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

Fellow-Citizens:

We stand to-day upon an eminence which overlooks a hundred years of national life-a century crowded with perils, but crowned with the triumphs of liberty and law. Before continuing the onward march let us pause on this height for a moment to strengthen our faith and renew our hope by a glance at the pathway along which our people have traveled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The will of the nation, speaking with the voice of battle and through the amended Constitution, has fulfilled the great promise of 1776 by proclaiming “liberty throughout the land to all the inhabitants thereof.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is the high privilege and sacred duty of those now living to educate their successors and fit them, by intelligence and virtue, for the inheritance which awaits them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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President James A. Garfield.  (Library of Congress)

And now, fellow-citizens, I am about to assume the great trust which you have committed to my hands. I appeal to you for that earnest and thoughtful support which makes this Government in fact, as it is in law, a government of the people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

-Todd Arrington, Site Manager

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.

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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

 

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.

James A. Garfield

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

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

 

The Front Porch Campaign of 1880

In 1880, the “surprise” presidential nomination of Ohioan James A. Garfield by the Republicans resulted in a campaign that, unlike any before it, regularly brought citizens and candidate face-to-face. It was conducted on the front porch of Garfield’s home.

Prior to 1880, it was considered undignified for anyone to actively seek the presidency. Nominees did not travel from state to state or city to city to tell voters that they had the solutions for the country’s problems. Expected to emulate the example of George Washington, they were to remain above the fray.  The sitting president, Rutherford B. Hayes, spoke to this tradition when he advised Garfield to “sit cross-legged and look wise until after the election.”

Traditionally, it was the Congressmen, Senators, and party workers who did the heavy lifting during presidential campaigns. It was they who traveled, they who spoke, they who organized evening torchlight parades, and more. Garfield honored these traditions. Meanwhile, he stayed home; he stayed put. But his 1880 campaign departed significantly from past practice.

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In 1880, James A. Garfield had represented his Ohio district in the U.S. House of Representatives for 17 years.  He was also a U.S. Senator-elect when the Republicans chose him to be their presidential candidate that year.  (Library of Congress)

Arriving at his Mentor farm after his nomination at Chicago, Garfield was greeted by crowds of citizens. People who had known him from his days as a student, teacher, and Civil War officer came to wish him success. Newspaper reporters camped out on his lawn. Their accounts of the welcome Garfield received stimulated interest in his candidacy.

Farmers and businessmen, college students and women (unable cast ballots in 1880), immigrants and Union veterans, including a number of black veterans, came to see, came to hear, and came to meet the Republican nominee.

In the little campaign office behind his home, Garfield and his aides exchanged letters and telegrams with the leaders of groups to fix dates and times of arrival, and to exchange information, so that when they met, a group’s spokesman and Garfield could address each other with appropriate remarks.

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This is a modern image of the small exterior library building that James A. Garfield turned into a campaign office during his 1880 presidential campaign.  It is located just behind the main Garfield home, and visitors to James A. Garfield NHS are invited to step inside and see the office’s interior.  (NPS photo)

An estimated 15,000 to 17,000 citizens traveled to Mentor, Ohio (population: 540) to see and hear Garfield. From a train platform specially built to bring the people to the candidate, they literally walked a mile-and-a-half up a lane that extended the entire length of Garfield’s 160 acre farm. They walked up that lane in good weather and in bad, in sunshine and in showers.

Often, a “Garfield and Arthur” band was playing near the front porch when visitors arrived, adding excitement to the air. Poets read and singers sang. A Congressman, Senator, or local official would hail the Republican Party and Garfield.

Soon, the candidate would pass through the vestibule doors leading from the interior of his home to his porch. A designated group leader addressed him respectfully. Garfield would respond, eschewing political issues. He spoke instead to the identities and the aspirations of those gathered before him. His remarks were often brief, sometimes lasting no more than three or four minutes. From the porch serving as his podium, Garfield discussed “The Possibilities of Life,” “The Immortality of Ideas,” and “German Citizens.”

As a teacher, soldier, Congressman, and Republican presidential nominee, James Garfield wrestled with the matter of race. It was as difficult an issue for his generation as it is for ours.  Still, he supported the right of African-Americans to be free, to be equal with whites in the eyes of the law, and to be treated with justice. In his remarks on “The Future of Colored Men,” Garfield spoke to 250 such citizens assembled on his lawn in October 1880.

