“This is the Age of Statistics”: James A. Garfield and the 1870 Census (Part II)

The first session of the 41st Congress adjourned April 10, 1869, four days after James Garfield’s speech proposing comprehensive changes for the Ninth Census of the United States.  While members of the House seemed receptive, they were cautious, and wanted to see a revised proposal in legislative language when they returned for their second session in December.  So Congressman Garfield took his family home to Hiram for the summer, and returned to Washington to take up the work, along with his committee, of writing a new census law.

On June 9, Garfield wrote to his wife, Lucretia. “The census work has grown to enormous proportions. The Committee works in the Committee room from four to five hours a day, and we have hardly encompassed the field by a furrow, and yet the whole must be plowed and planted. I have never undertaken so Herculean a task.”

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This portrait of Mrs. Lucretia Rudolph Garfield was painted by artist Peter Baumgras not long after her husband’s work on the 1870 census.  (NPS photo)

The committee room, thankfully, was in the basement of the Capitol, probably the coolest place in the city to meet. Immersed in his new passion, Garfield enjoyed consulting experts and hearing testimony from statistical specialists in many fields, including agriculture, industry, railroads, and mining. To a friend he wrote, “The work of preparing properly classified schedules for the next census is absolutely enormous. The great advance which has been made in the science of statistics in modern nations makes it necessary to go over a large field of investigation in order to bring our Census up to the latest standards of excellence.” By the end of July the committee had completed its investigations and a draft report was written.

Garfield learned a lot while chairing the census committee, and he was happy to share what he had learned. He spoke to the American Social Science Association’ annual meeting. They, no doubt, were expecting political boilerplate, but Garfield surprised them with a sophisticated speech about the evolution and importance of statistical analysis. While he talked about the 1870 census bill in particular, he also suggested that statistics would, and should, inform the writing of history, anticipating the mid-twentieth century trend toward social history and quantitative analysis in historical understanding. That autumn Garfield collaborated with his good friend, Burke Hinsdale, on a census article contributed to Johnson’s New Universal Cyclopedia. In Garfield’s collected works, which were edited by Hinsdale, the article is thirty-two pages long, beginning with an “alleged” Chinese census “more than twenty centuries before the Christian era,” and ending with the ninth United States census.

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Burke A. Hinsdale, a longtime friend and colleague of James A. Garfield.  (University of Michigan)

By December 1, Garfield was back in Washington, where he reported to Hinsdale, “I have got the bill in print all but the schedules and we are now at work on them.” Congress met for its second session on December 6, and the census bill was its first order of business. Garfield hoped that it could be passed before other, more contentious, legislation began to occupy the attention of the House. But the bill, comprehensive and thoughtful as it was, came with its own controversy. One census expert opined that a simple bill that left the machinery of census-taking to the Superintendent of the Census would be more politically palatable. After eight days of debate and amendment, the bill passed 86 to 40. “I have known few bills since I have been in Congress to stand so searching and continuous an examination as this,” he told Hinsdale.

The bill then moved to the Senate, where it was referred to a committee headed by Roscoe Conkling of New York. That committee promptly dropped the House-passed bill and reported one that Garfield said would, “if it prevails,. . . give us the old law without any of the improvements of the new bill. . .A desire to retain the Marshals (as enumerators) and thus retain the patronage in their hands seems to be the motive with many Senators.” Garfield’s bill died in the in the Senate, and the 1870 census was conducted under the same rules that had applied for the counts in 1850 and 1860.

The 1870 census was not “far more interesting and important than any of its eight predecessors.” But the next one was. With the House of Representatives controlled by the Democrats, a new census bill, virtually identical to Garfield’s, was passed. Samuel S. “Sunset” Cox managed the legislation in the House, and graciously acknowledged the vital work that James Garfield and his committee had put into the census question ten years before.

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Ohio Congressman Samuel “Sunset” Cox (D) managed Democratic census legislation that mirrored the Republican legislation on which Garfield had worked.  Cox acknowledged Garfield’s important role.  (Library of Congress)

June 1, 1880 was, under the new census law, the day that enumerators would fan out to neighborhoods across the country to count the American people. They had a prodigious task. The new census form asked for vastly more information than those of the past. On the population schedule census takers were to record the name of each person in the household, each person’s relationship to the head of the household, and everyone’s age, sex, color, and occupation. The form also asked for everyone’s birthplace and the birthplace of each person’s parents, if a person was deaf, dumb, blind or insane, permanently crippled or temporarily disabled by illness or injury. It also inquired about education level, school attendance, and ability to speak and write English.

On that day enumerator E. C. French arrived at the Garfield’s home in Mentor, and recorded all the required information for James Garfield, his wife and five children. Since their home was also a farm, he then completed a farm schedule documenting its extent and value. There must have been some misunderstanding, since we know the Garfields owned just under 160 acres. The census recorded 135 acres of tilled land, 65 acres of permanent meadow, and 20 acres of woodland—220 acres. The farm was valued at $18,600 for land, buildings and fences, $400 worth of implements and machinery, and $1,200 in livestock. The estimated value of farm production in 1879 was $17,300. The family owned four horses, 15 milk cows and nine other neat cattle, and four new calves. In 1879 six cows were purchased, eight sold living, 11 slaughtered, and one went missing! 7,000 gallons of milk were sold. There were 11 sheep and three lambs, 156 swine, and 50 hens that produced 200 dozen eggs. Crops included barley, Indian corn, rye, wheat and half an acre of potatoes. There were four acres of apple trees, and two acres of peach trees—550 trees in all.

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This image shows James A. Garfield’s Mentor, Ohio property as it appeared during his 1880 presidential campaign.  Garfield’s home and property were assessed for the 1880 census on June 1, 1880, just one week before he became that year’s Republican presidential nominee on June 8.  (Lake County, Ohio Historical Society)

On the same day, June 1, 1880, Helen M. Wipple, an enumerator for Washington D.C., completed a population survey at the Garfield’s home in the capital. It lists James and Lucretia Garfield, their five children, and Mary McGrath, a 25 year old servant who was born in Ireland. It would appear that James Garfield’s family was counted twice on the 1880 census. Even with inevitable errors, this census was what Congressman Garfield had envisioned when he had “gone mad on the subject of statistics” nearly a dozen years earlier.

 

~Joan Kapsch, Park Guide

 

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“This is the Age of Statistics”: James A. Garfield and the 1870 Census (Part I)

“This is the age of statistics.”~James A. Garfield, April 6, 1869.

In the summer of 1869, a political opponent mocked the congressman from northeast Ohio. Garfield, he said, had “gone mad on the subject of statistics.” Indeed, he had. As a rising member of the House majority, Garfield was tasked with chairing a subcommittee to prepare a legislative plan for the upcoming 1870 census of the United States. Not only was the census act of 1850 outdated, including a requirement that slaves be enumerated, it provided little information about the people it was tasked with counting.

