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!

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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.

James Garfield and Joshua Chamberlain

On June 14, 1881, Joshua L. Chamberlain of Brunswick, Maine, wrote a letter to President James A. Garfield.  The President’s wife, Lucretia Rudolph Garfield, had been ill with malaria for much of the spring, and Chamberlain offered this advice:

It has been suggested to me by a medical gentleman of much experience

that the best treatment Mrs. Garfield could have would be a summer on

the coast of Maine.  Should that judgment commend itself to you I shall

be very glad if it may be in my power to aid in the selecting [of] a suitable

place, or in any way to contribute to your satisfaction in regard to the

matter.

Chamberlain, then president of his alma mater, Bowdoin College, also invited the President to attend Bowdoin’s commencement on July 14.  It was public knowledge that Garfield was heading north in less than three weeks to speak at his own alma mater, Williams College in Massachusetts, and then enjoy a vacation.  The President was more than ready for a little time away from the White House.  He had only recently won a hard-fought political victory regarding patronage appointments with members of his own Republican Party, most notably Senator Roscoe Conkling of New York.  His wife’s severe illness added to his worries and made his first few months as the nation’s twentieth president even more difficult.

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President James A. Garfield in 1881.  Like Chamberlain, he was an academic but felt compelled to fight for the Union during the Civil War.  (Library of Congress)

Garfield never made it to Williams or his vacation.  On July 2, 1881, as he walked through Washington, D.C.’s Baltimore and Potomac train station to board his train north, Charles Guiteau approached and shot him twice from behind.  The first bullet grazed Garfield’s arm, but the second lodged in his back.  Over the next eighty days, doctors unschooled in Listerian antisepsis and germ theories—or willfully ignoring them—poked and prodded Garfield with dirty fingers and instruments, introducing infection into his body.  The President died on September 19, eighty days after Guiteau’s attack.

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Joshua L. Chamberlain during his time as president of Bowdoin College.  (Bowdoin College)

No evidence exists to suggest that Garfield and Chamberlain ever actually met one another.  However, had they met, it seems likely that they would have liked one another a great deal.  After all, the similarities between the two men were striking.  They were close to the same age, with Chamberlain born in 1828 and Garfield in 1831.  Both showed an early interest in religion and considered careers as clergymen.  Chamberlain attended and graduated from Maine’s Bangor Theological Seminary, but never actually worked as a minister.  Garfield did not attend a religious seminary, but did preach sermons as a lay minister in the Disciples of Christ denomination.

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A young James A. Garfield as a Union Brigadier General, ca. 1862-63.  He left the army at the end of 1863 to take a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.  (Library of Congress)

Chamberlain and Garfield both had successful careers as scholars at their alma maters before the Civil War, Chamberlain at Bowdoin and Garfield at Ohio’s Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (now Hiram College), which he attended before Williams.  Both taught many different subjects and were proficient in several languages, including Greek and Latin.  When the Civil War came and both were moved to volunteer for the Union, each determined to use books on military history and tactics to teach himself how to lead and fight.  As Chamberlain told the Governor of Maine in a letter that could just as easily have been written by the Ohioan Garfield, “I have always been interested in military matters, and what I do not know in that line I know how to learn” (emphasis in original).  Soon after, Lt. Col. Chamberlain was second in command of the 20th Maine Infantry.  Garfield, a state senator at the time of the Fort Sumter attack, taught himself drill on the lawn of the Ohio Capitol Building before being assigned command of the 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry.

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Brigadier General Joshua L. Chamberlain.  Like Garfield, he left the life of a scholar to join the army.  Chamberlain became one of the Union’s most celebrated soldiers and received the Medal of Honor in 1893 for his actions at the battle of Gettysburg three decades earlier.  (Library of Congress)

James Garfield saw action mostly in the western theater, Chamberlain in the east.  During his service in the army, northeast Ohio Republicans elected Garfield to the U.S. House of Representatives, and Garfield left the army in December 1863 to go to Congress.  Chamberlain remained in the army until war’s end, suffering numerous wounds that would affect him for the rest of his life.  When the war ended, he was elected to four consecutive one-year terms as Maine’s governor.  While Garfield enjoyed political success, though, Chamberlain’s ambitions to serve as a U.S. Senator were stymied.  The Garfields and Chamberlains both endured the pain of losing children to early deaths, and both became sought-after speakers on the post-war lecture circuit.

Had Garfield survived Charles Guiteau’s assassination attempt, or had Guiteau never struck at all, perhaps Garfield and Chamberlain may have met at some point—maybe even on Garfield’s New England visit in July 1881.  We can only guess, but knowing a little bit about their backgrounds and life experiences makes it a good bet that they could have been fast friends.

-Todd Arrington, Site Manager

Mary Clemmer Ames and “Ten Years in Washington”

March being “Women’s History Month,” it seems appropriate to say a little something about a woman whose name is more than likely unknown to most present-day Americans. She wasn’t a leader in the abolitionist movement or a suffragist. She gained no fame as an advocate of temperance. She was, though, a lifelong resident of the District of Columbia, and chronicled the Washington scene from the 1860s into the early 1880s.

Her name was Mary Clemmer Ames (1839-1884) and her book Ten Years in Washington, first published in 1874, is an engaging account of the notable buildings and agencies centered in the nation’s capital, and the people whose activities breathed life into them. Her descriptions of the many individuals, male and female, prominent and not, who set the social standards of the political class, or who did the everyday work of the federal bureaucracy, are intelligent, sympathetic, at times witty, and fully human portrayals.

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Mary Clemmer Ames, author of Ten Years in Washington.  (Frontspiece of the book Ten Years in Washington.)

This post will pay most attention to the commentary of Mrs. Clemmer that particularly illustrated the role of women of “Gilded Age” Washington. However, as James A. Garfield is inevitably the subject in some way of what you read on this page, what Mary Clemmer had to say about him will not be neglected.

