President James A. Garfield’s Inaugural Address, March 4, 1881

Fellow-Citizens:

We stand to-day 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. Before continuing the onward march let us pause on this height for a moment to strengthen our faith and renew our hope by a glance at the pathway along which our people have traveled.

It is now three days more than a hundred years since the adoption of the first written constitution of the United States–the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union. The new Republic was then beset with danger on every hand. It had not conquered a place in the family of nations. The decisive battle of the war for independence, whose centennial anniversary will soon be gratefully celebrated at Yorktown, had not yet been fought. The colonists were struggling not only against the armies of a great nation, but against the settled opinions of mankind; for the world did not then believe that the supreme authority of government could be safely intrusted to the guardianship of the people themselves.

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James Abram Garfield, twentieth President of the United States.  This image of him is one of our favorites here at James A. Garfield NHS.  (Library of Congress)

We can not overestimate the fervent love of liberty, the intelligent courage, and the sum of common sense with which our fathers made the great experiment of self-government. When they found, after a short trial, that the confederacy of States, was too weak to meet the necessities of a vigorous and expanding republic, they boldly set it aside, and in its stead established a National Union, founded directly upon the will of the people, endowed with full power of self-preservation and ample authority for the accomplishment of its great object.

Under this Constitution the boundaries of freedom have been enlarged, the foundations of order and peace have been strengthened, and the growth of our people in all the better elements of national life has indicated the wisdom of the founders and given new hope to their descendants. Under this Constitution our people long ago made themselves safe against danger from without and secured for their mariners and flag equality of rights on all the seas. Under this Constitution twenty-five States have been added to the Union, with constitutions and laws, framed and enforced by their own citizens, to secure the manifold blessings of local self-government.

The jurisdiction of this Constitution now covers an area fifty times greater than that of the original thirteen States and a population twenty times greater than that of 1780.

The supreme trial of the Constitution came at last under the tremendous pressure of civil war. We ourselves are witnesses that the Union emerged from the blood and fire of that conflict purified and made stronger for all the beneficent purposes of good government.

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The Republican presidential ticket in 1880: James A. Garfield of Ohio and Chester A. Arthur of New York.  (Wikipedia)

And now, at the close of this first century of growth, with the inspirations of its history in their hearts, our people have lately reviewed the condition of the nation, passed judgment upon the conduct and opinions of political parties, and have registered their will concerning the future administration of the Government. To interpret and to execute that will in accordance with the Constitution is the paramount duty of the Executive.

Even from this brief review it is manifest that the nation is resolutely facing to the front, resolved to employ its best energies in developing the great possibilities of the future. Sacredly preserving whatever has been gained to liberty and good government during the century, our people are determined to leave behind them all those bitter controversies concerning things which have been irrevocably settled, and the further discussion of which can only stir up strife and delay the onward march.

The supremacy of the nation and its laws should be no longer a subject of debate. That discussion, which for half a century threatened the existence of the Union, was closed at last in the high court of war by a decree from which there is no appeal–that the Constitution and the laws made in pursuance thereof are and shall continue to be the supreme law of the land, binding alike upon the States and the people. This decree does not disturb the autonomy of the States nor interfere with any of their necessary rights of local self-government, but it does fix and establish the permanent supremacy of the Union.

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.”

The elevation of the negro race from slavery to the full rights of citizenship is the most important political change we have known since the adoption of the Constitution of 1787. NO thoughtful man can fail to appreciate its beneficent effect upon our institutions and people. It has freed us from the perpetual danger of war and dissolution. It has added immensely to the moral and industrial forces of our people. It has liberated the master as well as the slave from a relation which wronged and enfeebled both. It has surrendered to their own guardianship the manhood of more than 5,000,000 people, and has opened to each one of them a career of freedom and usefulness. It has given new inspiration to the power of self-help in both races by making labor more honorable to the one and more necessary to the other. The influence of this force will grow greater and bear richer fruit with the coming years.

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The Garfield inauguration at the U.S. Capitol, March 4, 1881.  (Library of Congress)

No doubt this great change has caused serious disturbance to our Southern communities. This is to be deplored, though it was perhaps unavoidable. But those who resisted the change should remember that under our institutions there was no middle ground for the negro race between slavery and equal citizenship. There can be no permanent disfranchised peasantry in the United States. Freedom can never yield its fullness of blessings so long as the law or its administration places the smallest obstacle in the pathway of any virtuous citizen.