“When we propose to legislate for great masses of people, we must first study the great facts relating to the people; their number, strength, length of life, intelligence, morality, occupations, industry and wealth, for out of these spring the glory or the shame, the prosperity or the ruin of a nation.” In a long speech in the House of Representatives (Garfield said he was allotted thirty minutes; in his collected works it runs thirty-three pages), the congressman put forward an ambitious legislative plan for the upcoming census that would meet the needs of a nation recovering from civil war, expanding geographically, and growing in industrial and commercial output. It contained specific recommendations for census questions.

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A portrait of James Garfield done around 1870 by artist Peter Baumgras.  (NPS photo)

On the most important part of the census, counting the population as required by the Constitution, Garfield had several suggestions. With slavery abolished, only one population schedule was needed. There was a question about color which included, for the first time, identifying Chinese as a separate racial category. This section also inquired into the education levels of the respondents, and attempted to gauge the physical well-being of the people. As Garfield said in his speech, “The war has left us so many mutilated men, that a record should be made of those who have lost a limb, or have been otherwise disabled; and the committee have added an inquiry to show the state of public health, and the prevalence of some of the principle diseases.”

Garfield went on to point out that the addition of the 13th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution required changes in the ways census data was to be collected. Each black family needed to be enumerated, rather than counting enslaved people reported by their owners, and then reducing their number by two fifths. The 14th Amendment required that the voting population of men over twenty-one years of age would be reduced for purposes of representation, if any part of the population was denied the right to vote for reasons other than rebellion or conviction of a crime. In order to determine that number, the census was the only tool available to the government. Therefore the Census Committee identified nine different categories of exclusion from the ballot box—things like race, literacy, property ownership, or non-payment of taxes—that could violate the provisions of the 14th Amendment and reduce the representation in Congress of states that imposed those rules. Garfield admitted, “It may be objected that this will allow the citizen to be a judge of the law as well as the fact, and that it will be difficult to get true and accurate answers; I can only say this is the best method that has been suggested.”

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Beyond the population census, Garfield and his committee recommended additional schedules to gather statistics about industry and commerce, and social statistics relating to schools and colleges, libraries, newspapers and periodicals. As with the population schedules, the committee saw these queries as important in measuring the growth and well-being of the country five years after the end of the Civil War. Garfield harkened back to the language of the war in his closing argument to the House of Representatives:

“The American Census should furnish a muster-roll of the American people, showing, as far as it is possible for figures to show, their vital, physical, intellectual, and moral power; it should provide us with an inventory of the nation’s wealth, and show us how it is invested; it should exhibit the relation of population to wealth, by showing the distribution of the one and the vocations and industries of the other.
The Ninth Census of the United States will be far more interesting and important than any of its eight predecessors. Since 1850, in spite of its losses, the republic has doubtless greatly increased in population and wealth. It has taken a new position among the nations. It has passed through one of the most bloody and exhaustive wars in our history. The time for reviewing its condition is most opportune. Questions of the profoundest interest demand answers. Has the loss of nearly half a million young and middle-aged men, who fell on the field of battle or died in hospitals or prisons, diminished the ratio of increase in the population? Have the relative numbers of the sexes been sensibly changed? Has the relative number of orphans and widows perceptibly increased? Has the war affected the distribution of wealth, or changed the character of our industries? And, if so, in what manner and to what extent? What have been the effects of the struggle on the educational, benevolent, and religious institutions of the country? These questions, and many more of the most absorbing interest, the census of 1870 should answer.”

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1870 census record from Hiram Township, Portage County, Ohio, that includes the James A. Garfield family.  See the entry for “Garfield, James” toward the bottom of the page.  Note that his occupation is listed as “Member [of] Congress” while Lucretia Garfield’s occupation (and that of other women on this page) is described as “Keeping House.”  (Wikipedia)

As excited as he was about the power of statistics in informing legislation, as persuasive as he could be in his presentation to his colleagues, Garfield was not preaching to the choir. The possibility certainly existed that the information the census produced could disprove politically popular preconceived ideas. Perhaps even more important to many in Congress, Garfield recommended removing the task of census taking from marshals and their deputies—patronage appointments coveted by almost all politicians—and putting the task to an independent, non-partisan Bureau of the Census. As the congressional session neared its end, Garfield saw that his proposal was likely to be amended beyond recognition, or defeated outright. So he accepted an amendment that effectively tabled the legislation and appointed a special committee to prepare a revised bill ready for introduction to Congress in the fall.  Congressman Garfield would spend the summer in Washington with his committee, rather than at home in Ohio with his family.

(Look for Part II soon!)

-Joan Kapsch, Park Guide

 

James A. Garfield’s Letter Accepting the 1880 Republican Presidential Nomination

July 12, 1880

Mentor, Ohio

Dear Sir:

On the evening of the 8th of June last, I had the honor to receive from you, in the presence of the committee of which you were the chairman, the official announcement that the Republican national convention of Chicago had that day nominated me for their candidate for President of the United States. I accept the nomination with gratitude for the confidence it implies, and with a deep sense of the responsibilities it imposes. I cordially indorse the principles set forth in the platform adopted by the convention. On nearly all the subjects of which it treats, my opinions are on record among the published proceedings of Congress. I venture, however, to make special mention of some of the principal topics which are likely to become the subject of discussion, without reviewing the controversies which have been settled during the last twenty years, and with no purpose or wish to revive the passions of the late war.

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A view of the 1880 Republican National Convention in Chicago.  Many expected former President Ulysses S. Grant to be nominated on the first ballot.  When that didn’t happen, the party went in search of a compromise candidate.  On the thirty-sixth ballot, they selected Congressman James A. Garfield of Ohio.  (Library of Congress)

It should be said that, while the Republicans fully recognize, and will strenuously defend, all the rights retained by the people, and all the rights reserved by the States, they reject the pernicious doctrine of State supremacy, which so long crippled the functions of the national government and at the time brought the union very near to destruction. They insist that the United States is a nation, with ample power of self-preservation; that its constitutions and laws, made in pursuance thereof, are the supreme law of the land; that the right of the nation to determine the method by which its own legislature shall be created, cannot be surrendered without abdicating one of the fundamental powers of government; that the national laws relating to the election of representatives in Congress shall neither be violated nor evaded; that every elector shall be permitted freely, and without intimidation, to cast his lawful ballot at each election, and have it honestly counted, and that the potency of his vote shall not be destroyed by the fraudulent vote of any other person. The best thoughts and energies of our people should be directed to those great questions of national well-being in which all have a common interest. Such efforts will soonest restore perfect peace to those who were lately in arms against each other, for justice and good-will will outlast passion. But it is certain that the wounds of the war cannot be completely healed, and the spirit of brotherhood cannot fully pervade the whole country, until every citizen, rich or poor, white or black, is secure in the free and equal enjoyment of every civil and equal right guaranteed by the constitution and the laws. Wherever the enjoyment of these rights is not assured, discontent will prevail, immigration will cease, and the social and industrial forces will continue to be disturbed by the migration of laborers and the consequent diminution of prosperity. The national government should exercise all its constitutional authority to put an end to these evils, for all the people and all the States are members of one body, and no member can suffer without injury to all. The most serious evils which now afflict the South arise from the fact that there is not such freedom and toleration of political opinion and action that the minority party can exercise an effective and wholesome restraint upon the party in power. Without such restraint, party rule becomes tyrannical and corrupt. The prosperity which is made possible in the South, by its great advantages of soil and climate, will never be realized until every voter can freely and safely support any party he pleases.

