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James Abram Garfield

Garfield, James Abram (1831–81), 20th president of the United States. Fatally wounded by an assassin less than four months after his inauguration, Garfield served only 199 days in office.

Early life

Garfield, grew up on a frontier farm near Orange, Ohio, working as a canal bargeman, farmer, and carpenter. He graduated from Williams College, Mass., and returned to Ohio to teach. A supporter of the newly founded antislavery and antisecessionist Republican party, Garfield was elected to the Ohio state senate in 1859.

War and politics

When the Civil War began, Garfield helped organize the volunteer 42nd Ohio Infantry and fought in some of the war's bloodiest battles. In 1862 he was elected to the House of Representatives. On Reconstruction, a critical postwar issue, he sided with the radical Republicans, voting for the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson and favoring the continued presence of federal troops in the former Confederacy. After the 1876 presidential election, Garfield served on the commission created to decide the disputed returns. He voted along party lines to give the office to Republican Rutherford B. Hayes.


After 18 years in the House, Garfield was elected to the Senate in 1880. Later that year the Republican presidential convention was deadlocked between two frontrunners, James G. Blaine and former president Grant. Blaine's supporters eventually voted for Garfield as a compromise candidate. Support for Garfield grew, and he won the nomination. In the Nov. election, Garfield defeated Democrat Winfield Scott Hancock by only 7,023 votes. Garfield's presidency was so brief that it was notable only for constant quarreling over political appointments. On July 1, 1881, Charles J. Guiteau, a disappointed office-seeker, shot Garfield at the Washington, D.C., train station. The assassination caused Congress to begin reforms to abolish the “spoils system” of distribution of federal jobs and set up competitive examinations in the civil service to ensure fairer political appointments.


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