Garfield, James Abram
Garfield, who never sought the presidency, was campaign manager for John Sherman in the Republican convention but on the 36th ballot was himself chosen as compromise candidate for president. Former President Grant, who had wanted the nomination, and his supporter, Roscoe Conkling, gave Garfield only formal aid in the election—and allegedly even that was conditioned on a promise of a share in the president's political favors. After Garfield had defeated W. S. Hancock and was president, he passed over Conkling's
Stalwarts in his appointments and appointed James G. Blaine, Conkling's political enemy, secretary of state. War was thus declared between the president and the most important faction of the Republican party. Garfield won the first round of the fight, getting his appointee for the New York port collectorship approved over Conkling's objections. He began prosecution of the star route postal frauds. Constantly harassed by office seekers, President Garfield met his death through one of them. On July 2, 1881, he was shot by Charles J. Guiteau. On Sept. 19 he died, and Chester A. Arthur succeeded to the presidency. Garfield was a brilliant orator and an able, knowing, and charming man. He had shown little originality or force in his 17 years as congressman, and his early death prevented him from showing whether or not he might have demonstrated statesmanship as president.
See his diary, ed. by H. J. Brown and F. D. Williams (1967–81); T. C. Smith, Life and Letters of James A. Garfield (1925, repr. 1968); biographies by J. M. Taylor (1970) and A. Peskin (1978); K. D. Ackerman, Dark Horse (2003); C. Millard, Destiny of the Republic (2011).
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