The emancipated race has already made remarkable progress. With unquestioning devotion to the Union, with a patience and gentleness not born of fear, they have “followed the light as God gave them to see the light.” They are rapidly laying the material foundations of self-support, widening their circle of intelligence, and beginning to enjoy the blessings that gather around the homes of the industrious poor. They deserve the generous encouragement of all good men. So far as my authority can lawfully extend they shall enjoy the full and equal protection of the Constitution and the laws.

The free enjoyment of equal suffrage is still in question, and a frank statement of the issue may aid its solution. It is alleged that in many communities negro citizens are practically denied the freedom of the ballot. In so far as the truth of this allegation is admitted, it is answered that in many places honest local government is impossible if the mass of uneducated negroes are allowed to vote. These are grave allegations. So far as the latter is true, it is the only palliation that can be offered for opposing the freedom of the ballot. Bad local government is certainly a great evil, which ought to be prevented; but to violate the freedom and sanctities of the suffrage is more than an evil. It is a crime which, if persisted in, will destroy the Government itself. Suicide is not a remedy. If in other lands it be high treason to compass the death of the king, it shall be counted no less a crime here to strangle our sovereign power and stifle its voice.

It has been said that unsettled questions have no pity for the repose of nations. It should be said with the utmost emphasis that this question of the suffrage will never give repose or safety to the States or to the nation until each, within its own jurisdiction, makes and keeps the ballot free and pure by the strong sanctions of the law.

But the danger which arises from ignorance in the voter can not be denied. It covers a field far wider than that of negro suffrage and the present condition of the race. It is a danger that lurks and hides in the sources and fountains of power in every state. We have no standard by which to measure the disaster that may be brought upon us by ignorance and vice in the citizens when joined to corruption and fraud in the suffrage.

The voters of the Union, who make and unmake constitutions, and upon whose will hang the destinies of our governments, can transmit their supreme authority to no successors save the coming generation of voters, who are the sole heirs of sovereign power. If that generation comes to its inheritance blinded by ignorance and corrupted by vice, the fall of the Republic will be certain and remediless.

The census has already sounded the alarm in the appalling figures which mark how dangerously high the tide of illiteracy has risen among our voters and their children.

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President James A. Garfield on the reviewing stand during his inaugural parade on March 4, 1881.  To his right, his wife, First Lady Lucretia Rudolph Garfield is seated.  To his left sit outgoing President and Mrs. Rutherford B. Hayes.  (Library of Congress) 

To the South this question is of supreme importance. But the responsibility for the existence of slavery did not rest upon the South alone. The nation itself is responsible for the extension of the suffrage, and is under special obligations to aid in removing the illiteracy which it has added to the voting population. For the North and South alike there is but one remedy. All the constitutional power of the nation and of the States and all the volunteer forces of the people should be surrendered to meet this danger by the savory influence of universal education.

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.

In this beneficent work sections and races should be forgotten and partisanship should be unknown. Let our people find a new meaning in the divine oracle which declares that “a little child shall lead them,” for our own little children will soon control the destinies of the Republic.

My countrymen, we do not now differ in our judgment concerning the controversies of past generations, and fifty years hence our children will not be divided in their opinions concerning our controversies. They will surely bless their fathers and their fathers’ God that the Union was preserved, that slavery was overthrown, and that both races were made equal before the law. We may hasten or we may retard, but we can not prevent, the final reconciliation. Is it not possible for us now to make a truce with time by anticipating and accepting its inevitable verdict?

Enterprises of the highest importance to our moral and material well-being unite us and offer ample employment of our best powers. Let all our people, leaving behind them the battlefields of dead issues, move forward and in their strength of liberty and the restored Union win the grander victories of peace.

The prosperity which now prevails is without parallel in our history. Fruitful seasons have done much to secure it, but they have not done all. The preservation of the public credit and the resumption of specie payments, so successfully attained by the Administration of my predecessors, have enabled our people to secure the blessings which the seasons brought.

By the experience of commercial nations in all ages it has been found that gold and silver afford the only safe foundation for a monetary system. Confusion has recently been created by variations in the relative value of the two metals, but I confidently believe that arrangements can be made between the leading commercial nations which will secure the general use of both metals. Congress should provide that the compulsory coinage of silver now required by law may not disturb our monetary system by driving either metal out of circulation. If possible, such an adjustment should be made that the purchasing power of every coined dollar will be exactly equal to its debt-paying power in all the markets of the world.

