President James Garfield Books

President James Garfield

Easton Press books:
Garfield: A Biography - Allan Peskin - 1987

President James Garfield biography

James Abram Garfield (1831-1881), 20th President of the United States, born in Orange, Cuyahoga County, Ohio. He worked on his mother's frontier farm, attended to school in the winter months, and was for a time a steersman and driver on the Ohio Canal. Later, teaching and other part time employment enabled him to acquire the means of securing a higher education. After graduation form Williams College with honors in 1856 he taught at Hiram Institute in Ohio, and served as president of that institution from 1857 to 1859; in the latter year he was admitted to the bar and was elected to the Ohio State Senate.

On the outbreak of the Civil War James Garfield was commissioned a lieutenant colonel in the Union Army. A successful campaign in Kentucky led to his promotion to the rank of brigadier general in 1862; and further conspicuous services, including his work as chief of staff to General William Starke Rosecrans, led to his being made a major general in 1863.

While in military service he had been elected a United States Congressman in 1862. On President Abraham Lincoln's advice James Garfield resigned his military commission in December, 1863, and took his seat in the House of Representatives, where he subsequently became an authority on constitutional rights and on education, tariff, and financial questions. He was re-elected eight times, and was a Republican leader of the House from 1876 to 1880. In the latter year he was selected by the Ohio State legislature to fill a vacancy in the United States Senate.

In June, 1880, James Garfield attended the Republican National Convention and supported the candidacy for the Presidential nomination of the statesman John Sherman. However, after thirty-five ballots had failed to break the deadlock between the chief contenders, President Ulysses S. Grant, who was seeking a third term, James G. Blaine. James Garfield was nominated on the thirty-sixth ballot as a compromise candidate. In the ensuing campaign he broke a long standing precedent by making speeches in his own behalf. Elected in November, he was sworn in on March 4, 1881. On July 2, while in the railroad station in Washington, D.C., he was shot by Charles Jules Guiteau, a disgruntled office seeker. After several weeks of painful illness, blood poisoning set in, and he died on September 19. His collected works were published in 1882-1883.

Garfield: A Biography
This first full-scale biography of our twentieth president in over fifty years reflects not only a renewal of interest in Garfield the man as the centennial of his inauguration nears, but in the Gilded Age of American politics in which he played so influential a role. Moving from the battlefield to Congress before the end of the Civil War, Garfield had a hand in almost everything of national importance for two decades, the years of peace, Reconstruction, and industrialization. As a party leader he, along with his friend James G. Blaine, forged the modern Republican Party into the instrument which would lead the United States into the twentieth century, and though his presidency was cut short by an assassin's bullet, he succeeded in rescuing the office from the shadows of Johnson and Grant, elevated it above the Congress, and began the accretion of presidential power that has lasted to our own day.

To the public James A. Garfield was a beloved nineteenth-century success story, the self-made man climbing from poverty to national leader, the last of the "log cabin" presidents. But the man behind the public portrait was much more complex, even contradictory. He was a pacifist turned soldier, an educator turned politician, a preacher turned economist, a man of essentially literary tastes cast in the role of party chieftain. Continually racked by self-doubts, he nevertheless was so convinced of his destiny that he never actively sought any office and never lost an election.

Allan Peskin's masterful biography combines the public and the private Garfield in a smooth-flowing narrative that will fascinate the general reader as well as enlighten the scholar. The Garfield story includes the account of the Ohio canal boy who worked his way through college and later became president of that same Hiram College. It is the story of the minister who led Union troops through a blundering campaign in the Kentucky wilderness and emerged a national hero and a general. It is the romance of the diffident husband who, some time after the wedding and somewhat to his surprise, fell in love with his wife. It is the high drama of Gilded Age politics, disputed elections, and narrow victories during the era in which the modern, industrial, continent-spanning United States was being forged and many of its social and political attitudes taking shape. Finally, it is the story of assassination at the hands of a religious fanatic before the character of the president could truly be tested in office.

From these rich materials a fully-rounded portrait of Garfield and his time emerges. He rises above the image of good-natured backslapper and forgotten if "martyred" president to which history has relegated him. He becomes a figure worth the major treatment Dr. Peskin has accorded him.

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