Next in importance to freedom and justice is popular education, without which neither justice nor freedom can be permanently maintained. Its interests are intrusted 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; but it would be unjust to our people and dangerous to our institutions to apply any portion of the revenues of the nation, or of the States, to the support of sectarian schools. The separation of the Church and the State in everything relating to taxation should be absolute.

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James A. Garfield in 1880.  This is one of our favorite images of him.  (Library of Congress)

On the subject of national finances, my views have been so frequently and fully expressed, that little is needed in the way of an additional statement. The public debt is now so well secured, and the rate of annual interest has been so reduced by refunding, that right economy in expenditures, and the faithful application of our surplus revenues to the payment of the principal of the debt will gradually, but certainly, free the people from its burdens, and close with honor the financial chapter of the war. At the same time, the government can provide for all its ordinary expenditures, and discharge its sacred obligations to the soldiers of the union and to the widows and orphans of those who fell in its defense. The resumption of specie payments, which the Republican party so courageously and successfully accomplished, has removed from the field of controversy many questions that long and seriously disturbed the credit of the government and the business of the country. Our paper currency is now as national as the flag, and resumption has not only made it everywhere equal to coin, but has brought into use our share of gold and silver. The circulating medium is more abundant than ever before, and we need only maintain the equality of all our dollars to insure to labor and capital a measure of value, from the use of which no one can suffer loss. The great prosperity which the country is now enjoying should not be endangered by any violent changes or doubtful financial experiments.

In reference to our custom laws, a policy should be pursued which will bring revenues to the treasury, and enable labor and capital, employed in our great industries, to compete fairly in our own markets with the labor and capital of foreign producers. We legislate for the people of the United States, not for the whole world; and it is our glory that the American laborer is more intelligent and better paid than his foreign competitors. Our country cannot be independent unless its people, with their abundant natural resources, possess the requisite skill at any time to clothe, arm and equip themselves for war, and in time of peace produce all the necessary implements of labor. It was the manifest intention of the founders of the government to provide for the common defense, not by standing armies alone, but by raising a greater army of artisans, whose intelligence and skill should powerfully contribute to the safety and glory of the nation.

Fortunately for the interests of commerce, there is no longer any formidable opposition to appropriation for the improvements of our harbors and great navigable rivers, provided that the expenditures for that purpose are strictly limited to works of national importance. The Mississippi river, with its great tributaries is of such vital importance to so many millions of people, that the safety of its navigation requires exceptional consideration. In order to secure to the nation the control of all its waters, President Jefferson negotiated the purchase of a vast territory extending from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean. The wisdom of Congress should be invoked to devise some plan by which that great river shall cease to be a terror to those who dwell upon its banks, and by which its shipping may safely carry the industrial products of 25,000,000 of people. The interests of agriculture, which is the basis of all our material prosperity, and in which seven-twelfths of the population are arrayed, as well as the interest of manufactures and commerce, demand that the facilities for cheap transportation shall be increased by the use of all our great water courses.

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The 1880 Republican ticket of James A. Garfield of Ohio and Chester A. Arthur of New York.  (Library of Congress)

The material interests of this country, the traditions of its settlement and the sentiment of our people, have led the government to offer the widest hospitality to emigrants who seek our shores for new and happier homes, willing to share the burdens as well as the benefits of our society, and intending that their posterity shall become an undistinguishable part of our population. The recent movement of the Chinese to our Pacific coast partakes but little of the qualities of such an emigration, either in its purposes or its result. It is too much like an importation to be welcomed without restriction; too much like an invasion to be looked upon without solicitude. We cannot consent to allow any form of servile labor to be introduced among us, under the guise of immigration. Recognizing the gravity of this subject, the present administration, supported by Congress, has sent to China a commission of distinguished citizens, for the purpose of securing such a modification of the existing treaty as will prevent the evils likely to arise from the present situation. It is confidently believed that these diplomatic negotiations will be successful, without the loss of commercial intercourse between the two powers, which promises great increase of reciprocal trade and the enlargement of our markets. Should these efforts fail, it will be the duty of Congress to investigate the evils already felt, and prevent their increase by such restrictions as, without violence or injustice, will place upon a sure foundation the peace of our communities, and the freedom and dignity of labor.

The appointment of citizens to the various executive and judicial offices of the government is, perhaps, the most difficult of all duties which the constitution has imposed upon the Executive. The convention wisely demands that Congress shall co-operate with the executive departments in placing the civil service on a better basis. Experience has proved that, with our frequent changes of administration, no system of reform can be made effective and permanent without the aid of legislation. Appointments to the military and naval service are so regulated by law and custom, as to leave but little ground for complaint. It may not be wise to make similar regulations by law for the civil service; but, without invading the authority or necessary discretion of the Executive, Congress should devise a method that will determine the tenure of office, and greatly reduce the uncertainty which makes that service so uncertain and unsatisfactory. Without depriving any officer of his rights as a citizen, the government should require him to discharge all his official duties with intelligence, efficiency and faithfulness. To select wisely, from our vast population, those who are best fitted for the many offices to be filled, requires an acquaintance far beyond the range of any one man. The Executive should, therefore, seek and receive the information and assistance of those whose knowledge of the communities, in which the duties are to be performed, best qualifies them to aid in making the wisest choice.

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President Garfield’s inauguration, March 4, 1881.  (Architect of the Capitol)

The doctrines announced in the Chicago convention, are not the temporary devices of a party to attract votes and carry an election; they are deliberate convictions, resulting from a careful study of the spirit of our institutions, the events of our history and the best impulses of our people. In my judgment, these principles should control the legislation and administration of the government. In any event, they will guide my conduct until experience points out a better way. If elected, it will be my purpose to enforce strict obedience to the constitution and the laws, and to promote, as best I may, the interest and honor of the whole country, relying for support upon the wisdom of Congress, the intelligence and patriotism of the people and the favor of God.

With great respect, I am Very truly yours,

J.A. GARFIELD.

To HON. GEORGE F. HOAR, Chairman of the Committee

James Garfield: Congressman (Part II)

The 43rd Congress

1872 was again a presidential election year, with Grant running for a second term against Horace Greeley, the candidate for a rebellious splinter group of “liberal Republicans” and the Democrats. “In my interior view of the case,” said Garfield, “I would say Grant was not fit to be nominated and Greeley is not fit to be elected.” But Garfield’s own election prospects improved with the redistricting after the 1870 census. The nineteenth district was redrawn, removing Mahoning County and adding Lake County, freeing Garfield from the “Iron men” of the Mahoning Valley, and adding another solidly Republican voting bloc. His nomination was unopposed, and his election was 19,189 votes to 8,254.

