James Abram Garfield became the 20th President of the United States in 1881 after serving 9 terms in the House of Representatives as a representative for Ohio. In his short term of presidency, he advocated for reconstruction in the South after the civil war, as well as a high protective tax.
Here are some facts!
9 Interesting Facts About James Garfield
1. He had the second shortest Presidency term
Besides William Henry Harrison, whose Presidency lasted 31 days before he died of pneumonia, James Garfield had the shortest Presidency in history. Garfield was taken out of the office by two bullets. After he was shot, he was unable to perform the duties as President, and 79 days later he died, having only served as President for four months.
2. He cheated on his wife
Garfield had a secret relationship with a young woman named Lucia Calhoun in New York. There isn’t much known about Calhoun except that she was a very forward thinking reporter who wrote about equal education and equal pay for women. Garfield referred to letters he would receive from Calhoun in his diary, but none of these letters remain, so it’s believed Garfield would get the letters, read them, and then destroy them.
Later, Garfield told his wife that he cheated, and she forgave him, an interesting fact about James Garfield.
3. He couldn’t live his childhood dreams
As a young boy, James Garfield dreamed of sailing on massive ships to see distant shores all over the world. However, that dream would never come true, and that’s just as well. Garfield had a job guiding mules that pulled boats through a river, and he fell into the river 16 times, couldn’t swim, and caught Malaria.
Needless to say, the water didn’t like him.
4. He wore many hats
Garfield had a busy life before he became President and got assassinated. He pursued many passions. Garfield went to school at the Eclectic Institute in Ohio, and then, later, came back to the Institute to work as a professor of ancient language, an interesting fact about James Garfield. He eventually became the president of the Institute, his first taste of being a president. Garfield studied law before going into politics, and was even an ordained minister.
On top of all that, he was a family man. Garfield married and had seven kids, two of which unfortunately died as infants.
5. He wasn’t trying to run for President
He really wasn’t. During the election in which Garfield was elected President, he was supporting another man in his political party named John Sherman. Garfield made a passionate, improvised speech nominating Sherman. His speeches on Sherman were so good that Garfield became the center of attention instead! Garfield’s name was put on the list of nominees for presidential candidate, and even on the day he was nominated, he was trying to get himself off that list.
6. He campaigned on his rags to riches story
He may not have wanted to be nominated, but once Garfield was in the race for President, he was in it to win it. An interesting fact about James Garfield is that he played up the fact that he came from very humble beginnings. No other candidate who had accomplished so much had come from so little. In fact, one of his slogans was “From the tow path to the White House,” referring to his time guiding mules. During a time when political candidates were considered too good to talk to voters in person, Garfield would go and talk directly to both reporters and voters.
Of course, Garfield’s campaign was not without its difficulties. Democrats campaigned against him by accusing him of taking a $329 bribe from a company and writing a letter (which Democrats forged) that said he supported unrestricted Chinese immigration.
7. He should have been careful what he wished for
As President, Garfield didn’t have the chance to accomplish a whole lot. What he did do, however, was elect a cabinet that he thought would please all of the different factions of his party. He was President soon after the civil war, so his plan for reconstruction, his plan for bringing African Americans into citizenship, was education. He believed education was the most effective way to get African Americans onto equal ground as white men with full citizenship.
Being President is stressful, though, and Garfield didn’t even want to run for President, initially. More than once, he was under so much pressure that he questioned why anybody would ever want to be President. Well, soon he wouldn’t be President anymore, or alive. He wouldn’t be alive anymore, either.
8. He probably could have been saved in modern times
James Garfield was shot at a train station on the way to take a family vacation. The assassin was someone who wanted Chester A. Arthur to be President, and he peacefully surrendered to the police.
If Garfield had been taken to the hospital immediately, or if he had been handled with more care, he probably would have survived, an interesting James Garfield fact. Doctors on the scene of the shooting thought the most important thing was to get the bullet out of the wound as soon as possible. In order to do this, doctors even brought in a metal detector, newly invented.
However, they left Garfield’s body on the floor, and they didn’t clean their tools or anything. Garfield’s wounds got infected, and that is what killed him.
9. Historians see him as an early example of celebrity Presidents
Once Garfield was in the hospital, there was a big debate over whether the Vice President should only act as President until Garfield recovered, or if he should take over as President. Well, of course, Garfield died, and that solved that problem.
A funny thing happened when he died, the nation mourned far longer than they had with Abraham Lincoln, who had also been assassinated and did far more for the nation than Garfield ever did. Garfield was buried under a big, expensive monument, as well. Historians cite this as an early example of the President not only being a leader and politician, but a celebrity.
Though James Garfield’s flame shone briefly, it shone intensely. He was an unlikely underdog who wasn’t even trying to run for President. With his policy ideas for education for African Americans, who knows what kind of progress he could have made if he hadn’t been shot, or if doctors knew what germs were.
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