: Monday, 1/17/1881 …I must begin special preparations for the inaugural. I have half a mind to make none. Those of the past except Lincoln’s, are dreary reading. Doubtless mine will be also.

Perhaps the entry ten days later explains Garfield’s difficulty in crafting his speech: Thursday, 1/27/1881 …I commenced the first draft of the Inaugural. I feel but little freedom in its composition. There are so many limitations…The general plan I have formed is 1st a brief introduction, 2nd a summary of recent topics that ought to be treated as settled, 3rd a summary of those that ought to occupy the public attention,4th a direct appeal to the people to stand by me in an independent and vigorous execution of the laws…

James A. Garfield's diary entries, March 3-4, 1881.  Garfield became the nation's 20th President and delivered his inaugural address (which he expressed anguish over many times in his diary) on March 4, 1881.  (Library of Congress)

James A. Garfield’s diary entries, March 3-4, 1881. Garfield became the nation’s 20th President and delivered his inaugural address (which he expressed anguish over many times in his diary) on March 4, 1881. (Library of Congress)

As he was constantly interrupted by family and visitors, negotiations over cabinet appointments, and preparations for the move to the White House, Garfield found that work on the inaugural address was easy to postpone.

Thursday, 2/10/1881 Made some progress on the inaugural; but still feel unusual repugnance to writing…

Sunday 2/13/1881 Got my first satisfactory start on the inaugural. It is difficult to understand the singular repugnance I feel in regard to doing this work.

Thursday, 2/17/1881 Made pretty fair progress on the inaugural, though much interrupted.

Monday, 2/22/1881 …It seems nearly impossible to do any work on the inaugural for the pressure of callers…

Sunday, 2/27/1881 …The afternoon and evening were devoted to packing and general preparation…I am greatly dissatisfied with the inaugural, which is still incomplete…

Then, on his way to the capital on March 1, 1881: Late at night I looked over the inaugural, and became so much dissatisfied with it that I have resolved to rewrite it and made a beginning though very weary…

Over the next three days, between receptions, meetings about his cabinet choices, and dinner with outgoing President Hayes, Garfield worked on the new speech.

Wednesday, 3/2/81 …I made fair progress, between calls, on my redraft of the inaugural, which amounts almost to a reconstruction of it…

Thursday, 3/3/81 Got but three hours of sleep last night, but made some progress on the new draft of inaugural…Hotel at 11. Work on inaugural 2 ½ hours, and wrote last sentence at 2 ½ o’clock a.m. March 4.

Newly inaugurated President James A. Garfield reviews the inaugural parade on March 4, 1881.  (Library of Congress)

Newly inaugurated President James A. Garfield reviews the inaugural parade on March 4, 1881. (Library of Congress)

It was snowing when Garfield finished writing. By noon the sky had cleared, but snow covered the ground and the inaugural platform on the east side of the Capitol. Vice-president Chester Alan Arthur was sworn in at noon in the Senate chamber. Garfield’s diary (Friday, 4/4/81) reports that he, his family and the gathered dignitaries went…Thence to the east portico of the rotunda, and read my inaugural—slowly and fairly well—though I grew somewhat hoarse towards the close…

The address closely followed the outline Garfield had suggested in January. Was there poetry in the speech? Perhaps in the introduction:

We stand today upon an eminence which overlooks a hundred years of national life—a century crowded with perils, but crowned with the triumphs of liberty and law.

The second, and most eloquent part of the speech, “a summary of recent topics that ought to be treated as settled,” reminds the American people that

The will of the nation, speaking with the voice of battle and through the amended Constitution, has fulfilled the great promise of 1776 by proclaiming “liberty throughout the land to all the inhabitants thereof.”

Summarizing the topics that “ought to occupy the public attention” was definitely prose. Garfield brought up agriculture, commerce, the currency and civil service reform. His appeal for support was direct:

And now, fellow-citizens, I am about to assume the great trust which you have committed to my hands. I appeal to you for that earnest and thoughtful support which makes this Government in fact, as it is in law, a government of the people.

Following the inaugural address, James A. Garfield swore the oath that made him the 20th President of the United States.

James A. Garfield takes the oath as the nation's 20th President.  Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Morrison Waite administered the oath.  (Georgetown University Special Collections)

James A. Garfield takes the oath as the nation’s 20th President. Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Morrison Waite administered the oath. (Georgetown University Special Collections)

Sunday, 3/6/81 Slept six hours, which is much better than I have done of late. The inaugural and cabinet seem to be well received…

His friend J. Harrison Rhodes later said, “It is extraordinary that when Garfield spoke in the House, in convention, or from the stump, he spoke with courage and eloquence; in his letter of acceptance and in his inaugural address, he failed utterly to rise to the standard which he had previously set up.”

It is true that Garfield’s inaugural contains no lines that have rung down through the ages, and parts are indeed “dreary reading,” but perhaps it shows that the bridge between the poetry of campaigning and the prose of governing needs to be a sturdy structure.

-Joan Kapsch, Park Guide