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These African American Civil War veterans visited James A. Garfield’s Mentor, Ohio property during the 1880 “front porch” presidential campaign.  The Garfield home is visible in the background.  Garfield was one of the few Republicans still openly talking about race and civil rights as late as 1880.  (NPS photo)

“Of all the problems that any nation ever confronted,” he said, “none was ever more difficult than that of settling the great race question… on the basis of broad justice and equal rights to all. It was a tremendous trial of the faith of the American people, a tremendous trial of the strength of our institutions…” that they had survived a brutal and bloody civil war; that freedom had been won for the enslaved as a result; that the promise of fair treatment was to be the inheritance of the freedmen.

When, late in the campaign, he stood before his “Friends and Neighbors” from Portage County, Ohio, he revealed the tender side of his nature, and his appreciation for the life he’d been given. To this audience, composed of the many who had helped to form the fabric of his being, he offered these thoughts:

“Here are the school-fellows of twenty-eight years ago.

Here are men and women who were my pupils twenty-

five years ago… I see others who were soldiers in the

old regiment which I had the honor to command… How

can I forget all these things, and all that has followed?

How can I forget…the people of Portage County, when

I see men and women from all its townships standing at

my door? I cannot forget these things while life and

consciousness remain. The freshness of youth, the very

springtide of life… all was with you, and of you, my

neighbors, my friends, my cherished comrades… You

are here, so close to my heart… whatever may befall me

hereafter…”

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A common scene during the 1880 front porch campaign: Garfield and family members sitting on the front porch of their Mentor, Ohio farmhouse.  Left to right: Eliza  Ballou Garfield (James Garfield’s mother); James Garfield; Mollie Garfield (President and Mrs. Garfield’s 13-year-old daughter); and Mrs. Lucretia Garfield.  (Western Reserve Historical Society)

And then, as he had so often done before, James Garfield invited his guests to linger in friendly communion: “Ladies and gentlemen, all the doors of my house are open to you. The hand of every member of my family is outstretched to you. Our hearts greet you, and we ask you to come in.”

-Alan Gephardt, Park Ranger

(Park Ranger Alan Gephardt wrote this article in January 2016 for the blog of PBS’s American Experience to coincide with the February 2 national broadcast of Murder of a President, their excellent documentary about President Garfield and his tragic 1881 assassination.)

Around and About James A. Garfield: Whitelaw Reid (Part II)

Over the course of time, Reid’s views on U.S. intervention in world affairs, and the acquisition of territories changed. As problems festered between Spain and its colonial possession Cuba, perceived threats to American business interests, and American idealism about human rights created pressure on the McKinley administration to intervene. Reid first opposed intervention; then he favored it. Cuba would be acquired as an American territory, he thought, but should a retain measure of self-government. Reid continued to oppose the idea of statehood.

Reid’s views on the question of the Hawaiian Islands evolved similarly. He saw an advantage to have coaling stations along the Pearl River, but still he did not favor statehood for the island nation, only territorial status.

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U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom Whitelaw Reid.  (Miami University Archives, Miami, Ohio)

The post of Ambassador to Great Britain finally came to Reid in 1904, with the blessing of McKinley’s successor, Theodore Roosevelt. By this time, Reid was 67. It was a largely ceremonial role, as TR was his own chief diplomat. Reid took quarters at Wrest Park, an hour or so from London, and also maintained a residence at Dorchester House, within the city limits. He had many servants, was a charming host who entertained lavishly, and clearly loved the grandeur of the settings in which he lived. Always the Anglophile, he even adopted a slight British accent. At Roosevelt’s urging, Reid continued as Ambassador under President Taft. He died at his post at age 75 in 1912.

 
Why is it worth knowing something about Whitelaw Reid? He is a relatively minor figure in the American story. Still, he served James A. Garfield at critical times during Garfield’s 1880 presidential campaign and through the early weeks of the truncated presidency. He also shared with the twentieth president a similarly humble beginning in life. Then too, their intellectual bents, and fine educations propelled each man to positions in life neither might have imagined. Both men moved in elite circles in their adult lives – though Reid seems to have very much enjoyed the glitter of that world, more than Garfield.

