Monday, August 15, 2016

James A. Garfield: A moderate among Stalwarts and Half Breeds

James A. Garfield
James A. Garfield was the 20th president of the United States. He was president for fewer than 200 days, so he had little chance to accomplish much. In fact, he's probably more famous for the way he died than anything else.

He was born in a log cabin in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, in 1831. He would become the last of the log cabin presidents. His father died by the time he was two, so he was raised on a farm by his widowed mother.

He was an avid reader of adventure novels, and wanted to become a sailor. Later, he settled for driving canal boat teams to make enough money for his education. 

He graduated from Williams College in Massachusetts in 1856. He was then hired as a classics professor at Western Reserve Electric Institute (later Hiram College) as a classics professor, and became its president in 1857. 

He also became an ordained Christian Minister. He also studied law. In 1858 he married Lucretia Rudolph, a classmate of his at the Electric Institute. The couple would go on to have seven children.

He then entered the political spectrum.  Here are his accomplishments running up to his short term as President. 
  1. 1859: He was elected to the Ohio Senate as a Republican. His championed for seceding states to be forced to re-enter the Union. 
  2. 1860.  After years of studying law, he was admitted to Ohio's Bar Association.
  3. 1861. He joined the Union Army after the start of the war and became lieutenant colonel with the 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He had no military experience but proved to be an effective leader. 
  4. 1862:  He was responsible for one of the first Union victories by leading by leading a brigade at Middle Creek, Kentucky, against the Confederates. At 31, he became a brigadier General. Later that year he was elected to the Ohio Congress. President Lincoln persuaded him to resign his military post to become a member of Congress, noting that it was easier to find a successful General than a successful Republican Congressman. 
  5. 1863: He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, a post he held for 18 years, ultimately becoming its leading Republican member. He was a moderate republican, walking in the middle between Stalwarts, traditional conservative (libertarian) republicans, and Half Breeds, who were moving toward progressivism (liberalism, socialism).  Stalwarts were in favor of the Spoils System, where elected officials gave jobs to those who helped them obtain victory. The Half Breeds preferred the merit system, where elected officials gave jobs to the most qualified. 
  6. 1880: He was elected by the Ohio Congress to one of Ohio's two Senate Seats.  At the Republican Convention he tried to get his friend and fellow Republican John Sherman nominated, although his efforts failed. Former President Grant came out of retirement to seek the nomination. Although in the end, on the 36th ballot, Garfield was nominated. So, rather than becoming a Senator from Ohio, he ended up running against Civil War General Winfield Scott Hancock, who was nominated at the Democratic Convention. One of the main reasons the nomination was so contested was due to the split between Stalwarts and Half Breeds among the republican party. Garfield was a Half Breed, although he was viewed as a moderate, and this was how he ended up as the nominee. To satisfy the Stalwarts, Chester A. Arthur was chosen as the Vice President. 
  7. 1880.  A major issue during the election of 1880 was whether or not to raise tariffs on other countries. Republicans supported this, claiming it would help U.S. industries compete with their foreign competitors. Garfield won by a margin of only 2,000 popular cotes. He won 214 electoral votes to Scott's 155. 
Winfield Scott Hancock
Democrats contested that Arthur should be the Vice President based on a rumor that he was born in Canada. In this way, Arthur was the first Birther Candidate. Regardless of of the claims, Garfield won with Arthur as his Vice President. 

He was sworn in as President on March 4 of 1881. He spent most of his time putting together a cabinet and making appointments. Because the election was so close, he was forced to appease both Stalwarts and Half Breeds within his own party. To appease the Half Breeds who help him get the nomination, he selected James G. Blaine as his Secretary of State. Blaine would go on to win the republican nomination during the 1884 Republican National.

Roscoe Conkling was a Senator from New York. He was stalwart and was very good friends with Arthur, and they often went on fishing trips together. Conkling became upset when most of Garfield's nominations were Half Breeds. Making matters worse was that Garfield had nominated Conkling's arch enemy, William H. Robertson, to run the Custom's House. Conlking did everything in his power to stop the nominations, and this resulted in his resignation from the Senate.

Garfield stood firm, and after Conkling's resignation was able to get every one of his nominations confirmed by Congress.  This would go down as a major accomplishment for Garfield, affirming the power of the President over the Senate. 

His other major accomplishment was reforming the post office. His next objective was agenda for civil service reform, where he sough civil rights for African Americans. He wanted to get the Pendleton Civil Service Act through Congress, which would end the spoils system. It would assure appointments for government jobs would be done based on merit rather than political affiliation. In foreign affairs, he had Blaine organize a Pan American conference with Latin American States.

But none of these would come to fruition, at least while he was in office. On July 2, 1881, the president was on his way to a reunion at Williams College when Charles Guiteau fired two shots at him.  After Garfield fell to the ground,  Guiteau said,  “I am a Stalwart and Arthur is president now!”  Guiteau was later charged and convicted of murder and hanged. 

Garfield lay mortally wounded in the White House for nearly three months. Inventor Alexander Graham Bell even tried to find the bullet with a newly invented metal detector, but he failed. Doctors did try to remove the bullet, and so it is believed he either died of infections caused by their attempts, or by internal bleeding. 

Due to the fact he wasn't given much of a chance for major accomplishments, James A. Garfield generally goes down in history as just an average president. It would't be fair to rank him as a poor president, and it wouldn't be prudent to rank him with the best. So, in effect, he is just average. It's too bad, because he was lining up to be a good one.