Ten Years in Washington covers a wide variety of topics. There is a historical treatment of the designation of ten square miles of land given by the states of Maryland and Virginia for the establishment of the District. Mrs. Clemmer goes into great descriptive detail about the Capitol building, “the President’s House,” the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian. The inner workings of the U.S. Treasury, the Post Office and the Patent Office and other agencies are a prime focus of her writing. The State Department, the Army, the Navy, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Interior Department all came into view.

Mrs. Ames had something to say about every mistress of the White House, whether she was the President’s wife or daughter (there is a highly complimentary portrayal of Martha Patterson, daughter of Andrew Johnson). Her portrayal of Sarah Polk includes the following:

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Sarah Knox Polk, First Lady of the United States from 1845-49.  (Wikipedia)

Mrs. Polk, intellectually, was one of the most marked

women who ever presided in the White House. A lady of

the old school… her attainments were more than ordinary…

Never a politician, in a day when politics… were forbidden

grounds to women, she no less was thoroughly conversant

with all public affairs…

She was her husband’s private secretary, and, probably,

was the only lady of the White House who ever filled that

office. She took charge of his papers, he trusting entirely to

her memory and method for their safe keeping… [and when

needed] it was Sarah’s ever ready hand that laid it before his

eyes.

Conjured by Mrs. Clemmer’s pen, Mrs. Grant, the then-current First Lady, was a worthy object of the respect and admiration of that generation of Americans.

First Lady Julia Dent Grant in the White House

Julia Dent Grant, First Lady of the United States, 1869-77.  (Wikipedia)

Mrs. Grant’s morning receptions are very popular, and

deservedly so. This is not because the lady is in any sense

a good conversationalist, or has a fine tact in receiving, but

rather, I think, because she is thoroughly good-natured, and

for the time, at least, makes other people feel the same. At

any rate, there was never so little formality or so much

genuine sociability in the day-receptions at the White House

as at the present time.

Ten Years in Washington is full of interesting facts and anecdotes. Many of these illustrate the contributions and the plight of female federal workers. Here, in her chapters on the Treasury Department, Mrs. Ames lauds the ability of the women who performed their work so well:

“After the great Chicago fire in 1871, cases of money to the value of one hundred and sixty-four thousand, nine-hundred and ninety-seven dollars and ninety-eight cents, were sent to the United States Treasury for identification… All these charred     treasures were placed in the hands of a committee of six ladies… What patience, practice, skill, were indispensable to the fulfillment of this task, it is not difficult to conjecture… After unpacking the money… the ladies separated each small piece with   thin knives made for the purpose, then laying the blackened fragments on sheets of blotting paper, they decided by close scrutiny, the value, genuineness, and nature of the note.  Magnifying glasses were provided, but seldom used…’”

Mrs. Ames identified the members of this committee of six as Mrs. M. J. Patterson, Miss Pearl, Mrs. Davis, Miss Shriner, Miss Wright, and Miss Powers. “The most noted case [Mrs. Patterson] ever worked on was that of the paymaster’s trunk,” that sank with the Robert Carter, in the Mississippi River.

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Martha Patterson, daughter of President Andrew Johnson.  (Andrew Johnson National Monument, National Park Service.)

“After lying three years in the bottom of the river, the steamer was raised, and the money, soaked, rotten and obliterated, given to Mrs. Patterson for identification. She saved one hundred and eighty-five thousand out of two hundred thousand   dollars, and the express company, which was responsible for the original amount, presented her with five hundred dollars, as a recognition of her services.”

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Female workers at the U.S. Treasury Department during the period Mary Clemmer Ames describes in Ten Years in Washington.

And yet, the familiar refrain best summed up in the old adage, “The more things change, the more they remain the same,” was as pertinent in the distant 1870s as it it today.

Of the forty-five ladies in the Internal Revenue Bureau,

there is but one, and she is fifty years of age, who has not

more than herself to support on the pittance which she is

paid. Nevertheless, whenever a spasmodic cry of

‘retrenchment’ is raised, three women are always dismissed

from office, to one man, although the men greatly out-

number the women, to say nothing of their being so much

more expensive.

Today’s crusaders for “equal rights for equal pay” have soul mates going back 140 years and more. There are connections between we, the living, and past generations of Americans. History is not bunk. The past is not entirely past. It is not dead.

For many years Mary Clemmer authored a column called, “A Woman’s Letter from Washington.” This journalistic exploit for the New York Independent encouraged her passion for description, and her interest in the common man and woman. Her delight in limning the social elite sprang from that same reportorial flare.

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James A. Garfield, from an engraving in Ten Years in Washington by Mary Clemmer Ames.  (Ten Years in Washington)

It then comes as no surprise that in the March 27, 1879 issue of that column she presented a word portrait of Congressman James Garfield that mixed reservation with admiration:

“In mental capacity, in fine, wide, intellectual culture, no Republican for the last decade has equaled, much less surpassed him… Were it possible to honor his moral purity as one must his intellectual acumen, he would  be as grand in personal and political strength, that no whim of man, no passion of the hour, no mutation of party could depress, much less overthrow.”

A month later, Garfield learned of the column’s complex account of his character through a letter from a Boston, Massachusetts correspondent, Jeremiah Chaplin. According to Garfield’s diary entry for April 27, 1879, Chaplin quoted the column, which “criticizes me in a vague, unjust, and indefinite way.” Calling on Mrs. Ames a few days later, he left [Chaplin’s] letter “for her to read at leisure and to let me know what she meant by her language. She asked me to call on Wednesday evening to see her about it. I am curious to know what she will say.”

Two days later, Garfield called on Mrs. Clemmer at seven o’clock in the evening. “I had a strong conversation with her on the subject,” he wrote afterward. Did she remind him of the marital infidelities of which he had been accused some years earlier? Did he refute these as unjust? Did he invoke the current state of his relationship with his wife as his defense? Alas, the content of that conversation is not known.

What is known is that in 1882, the year after President Garfield’s assassination, a new edition of Ten Years in Washington appeared. It now featured, “A Full and Authentic History of the Life and Death of President James A. Garfield.”

