HistoryJames Garfield

Presidency and Policies of James Garfield

Portrait of James Garfield

James Abram Garfield served as the twentieth president of the United States of America in 1881 until he was assassinated after six and a half months in service.

An educator by profession, he entered politics as a Republican in 1857 and became the Ohio State Senate representative. Besides being involved in politics, he also served in the Union Army during the American Civil War. James Garfield was then elected to the Congress and represented Ohio’s 19th district.

During his time in Congress, he earned the reputation of being a skilled orator. Initially, he agreed with the Radical Republican’s outlook about Reconstruction; then, he favored a moderate approach with the enforcement of the former slaves’ civil rights.

James Garfield received all-out support from his good friend, John Sherman, at the 1880 Republican Convention. He failed to win the presidential nomination and eventually became the dark horse nominee. He won against Democratic nominee General Winfield Scott Hancock by the margin of only ten thousand popular votes.

He swore as the twentieth president of the United States of America on March 4, 1881. James Garfield strived to strengthen the Federal Authority against the New York Customs House, an empire of Senator Roscoe Conkling, the Stalwart Republicans leader. As he submitted his list of appointments to the Senate, including many of Senator Roscoe Conkling’s friends and Conkling’s rival, William H. Robertson was commissioned to oversee the Customs House. Senator Roscoe opposed the appointments and even convinced the Senate to block it; however, his compel was withdrawn.

Also, during James Garfield’s term, he re-nominated Stanley Matthews to the Supreme Court of the United States and was confirmed by the Senate by a vote of 24-23.

James Garfield was a staunch advocate of civil service reform. He organized and believed that the spoils system could ruin any administration during his presidency and kept it distracted from more important concerns. Many reformers were disappointed with James Garfield’s decision to limit the tenure of those who attempted to gain public office and gave his friends; thus, many remained loyal and supported him throughout.

The post office became the nesting place of corruption and called for significant reform. After the Congress conducted a thorough investigation, it was concluded that the Post Office Department was involved in profiteering rings and allegedly stole millions of dollars and even secure bogus mail contracts. The Star Route Scandal was as they obtain the deals with the lowest bid, the costs of running the mail routes were increased, and the profits were divided among the ring members. And during the Garfield administration, the Postmaster General Thomas J. Brady was identified as the ringleader. The president then requested for Brady’s resignation and prosecution for the conspiracy. After the trials, Thomas J. Brady was charged for conspiracy but was not guilty of corruption.

As a president, James Garfield realized that education is the best hope to improve African Americans’ lives because illiteracy would nail them to the peasantry. The Civil Rights for African Americans to vote and participate in the government, which was established during the Reconstruction, began to crumble as Southern white resistance. As a response to this matter, he proposed a universal education system funded by the federal government; however, it did not receive any support from the Congress as the northern white public lost their interest in African American rights. Because of it, James Garfield appointed many African Americans to prominent positions such as Frederick Douglass, Robert Elliot, etc.

Since James Garfield had little experience in foreign policy, activities were limited because he needs time to fill the vacant diplomatic positions. One of his notable appointment was James Russell Lowel, who served as the United States’ minister to England, and Lew Wallace, a former Union general, was designated to Turkey.

For his brief term in office, Secretary of State Blaine became involved with benefaction matters with Latin America to increase trade and prevent Great Britain from dominating the region. From there, a Pan-American conference was called in 1882 to mediate the dispute and hostilities between the Latin American nations.

Also, an alleged Morey letter that surfaced during the presidential election of 1880 was allegedly from James Garfield and expressed his support towards Chinese immigration. It was then later declared as a forged document.

Lastly, the administration attempted to enhance the United States’ military strength overseas as they eyed towards expansion and modernization; however, these ambitious visions came to nothing after his death. He was assassinated by a 39-year-old, disgruntled office seeker Charles J. Guiteau on July 2, 1881, at the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station in Washington, D.C. He was struck with two bullets, and the fatal one pierced is back, shattered his rib, and embedded in his abdomen. Doctors probed his wound with unwashed hands, which led to sepsis and infections. The doctors failed to remove the bullet, and massive infections became a significant factor in his demise. James Garfield died on September 19, 1881.

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