Lake County Ohio GenWeb

James A. Garfield

This biography is taken from Biographical History of Northeastern Ohio, Embracing the counties of Ashtabula, Geauga and Lake; Lewis Publishing Company, 1893.

Transcribed and submitted by Becky Falin, 1996.

James A. Garfield, twentieth President of the United States, 1881, was born November 19, 1831, in the wild woods of Cuyahoga County, Ohio. His parents were Abram and Eliza (Ballou) Garfield, who were of New England ancestry. The senior Garfield was an industrious farmer, as the rapid improvements which appeared on his place attested. The residence was the familiar pioneer log cabin, and the household comprised the parents and their children - Mehetable, Thomas, Mary and James A. In May 1833, the father died, and the care of the household consequently devolved upon young Thomas, to whom James was greatly indebted for the educational and other advantages he enjoyed. He now lives in Michigan, and the two sisters live in Solon, Ohio, near their birthplace.

As the subject of our sketch grew up, he too, was industrious, both in mental and physical labor. He worked upon the farm, or at carpentering, or chopped wood, or at any other odd job that would aid in the support of the family, and in the meantime made the most of his books. Even afterward he was never ashamed of his humble origin, nor forgot the friends of his youth. The poorest laborer was sure of his sympathy, and he always exhibited the character of a modest gentleman.

Until he was about sixteen years of age, Jame's highest ambition was to be a lake captain. To this his mother was strongly opposed, but she finally consented to his going to Cleveland to carry out his long cherished design, with the understanding, however, that he should try to obtain some other kind of employment. He walked all the way to Cleveland, and this was his first visit to the city. After making many applications for work, including labor on board a lake vessel, but all in vain, he finally engaged as a driver for his cousin, Amos Letcher, on the Ohio & Pennsylvania Canal. In a short time, however, he quit this and returned home. He then attended the seminary at Chester for about three years, and next he entered Hiram Institute, a school started in 1850 by the Disciples of Christ, of which church he was a member. In order to pay his way he assumed the duties of janitor, and at times taught school. He soon completed the curriculum there, and then entered Williams College, at which he graduated in 1856, taking one of the highest honors of his class. Afterwards he returned to Hiram as President. In his youthful and therefore zealous piety, he exercised his talents occasionally as a preacher of the Gospel. He was a man of strong moral and religious convictions, and as soon as he began to look into politics, he saw innumerable points that could be improved. He also studied law, and was admitted to the bar in 1859. November 11, 1858, Mr. Garfield married Miss Lucretia Rudolph, who ever afterward proved a worthy consort in all the stages of her husband's career. They had seven children, five of whom are still living.

It was in 1859 that Garfield made his first political speeches, in Hiram and the neighboring villages, and three years later he began to speak at county mass-meetings, being received everywhere with popular favor. He was elected to the State Senate this year, taking his seat in January, 1860.

On the breaking out of the war of the Rebellion in 1861, Mr. Garfield resolved to fight as he had talked, and accordingly he enlisted to defend the old flag, receiving his commission as Lieutenant-Colonel of the Forty-second Regiment of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry, August 14, of that year. He was immediately thrown into active service, and before he had ever seen a gun fired in action he was placed in command of four regiments of infantry and eight companies of cavalry, charged with the work of driving the Confederates, headed by Humphrey Marshall, from his native State, Kentucky. This task was speedily accomplished, although against great odds. On account of his success, President Lincoln commissioned him Brigidier General, January 11, 1862; and, as he had been the youngest man in the Ohio Senate two years before, so now he was the youngest General in the army. He was with General Buell's army at Shiloh, also in its operations around Corinth and its march through Alabama. Next he detailed as a member of the general court-martial for the trial of General FitzJohn Port, and then ordered to report to General Rosecrans, when he was assigned to the position of Chief of Staff. His military history closed with his brilliant services at Chicaumauga, where he won the stars of Major-General.

In the fall of 1862, without any effort on his part, he was elected as a Representative to Congress, from that section of Ohio which had been represented for sixty years mainly by two men - Elisha Whittlesey and Joshua R Giddings. Again, he was the youngest member of that body, and continued there by successive re-elections, as Representative or Senator, until he was elected President in 1880. During his life in Congress he compiled and published by his speeches, there and elsewhere, more information on the issues of the day, especially on one side, than any other member.

June 8, 1880, at the National Republican Convention held in Chicago, General Garfield was nominated for the Presidency, in preference to the old war-horses, Blaine and Grant; and although many of the Republican party felt sore over the failure of their respective heroes to obtain the nomination, General Garfield was elected by a fair popular majority. He was duly inaugurated, but on July 2, following, before he had fairly got started in his administration, he was fatally shot by a half-demented assassin. After a very painful and protracted suffering, he died September 19, 1881, lamented by all the American people. Never before in the history of this country had anything occurred which so nearly froze the blood of the Nation, for the moment, as the awful act of Guiteau, the murderer. He was duly tried, convicted and put to death on the gallows.

The lamented Garfield was succeeded by the Vice-President, General Arthur, who seemed to endeavor to carry out the policy inaugurated by his predecessor.

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