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Title page of the 1882 edition of Ten Years in Washington, featuring “A Full and Authentic History of the Life and Death of President James A. Garfield.”  (Ten Years in Washington, Hartford Publishing Co., 1882).

Was the inclusion of the Garfield biography intended as a well-deserved homage to the late president whose character the author had once questioned, or, (more cynically) was it designed to boost new sales of the original book?

The biography includes passages on First Lady Lucretia Garfield, who, returning from her own convalescence at Long Branch, New Jersey

bravely took her place by her husband’s side, and

comforted and cheered him during his long and weary

fight for life. How grandly she rose to the occasion,

how tenderly she endured the weary weeks, always

wearing a cheerful face, while her heart was breaking

with its cruel load, the whole world knows. Her heroic

devotion to her husband grandly typified the loyal and

self-sacrificing spirit of wifehood, which finds no more

conspicuous illustration than in our American homes…

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Lucretia Rudolph Garfield, First Lady of the United States, March 4-September 19, 1881.  (Library of Congress)

Cognizant of all that had occurred between 1879 and 1882, driven perhaps by the changed perspective that death brings, Mrs. Ames concluded in 1882 that, “President Garfield was large-framed, large-brained, and large-hearted.”

He was six feet tall in height and was a splendid picture

of a man. His personal character and habits were clean  and

pure, and his home life at Mentor or Washington as

simply delightful. … In a word, James A. Garfield was a

man physically, intellectually, and morally who was an

honor to his country and … no more imperishable name

will ever adorn our country’s annals.

It was not long after this writing that Mary Clemmer herself died at the age of 45, only a year after her 1883 marriage to Edmund Hudson, editor of the Army and Navy Register. Her earlier marriage to Daniel Ames ended in divorce in 1874, the same year in which Ten Years in Washington was first published.

Death came early to Mary Clemmer Ames Hudson, but she has left behind a wonderful chronicle of Gilded Age Washington.

 

-Alan Gephardt, Park Ranger

James & Lucretia Garfield’s Love Story

What began as a marriage in November 1858 “based on the cold stern word duty,” turned into a 19th century love story.

James Garfield and Lucretia Rudolph probably should have never married.  They were of very different upbringings ~ and temperament.

Born in a log cabin in November 1831, James was the baby of the family, the youngest of the Garfield children, the one who was doted upon.  He was precocious and busy as a toddler.  His mother sang to him, held him on her lap and hugged him, and told him that he would grow up to be someone special.  He grew to be charming, with a good sense of humor, and loved to be the center of attention!

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James Abram Garfield in 1848, the year he turned seventeen.  He got along well with nearly everyone, had an outgoing personality, and enjoyed being the center of attention everywhere he went.  (Western Reserve Historical Society)

Lucretia was born five months later, the eldest of the four Rudolph children.  She had chores and responsibilities ~ and was taught the virtue of “self-government” by her mother.  Neither of her parents openly showed much affection; she didn’t ever remember being kissed by her father.  Despite growing up in this rather serious household, she knew she was loved.  However, her nature was more quiet, shy, reserved, and some thought, “cold.”  She could express her thoughts and desires to her diary or in letters, but struggled with showing her emotions in person.

The two crossed paths in school.  Both families emphasized the importance of education and sent their adolescent James and Lucretia off to the Geauga Seminary in Chester Township, OH.  It was a co-educational (high) school where they both received the same classical courses ~ and lived away from home for the first time.  Lucretia roomed with other girls on the third floor of the school.  James found lodging with other boarders nearby.  They were just classmates, but Lucretia noticed the tall, blue-eyed, “strange genius” who had the look of “an overgrown, uncombed, unwashed, boy.”  They both had other love interests.

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Lucretia Rudolph (right) with her siblings.  She had a very different upbringing than her future husband and was much quieter and more reserved.  (Western Reserve Historical Society)

Fate brought them together a second time: in the fall of 1851 at the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute in Hiram, OH.  This co-educational college, started by Lucretia’s father and other elders of their Disciples of Christ Church, is where their interest in one another grew.  Their Greek teacher became ill and James, far ahead of the other students, was asked to take over the class.  He began to notice the petite, delicate, pretty girl with the dark, deep-set eyes.  They both had intelligent, curious minds and loved learning, literature, and reading.

Their courtship officially began when James sent Lucretia the first of what would become 1,200 letters the two shared during their relationship.  He visited Niagara Falls in 1853 and wanted to convey his impressions to Miss Rudolph.  They shared their first kiss in 1854.  The courtship endured many ups and downs due to their very different personalities and expectations.  James wasn’t sure that Lucretia was the right woman for him, that she was passionate enough for his nature.

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Lucretia Rudolph and James Garfield (right side in front row) in a Greek class photo at the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute in 1853.  (Western Reserve Historical Society)

They finally decided to “try a life in union” during a buggy ride in the spring of 1858 and married on November 11 at the Rudolph home in Hiram.  At her family’s suggestion, the bride even sent an invitation to her groom (to be sure that he showed up)!  The newlyweds didn’t have enough money for a honeymoon or their own house, and instead moved into a rooming house near the Hiram college.  They always had someone living with them.

Separations soon put a strain on their marriage.  Due to his many jobs and duties, James was away from home for long absences ~ but also wanted to be away.  He wasn’t yet truly prepared to be a husband and father.  Even the birth of their first child in 1860 didn’t keep her restless, somewhat selfish, father home.  James and Lucretia called these the “Dark Years.”  During their first five years of marriage, they were only together 20 weeks.

Lucretia was trying to be “the best little wife and mother she could be,” but she admitted that her reserved personality was also to blame for their grim situation.  She showed her diary to James and he read about her true emotions for him.  They needed each other – they made each other better.