 
Reid’s career is striking in that it touches on several important developments in the domestic and diplomatic history of the United States. His positions with regard to labor were part and parcel of the growing frictions that resulted from the growth of large industrial concerns, frictions that continue to reverberate in American politics. What is the proper relationship of management and labor? Is there a role for labor unions in the American workplace, and if so, what is that role? Do unions have too much power?

 
In the late nineteenth century most Americans, and their leaders, saw the influence of the United States in the world as limited to the Western Hemisphere. By the early twentieth century the United States was a nation with far-flung territories in the Pacific the Caribbean. Reid’s views changed as his country’s role changed. Opposed to the development of a large navy, the acquisition of the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) and Cuba as a young newspaper editor in the 1870s, the diplomat of the early 1900s embraced the a large and powerful American navy, with Hawaii an important factor in its operation, Yet questions about the extent of American influence in the world remained. How extensive should be the power of the United States abroad? That question echoes from Reid’s day to our own.

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-Alan Gephardt, Park Ranger

Around and About James A. Garfield: Whitelaw Reid (Part I)

This is the inaugural article in a series of occasional blogs that will offer a biographical sketch of individuals who influenced the life, career, and decisions of James A. Garfield. This series begins with a look at Whitelaw Reid, most noted as the editor of the New York Tribune for forty years, from 1872 to 1912.

Reid was born in Xenia, Ohio on October 27, 1837. His mother wanted to name him “James,” but his Baptismal Certificate shows only the name “Whitelaw.” Yet, he used the name “James” throughout childhood. In early adulthood, he began using Whitelaw as his name, and was sometimes known simply as “White.”

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Whitelaw Reid.  (Wikipedia)

He attended the Xenia Academy in his youth, studying Latin, classical literature, and mathematics. At fifteen he was well enough prepared for entry into Miami University, at Oxford, Ohio, as a second year student. While at the school, Reid joined a literary society whose members enjoyed discussing politics and public speaking. He graduated with honors in 1856. Though his studies did not indicate a career in journalism, by the early 1860s Reid was writing for the Cincinnati Gazette, the Cincinnati Times, and the Cleveland Herald, under the pen name “Agate.”   (Agate is a translucent rock of varied colorful layers.)

During the Civil War, Reid acted as a correspondent at several battlefields, among them Shiloh and Gettysburg. His account of the Battle of Shiloh, with tales of confusion, courage, and disaster narrowly averted, has been described as classic war reporting.

The war years affected Reid directly. His older brother, Gavin died in 1862, though not on the battlefield. His father died in 1865. Reid was now responsible for the care of his mother, who was in her sixties. The results of the war also led him to attempt a “get rich quick” investment in a southern plantation in 1866. At the same time, Reid took up his talent with his pen to compose After the War and Ohio in the War.  His experiment in the South was not profitable, and within two years he took the step that made his an influential voice in American society and made him a confidante to political figures, including James G. Blaine and James A. Garfield.

Like other white northerners, Reid betrayed a mix of opinions and attitudes toward black slaves, and African-Americans in general. Prior to the Civil War his experience of blacks had been little. He was opposed to slavery, and supported Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation. He did not think, after the war, that universal suffrage for black men was wise, but he also knew of many “orderly and respectable” blacks who he felt were worthy of the right to vote. He favored education for the former slaves but had doubts about their capabilities. “The negroes do not have the intelligence and the white do not have the inclinations to secure for the blacks the full benefits of any educational provisions that may be made for them.”

Though today many Americans would find this attitude highly prejudicial, in Reid’s day it was commonly held, even among those whites who wanted justice for African-Americans.

In the South, he found the former rebels to be still rebellious, and yet he thought that northern military domination the white “elite” during Reconstruction was a mistake. At the same time, he was in accord with many northerners who were sure that allowing the southern elite to regain political control spelled disaster for blacks on the local level, and repudiation of Confederate debt on the national level.

The year 1868 was a seminal year for Reid. This tall, slender man with a drooping mustache, long black hair, and “intelligent eyes” joined the staff of Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune. The following year he was named managing editor. In 1872, Reid was part of the Liberal Republican movement that opposed a second term for President Grant and that ultimately supported the ill-fated Greeley for the presidency. Greeley died just days after the election and a short time later Reid became the new editor of the Tribune.

