"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Friday, May 27, 2016

James A. Garfield

This 1881 portrait of James A. Garfield by Ole Peter Hansen Balling hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC.

"Through repeated balloting at the Republican convention of 1880, delegates remained deadlocked in naming a presidential candidate. Finally, after thirty-five ballots, they were ready for a compromise. Rejecting both front-runners - James Blaine and Ulysses S. Grant - the delegates endorsed Ohio congressman James A. Garfield, whose aspirations had been limited to becoming a senator.

The patronage-driven factionalism that led to Garfield's nomination continued to fester following his assumption of the presidency. On July 2, 1881, angered that Garfield had not awarded him a public office, a member of a GOP faction shot the president as he went to board a train. Eleven weeks later, Garfield was dead from his wound.

This staid portrait by Norwegian artist Ole Peter Hansen Balling may have captured Garfield's physical traits accurately, but it did not convey his spell­binding impact on people. Having once been a lay preacher, Garfield was at his most impressive when speaking. According to one observer, his thoughts sometimes seemed to issue forth at the podium 'like solid shot from a cannon.'' -- National Portrait Gallery 
 World Atlas says that James A. Garfield was the last  U.S. president born in a log cabin.
 Garfield, the 20th President of the United States, was the last of the US Log cabins presidents. He was born in a log cabin situated close to the Orange Township in 1831. While other presidents moved from their birthplaces during childhood, Garfield remained with his family until 1859. A replica of the original cabin stands at the site to date. -- Which US Presidents Lived in a Log Cabin?
The Home of Garfield's Childhood by R. A. Williams in The Great American Book of Biography International Publishing 1896

At age 16 Garfield started out on his own, finding a job as a “hoggee” on the Erie Canal.

Garfield at the age of sixteen. (The Book of Biography 1896)

On the Towpath (from Brown 1881)

Garfield became professor of ancient languages at Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (later Hiram College) in 1856 and in 1857 became the college president.

Garfield was a U.S. Congressman representing Ohio, between 1859 and 1861. During the Civil War, he recruited the Forty-second Ohio Volunteer Infantry and became its colonel.

Colonel Garfield

Horatio Alger portrayed Garfield “Turning the Tide of Battle at Chickamauga.”

Turning the Tide of Battle at Chickamauga
by  Horatio Alger, Jr., 1881.

He was promoted Major General of volunteers for his gallantry at Chickamauga, on September 19th, 1863. 

Major  General James Abram Garfield
by Charles D. Fredricks & Co. 

In December, General Garfield was re-elected to the House of Representatives. At the urging of President Lincoln, he resigned his commission and took up his seat in the House. Lincoln needed congressmen with military knowledge more than he needed Major Generals.


Back in Congress, after the war, Garfield published a novel proof of the Pythagorean theorem:

In 1877, Representative Garfield served on the Electoral Commission that awarded the presidency to Rutherford B. Hayes in the disputed election of 1876.

Garfield attended the 1880 Republican convention, in Chicago, to give a speech in support of  his friend John Sherman. The deeply divided convention selected Garfield as a “dark horse” on the 36th ballot

James A. Garfield Republican Candidate for President
by Vic. Arnold c1880

Garfield beat Winfield Scott Hancock in the 1880 election by only 10,000 votes but carried the electoral college.  They each won 19 states; Garfield won in the Electoral College 214 to 155.

The inauguration was held on March 4, 1881.

Inauguration as President of the United States
by  Horatio Alger, Jr., 1881.

On July 2, 1881, the 121st day of his presidency, President Garfield was shot by Charles Guiteau. 

Scene of the Assassination by W. T. Mathews

Awaiting the End--Life or Death?

President Garfield died in Elberon New Jersey on September 19, 1881, he had been president for 200 days.

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