Monday, November 28, 2011

10 Fun Facts About James A. Garfield

James A. Garfield, the 20th President of the United States

1)  Like his more famous predecessor, Abraham Lincoln, James Abram Garfield was born in a log cabin in rural Cuyahoga County, near Cleveland, Ohio, in 1831.  His father died when he was still a baby, and he was raised by a single mother in virtual poverty.

2)  In the early 1850's, Garfield studied at a college in Hiram, Ohio, where he was taught by Platt R. Spencer, who had developed a system of cursive handwriting that was the norm in American society until the advent of the typewriter in the 20th century.

3)  Garfield was a member of the Delta Upsilon fraternity while at Williams College in Massachusetts, a fraternity which includes members from Lou Holtz of college football fame, to Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

4)  Before entering politics, Garfield taught Greek and other classical languages for his alma mater in Ohio (now called Hiram College), where he met and eventually married one of his pupils, Lucretia Rudolph.  Together they had seven children, one of whom lived to be 102 and did not die until the 1970's.

5)  During the Civil War, Garfield attained the rank of Major General, and participated in a number of battles, including the Battle of Shiloh.  However, after being elected to Congress in 1862, he resigned his commission to focus on work in Washington.  A strict abolitionist, he felt that Abraham Lincoln was too soft on slavery and on the South in general.  In the 1864 election, he refused to endorse or support Lincoln's run for re-election.    

6)  Serving in Congress throughout the 1860's and 1870's, Garfield was a strong opponent of the drive to develop paper currency, at one point referring to cash as "the printed lies of the Government."  He believed paper currency would be the ruin of the U.S. economy, and strongly supported keeping "specie" (that is, silver and gold coins) as the primary U.S. currency.

7)  Garfield had not openly planned on running for the 1880 presidential election, instead supporting fellow Republican John Sherman.  However, when a deadlock ensued in the Republican primaries over the leading three candidates (Sherman, James G. Blaine, and former president Ulysses S. Grant, who was running for a third term), Garfield - to his complete surprise - suddenly emerged as the winner, as the Republicans felt he was the best possible compromise candidate.  He went on to win the 1880 presidential election by just a few thousand votes over Democrat Winfield Hancock.

8)  Still serving as a Congressman in 1879, Garfield had been selected by the Ohio Senate to replace John Sherman as U.S. Senator from Ohio - Sherman having resigned his position to campaign for the presidency. Garfield then went on, unexpectedly, to win the 1880 presidential election.  As a result, there was a period of time, following the presidential election, where Garfield was a sitting congressman in the U.S. House of Representatives, a U.S. Senator-elect, and the U.S. President-elect, all at the same time.

9)  In July of 1881, James A. Garfield was shot by Charles J. Guiteau as he headed for a train in Washington, D.C.  Guiteau, a disgruntled and delusional former attorney, was angry with Garfield and his administration for failing to appoint him as a U.S. consul in Paris.  He believed that a speech he had delivered in the streets and published as a pamphlet had been instrumental in securing Garfield's election, and he felt that Garfield's refusal to appoint him to a consular position demonstrated a lack of gratitude.

10)  Garfield did not die immediately; instead, he lay sick in Washington for nearly 3 months, until the festering bullet wound in his abdomen finally killed him in September of 1881.  During his time in sick bed, Alexander Graham Bell invented a metal detector to attempt to find the bullet lodged in Garfield's abdomen, but it proved unsuccessful.  Another inventor, attempting to give comfort to Garfield during the hot Washington summer, invented what was likely the first air conditioner, a contraption that blew forced air over a box full of ice.  By the time he died, Garfield had been president for a mere 6 months.

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