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James Garfield and Lucretia Rudolph around the time of their engagement.  They married on November 11, 1858.  (Western Reserve Historical Society)

Many factors contributed to them drawing closer together: the importance of family brought home to James during the Civil War, the birth and loss of children, a regrettable affair for which James sought Lucretia’s forgiveness and guidance, a Grand Tour together, their mutual interests, their strong religious faith.  His political career allowed them to spend more time together as a family during sessions of Congress when he moved them all to Washington with him.  He became a “family man.”

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James and Lucretia Garfield’s marriage produced seven children.  Their firstborn, daughter Eliza, and last born, son Edward, both died in childhood.  Their other five children-sons Harry, James R. Irvin, and Abram; and daughter Mollie-all survived to adulthood.  James’s mother, Eliza (see at far right in this image) lived with the family for many years as well, including during their tragically brief stay in the White House.  (Library of Congress)

Lucretia noted that “the forces drawing the two of us together were stronger than the differences pulling us apart.”  When President James Garfield died in 1881, the two were close to celebrating their 23rd wedding anniversary.  They were an established married couple who spent much time together as their children were growing up.  They were supportive partners ~ Lucretia was her husband’s most important political confidant and fierce ally.  They wrote about their loneliness for one another when apart ~ and of a new-found devotion to one another.

James to Lucretia – December 1867:

“We no longer love because we ought to, but because we do.  Were I free to choose out of all the world the sharer of my heart and home and life, I would fly to you and ask you to be mine as you are.”

Lucretia to James – September 1870:

“…I stopped amazed to find myself sitting by our fireside, the loved and loving wife, …lifted up from the confusions and out from the entanglements…I felt that we are not living on the same plain [sic] as heretofore, that we are scarcely the same beings, but like conquering sovereigns we live in high isolation, wedded in heart and soul and life.” 

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Lucretia Rudolph Garfield (second from right) poses with her five surviving children in 1911, thirty years after her husband’s tragic death.  From left to right: Irvin Garfield; Mollie Garfield Stanley-Brown; Abram Garfield; Lucretia Rudolph Garfield; James R. Garfield; and Harry Garfield.  (Western Reserve Historical Society)

 

Postscript: “Dearest Crete” kept the letters from her “Darling Jamie” and shared them with her adult children to show the progression of the Garfields’ marriage.  She wanted them to understand the metamorphosis of the relationship and depth of their love.

-Debbie Weinkamer, Lead Volunteer

“The Vanishing First Lady”-or Am I?

First Lady Lucretia Garfield lived for 36 years after her husband, President James A. Garfield, was assassinated in 1881 by Charles Guiteau.  During that time, she became a beloved figure in America, though she shunned publicity.  She created the first Presidential Memorial Library and became the matriarch of a large, close-knit and affectionate family.  Debbie Weinkamer, who portrays Lucretia, is a Garfield researcher, first-person living historian, and the Lead Volunteer at James A. Garfield National Historic Site in Mentor, Ohio.  Here she presents how Lucretia would speak for herself in answering the critics if she had the chance.  Not always self-assured, except in the company of friends and family, nevertheless, Lucretia had always met adversity head on, facing her responsibilities. 

I appreciate this opportunity to write to you in order to clear up some misconceptions about me.  Many of you have not heard much about me since my husband’s assassination and death in 1881.  Even the newspapers have called me the “Vanishing First Lady” and “Discreet Crete.”  I must admit: I have ducked all publicity, for I feel that in no way am I personally famous.  The name I bear is honored and honorable, but I am just an ordinary woman devoted to her husband and children.

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Mrs. Lucretia Garfield, ca. 1881.  (Library of Congress)

I did enjoy my husband’s rise to prominence in politics, contrary to many historians’ opinions of me.  At the beginning of his political career, I wrote to him that, “I feel so much anxiety for you that your public career be never marked by the blight of a misdirected step.  I want you to be great and good.”  I was one of his most-trusted confidants and advisors.  I didn’t expect him to be nominated for President in the political climate of 1876-1880, but thought that his time would eventually come.  However, after he received the “dark horse” nomination at the 1880 Republican Convention in Chicago, I wanted him to win the election – even though I knew that it would bring political difficulties to my husband and a terrible responsibility to our entire family.

My quiet, shy nature made me very reluctant to take over the social duties of First Lady, even though I had been a Congressman’s wife for 17 years and had lived in Washington with my husband and family during sessions of Congress since 1869.  However, I was very fortunate to receive the good advice and assistance of my friend Harriet Blaine, wife of my husband’s Secretary of State and “an experienced Washington grande dame.”  I came to rely on her fine judgment regarding many etiquette matters, including how to establish my calling hours at the Executive Mansion, and effective ways to handle newspaper correspondents and petty criticisms.

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A young James Garfield and Lucretia Rudolph around the time of their engagement.  They married on November 11, 1858.  (Western Reserve Historical Society)

(Here, I must pause to reveal some interesting correspondence regarding the Blaines…In April 1875, I received a letter from my husband concerning a rumor that when James Blaine was getting married to Harriet, the couple’s “warm blood led them to anticipate the nuptial ceremony,” and their first child was born about six months after their marriage.  My husband asked, would this fact “have weight with the people in the Presidential Campaign?” [Mr. Blaine was being considered by some for the presidency.]  

I replied, “It was a queer piece of gossip you gave me of Mr. Blaine.  I scarcely believe it.  But if it is true, it ought not to affect the voters very much unless it would have been considered more honorable by the majority to have abandoned the woman—seduced.  My opinion of Mr. Blaine would be rather heightened than otherwise by the truth of such a story: for it would show him not entirely selfish and heartless.”)

During his brief presidency, my husband paid me the best compliments a political wife can receive: that I was discreet and wise, that my “role as his partner in the presidential enterprise was essential to him,” and that I “rose up to every occasion.”

I have led a quiet, yet social, life since that terrible tragedy in 1881.  I created a “country estate” from my farm property in Mentor, Ohio and embarked on several building projects.  A “Memorial Library” addition was built onto the back of the farmhouse, complete with a fire-proof vault to hold my husband’s papers from his public career (and more than 1,200 letters shared between us).  I’ve been told that it may inspire others to create presidential libraries one day!

