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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

ExParteMilligan

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

Murder, Mayhem, Voter Fraud, and Political High Jinks: The U.S. Army’s Thankless Task in the South, 1865-77

With the Union victory over the Confederate movement in 1865, the federal army was given the task of assisting in the readmission of the southern states into the body politic, and in protecting the newly awarded political and civil rights of the freedmen.

It was a tall order for an army increasingly short of manpower. The calls for economy within the halls of Congress, in the months after Lee’s surrender, led to a reduction of the Army (volunteers and regulars) from a high of over 1.5 million to 54,000 by the end of 1866 – with more reductions to come. (The U. S. Navy fell under a similar axe.)

Approximately one-third of that much smaller force – 18,000-20,000 – was stationed in the former Confederacy, an area the size of Western Europe with a population of eight million people. It was in effect, an occupation force, a role largely unfamiliar to it.

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Former Confederate states were broken up into five military districts after the Civil War.  Each district was administered by a military governor.   (Wikipedia)

Over the twelve years of the Reconstruction era, the Army executed the political will of successively, President Andrew Johnson, the Radical Republicans in Congress, and finally Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Rutherford B. Hayes.

On May 29, 1865, President Johnson issued two proclamations. One established a loyalty oath to be taken by Southerners, foreswearing any previous allegiance to the Confederacy. The second proclamation made William Holden the provisional governor for the state of North Carolina. Later, other provisional governors were appointed in the South.

The Army was tasked with aiding the process of readmission for the Southern states by overseeing elections for the calling of state conventions to ratify the 15th amendment to the Constitution, abolishing slavery and pledging loyalty to the Union. The Army also had the duty of protecting freedmen and their white, Republican supporters, aiding the Freedmen’s Bureau, preventing violence, and helping to reestablish civil authority.

One of the problems that the Army faced was the continued resistance of native white Southerners to “domination” by the North. There was also resentment of the presence of black troops. Many were eventually removed in the effort to keep peace.

President Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson was selected as Abraham Lincoln’s 1864 running mate because he was a loyal southern Democrat.  Unfortunately, he was also a virulent racist and white supremacist.  Radical Republicans in Congress soon took control of Reconstruction from Johnson’s hands.  (Library of Congress)

President Johnson’s loyalty oath was problematic. Too many Southerners were disqualified for public office because they could not affirm that they had not come to the political, economic, or military aid of the Confederacy during the war years. Therefore, too few native-born Southerners were available to reestablish civil government. Complicating matters even more, many of those who took the oath were later determined to be disloyal after all, and were removed by Army commanders. These actions created tensions between the Army and the civilian leaders with whom it hoped to cooperate.

Many Army commanders desired to have civil leaders assume responsibility for preventing violence and other criminal acts, rather than having their troops intervening. Army commanders occasionally refused to come to the assistance of civilian leaders, adding to confusion and tension within Southern communities. Meanwhile, Radical Republicans, unhappy with Andrew Johnson’s “lenient” reconstruction policy, wrested control of Reconstruction from the President in 1866 and 1867.

Congressional Republicans established a Joint Committee on Reconstruction to investigate conditions in the South and to propose measures to prevent violence and disorder. The result was the passage of two Reconstruction acts in March 1867. These acts placed the South under military control, and created five military districts with commanders who were given sweeping powers to protect persons and property (meaning blacks and their white Republican supporters), remove disloyal civil officials, and replace civil courts with military commissions when deemed necessary. The Reconstruction Acts of 1867 also declared all Southern state governments to be provisional and prohibited the formation of independent militias (most of which were white).

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“The Freedmen’s Bureau,” from Harper’s Weekly.  The Freedmen’s Bureau was one of the cornerstones of Reconstruction in the South.  It was designed to help African Americans increase their station in life but was opposed by many white southerners.  (HarpWeek)

The Radical Republicans wanted to punish Southerners for the war, and they wanted the Army to occupy and control the political situation in the former Confederacy. As such, commanders were very aware of the need to insure that their troops conducted themselves in ways that did not make the Southern white population needlessly hostile. It was an almost impossible task. Not only did some Union commanders and their troops have an automatically negative view of “former rebels,” but those “former rebels” returned the compliment.

From 1867 to 1870, incidents of violence in the South were sporadic, though frequent enough. Peace was often tenuous as blacks and white Republicans continued to be under threat and white Southerners continued to feel imposed upon by a vindictive federal Congress.

Matters only got worse after 1870. All the former Confederate states had by this time ratified the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments abolishing slavery, granting citizenship, and the vote. They were thus readmitted to the Union. Though President Grant pleaded, “Let us have peace,” was president, it was not to be.

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“Pitchfork” Ben Tilman of South Carolina was a prominent southern Democrat for decades.  (Biography.com)

Fraud at the ballot box became more common once the Democrats regained political power in the mid-1870s in several states. As South Carolina’s “Pitchfork Ben” Tilden bragged, “How did we recover our liberty [after the ballot box had been given to “our own ex-slaves”]? By fraud and violence.” After the polls closed, ballot boxes were seized. Votes were “counted in” or “counted out,” as need be. Gerrymandering was practiced to reduce Republican voting strength. One black Congressional district in Mississippi was concentrated in a narrow band along the Mississippi River to insure white majorities in five others. Mob attacks and lynching were also employed to discourage black and white Republican voting.

“White Leaguers,” the “White Liners,” the “Red Liners,” and the “Red Shirts” came into being, bent on terrorizing black citizens and white Republicans. The Ku Klux Klan also formed at this time. Violent outbreaks in the streets and at the polls were so frequent that at times, the army was called on to literally form a barrier in public spaces between warring Democrats and Republicans. In Louisiana in 1872/1873 Republicans took possession of the state house and Democrats took possession of a nearby hall. The Democrats attempted to overawe the Republicans with an attack of “militia.” The Army sent troops to regain control over a situation that promised increasing violence.

In the 1876 November elections in Louisiana and South Carolina, a familiar scenario played out: Democrats and Republicans in both states claimed victory, not only in the presidential election, but in the elections for governor and state legislature, too. Each side backed up its claim through the threat of mob violence.  By this time, President Grant had already voiced his concern that, “The whole public are [sic] tired out with these annual autumnal outbreaks in the South and… the great majority are ready now to condemn any interference on the part of the [federal] government.”

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Many Democrats screamed “Tilden or blood!” during the election crisis on 1876, when Democrat Samuel Tilden won the popular vote for president, but Republican Rutherford B. Hayes was awarded the Electoral College victory.  (Harper’s Weekly)

Indeed, by the end of 1876 there were fewer federal troops to protect persons and property in the South than at any point since the end of the war. Those overextended troops could no longer effectively monitor elections in that region. Reconciliation between the North and South remained elusive, despite the hopes of men of good will.

The final withdrawal of federal troops from South Carolina and Louisiana to their barracks was a concession to the reality that military force to protect persons and property in the South had failed to bring about the social justice that the victors in the late war had sought.

-Alan Gephardt, Park Ranger