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Horace Greeley, 1872 Liberal Republican presidential nominee and longtime influential editor of the New York Tribune.  (Dickinson College)

Greeley’s disastrous candidacy and death caused the circulation of the daily Tribune to decline greatly. It was Reid’s task to revive it. This took years. Complicating his ability to achieve that goal were several factors.  Disputes between himself and the typesetters union and his unskilled laborers arose on several occasions. In 1877, he proposed wage reductions to save costs, knowing that the unionized work force would resist him. When a new Tribune building was under construction during this time, he replaced striking workers with Italian immigrants who worked for less. Reid’s clashes with unions and his workers persisted throughout the 1870s and 1880s. Insisting that “authority” must be maintained, he favored strong action against striking workers during the Railroad Strike of 1877.

Of the many presidents Reid would come in contact with, the first was Hayes. Reid thought Hayes was an excellent choice for the Republicans in 1876. He regarded Hayes as a gentleman and an honest man, if not a great one. He assured Hayes of the support of the Tribune during the election, and initially approved of Hayes’ desire to reform the civil service. However, after Hayes became president, articles appeared in the Tribune critical of the overzealous reforms of Carl Schurz, the Secretary of the Interior.

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Secretary of the Interior Carl Schurz ran afoul of Whitelaw Reid with the many reforms he tried to institute at the Department of the Interior.  (Wikipedia) 

In 1880, Reid and the Tribune were strongly opposed to the nomination of Ulysses S. Grant for a third term as president. (President Hayes did not wish a second term.) James G. Blaine appeared to Reid to be the best hope for a Republican victory, but the nomination went to James A. Garfield. Immediately, Reid began to council harmony within the party and to advise the nominee. He urged Garfield to remain at his Mentor, Ohio home for the duration of the campaign. It was a tradition that presidential candidates did not campaign for themselves, and Reid knew that Garfield would have liked being “on the stump.” Whether from Reid’s influence or not, Garfield did indeed remain at home, resulting in the first front porch presidential campaign. The innovation proved to be successful. Garfield and Reid consulted regularly during the campaign and in the months leading to the president-elect’s inauguration.

Reid offered Garfield his take on two opposing figures in the Republican Party. Do not put too much stock into Carl Schurz and his ties to the German vote, Reid advised, opining that Schurz had done Hayes more harm than good. New York’s senior Senator, Roscoe Conkling, was another concern. Reid cautioned Garfield that Conkling could not be given too much influence in future New York political appointments, but recognized that “he is undoubtedly of great value on the stump…”

Garfield, for his part, respected Reid’s political sagacity and position as the editor of an influential newspaper. His view of civil service reform closely followed Reid’s. Garfield favored reform, but also acknowledged the value of consulting congressional opinion in the process of making appointments.

Reid was of good service to Garfield as he began forming his cabinet amidst the competing cries of the many factions of the Republican Party. Reid agreed with the incoming Secretary of State, James Blaine, that a way to satisfy moderate Republicans, and Conkling’s demand for a New York appointment, was the selection of Thomas L. James as the Postmaster General. James initially accepted. Then he received a tongue-lashing from Conkling and backed out. Later, he thought it over and accepted again. None of this pleased Conkling, who resented Reid’s influence with Garfield. As Reid’s biographer, Bingham Duncan, put it, “Reid happily described [Conkling’s] discomfiture to Miss Mills [Reid’s fiancée] and added, ‘G. told me of it with a chuckle.’”

Early in 1881, Mrs. Garfield traveled to New York to purchase dresses for the Inauguration. She stayed at Reid’s home, with her companion, Mrs. Sheldon. Upon her return to Mentor, Mrs. Garfield received a letter from Reid. It contained information on an overcharge of more than $100 from one of the companies Mrs. Garfield visited, with an additional mention of a bill from Tiffany.