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Ulysses S. Grant was elected President of the United States in 1868 and re-elected in 1872.  He was interested in running for an unprecedented third term in 1880, but the Republican nomination that year went to James A. Garfield instead.  (Library of Congress)

The 44th Congress

Garfield faced his stiffest challenge to re-election in 1874. Grant’s second term was consumed by scandal and mired in depression. Voters were generally in a foul, “throw-the-bums-out” mood. And in the nineteenth district local Republican conventions were passing resolutions condemning Garfield’s association with the Credit Mobilier scandal and the congressional “salary grab.” At least one local party meeting passed a resolution demanding Garfield’s immediate resignation.

For the first time, Garfield and his political friends in the district knew that they were in a real fight. In January, Garfield told Harmon Austin, his most important local advisor, that he would “abide by all your engagements, and will send you the means to pay all expenses. There are political friends here [in Washington] that will aid in raising the necessary funds if I am no able to carry the load alone.”

A third scandal involving a contract for paving the streets of Washington, D.C. added to the tense atmosphere, but the issue that most aroused the voters of the nineteeth district was the “salary grab.” As a part of the annual appropriation bill, congress had voted itself a $2,500 raise, retroactive to the beginning of the 43rd Congress. This, when the legislature was cutting programs across the government, was simple for voters to understand and vocally oppose. As chairman of the appropriations committee in the House, Garfield was seen as personally responsible for the passage of the “salary grab” even though he had opposed it in committee and on the floor of the House.

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Congressman James A. Garfield.  (Library of Congress)

So Garfield returned to his district and campaigned for delegates to the local nominating conventions, explaining his positions mostly in small meetings and through his friends. In August he wrote in his diary: “The District is very thoroughly aroused and we shall have large primary meetings. My enemies are bitter and noisy, my friends more active than ever before and full of fight.”  Harmon Austin had developed an impressive political machine to meet challenge, and when voters met at the township level to choose delegates to the district convention, the Garfield forces showed up. The Congressman netted two-thirds of the local delegates, and by the time the district convention met the opposition had collapsed.

But the disaffected Republicans didn’t give up; instead they named an independent candidate, H. R. Hurlburt, to challenge Garfield and the Democratic candidate Daniel B. Woods, who had run against Garfield in his first campaign twelve years earlier. In a month of fierce political fighting, Garfield attempted to answer every question and every challenge. “I let these gentlemen know that during this campaign it was to be blow for blow and those who struck must expect a blow in return.” In refuting the queries of a questioner named Tuttle, Garfield said, “I doubt if he knew when I left him whether he was hash or jelly.”

On election day the result was Garfield 12,591, Hurlburt 3,427 and Woods 6,245. Garfield retained his seat, but a nationwide “blue wave” meant that his party lost its majority in the House. For the rest of his career in Congress, Garfield would serve in the minority.

The 45th Congress

It was his position as leader of the minority that gave Garfield his springboard to the 1876 election. At the end of the congressional session that spring, Democratic Congressman L.Q.C. Lamar of Mississippi, whom Garfield respected as among the ablest Democrats in the House, delivered a carefully written and polished defense of the Democratic Party. It was immediately seen as the opening argument for the upcoming presidential campaign, when the Democrats saw their first real opportunity to win the White House since the Civil War. The next day, Garfield, as the Republican leader in the House, answered with a nearly extemporaneous response, arguing that the Democrats could not be trusted to manage the government. His speech was immediately praised by Republicans and Republican newspapers, and was reprinted for circulation everywhere.

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Representative (later Senator) Lucius Q.C. Lamar of Mississippi.  (Library of Congress)

At home, Garfield reported that at the district convention “the change from two years ago is very marked. . . From early in the morning the throng of friends and converted enemies came to see me. My speeches in Congress at the late session, especially that in reply to Lamar is spoken of constantly.” Garfield was nominated by acclamation.

Not all his enemies from 1874 were converted, but they had learned a lesson. Instead of attempting to run an independent candidate, they joined with Democrats to nominate General John S. Casement, and again campaign against Garfield’s “systematic corruption, perjury and bribery.” While Garfield apparently never considered his re-election in danger, Casement did garner more votes than any other candidate who had challenged him, winning 11,349 votes to Garfield’s 20,012.

The 46th Congress

In 1878, the Ohio legislature, controlled by Democrats, redrew the state’s congressional districts for partisan advantage. Portage County, Garfield’s home for most of his life, and his original political base, was moved to another, more Democratic, district.  Mahoning County, with the “Iron men” who so often disagreed with and criticized Garfield, was returned to the nineteenth.

Garfield was unanimously re-nominated by the Republicans, but he was challenge not only by a Democratic candidate, but also by an emerging Greenback party, whose candidate, G, N. Tuttle, had been one of Garfield’s loudest critics back in 1874. The main issue in the district, and across the country, was greenback currency or specie resumption. It was an issue that never seemed to be resolved, but one where Garfield’s hard money position was well know.

Garfield 17,166        Hubbard 7,553         Tuttle 3,148

James A. Garfield

James A. Garfield was a man of many presidential firsts! This intense image of him is one of our favorites here at James A. Garfield NHS. (Library of Congress)

 

The 46th Congress was the last to which James Garfield was elected. During the term of that Congress he would be selected by the Ohio legislature to serve in the United States Senate, and later that year (1880) was nominated as the Republican presidential candidate. During the nearly eighteen years Garfield served in Congress, he faced a number of issues and a variety of challenges. It is clear in looking over his congressional campaigns that he enjoyed the rough-and-tumble of campaigning, even though he often protested otherwise. Two things remained constant in Garfield’s political philosophy—his insistence on independence of judgment, and his loyalty to the Republican Party.

 

-Joan Kapsch, Park Guide

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

James Garfield: Congressman (Part I)

In the Memorial Library at James Garfield’s home is a fancy little desk with a brass number tab. It is a Congressional desk of the style used in the House of Representatives during the early years of Garfield’s service in that chamber. It offers an opportunity to talk about his congressional career. A recent visitor asked a question we seldom hear—what were the issues in Garfield’s many congressional campaigns?

James Garfield was elected to represent northeast Ohio in the Congress of the United States nine times. His tenure in the House stretched from the last year of the Civil War to his election to the White House in 1880. The issues that faced Garfield, the voters of the nineteenth district, and the nation changed over the years, of course, as did the district itself. Here, for our visitor, is a short synopsis of the issues and challenges that faced Congressman Garfield.

The 38th Congress

Garfield first began to think about running for Congress in the spring of 1862. He was in the army at the time, serving under General Henry Halleck in the vicinity of Corinth, Mississippi. In Garfield’s view the army was bogged down both militarily and politically, neither pursuing the enemy nor liberating the slave population.  He felt he could more usefully serve the country in a differ capacity, telling his friend Harmon Austin, “It seems to me that the successful ending of the war is the smaller of the two tasks imposed upon the government. There must be a readjustment of our public policy and management. There will spring up out of this war a score of new questions and new dangers. The settlement of these will be of even more importance than the ending of the war. I do not hesitate to tell you that I believe I could do some service in Congress in that work and I should prefer that to continuing in the army.”