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Lucretia Rudolph Garfield in her later years, in a portrait by John Folinsbee.  This portrait hangs in the Garfield home at James A. Garfield National Historic Site in Mentor, Ohio.  (National Park Service)

My children have completed college, married, and now have children of their own.  I am so pleased to say that they have grown up to be distinguished citizens in their own right.  We all gather at the Mentor farm every summer, and I can be found wintering in South Pasadena, California.  I love to travel to New York City for the opera season and to visit my 16 grandchildren at least once a year.

I try to keep well-informed of science, cultural, and political events, both at home and abroad.  I have co-founded a ladies’ literary group (based on one that my husband and I attended in Washington) called the Miscellany Club, where monthly meetings are held in members’ homes and we take turns speaking on subjects related to a year-long topic, like “American History.” I often correspond with my oldest sons about political matters, which can get quite interesting since one is aligned with Woodrow Wilson and the other with Theodore Roosevelt!

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Mrs. Lucretia Garfield (center, seated) surrounded by grandchildren on her Mentor, Ohio property.  (Lake County Historical Society)

My five children have been a continual joy and inspiration to me.  And with the memory of my dear Husband and our little ones who didn’t stay with us very long…I have had a remarkable life.  For does not life grow richer as the years go by?  Even our losses lead us into wider fields and nobler thoughts.

Very respectfully,

Lucretia R. Garfield

 

-Debbie Weinkamer, Lead Volunteer

(This article originally appeared at http://kennethackerman.com/guest-blogger-debbie-weinkamer-on-lucretia-garfield-the-vanishing-first-lady-or-am-i/ on March 30, 2012.)

 

 

The 1879 “Government Shutdown,” Part II

Congressman James Garfield augmented Hayes’ constitutional scruples with a defense of black voting rights. He decried the Democrats’ attempt to achieve “wholesale disfranchisement of the Negro…in the South” as an attack on his party’s legacy: the ending of slavery, Constitutional amendments guaranteeing citizenship and voting rights to blacks, and the supremacy of the Union. These Republican constitutional arguments at the same time served the party for partisan political advantage.

The idea that what the Democrats were up to was an attempt to undermine the Constitution was seen as “revolutionary” by Hayes, by Garfield, and by other prominent Republicans. Plain and simple, the Democrats were trying to blackmail Hayes into ending federal voting rights provisions in the states.

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Congressman James A. Garfield, one of President Hayes’s most articulate allies during the “Revolution in Congress.”  (Library of Congress)

In a speech before the House, later published as “Revolution in Congress,” Garfield pointedly remarked, “… if the President, in the discharge of his duty, shall exercise his plain constitutional right to refuse his consent to this proposed legislation, the Congress will so use its voluntary powers  as to destroy the government. This is the proposition… we confront; and we denounce it as revolution.”

Even two of President Hayes’s Republican detractors came to his defense. New York Senator Roscoe Conkling stood before the Senate on March 24, 1879, and excoriated the Democrats demand that unless “another species of legislation [a rider] is agreed to, the money of the people… shall not be used to maintain the government.” This, he said, was “revolutionary…” Conkling’s arch rival, Maine Senator James G. Blaine, agreed. “I call it the audacity of revolution for any senator or representative… to get together and say [to the President and the country], ‘We will have this legislation or we will stop… the government.’ That is revolutionary…”

Over the course of three months, the Democrats tried five times to attach riders to appropriations bills for the Army and for the Legislative, Executive and Judicial branches of the government. All had the same object: rid the South of federal marshals and end the Army’s presence at the polls.

Hayes vetoed every bill with such riders. Each time, his veto was sustained in the House because Republicans, guided by Congressman Garfield, stood firmly against the Democrats.

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Senator Roscoe Conkling of New York did not see eye to eye with President Hayes on much, but he stood by the President during these events.  In 1881, Conkling would have a very bitter public dispute with Hayes’s presidential successor: James A. Garfield.  (Library of Congress)

Hayes and Garfield stood shoulder to shoulder against Democratic maneuvers to weaken the protections of citizens at the polls. Hayes’ insistence that he would not be bullied by the Democrats was so determined that Congressman Garfield feared that the President’s strategy would backfire. He appealed to Hayes to find some face-saving compromise to save the Democrats total embarrassment. The President scoffed at Garfield’s chivalrous concern: ‘A square backing down is their best way out, and for my part I will await that result with complacency.”

The self-confident Hayes insisted that he would not sign any appropriations bills with the riders to which he objected. Only once did Hayes approve an appropriation bill with riders. It funded the Army and the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches, but omitted funding for federal marshals. In the end, the Democrats were able to withhold only $600,000 of the $45,000,000 needed to keep the federal government functioning.

In the end, Hayes, Garfield and their Republican colleagues successfully defended the President’s constitutionally mandated veto power. In this, they had taken a step in reinvigorating the role of the president in national affairs.

The success of the political goal of defending black voting rights and of increasing Republican influence in the South was not as obvious. After all, the Democrats had won a partial victory. They were able to defund the marshals. However, as the marshals were called to duty only at election time, there was still time for the President and Congressman Garfield to get them funded. A deficiency bill to provide funding not approved earlier is mentioned in the diaries of both Hayes and Garfield in April 1880.

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“Hayes at Bat,” from the Daily Graphic on June 3, 1879.  (Daily Graphic)

Over the course of three months, Hayes’ battle with the Democrats won him respect in many parts of the country, and especially among Republicans. “I am now experiencing one of the ‘ups’ of political life,” he wrote on July 3.  Congress adjourned on the 1st after a session of almost 75 days mainly taken up with a contest against me. Five vetoes, a number of special messages and oral consultations with friends and opponents have been my part of it. At no time… has the stream of commendation run so full. The great newspapers and the little have been equally profuse of flatter…”

Garfield emerged as the leading spokesman for the administration. Already, in early 1879, there was talk among prominent Republicans that Garfield should be a candidate for president.

