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James Garfield

February 20, 2012 by staff 

James Garfield, James Abram Garfield (November 19, 1831 – September 19, 1881) served as the 20th President of the United States, after completing nine consecutive terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. Garfield’s accomplishments as President included a controversial resurgence of Presidential authority above Senatorial courtesy in executive appointments; energizing U.S. naval power; and purging corruption in the Post Office Department. Garfield made notable diplomatic and judiciary appointments, including a U.S. Supreme Court justice. Garfield appointed several African-Americans to prominent federal positions.

Garfield was a self-made man who came from a modest background, having been raised in obscurity on an Ohio farm by his widowed mother and brothers. To finance his education Garfield worked as a carpenter, and in 1856 he graduated from Williams College, Massachusetts. A year later, Garfield entered politics as a Republican, after campaigning for the party’s antislavery platform in Ohio. He married Lucretia Rudolph in 1858, and in 1860 was admitted to practice law while serving as an Ohio State Senator (1859-1861). Garfield opposed Confederate secession, served as a Major General in the Union Army during the American Civil War, and fought in the battles of Middle Creek, Shiloh and Chickamauga. He was first elected to Congress in 1863 as Representative of the 19th District of Ohio.

Throughout Garfield’s extended Congressional service after the Civil War, he fervently opposed the Greenback, and gained a reputation as a skilled orator. He was Chairman of the Military Affairs Committee and the Appropriations Committee and a member of the Ways and Means Committee. Garfield initially agreed with Radical Republican views regarding Reconstruction, then favored a moderate approach for civil rights enforcement for Freedmen. In 1880, the Ohio legislature elected him to the U.S. Senate; in that same year, the leading Republican presidential contenders – Ulysses S. Grant, James G. Blaine and John Sherman – failed to garner the requisite support at their convention. Garfield became the party’s compromise nominee for the 1880 Presidential Election and successfully campaigned to defeat Democrat Winfield Hancck in the election.

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