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Brigadier General James A. Garfield in 1862 or 1863.  (Library of Congress)

Garfield’s home in Portage County was in a new nineteenth district, drawn after the 1860 census. Portage and Geauga were added to Ashtabula, Trumbull and Mahoning. His “friends” in the district, whom Garfield had been cultivating since his years in the state legislature before the war, told him that any “prominent men” from any of the five counties could have an equal chance at the Republican nomination. Garfield allowed his friends to enter his name in nomination, although he remained away from home and did not actively seek the nod. He won the nomination on the eighth ballot at the district convention in September.

The major issues in the fall campaign all related to the war, of course. Failures on the battlefield and the announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation divided Union voters. In the nineteenth district, one of the strongest anti-slavery districts in the country, Garfield won overwhelming support: 13,288 votes to his opponent’s 6,763.  In northeast Ohio, a Republican nomination virtually guaranteed an election victory.

The 39th Congress

Two years later, the conduct of the war and the re-election of Abraham Lincoln were the issues of the election. Freshman Congressman Garfield had expressed less than full-throated support for the President, and had voted for an extension of the draft that was not popular in his district. Garfield spoke to the 19th District nominating convention in late August, 1864. “I cannot go to Congress as your representative with my liberty restricted. . . If I go to Congress it must be as a free man. I cannot go otherwise and when you are unwilling to grant me my freedom of opinion to the highest degree I have no longer a desire to represent you.” This strong statement moved the crowd to enthusiastic cheers and re-nomination by acclimation.  In November, Garfield prevailed, 18, 086 votes to his opponent’s 6,315.

The 40th Congress

Election to the 40th Congress in 1866 turned on questions of reconstruction. In the district voters were unhappy with Garfield’s support for the draft through the end of the war, and for his participation in a case before the United States Supreme Court that arose out of the war. Ex parte Milligan was the first case James Garfield ever argued in court. It revolved around the question of whether civilians arrested for aiding the Confederacy should be tried in military tribunals or in civilian courts. Garfield told a constituent, “I knew when I took the Indiana case (Milligan and several other were arrested by the Army in Indiana) that I would probably be misunderstood, but I was [so] strongly convinced of the importance of the decision of the case on the right side, that I was willing to subject myself to the misunderstanding of some, for the sake of securing the supremacy of the civil over the military authority.” Some of his constituents saw it as a “defense of traitors” and many believed it conflicted with the Radical Republican plan for reconstruction in the South.

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Once again Garfield was re-nominated by acclamation, and he spent most of the fall campaign outside the district, stumping for Republican candidates in close Congressional districts in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois and New York. The goal was to elect enough Republicans to defeat any veto by President Johnson and install a Radical reconstruction program. Not only did Garfield win, 18,598 votes to 7,376 in his district, he help secure a “magnificent victory” for Republicans across the country. “I trust,” he said, “Congress may be able to preserve the fruits of victory.”

The 41st Congress

On May 15, 1868 Congressman Garfield took the floor of the House to deliver a carefully prepared speech about “the currency question.” Since the end of the war, Garfield had focused his attention on the “new questions and new dangers” of a peacetime economy based on fiat currency—that is, a national currency that was not back by gold. Political sentiment in Ohio, and particularly in the nineteenth district favored inflationary greenbacks, but Garfield argued against focusing on unbacked paper currency as the only, or even the main cause of the prosperity and industrial growth of the war years. The speech served to explain the reasons he felt it was important to return to “sound money,” and to challenge his opponents at home.

During the 1868 campaign, Garfield and his political friends distributed copies of his speeches in Congress on the currency, the tariff, and Reconstruction. The result: Garfield 20,187 votes, McEwen 9,759.

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A Garfield $5 bill from 1882, the year after President Garfield was assassinated.  Garfield was a believer in hard currency, not paper money (“greenbacks”).  Wonder what he would have thought about his appearance on this paper currency!  (oldcurrencyvalues.com)

The 42nd Congress

Protective tariffs, particularly on iron products, were the campaign issue of 1870. Garfield’s constituents in Mahoning County were demanding high tariffs on imported iron goods, or that he be replaced “by a gentleman who is at heart true to the protective tariff interests of his country.” All through the spring, the “iron men” search for a candidate to oppose him, but by June Garfield was able to report, “So far as I know there is to be no organized opposition in the convention. The Iron men tried every means in their power to secure a candidate but failed. The will probably sullenly acquiesce in the inevitable.”

Other issues included reducing the size of the army and the problems of reconstruction. On that topic, Garfield was not optimistic. “We have now reached a critical period in our legislation when we are called upon to perform the final act, to complete, for better or for worse, the reconstruction policy of the government. . . I confess that any attempt at reconciling all we have done. . . so as to form consistent precedents for any theory given to legislation is, to my mind, a failure. There are no theories for the management of whirlwinds and earthquakes.”

Garfield 13,538           Howard 7,263

 

(Check back for Part II soon!)

-Joan Kapsch, Park Guide

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.

Garfield’s Speech: Soldier’s Monument Dedication, Painesville, Ohio

On July 3, 1880, Congressman James A. Garfield of Ohio-then the Republican Party’s candidate for President of the United States-traveled about seven miles from his Mentor, Ohio home to the neighboring town of Painesville.  There he delivered the keynote address at the ceremony dedicating a new Soldier’s Monument in Painesville Memorial Park.  The monument still stands in Painesville’s town square today, nearly 140 years later.

Garfield was a Union Civil War veteran himself, having commanded the 42nd Ohio Volunteers and then an infantry brigade before serving as the Army of the Cumberland’s chief of staff.  He was present at such battles as Middle Creek, Shiloh, Corinth, and Chickamauga.  He left the army in late 1863 to take a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, remaining there until his election to the presidency in November 1880.  He was shot by an assassin just four months into his presidency.

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Brigadier General James A. Garfield, ca. 1862-63.  (Library of Congress)

Garfield’s speech at the Painesville Soldier’s Monument dedication:

“Fellow citizens: I cannot fail to respond on such an occasion, in sight of such a monument to such a cause, sustained by such men. While I have listened to what my friend has said, two questions have been sweeping through my heart. One is, ”What does the monument mean?” and the other, “What will the monument teach?’ Let me try and ask you for a moment, to help me answer what does the monument mean? Oh! The monument means a world of memories, a world of deeds, and a world of tears, and a world of glories.

You know, thousands know, what it is to offer up your life to the country, and that is no small thing, as every soldier knows.  Let me put the question to you: For a moment suppose your country in the awfully embodied form of majestic law, should stand above you and say: ‘I want your life. Come up here on the platform and offer it.’ How many would walk up before that majestic presence and say, ‘Here I am, take this life and use it for your great needs.’? And yet almost two millions of men made that answer, and a monument stands yonder to commemorate their answer. That is one of its meanings. But, my friends, let me try you a little further. To give up life is much, for it is to give up wife, and home, and child, and ambition. But let me test you this way further. Suppose this awfully majestic form should call out to you, and say, ‘I ask you to give up health and drag yourself, not dead, but half alive, through a miserable existence for long years, until you perish and die in your crippled and hopeless condition. I ask you to volunteer to do that,’ and it calls for a higher reach of patriotism and self-sacrifice; but hundreds of thousands of you soldiers did that. That is what the monument means also. But let me ask you to go one step further. Suppose your country should say, ‘Come here, on this platform, and in my name, and for my sake, consent to be idiots. Consent that your very brain and intellect shall be broken down into hopeless idiocy for my sake.’ How many could be found to make that venture? And yet there are thousands, and that with their eyes wide open to the horrible consequences, obeyed that call.