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Program for the Garfield-Arthur Inaugural Ball on the evening of March 4, 1881.  (Library of Congress)

The chief duty of the National Government in connection with the currency of the country is to coin money and declare its value. Grave doubts have been entertained whether Congress is authorized by the Constitution to make any form of paper money legal tender. The present issue of United States notes has been sustained by the necessities of war; but such paper should depend for its value and currency upon its convenience in use and its prompt redemption in coin at the will of the holder, and not upon its compulsory circulation. These notes are not money, but promises to pay money. If the holders demand it, the promise should be kept.

The refunding of the national debt at a lower rate of interest should be accomplished without compelling the withdrawal of the national-bank notes, and thus disturbing the business of the country.

I venture to refer to the position I have occupied on financial questions during a long service in Congress, and to say that time and experience have strengthened the opinions I have so often expressed on these subjects.

The finances of the Government shall suffer no detriment which it may be possible for my Administration to prevent.

The interests of agriculture deserve more attention from the Government than they have yet received. The farms of the United States afford homes and employment for more than one-half our people, and furnish much the largest part of all our exports. As the Government lights our coasts for the protection of mariners and the benefit of commerce, so it should give to the tillers of the soil the best lights of practical science and experience.

Our manufacturers are rapidly making us industrially independent, and are opening to capital and labor new and profitable fields of employment. Their steady and healthy growth should still be matured. Our facilities for transportation should be promoted by the continued improvement of our harbors and great interior waterways and by the increase of our tonnage on the ocean.

The development of the world’s commerce has led to an urgent demand for shortening the great sea voyage around Cape Horn by constructing ship canals or railways across the isthmus which unites the continents. Various plans to this end have been suggested and will need consideration, but none of them has been sufficiently matured to warrant the United States in extending pecuniary aid. The subject, however, is one which will immediately engage the attention of the Government with a view to a thorough protection to American interests. We will urge no narrow policy nor seek peculiar or exclusive privileges in any commercial route; but, in the language of my predecessor, I believe it to be the right “and duty of the United States to assert and maintain such supervision and authority over any interoceanic canal across the isthmus that connects North and South America as will protect our national interest.”

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The interior of the Smithsonian’s Arts & Industries Building decorated for the Garfield-Arthur Inaugural Ball.  (Smithsonian)

The Constitution guarantees absolute religious freedom. Congress is prohibited from making any law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The Territories of the United States are subject to the direct legislative authority of Congress, and hence the General Government is responsible for any violation of the Constitution in any of them. It is therefore a reproach to the Government that in the most populous of the Territories the constitutional guaranty is not enjoyed by the people and the authority of Congress is set at naught. The Mormon Church not only offends the moral sense of manhood by sanctioning polygamy, but prevents the administration of justice through ordinary instrumentalities of law.

In my judgment it is the duty of Congress, while respecting to the uttermost the conscientious convictions and religious scruples of every citizen, to prohibit within its jurisdiction all criminal practices, especially of that class which destroy the family relations and endanger social order. Nor can any ecclesiastical organization be safely permitted to usurp in the smallest degree the functions and powers of the National Government.

The civil service can never be placed on a satisfactory basis until it is regulated by law. For the good of the service itself, for the protection of those who are intrusted with the appointing power against the waste of time and obstruction to the public business caused by the inordinate pressure for place, and for the protection of incumbents against intrigue and wrong, I shall at the proper time ask Congress to fix the tenure of the minor offices of the several Executive Departments and prescribe the grounds upon which removals shall be made during the terms for which incumbents have been appointed.

Finally, acting always within the authority and limitations of the Constitution, invading neither the rights of the States nor the reserved rights of the people, it will be the purpose of my Administration to maintain the authority of the nation in all places within its jurisdiction; to enforce obedience to all the laws of the Union in the interests of the people; to demand rigid economy in all the expenditures of the Government, and to require the honest and faithful service of all executive officers, remembering that the offices were created, not for the benefit of incumbents or their supporters, but for the service of the Government.

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President James A. Garfield.  (Library of Congress)

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.

I shall greatly rely upon the wisdom and patriotism of Congress and of those who may share with me the responsibilities and duties of administration, and, above all, upon our efforts to promote the welfare of this great people and their Government I reverently invoke the support and blessings of Almighty God.

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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Interior of Canada Display.  (Jim Davis collection.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Alan Gephardt, Park Ranger

“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