In the same letter, Reid wrote that he had “met Mrs. Hayes at dinner last night. She told me of people coming to her about your policy on wines & her advising them to keep away from you. But, speaking for herself, & without any idea of its ever reaching you, she spoke very frankly of her belief that it would be a mistake to change [Mrs. Hayes’ practice of forbidding alcohol to be served in the White House]. She thought it would cost about five thousand votes in Ohio.”

lucy%20hayes

First Lady Lucy Hayes, famous for banning alcohol from White House events and known to many as “Lemonade Lucy.”  In fact, it was her husband, President Rutherford B. Hayes, who instituted the ban on spirits.  (Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center)

Whitelaw Reid’s most consequential advice to the new president, supported by Blaine, was his urging that William Robertson be appointed as Collector of the Port of New York. Robertson had opposed Conkling and his preferred nominee, former president Grant, at the 1880 Convention. Now he was being touted for the most important appointed position in the federal government. It was a direct attack on Conkling and caused a big fight between the President and the Senator, and further disrupted the Republican Party. When, in April, Reid was asked to persuade Robertson to withdraw, he opined to John Hay, one of Lincoln’s former secretaries, and a good friend, that sticking with Robertson would be “the turning point of [Garfield’s] Administration… the crisis of his Fate.”

Though ultimately President Garfield won his battle with Conkling over the Robertson appointment, “Fate,” in the human form of Charles Guiteau, was not kind him. The assassin pointed to the battle with Conkling over patronage as part of his “inspiration” in shoot the President.

After Garfield’s death, Reid advised Blaine to resign from the cabinet. He opposed President Arthur’s administration and supported Blaine for the presidency in 1884. Until then, Reid refocused his attention on the Tribune, and particularly on the promotion of a technological advancement invented by a German immigrant living in Baltimore at the time, Ottmar Mergenthaler.

Using a keyboard similar to that found on a typewriter, hot lead was molded into lines of type. The process was much faster than having typographers set the lines in a composing stick one letter at a time.

The editors at the Baltimore Sun rejected Mergenthaler’s new technology, but the editor of the New York Tribune embraced it. Whitelaw Reid promoted the new “linotype [line-of-type] machine,” and the helped to establish the Mergenthaler Linotype Company. In taking up the efficiency of Mergenthaler’s invention, Reid opened up another controversy with the Typographical Union #6, for the linotype machine meant a cut in wages for typographers, the men who arranged the type to be printed. Negotiations between Reid and the union produced the usual results: charges of bad faith and walk-outs. Type founders, the men who made the type, and newspaper proprietors, saw nothing wrong in cutting the wages of typographers, since the linotype machines was doing the work previously done by them. The issues between Reid and his typographers were not resolved during the 1880s.

Both Hayes and Garfield had offered Reid a diplomatic post in Germany, which he refused. He was without influence during the Arthur and first Cleveland presidencies, but after Benjamin Harrison’s election in 1888 Reid made no secret of his desire to be Ambassador to Great Britain. He was offered the post of Ambassador to France instead; it was accepted.

At this time, Reid held to a limited role for the United States in international affairs. Like many of his contemporaries during the post-war years, he did not see a need for the influence of the United States to extend beyond North and South America. He favored a small navy and opposed the acquisition of Hawaii by the United States (an instance in which he agreed with President Cleveland), but he understood the importance of an isthmian canal in Central America. Though an admirer of the English, he cast a wary eye on Great Britain and its desire for a presence, and influence, in Latin America.

Reid’s tenure in France served the country well. In 1892, this seasoned newspaper editor and successful diplomat was chosen as President Harrison’s running mate in a bid for the president’s reelection. He was a more active candidate for Vice President than Harrison, whose wife was dying, was for President. Reid credited the Republican Party as the party that freed the slave and preserved the Union, protected labor [surprising inclusion from a man who cut wages and hired scabs], promoted manufacturing, built the railroads, instituted the all-steel navy, and more. Despite Reid’s efforts and those of other Republicans, Harrison lost the election. It was a blow to Reid, who for a time withdrew from public life.

1892RepublicanPoster

This poster supported the Republican ticket of Benjamin Harrison and Whitelaw Reid in 1892.  Harrison and Reid were defeated by Grover Cleveland and Adlai Stevenson I.  (Wikipedia)

In 1896, with William McKinley’s election to the presidency, Reid expressed an interest in becoming Secretary of State. Senator Platt, of New York, the Republican strongman of that state, opposed the idea: “I told [Mark] Hanna [McKinley’s most important adviser] to tell McKinley if he wanted Hell with the lid off… to appoint Reid.”  John Sherman was appointed Secretary of State instead; Reid was also passed over for the post of Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s. While this second slight by McKinley left Reid bitter, his disappointment was assuaged a bit when he was appointed to head the mission sent to Great Britain to attend the ceremonies for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.