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James Abram Garfield, 20th President of the United States.  This photo was taken either just before or during Garfield’s brief (March-September 1881) presidency.  (Library of Congress)

And let me tell how one hundred thousand of our soldiers were prisoners of war, and to many of them when death was stalking near, when famine was climbing up into their hearts, and idiocy was threatening all that was left of their intellects, the gates of their prison stood open every day, if they would quit, desert their flag and enlist under the flag of the enemy; and out of one hundred and eighty thousand not two percent ever received the liberation from death, starvation and all that might come to them; but they took all these horrors and all these sufferings in preference to going back upon the flag of their country and the glory of its truth. Great God! Was ever such measure of patriotism reached by any men on this earth before? That is what your monument mans. By the subtle chemistry that no man knows, all the blood that will be shed by our brethren, all the lives that were devoted, all the grief that was felt, at last crystallized itself into granite rendered immortal, the great truth for which they died, and it stands there today, and that is what your monument means.
Now, what does it teach? What will it teach? Why, I remember the story of one of the old conquerors of Greece, who, when he had traveled in his boyhood over the battle-fields where Miltiades had won victories and set up trophies, returning said:
‘The trophies of Miltiades will never let me sleep.’ Why? Something had taught him from the chiseled stone a lesson that he could never forget; and, fellow citizens, that silent sentinel, that crowned granite column, will look down upon the boys that will walk these streets for generations to come, and will not let them sleep when their country calls them. More than from the bugler on the field, from his dead lips will go out a call that the children of Lake County will hear after the grave has covered us and our immediate children. That is the teaching of your monument. That is its lesson, and it is the lesson of endurance for what we believe, and it is the lesson of sacrifices for what we think- the lesson of heroism for what we mean to sustain- and the lesson cannot be lost to a people like this. It is not a lesson of revenge; it is not a lesson of wrath; it is the grand, sweet, broad lesson of the immortality of the truth that we hope will soon cover, as the grand Shekinah of light and glory, all parts of this Republic, from the lakes to the gulf.

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Soldier’s Monument in downtown Painesville, Ohio, dedicated July 3, 1880.  Republican presidential candidate James A. Garfield was the keynote speaker at the dedication ceremony.  (Author photo)

I once entered a house in old Massachusetts, where, over its doors, were two crossed swords. One was the sword carried by the grandfather of its owner on the field of Bunker Hill, and the other was the sword carried by the English grand-sire of the wife, on the same field, and on the other side of the conflict. Under those crossed swords, in the restored harmony of domestic peace, lived a happy, and contented, and free family, under the light of our republican liberties. I trust the time is not far distant when, under the crossed swords and the locked shields of Americans North and South, our people shall sleep in peace, and rise in liberty, love, and harmony under the union of our flag of the Stars and Stripes.”

 

-Todd Arrington, Site Manager

The Life of Thomas Garfield

Thomas Garfield was the second child born to Abram Garfield and Eliza Ballou Garfield. He was born October 16, 1822 in Cuyahoga County, Ohio.  By 1831, the Garfield family had grown to include Abram and Eliza and children Mehetable, Thomas, Mary, and James—the future President of the United States.  The Garfield siblings did have another brother named James Ballou who was born in 1826 but died in 1829.  Thomas was only ten when his father Abram died on May 8, 1833, leaving him as the man of house.  He worked the family farm alongside his mother Eliza and sister Mehetable.  Thomas wanted all of his siblings to attend school while he took care of the farm.  At one point in his young life Thomas had a job chopping wood for .25 a cord.  “When I was fifteen years old mother owed $7 on a wool-carding and cloth bill, and I went to work chopping three-foot wood at twenty-five cents a cord to pay it. I worked all winter at those wages, and that is the way I kept the family.  Those were hard times…”

Thomas was a deeply religious Christian.  Joining the Disciples of Christ at the age of 16, he never drank or smoked a day in his life and thought dancing was sin.

“If I could have my way, there would not be another drop of liquor sold in this country, or                brought into it. I never used tobacco, or tasted liquor in my life, I never bought a cigar, or a glass      of liquor, and never went to a circus or a dance. I went to a menagerie once, when a boy, but I              did not go into the next tent, where a circus was going on. I never owned a watch, nor had a                piece of jewelry. I have always lived a quiet, peaceful life, and have never cared for such things.”

He was a staunch Republican but never wanted to be involved in politics.  “I am an elder in the congregation of Disciples of Christ at Jamestown, and that is the only office I ever held. I have never sought preferment of any kind, and the township offices that have been offered to me I have always refused.”

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This book cover shows one of the few known images of Thomas Garfield, elder brother of President James A. Garfield.  (Kevin Scott Collier)

On October 18, 1849 Thomas married Mary J. Harper, a native of Maine. The couple lived in Solon, Ohio near family until they moved to Michigan. “We sold the farm in Ohio in 1854 and moved to Michigan. I lived three years in Byron Township, this county {Ottawa}, and then went back to Ohio, where I worked around on different farms for ten years. And then I came here to Jamestown Township, Michigan.” One reporter who visited Thomas at his Michigan home wrote, “…I climbed the hilly dooryard to the front door of a one-story house, built of wide pine boards, nailed upright and unpainted.  Through the window of the principal room, which occupied half the house, a spinning wheel, decked with fillets of wool, looked out.”

The Garfields moved to Jamestown, Michigan in 1867 and lived there for about ten years before a fire destroyed their house. Thomas wrote of getting financial help from his Congressman brother: “James helped me pay for it, and when our house burned in 1877, he helped me rebuild in return for what I had down for him.” The Michigan home had many pictures on the walls of James A. Garfield and their mother Eliza Ballou Garfield.  The Garfields had a son on August 25, 1850 and named him James Abram after his uncle. It was said that the baby had the same high forehead and the same features and form as his well-known uncle.  A second child was born to the couple, a girl named Eliza, after her grandmother, born in 1853. Two years later, on April 26, 1855, their last child, Florence, was born.

At the beginning of the Civil War Thomas wanted to enlist but was denied.  “I tried to enlist in the army with James, but they wouldn’t take me.”  There is no documentation as to why he was not able to serve, but it is known that he suffered from seizures (epilepsy).  Some reports said that James did not visit Michigan but Thomas refuted this by saying “James visited me several times.  He was here in 1878, when he spoke in the city on the resumption of a specific payment.  He was always so loving, and affectionate when he came to see me.” It wasn’t until after President Garfield was shot that reporters realized that he had a brother and they wanted the chance to interview him.  A reporter for the Chicago Inter-Ocean asked Thomas why he had not gone to see his brother after being shot.  Thomas’s response was because of the cost of travel, and also because he had been told that nobody would be admitted to see the President.  “My sister Mary and I went to Elberon Cottage before he died, but the doctors wouldn’t let us in.”  Thomas said this of the experience, “Mary was a good nurse, and James called for her in his sickness, and she was very anxious to go in to nurse him, but the doctors wouldn’t let her.  We have always believed he was doctored into death, and if Mary could have taken care of him, he would have lived.” Thomas was 59 years old when President Garfield was shot on July 2, 1881 in Washington, D.C.  After the death of the President the whole Garfield family (siblings, mother, wife and children and any other members) traveled to Cleveland for the funeral. The funeral took place on September 26, 1881.   The same reporter who had asked Thomas if he visited the President asked if he had attended the funeral. Thomas Garfield replied saying “Yes, sir, I was gone from the home for three days, and when I reached Cleveland was directed to go to the house of Mrs. Colonel Shelden, where my mother and sister were.”

