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.

James A. Garfield

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

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On Presidential Births and Deaths

As the staff and volunteers of James A. Garfield National Historic Site–and our visitors –contemplate the 187th birthday of the twentieth President of the United this November, it occurred to me that there are some interesting patterns concerning presidential birthdays – and deaths. Here goes!

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Our favorite president (of course)!  James A. Garfield was born November 19, 1831 and will be 187 soon!  (Library of Congress)

Two presidents were born in 1767 – Andrew Jackson, the seventh president, was born on March 15; John Quincy Adams, the sixth president, was born on July 11.

Two presidents were born in 1822 – Ulysses S. Grant, the eighteenth president, was born on April 22; Rutherford B. Hayes, the nineteenth president, was born on October 4.

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President Ulysses S. Grant was one of two presidents born in 1822.  (Library of Congress)

Among the five living former presidents and the current president, three were born in 1946; Bill Clinton, August 19; George W. Bush, July 6, and Donald Trump, June 14.

Three presidents were born in successive years in reverse order of their ordinal numbers as president. Theodore Roosevelt, the 26thpresident, was born on October 27, 1858; William Howard Taft, the 27th president, was born on September 15, 1857; Woodrow Wilson, the 28th president, was born on December 28, 1856.

Two presidents share a birthday. James K. Polk was born on November 2, 1795. His eighteenth successor, Warren G. Harding, was born on the same day of the year in 1865.

Four presidents in succession were born two and ten years apart! Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president, was born on July 4, 1872. Franklin Roosevelt, the 32nd president, was born on January 30, 1882. Coolidge’s successor, Herbert Hoover, the 31st president, was born on August 10, 1874, while Roosevelt’s successor, Harry Truman, the 33rd president, was born on May 8, 1884.

So far as presidential deaths go, it is well-known that two presidents died on the same day: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died on the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1826. Jefferson died at approximately 2 p.m. on that day and Adams died at about 6 p.m. Five years later, James Monroe, our fifth president, passed away on July 4, 1831.

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Second President John Adams (left) and third President Thomas Jefferson (right) died on the same day: July 4, 1826, which just happened to be the Declaration of Independence’s 50th anniversary.  (HistoryHit.com)

Two presidents died in 1862: John Tyler, the tenth president, died on January 18, and Martin Van Buren, the eighth president, died on July 24.

Two presidents died in 1901. Benjamin Harrison, the twenty-third president, died on March 13. William McKinley, our twenty-fifth president, was felled by an assassin’s bullet on September 6, and died eight days later on September 14.

Two presidents died on December 26, the day after Christmas. Harry Truman died on that day in 1972.  Gerald Ford, the 38th president died on the same day in 2006.

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George H.W. Bush, 41st President of the United States, is now the longest-lived president in American history.  He was born June 12, 1924.  (Variety.com)

Gerald Ford held the record for presidential longevity until just last year. He lived to the ripe old age of 93 years, 165 days. Ronald Reagan lived nearly as long. Jimmy Carter, Ford’s successor and Reagan’s predecessor, is now 93 and will turn 94 on October 1 of this year. Reagan’s successor, George H. W. Bush is now 94 years, 4 months old and the longest-lived U.S. president. Four recent presidents in succession have lived beyond age 90. Only two other presidents lived to that age, John Adams and Herbert Hoover.

-Alan Gephardt, Park Ranger