(Check back soon for Part II!)

-Alan Gephardt, Park Ranger

James A. Garfield: Man of Many Presidential Firsts

Who was the first President depicted on a postage stamp?   George Washington

Who was the first President born a United States citizen?  Martin Van Buren

Who was the first President to be left handed?  James Garfield??

That’s right.  Eight Presidents are known to be left-handed, and James A. Garfield was the first. In fact, President Garfield holds quite a number of presidential firsts.

(But first, a presidential last: Garfield was the last President to be born in a log cabin.  Orange Township, Ohio, could have been considered the American frontier when Garfield was born there in 1831.  The modern village of Moreland Hills now makes up this part of the old township, and maintains a replica cabin as Garfield’s birthplace.)

Garfield was the first, and to-date only, sitting member of the U.S. House of Representatives to be elected President.  He was a long-serving member of the House, completing nine terms representing Ohio’s 19th Congressional District before resigning to become President.  Garfield was also a U.S. Senator-elect for Ohio at the time, making him the only man in U.S. history to be a sitting Representative, Senator-elect, and President-elect at the same time!

Garfield is the first, and again the only, President to be a clergyman.  Prior to embarking on a career in politics, young Garfield was a lay minister of the Disciples of Christ.

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)

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)

He was the first President to successfully use a front-porch campaign strategy.  As was customary for a politician at the time, Garfield spent the 1880 Presidential Campaign tending to his private affairs.  In his case, this was a 150-acre farm in Mentor, Ohio, where he lived with his wife and five children.  Garfield’s reputation for public speaking preceded him, encouraging 17,000 visitors to travel to his home to hear him talk.  Not wanting to be rude, Garfield would stand on his front-porch to speak to the dozens, or sometimes hundreds, of visitors assembled on his lawn nearly every day during that summer and fall.

During one of these speeches, Garfield became the first President to have campaigned in two languages when he spoke to a group of German-Americans using their native tongue.

At his inauguration on March 4, 1881, President Garfield accomplishes three more firsts. He was the first President to review the Inaugural Parade from in front of the White House.  At the inauguration itself, Garfield became the first President to have his mother be in attendance.  Outgoing President Hayes gave up his seat so that Eliza Garfield could sit next to her son.  (President Garfield’s first action after completing the Oath of Office was to bend down and give his dear mother a kiss on the cheek.)  Later that night, President Garfield’s Inaugural Ball became the first public event to be held at the Smithsonian Institution’s newly constructed Arts and Industries Building.

Garfield’s presidency ended after just 200 days. He succumbed to an infection from a gunshot wound and shoddy medical care (no, not first, but second assassinated President, after Abraham Lincoln).  His death, at 49 years of age, made him the first President to die before age 50.

Following her husband’s death, Mrs. Lucretia Garfield contributed her own Presidential first.  In a desire to make sure that her husband was not lost to history and forgotten, she initiated a project to gather as many of Garfield’s Presidential papers as possible.  Prior to this exercise, Presidential papers were considered to be private property of the men who held the office.  Upon leaving the presidency, they would gift some papers to friends, maybe even destroy many others.  By bringing the Garfield papers together into one collection, Lucretia set the precedent for future Presidents- in a manner of speaking, the Garfield collection was the first Presidential library.

Mrs. Lucretia Garfield was understandably concerned that history would forget or ignore her husband due to his short presidency.  By building the first presidential library, she ensured that James A. Garfield's memory and legacy would live forever.   (Library of Congress)

Mrs. Lucretia Garfield was understandably concerned that history would forget or ignore her husband due to his short presidency. By building the first presidential library, she ensured that James A. Garfield’s memory and legacy would live forever. (Library of Congress)

Lucretia’s desire to put together a collection of her late husband’s work, and the mere recognition of President Garfield’s ‘firsts’ have ensured that her fears did not come true. President James A. Garfield continues to be remembered, admired, and studied.

-Benjamin Frayser, Volunteer