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The Garfield funeral procession in Cleveland, Ohio on September 26, 1881.  (Harper’s Weekly)

Thomas Garfield’s name was mentioned during the presidential campaigns of 1892 and 1896.  People opposing the Republican party made it known to others that Thomas Garfield was going to be voting against the party he had always supported.  This claim was false and angered Thomas, who spoke out in papers against this claim but because the remarks were so close to the 1892 election results they were not seen by many. In 1897, he made it known before the election that this was again a false claim given from the other side.

“If my martyred brother were alive his voice would be heard would be heard from ocean to                ocean in favor of the Republican party, and its principles, and I shall not prove myself a traitor to           his memory, and to the people of my country, who placed him in the presidential chair, a                position the highest in the gift of the people, I believe the principles he advocated are as true

Just as the Garfield family in Ohio suffered loss so too did the Garfields in Michigan. Thomas and Mary Garfield lost their daughter Florence Garfield O’Dell in 1887 at the age of 32.   Mary, Thomas’s wife, died January 4, 1900 at the age of 71 from uterine cancer.  Thomas Garfield died at the age of 87 on April 12, 1910. He and Mary are interred in the Hanley Cemetery in Jenison, Michigan.  His daughter Eliza died in 1910 as well. Son James A. Garfield, named for his presidential uncle, died on May 6, 1926 at the age of 75.

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Headstone of Thomas Garfield and his wife, Mary.  (Findagrave.com)

Thomas helped shape the life of his mother and siblings—including his younger brother James, the future President of the United States—for the better.  Thomas and James shared an unbreakable bond all their lives and even President Garfield’s assassination could not break it.  Thomas Garfield was known to some as the “forgotten Garfield,” but today he is revered as one of the most important people in the life of the 20th President of the United States.

-Rebecca Hayward, Visitor Use Assistant

 

The Execution of Charles Guiteau

On this day 135 years ago-June 30, 1882-Charles Julius Guiteau was led to the gallows and executed for murder.  Guiteau was no ordinary killer, though: his victim was James A. Garfield, the twentieth President of the United States.  Guiteau stalked President Garfield around Washington, D.C. for several weeks before shooting him in a train station on July 2, 1881.  Garfield had been president for just four months.

Even by nineteenth century standards, Guiteau was obviously mentally ill.  He considered himself a loyal Republican, and his narcissistic personality convinced him that his work for the party was critical to Garfield’s election to the presidency in 1880.  In fact, Guiteau had made just a few speeches in New York to small and disinterested crowds; the speech itself, which he originally prepared based on the assumption that Ulysses S. Grant would be the presidential nominee, was nonsensical.  Guiteau simply went through the speech, crossing out any mention of Grant’s name and replacing it with Garfield’s.

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Charles Julius Guiteau, assassin of President James A. Garfield.  Guiteau was mentally unstable; today, he might be found not guilty by reason of insanity and sentenced to psychiatric treatment rather than death.  (Library of Congress)

When Garfield took office in early 1881, Guiteau made his way to Washington to collect his reward: a plum patronage job that he was sure was his for the taking.  He visited both the White House and the State Department on multiple occasions to plead his case for an overseas posting to Paris or Vienna.  Clearly unqualified, he eventually so annoyed Secretary of State James Blaine that Blaine angrily told him, “Do not ever mention the Paris consulship to me again!”

Garfield was soon embroiled in a very public squabble with New York’s powerful senior Senator, Roscoe Conkling, over the nation’s most coveted patronage job: Collector of the Port of New York.  Conkling eventually resigned from the Senate to protest Garfield’s choice for the job.  Convinced that Garfield was going to destroy the Republican Party by scrapping the patronage system, Guiteau decided the only solution was to remove Garfield and elevate Vice President Chester A. Arthur—a Conkling acolyte—to the presidency.  This would not only save the party, but would also result in Guiteau receiving the patronage job he believed was rightfully his.  Surely a grateful President Arthur would reward Charles Guiteau.

An Office or Your Life

Puck magazine caricature of Charles Guiteau from shortly after he shot President Garfield.  (Puck)

Guiteau’s plan did not work out as he envisioned.  President Garfield survived for eighty days after being shot, suffering horrendous medical care from doctors untrained in Listerian antiseptic methods.  When Garfield finally died on September 19, the government prepared to try Guiteau for murder.  At trial, the assassin Guiteau stated that, “I did not kill the President.  The doctors did that.  I merely shot him.”  The jury did not agree, and after a trial that lasted nearly two months and often had a circus-like atmosphere, Guiteau was convicted of murder in January 1882.

This brings us to the events of 135 years ago today.  It was just two days shy of the one-year anniversary of Guiteau’s attack on President Garfield.  Before his sentence was carried out, Guiteau was permitted to recite a poem he had written entitled “I am Going to the Lordy.”  These were his final words.

I am going to the Lordy, I am so glad,
I am going to the Lordy, I am so glad,
I am going to the Lordy,
Glory hallelujah! Glory hallelujah!
I am going to the Lordy.
I love the Lordy with all my soul,
Glory hallelujah!
And that is the reason I am going to the Lord,
Glory hallelujah! Glory hallelujah!
I am going to the Lord.
I saved my party and my land,
Glory hallelujah!
But they have murdered me for it,
And that is the reason I am going to the Lordy,
Glory hallelujah! Glory hallelujah!
I am going to the Lordy!
I wonder what I will do when I get to the Lordy,
I guess that I will weep no more
When I get to the Lordy!
Glory hallelujah!
I wonder what I will see when I get to the Lordy,
I expect to see most glorious things,
Beyond all earthly conception
When I am with the Lordy!
Glory hallelujah! Glory hallelujah!
I am with the Lord.

Charles Guiteau

An image of Charles Guiteau taken while he was imprisoned for murdering President James A. Garfield.  (Library of Congress)

Upon completion of his recitation, the executioner placed a hood over Guiteau’s face and the noose around his neck.  Guiteau continued to hold the poem in his hand; he had arranged with the executioner beforehand to drop the paper when he was ready to die.  When he did so, the trapdoor opened and the noose broke Charles Guiteau’s neck.  His body was buried in the jail yard, but later disinterred and sent to the facility that eventually became the National Museum of Health and Medicine.  His brain and enlarged spleen were preserved.

