James A. Garfield Biography

(20th President of United States (March 1881 - September 1881))

Birthday: November 19, 1831 (Scorpio)

Born In: Moreland Hills, Ohio, United States

James A. Garfield was the 20th President of the United States who was assassinated within months of his assuming office. Prior to becoming the president he had served several terms in the House of Representatives and had been a campaign manager for Secretary of the Treasury John Sherman. Garfield had risen to become the President from a very humble beginning. Born into an impoverished family in Ohio, he lost his father while he was still a small child. He struggled throughout his childhood and sought solace in books. In spite of his difficult youth, he was determined to get a good education and studied at Williams College. He soon joined politics and became a supporter of the newly organized Republican Party. When the American Civil War broke out, he helped recruit the 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry and was made its colonel. He distinguished himself with his valor and courage at the battles of Middle Creek, Shiloh, and Chickamauga, and was promoted to the rank of brigadier general. He remained active in politics over the course of his military career and had gained a reputation as a prominent Republican politician by the time the war ended. Garfield was nominated as the Republican candidate for presidency in 1880. He won the election and was sworn in as the president on March 4, 1881. His presidency lasted a very short while as he died in September following an assassination attempt

Quick Facts

Also Known As: James Abram Garfield

Died At Age: 49


Spouse/Ex-: Lucretia Garfield

father: Abram Garfield

mother: Eliza Ballou Garfield

children: Abram Garfield, Edward Garfield, Eliza Garfield, Harry Augustus Garfield, Irvin M. Garfield, James Rudolph Garfield, Mary Garfield

Born Country: United States

Presidents Political Leaders

political ideology: Political party - Republican

Died on: September 19, 1881

place of death: Elberon, Long Branch, New Jersey, United States

U.S. State: Ohio

Ancestry: British American

Childhood & Early Life

James Garfield was born on November 19, 1831, in Ohio to Abram and Eliza Garfield. He was the youngest of their five children. His father, a wrestler, died when James was an infant, leaving behind Eliza alone to fend for the children.

He grew up in poverty and had a difficult childhood that was further complicated by his mother’s troubled second marriage which ended in divorce. He remained close to his mother through all the tough times.

He loved reading from a young age and excelled in academics, particularly Latin and Greek. He attended the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (later renamed Hiram College) from 1851 to 1854. Then he went to Williams College from where he graduated in 1856.

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After completing his studies he returned to Hiram College where he was appointed professor of ancient languages. He was made the college’s president in 1857. By this time he had developed a keen interest in politics and wanted to pursue a career as a politician. He also began studying law and was admitted to the bar in 1861.

He opposed slavery and since his principles were similar to that of the Republicans, he joined the newly organized Republican Party. In 1859, he was elected to the Ohio State Senate and served there till 1861.

The American Civil War broke out in 1861 and Garfield helped recruit the 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry and became its colonel. He continued with his political career as well and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives following the Battle of Shiloh (April 1862).

He distinguished himself with his valiant display of courage in the battles and became a much-respected army man. After the Battle of Chickamauga, Garfield was promoted to the rank of major general.

He served nine terms in the House of Representatives until 1880 and the same year the Ohio legislature elected him to the U.S. Senate. He was chosen as the Republican presidential nominee to run for the 1880 presidential election.

James Garfield faced the Democrat General Winfield Scott Hancock in the election. Both the men were Civil War veterans with notable military careers. Garfield launched a very impressive election campaign, with a campaign biography written by the famed author Horatio Alger, and went on to win the election. He was inaugurated as the President of the United States on March 4, 1881, along with Chester A. Arthur as the Vice President.

A strong advocate of racial equality, he was committed to the cause of civil rights. He strongly opposed slavery and believed that the federal government should implement a universal education system for the emancipation of blacks. He also appointed several former slaves to prominent government positions.

He advocated the implementation of technology in agriculture and proposed substantial civil service reforms. However, he never got the chance to make his plans a reality as he was assassinated within months of becoming the president.

Personal Life & Legacy

James Garfield married Lucretia Rudolph, a former classmate, in November 1858. They had four sons and a daughter who lived to maturity. Garfield had an extramarital affair with Lucia Calhoun in the 1860s though he later admitted this to his wife and sought her forgiveness.

On July 2, 1881, he was shot on his back by Charles Julius Guiteau at the railroad station in Washington, D.C. Guiteau was an emotionally disturbed man who had failed to get an appointment in the Garfield administration. He surrendered to the police after the shooting.

The president was rushed to the hospital where a group of prominent doctors tended to him. The chances of his survival were slim from the very beginning and he developed blood poisoning and succumbed on September 19, 1881.

The James A. Garfield Monument was dedicated to him in Washington in 1887.

See the events in life of James A. Garfield in Chronological Order

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