20th President: 1881
Just the Facts:
- James Garfield was a teacher before becoming President.
- He was assassinated and did after only 200 days in office.
- His nickname was “Preacher President” (he was a gifted speaker)
- He could write with both hands at the same time.
- James and Lucretia had five children and a dog named “Veto.”
James Garfield grew up on a farm in Ohio – he was the last of the presidents to be born in a log cabin. His family was relatively poor and his father died when he was a young child. He taught himself to read when he was three years old and was a good student through the years. He earned money for schooling by working on the Erie Canal.
He went to seminary for two years and became an ordained minister. Then he finished his formal education and graduating from Williams College. He taught Latin and Greek for a while. Finally, he studied law and found his calling. It wasn’t long before he went into politics – first at the local level and then representing Ohio in Congress. He took a break from politics to enlist in the army when the Civil War started. In all, Garfield served in Congress over 15 years before becoming President. He was a well respected politician and gifted speaker.
Garfield won the Presidential election by a narrow margin. He tried to reform the government, and refused to give jobs to people based on who they knew. Instead, he appointed people who had the right skills for the job.
Unfortunately, President Garfield wasn’t able to accomplish his goals as president. He was assassinated in the Washington DC train station. Charles Guiteau, who was mentally unstable, was convinced that Garfield was going to give him a job in the government after he became president. When he wasn’t offered a position, he became angry and shot President Garfield in the back while he was waiting for a train. The doctors performed surgery but were unable to get the bullet out. President Garfield held on for nearly two months before dying of an infection.
James married Lucretia when he was 27 years old. She was one of his students and they both became teachers. They had seven children (5 sons, 2 daughters). Two died in infancy, but the rest grew up to be successful adults. His son, James, even grew up to become a secretary for Theodore Roosevelt.
Garfield’s mother, Eliza, was alive when he becomes president. She was the first mother of a president to attend her son’s inauguration. She lived in the White House with her son and his family until he died. Lucretia (“Crete” for short) took an inventory of everything in the White House, which was the first official record of its contents. She was recovering from malaria at the New Jersey shore when she learned that Garfield had been shot. She hurried back to Washington DC and took care of him until he died two months later.
“Ideas control the world.”
“Next in importance to freedom and justice is popular education, without which neither freedom nor justice can be permanently maintained.”
“Man cannot live by bread alone; he must have peanut butter.”