For most of the country, Guiteau’s death marked an end to the year-long saga of President Garfield’s assassination.  For the Garfield family, though, the pain and sadness of the previous year would continue for years and decades to come.

 

-Todd Arrington, Site Manager

 

James A. Garfield’s Decoration Day Speech, May 30, 1868

On May 30, 1868, a crowd of more than 5,000 gathered at Arlington National Cemetery for the first Decoration Day (now known as Memorial Day) exercises. Before strewing flowers upon the graves of the dead, the crowd listened to an address by James Abram Garfield (1831–81), then an Ohio congressman who had served as a Union major general during the Civil War. In this first of such annual addresses at Arlington National Cemetery and across the nation, Garfield set a standard by explaining what Decoration Day is all about and why it should be commemorated.  Garfield was elected the twentieth President of the United States in 1880.  He served just four months in office before being shot by an assassin on July 2, 1881.  He lingered for the next 80 days, dying at age 49 on September 19, 1881.

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James A. Garfield during the Civil War.  Garfield had no military experience prior to being commissioned a Lieutenant Colonel of Volunteers in August 1861.  He taught himself military strategy and tactics by reading army textbooks and histories of the Napoleonic campaigns.  When he left the army at the end of 1863 to go to Congress, he had risen to the rank of Major General. (Library of Congress)

I am oppressed with a sense of the impropriety of uttering words on this occasion. If silence is ever golden, it must be here beside the graves of fifteen thousand men, whose lives were more significant than speech, and whose death was a poem, the music of which can never be sung. With words we make promises, plight faith, praise virtue. Promises may not be kept; plighted faith may be broken; and vaunted virtue be only the cunning mask of vice. We do not know one promise these men made, one pledge they gave, one word they spoke; but we do know they summed up and perfected, by one supreme act, the highest virtues of men and citizens. For love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue. For the noblest man that lives, there still remains a conflict. He must still withstand the assaults of time and fortune, must still be assailed with temptations, before which lofty natures have fallen; but with these the conflict ended, the victory was won, when death stamped on them the great seal of heroic character, and closed a record which years can never blot.

I know of nothing more appropriate on this occasion than to inquire what brought these men here; what high motive led them to condense life into an hour, and to crown that hour by joyfully welcoming death? Let us consider.

Eight years ago this was the most unwarlike nation of the earth. For nearly fifty years1 no spot in any of these states had been the scene of battle. Thirty millions of people had an army of less than ten thousand men. The faith of our people in the stability and permanence of their institutions was like their faith in the eternal course of nature. Peace, liberty, and personal security were blessings as common and universal as sunshine and showers and fruitful seasons; and all sprang from a single source, the old American principle that all owe due submission and obedience to the lawfully expressed will of the majority. This is not one of the doctrines of our political system—it is the system itself. It is our political firmament, in which all other truths are set, as stars in Heaven. It is the encasing air, the breath of the Nation’s life. Against this principle the whole weight of the rebellion was thrown. Its overthrow would have brought such ruin as might follow in the physical universe, if the power of gravitation were destroyed and

“Nature’s concord broke,
Among the constellations war were sprung,
Two planets, rushing from aspect malign
Of fiercest opposition, in mid-sky
Should combat, and their jarring spheres confound.”

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Decoration Day in Arlington National Cemetery, May 30, 1868.  This was the first national Decoration Day event and was organized by the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), the largest and most influential Union veterans’ organization.  Congressman James A. Garfield delivered his keynote address from this speakers’ rostrum.  (Library of Congress)

The Nation was summoned to arms by every high motive which can inspire men. Two centuries of freedom had made its people unfit for despotism. They must save their Government or miserably perish.

As a flash of lightning in a midnight tempest reveals the abysmal horrors of the sea, so did the flash of the first gun disclose the awful abyss into which rebellion was ready to plunge us. In a moment the fire was lighted in twenty million hearts. In a moment we were the most warlike Nation on the earth. In a moment we were not merely a people with an army—we were a people in arms. The Nation was in column—not all at the front, but all in the array.

I love to believe that no heroic sacrifice is ever lost; that the characters of men are molded and inspired by what their fathers have done; that treasured up in American souls are all the unconscious influences of the great deeds of the Anglo-Saxon race, from Agincourt to Bunker Hill. It was such an influence that led a young Greek, two thousand years ago, when musing on the battle of Marathon, to exclaim, “the trophies of Miltiades will not let me sleep!” Could these men be silent in 1861; these, whose ancestors had felt the inspiration of battle on every field where civilization had fought in the last thousand years? Read their answer in this green turf. Each for himself gathered up the cherished purposes of life—its aims and ambitions, its dearest affections—and flung all, with life itself, into the scale of battle.

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James A. Garfield as he appeared around the time of his successful 1880 presidential campaign.  (Library of Congress)

And now consider this silent assembly of the dead. What does it represent? Nay, rather, what does it not represent? It is an epitome of the war. Here are sheaves reaped in the harvest of death, from every battlefield of Virginia. If each grave had a voice to tell us what its silent tenant last saw and heard on earth, we might stand, with uncovered heads, and hear the whole story of the war. We should hear that one perished when the first great drops of the crimson shower began to fall, when the darkness of that first disaster at Manassas fell like an eclipse on the Nation; that another died of disease while wearily waiting for winter to end; that this one fell on the field, in sight of the spires of Richmond, little dreaming that the flag must be carried through three more years of blood before it should be planted in that citadel of treason; and that one fell when the tide of war had swept us back till the roar of rebel guns shook the dome of yonder Capitol, and re-echoed in the chambers of the Executive Mansion. We should hear mingled voices from the Rappahannock, the Rapidan, the Chickahominy, and the James; solemn voices from the Wilderness, and triumphant shouts from the Shenandoah, from Petersburg, and the Five Forks, mingled with the wild acclaim of victory and the sweet chorus of returning peace. The voices of these dead will forever fill the land like holy benedictions.

What other spot so fitting for their last resting place as this under the shadow of the Capitol saved by their valor? Here, where the grim edge of battle joined; here, where all the hope and fear and agony of their country centered; here let them rest, asleep on the Nation’s heart, entombed in the Nation’s love!

MemorialDay1917

By the late nineteenth/early twentieth century, “Decoration Day” was more commonly known as “Memorial Day.”  But it all began on May 30, 1868 with James Garfield’s speech in Arlington National Cemetery.  This image from 100 years ago-May 30, 1917-was published as American troops were preparing to enter World War I.  (Library of Congress) 

Hither our children’s children shall come to pay their tribute of grateful homage. For this are we met to-day. By the happy suggestion of a great society, assemblies like this are gathering at this hour in every State in the Union. Thousands of soldiers are to-day turning aside in the march of life to visit the silent encampments of dead comrades who once fought by their side. From many thousand homes, whose light was put out when a soldier fell, there go forth to-day to join these solemn processions loving kindred and friends, from whose heart the shadow of grief will never be lifted till the light of the eternal world dawns upon them. And here are children, little children, to whom the war left no father but the Father above. By the most sacred right, theirs is the chief place to-day. They come with garlands to crown their victor fathers. I will delay the coronation no longer.