A constitutional victory for the Executive was won in 1879 that could not be diminished: a president could not – or should not – be forced to sign legislation with which he disagreed.

James A. Garfield

James A. Garfield’s actions during the 1879 crisis led many to think that he would make a good Republican presidential candidate in 1880.  Garfield did not publicly respond to anyone suggesting him as a candidate but privately did not think the idea very realistic.  (Library of Congress)

The fight over riders to appropriations bills between House Democrats and President Hayes and his Republican allies in Congress in 1879 has parallels to the politics of our time.

First, the tensions between the Executive branch and the Legislative branch of the government were illuminated. In 1879, the Executive branch, which had been weakened in relation to Congress after the death of Lincoln, was strengthened by President Hayes’s determined stand. His Republican allies in Congress, united by the leadership of Congressman Garfield, gave Hayes critical support.

Second, the 1879 controversy was indeed “revolutionary,” as Republicans claimed. At no time before had there been such a bold attempt to “shut down” the operations of the federal government by a denial of funding. At no time after, until a partial shutdown caused by the Democrats in 1976 when Gerald Ford was President, was such a tactic employed again. The threat of shutdowns has occurred with greater frequency in the last forty years, making our own politics “revolutionary” in nature.

Finally, as is often true of modern politics, the 1879 veto fight contained a measure of temporary political advantage for both political parties. However, both parties were divided internally and neither could be assured of easy victory as they approached the 1880 presidential campaign. Meanwhile, African-Americans, whose political status was at the center of the 1879 controversy, steadily lost ground in their fight for respect and civil rights, another legacy of the divisive politics of the Hayes/Garfield era.

-Joan Kapsch and Alan Gephardt, Park Rangers

 

The 1879 “Government Shutdown,” Part I

Mark Twain never said, “History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” He did observe, however: “It is not worthwhile to try to keep history from repeating itself, for man’s character will always make the preventing of the repetitions impossible.” This is nowhere more true than in politics, and it is certainly as apt today as it was when Twain wrote it in 1907.

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Mark Twain, American humorist, author, and social critic.  (PBS)

In recent years, Americans have become accustomed to threats of a “government shutdown” at the hands of one party in the Congress, opposed to the programs and policies of the President of the opposite party. One side cries, “Politics!” The other side counters, “Principle!”  But when threatening to defund the government in order to change public policy was first attempted in 1879, the cry was “Revolution!” Politics and principle, principle and politics vied with one another in minds, and hearts, and maneuvers, of all parties involved.

Some background is in order. Between 1865 and 1870, the years immediately following the Civil War, the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the Constitution were adopted. These were the first amendments to the Constitution to be passed in sixty years. The amendments abolished slavery in the United States, conferred citizenship to the newly freed people, and granted black males the right to vote. With these amendments came modern conceptions of civil rights and voting rights.

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The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery.  The next two amendments granted citizenship to African Americans and gave Black men the right to vote.  These are collectively known as the “Reconstruction Amendments.”  (Library of Congress)

Through several legislative measures in the late 1860s and 1870s, blacks gained property rights and equal protection under the law. Mechanisms to ensure that blacks could vote in free and fair elections were established, supported by the U.S. Army and federal courts.

At the same time, many white southerners were disfranchised. Immediately after the Civil War, former political and military leaders of the Confederacy were barred from holding political office. Many white southerners felt that they were at the mercy of Republican Carpetbaggers from the North, the Union Army, and the newly freed blacks, who for the first time exercised political power in state legislatures and in the U.S. Congress.

The once-dominant southern Democrats were determined to regain their political and social dominance in the former Confederacy. For more than a decade they used intimidation, physical violence, and even murder to keep blacks and southern Republicans from the polls.

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White southerners did everything possible–including murder–to keep African Americans from the polls after the Civil War.  Efforts to suppress the black vote and resurrect white supremacy also led to the creation of hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan.  (Newberry Library)

Federally appointed civilian officers were employed to monitor the fairness of elections. When violence broke out, the U.S. Army was brought into maintain peace and an orderly election process.

Fearing “negro domination,” white southern Democrats invoked states’ rights. Republicans sought to preserve the rights of the freedmen as a matter of justice, and also as a means to expand the influence of their party in the South. These constant tensions were at the heart of the controversy in 1879.

In early 1879, in the waning days of the second session of the 45th Congress, the House’s Democratic majority attached riders to funding bills to prohibit the use of federally appointed marshals to oversee elections, and to prevent the Army from having any role in protecting voters at polling places. The Republican Senate would not agree to these measures. As a result, Congress failed to pass $45,000,000 in appropriations for the Federal government for the fiscal year beginning on July 1.

This impasse caused President Hayes to call the 46th Congress into special session on March 18. The new Congress presented a problem for the Republican president. Both the Senate and the House were now controlled by the Democrats (for the first time since 1859). This spelled trouble for Hayes and his chief lieutenant in the House of Representatives, James Garfield.

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Congressman James A. Garfield worked closely with President Hayes.  (Library of Congress)

Toward the end of April, the 46th Congress passed an Army Appropriations bill with a rider identical to the one that passed at the end of the 45th Congress. Once again, the Democrats aimed at preventing federal marshals to oversee elections. Once again, the Army would be prohibited from keeping peace at the polls during congressional and presidential elections.

From the Democrats’ point of view, it was time to end Republican and federal government interference in elections in southern states. They invoked the constitutional principle of states’ rights while they sought to insure the dominance of white men in the politics of their states. They were also looking to the 1880 presidential contest, hoping to be able to intimidate or discourage enough black voters to elect a Democrat president for the first time since 1856.

Using the appropriations authority vested in the House of Representatives, the Democratic majority was trying to force the hand of the Republican president – to sign the appropriation with the objectionable rider – or to defund the government. Senate Democrats were in full accord with their House colleagues.

