1881RepublicanNovember 19, 1831, in Orange, OhioSeptember 19, 1881, in Elberon, New York after being shot July 2 in Washington, D.C.
Vice PresidentFirst LadyPrevious OccupationsStates in Union
Chester Alan ArthurLucretia Rudolph Garfield (Wife)Teacher, Soldier, Public Official38


Garfield’s parents were Abram and Eliza Ballou Garfield. Garfield married Lucretia Rudolph in 1858. They had seven children: Eliza Arabella, Harry Augustus, James Rudolph, Mary, Irvin McDowell, Abram, and Edward.


Garfield was the last president to have been born in a log cabin. Despite his family’s poverty, he was an avid reader as a child and became well known for his hard work and dedication to his studies. He graduated from college first in his class. He also studied law on his own, then military tactics so he could serve as an effective officer during the Civil War. He eventually became a major general of volunteer troops.

During his campaign, Garfield was accused of having been involved in the scandals of the Grant administration, including the acceptance of bribes. Congress declared him innocent, but many remained suspicious. As president Garfield did not endeavor to continue Hayes’ work of ending political patronage and corruption. However, he is credited with strengthening federal authority over the New York Customs House, which had long been exploited by patronage assignments and power.

Upon his inauguration, many people sought government positions from Garfield. Among them was attorney Charles J. Guiteau, who requested a diplomatic post in Paris. Garfield denied his request, infuriating Guiteau to the point that he followed Garfield for weeks, then finally shot him on July 2, 1881, in a Washington, D.C., railroad station. Garfield died two and half months later, making him the second president to be assassinated. Guiteau was tried and then hanged June 20, 1882.

Garfield’s assassination prompted the public to demand Civil Service reform. In fact, the New York Evening Telegraph wrote, “The assassination of Mr. Garfield [was a natural] outcome of the debased and debasing machine politics that this nation has suffered from ever since the war closed.”


Garfield commented about the presidency, “My God, what is there in this place that a man should ever want to get in it?” (1881)

Regarding the need for Civil Service reform, Garfield stated, “My day is frittered away by personal seeking of people, when it ought to be given to the great problem[s] which concern the whole country. Four years of this kind of intellectual dissipation may cripple me for the remainder of my life. What might not a vigorous thinker do, if he could be allowed to use the opportunities of a presidential term in vital, useful activity! Some Civil Service reform will come by necessity after the wearisome years of wasted Presidents have paved the way for it.”

“We shall never know why slavery dies so hard in this Republic . . . till we know why Sin is long-lived and Satan is immortal.”

At This Time

1881: Jews are persecuted in Russia • Booker T. Washington founds the Tuskegee Institute • Clara Barton, who had been instrumental in assisting wounded soldiers on the battlefield during the Civil War, founds the American Red Cross

Did You Know?

After President Hayes had withdrawn federal troops from the South, signs of national healing became evident. One particular instance occurred during Garfield’s inaugural procession. A group of former Confederate soldiers waving the Union flag worked their way through the crowds on Pennsylvania Avenue and cheered as President Garfield and retiring President Hayes walked past.

Garfield was the first president to campaign in both English and Spanish. He was also a professional orator and lover of literature. He especially enjoyed the work of Charles Dickens and often attended his lectures. During one particular reading of A Christmas Carol, when Dickens read the words “Bless his heart: it’s Fezziwig again!” a dog suddenly started barking. The audience burst into laughter, and so did Dickens, who found it difficult to continue reading. For some time after, every time Garfield encountered someone he had seen at the lecture, he greeted them with the words: “Bow! Wow! Wow!”

Learn More

  • nps.gov/jaga
    Provides a brief introduction to Garfield’s Mentor, Ohio, home and includes a printable travel guide.
  • MillerCenter.org/president/garfield
    In-depth essays created by the University of Virginia on Garfield’s life and administration.

Field Trips for James Abram Garfield

James A. Garfield National Historic Site
Mentor, Ohio

Garfield bought this home to accommodate his large family, expanded it to twenty rooms and, after his death, his widow added the Memorial Library wing to house his papers. Nicknamed Lawnfield by the reporters who witnessed Garfield’s “front porch” campaign, the home was recently restored to the 1880-1904 time period and nearly all the artifacts are original to the Garfield family.

James A. Garfield Monument
Cleveland, Ohio

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the James A. Garfield Monument is the final resting place of the 20th President of the United States. The building combines Romanesque, Gothic and Byzantine styles of architecture. Designed by architect George Keller, the Garfield Monument stands 180 feet tall and is constructed of Berea Sandstone. Around the exterior of the balcony are five terra cotta panels by Casper Bubel, with over 110 life-size figures depicting Garfield’s life and death.

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