President Hayes and Congressman Garfield understood both the constitutional argument being made by the Democrats and the political advantage they sought. Even before the final bill was passed, Hayes wrote in his diary, “The appropriation bill is essential to the continuance of the Government… It is the duty of Congress to pass it. The rider is attached to get rid of the Constitutional exercise of the veto power to defeat… [a rider]… the Pres[iden]t does not approve…”  The political gamesmanship of the House Democrats gave the Republican President a constitutional argument with which to battle them.

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Rutherford B. Hayes, 19th President of the United States from 1877-81. (Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center)

In his diary, the president expressed his thoughts about this controversy many times. Of the Democrats he wrote, “They will stop the wheels – block the wheels of government if I do not yield my convictions in favor of the election laws. It will be a severe, perhaps a long contest. I do not fear it – I do not even dread it. The people will not allow this Revolutionary course to triumph.”  Later, he confided, “I object to the [army appropriations] bill because it is an unconstitutional and revolutionary attempt to deprive the Executive of one of his most important prerogatives… [and to] coerce him to approve a measure which he in fact does not approve.”  This was the constitutional counter-argument taken up by the Republicans.

(Check back soon for Part II!)

-Joan Kapsch and Alan Gephardt, Park Rangers

 

James A. Garfield and the “Yankee Dutchman”: Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel

Major General Franz Sigel can be reasonably labeled as one of the most controversial commanders of the Army of the Potomac during the American Civil War. He was at odds with his colleagues within the army due to his foreign background and lack of formal military training from the renowned United States Military Academy. The stubborn, and sometimes arrogant, German general was critical to the Lincoln Administration for the unfading support he gained from German-Americans during the American Civil War. He rallied thousands to fight for the Union cause who took up the pledge “I goes to fight mit Sigel.”

Franz Sigel was born in 1824, in Baden, Germany. He graduated from the Karlsruhe Military Academy in 1843 at the age of nineteen. He served the Grand Duke of Baden until 1848, when he switched sides and joined the German revolutionary movement. He acted as the minister of war for the revolutionary forces and led an army for a short time until the revolution was extinguished by the Prussians. Like thousands of other revolutionaries, he fled to Switzerland, then to England, and finally to New York in 1852. By this time, he had a great deal of prestige among German-Americans from his high-profile role in the rebellion.

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Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel.  (Library of Congress)

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Sigel joined the Union army in Missouri and was appointed as a brigadier general in the summer of 1861. In 1862, John Pope chose Franz Sigel to command the First Corps of the newly-formed Army of Virginia. Following the Union defeat at Second Manassas, Sigel’s chiefly German-composed command was disbanded and reassigned as the Army of Potomac’s Eleventh Corps. He was relegated to a backwater command by 1863, having grown discontented with the size of his command. He was superseded in command of the 11th Corps by the teetotaler and religious zealot Major General Oliver O. Howard in February of 1863, much to the dismay of the German soldiers that admired Sigel for his gritty and straightforward character.

General James A. Garfield put great faith in Sigel’s fighting ability. His letters containing his appraisal of Sigel can be found in The Wild Life of the Army: Civil War Letters of James A. Garfield. Decisiveness of action was lacking in many Union generals early in the war. On May 12, 1862, Garfield wrote of the arrival of Sigel before the battle of Pea Ridge, “It is rumored that General Sigel has arrived with General [Samuel R.] Curtis. I hope this is so. I have great faith in that General and his fighting.” On September 12, 1862, with a growing animosity toward Major General George B. McClellan, Garfield penned, “If under McClellan, may the gods deliver me. If under Sigel, I rejoice.”

Garfield had his chance to first meet Sigel and the entourage of generals under his command on October 5, 1862. While accompanying Kate Chase, daughter of the Secretary of Treasury Salmon P. Chase, Garfield was invited to Sigel’s headquarters for tea. He was stationed nearby with the Army of the Ohio, and was considering a transfer out of that army. Garfield described Sigel as “a very small man, but lithe and well-made.”

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Brig. Gen. James A. Garfield, who admired Sigel for much of the war.  (Dickinson College)

Garfield was intrigued by his German hosts, the majority of them exiles of their own German revolution in 1848 which “threw a crowd of noble fellows upon our shores.” Garfield described the physical characteristics of the generals:

“Nearly all these [the generals] have the same type of form and physique. They are of a small, well-knit frame, their heads and faces are inverted triangles of which the chin is the apex. This gives them great breadth of brain. The four I mentioned were Sigel, [General Carl] Schurz, [General Adolph] Steinwehr, and [General Julius] Stahel.”

After supper, the future president was entertained by the lovely piano play of Schurz and Sigel. He was mesmerized by these cultured men and wrote, “They are both very fine performers, among the very best I ever heard.” He left the party impressed, drawing comparisons between their values and his own countrymen. He wrote, “It is wholly impossible for me to describe the tremendous enthusiasm of these noble fellows. Full of genius, full of fire of their own revolution, and inspired anew by the spirit of American Liberty, and just now by the proclamation which gives Liberty a real meaning. They are really miracles of power.”

Garfield was irritated by the unfair treatment he felt was brought down upon Sigel. The politics, bickering, and favoritism involved within the Army of the Potomac between generals disgusted Garfield, with General McClellan at the helm. He wrote:

“There is that glorious Sigel stripped down to 7,000 men and placed under an inferior both in rank and ability. His men have been sent away to swell McClellan’s already overgrown army, and McClellan refuses to cross the river and has sent here for entrenching tools, while Sigel could, if he had the force, strike a fatal blow upon the rebels’ rear and flank. When he (Sigel) spoke to Halleck about it a few days ago he was personally insulted by him, and Halleck has also charged him with cowardice!! As well charge Marshal [Michel] Ney with cowardice. If this Republic goes down in blood and ruin, let its obituary be written thus: ‘Died of West Point.’

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Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, whom Garfield and Sigel both intensely disliked and opposed.  (Library of Congress)

In November 1862, Garfield served on the court-martial of Major General Fitz John Porter and on Major General Irwin McDowell’s court of inquiry. Garfield gained the admiration and respect of McDowell. McDowell and Sigel had a strong dislike for each other gained during the battle of Second Manassas fought in August of 1862. Garfield began to reassess his appraisal of General Sigel’s military ability following his newfound friendship with McDowell.

The majority of reputations of high ranking officers in Major General John Pope’s Army of Virginia were ruined following his defeat at Second Manassas. Garfield recorded that “Every prominent general in Pope’s army either had his reputation ruined or badly damaged in that campaign except [Nathaniel P.] Banks.” Pope had dished out blame to almost all of his corps commanders, including Sigel. Pope’s assertion was seconded by other officers in his army. Garfield wrote: “In his dispatches previous to the battle at Bull Run, he says, ‘Sigel must be crazy.’ And the leading officers with Pope agreed in the opinion that Sigel is a humbug.”

Garfield’s last impression of the man he had so much praise for early in the war was tangled at best. “I am more perplexed to reach a satisfactory judgment concerning General Sigel than any other man I know. I halt between two veins – one leading me to earnest admiration of high qualities, the other to a sad contempt of his charlatanry and unfounded pretensions. On the whole I suspend judgment in regard to him, though I think he has been overestimated and I shall not be greatly surprised, though much grieved, to find that his fame will grow less hereafter,” Garfield recorded.

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Cadets of the Virginia Military Institute fought for the Confederacy against Sigel’s Union forces at New Market.  Sigel’s defeat there marked the end of his significant Union service.  (civilwar.org)

On May 15, 1864, Sigel was defeated at the battle of battle of New Market, Virginia. There young Confederate cadets from the Virginia Military Institute played a prominent role in his defeat. He was never again given an active command following this embarrassing defeat. Sigel served as editor and was involved in politics following the war, dying in New York City at the age of 77 in 1902.

 

-Frank Jastrzembski, Volunteer

Giles B. Harber: Navy Cadet, Admiral, Friend of James & Lucretia Garfield

Giles Bates Harber’s association with James A. Garfield began when the Youngstown, Ohio native (born on September 24, 1849) became the first Naval Academy cadet appointed by Congressman James A. Garfield. Garfield referenced this in a diary entry on July 19, 1878:  “Towards evening, Lt. G. B. Harber of the Navy came to make us a visit. He is a noble fellow, my first cadet at the Naval Academy.”

Others of Congressman Garfield’s diary entries show a close relationship between Mr. Harber and the Garfield family. “Spent most of the day (Sunday, July 21, 1878) in answering letters, Crete, Martha (the children’s governess) and Lt. Harber aiding me.” On that same day, “… [I] took my two teams and drove all our family to the lake… Harber and the boys and I had a fine swim in the breakers.” On December 25th, “[Miss] Ransom, Mrs. Reed, Lieut. Harber… took Christmas Dinner with us and stayed during the afternoon. We had a very pleasant and enjoyable time…”

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Giles Bates Harber as a young U.S. Navy officer.  (Wikipedia)

In the late 1870s, Harber was in Washington as an ordinance instructor at the Washington Navy Yard. He was a frequent guest at the Garfield’s dinner table at their home on 13th and I Streets. On occasion, he attended church with them. In May 1881, President Garfield noted at the end of a three-day Washington visit, “Lt.  Harber left us last evening – on his way to N.Y. to take command of his first ship, the Alarm.”

The last entry in James Garfield’s diary is dated Sunday, June 26, 1881. Writing from Elberon, New Jersey, where he had taken his wife Lucretia to restore her malaria-compromised health, the President noted that he attended church at St. James and read to “Crete” from Holland and Its People. “Lieut. Harber came and spent part of the day.” This is another clear indication that Giles Harber was closely connected to the Garfields.

Harber was stationed in Asia between 1871 and 1875. While there, he sent a pair of Chinese vases to the Congressman and Mrs. Garfield. One of the vases was irreparably damaged in transit, but the other survived the long voyage. It can be seen in the parlor of the Garfield home today.

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Giles Bates Harber sent this beautiful Chinese vase to the Garfields from Asia.  Today, it is seen in the parlor of the Garfield home here at James A. Garfield NHS.  (NPS photo)

Giles Bates Harber had a long career in the Navy, ultimately achieving the rank of Rear Admiral. A somewhat macabre event in his time with the U. S. Navy took place when he was chosen to lead an expedition to recover the bodies of George Washington DeLong, Commander of the USS Jeannette, and several members of DeLong’s crew. The men had starved to death while on a scientific expedition in 1881. During its voyage to the Arctic, the Jeannette became trapped in ice; the commander and his crew abandoned the ship, wandered over the terrain, and soon thereafter died. Three years later, in 1884, Harber led the expedition to recover the bodies.

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George Washington DeLong, leader of the ill-fated Arctic expedition of the USS Jeannette.  Harber recovered the bodies of DeLong and his crew in 1884.  (Wikipedia)

This moment in Harber’s career took place three years after the death of his mentor and friend, President James A. Garfield. Shortly after the President’s funeral in September 1881, Harber wrote to Mrs. Garfield a seven-page letter in which he spoke emotionally of his relationship with Mrs. Garfield and her husband: “The title ‘adopted parents’ was a source of pleasure and pride whenever I heard it used or referred to. To feel that he thought enough of me to look upon me as a son was a joy and often I wondered if to show, not tell, my appreciation of those words would be possible. However great my desire, I presume I never succeeded. Yet I have no doubt he knows now.” He went on, “I sincerely trust I may prove not unworthy to be called a son adopted by even so good a man, for I believe that his life and character will ever remain so vividly before me that I could not go very far astray, even if I would, from the path of honor.”

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Giles Bates Harber later in his naval career.  (U.S. GenWeb Project)

Rear Admiral Harber died in 1925. In an obituary, his execution of the recovery of the bodies of George W. DeLong and his crew was described as “a magnificent example of the historic pluck and daring of the American naval officer.” This summation of his career shows that James Garfield’s belief in and affection for his young friend was not misplaced.

-Alan Gephardt, Park Ranger