James Abram Garfield was chosen by the citizens of Ohio as their greatest hero in the U.S. Capitol Hall of Fame. He served as twentieth U.S. President, dying tragically through the bullet of his assassin – a demented, disappointed office-seeker. Garfield was born in a log cabin in western Ohio, his father being a descendant of the Massachusetts settlers under John Winthrop. His mother traced her ancestry to Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island (Providence Plantations). At age two, his father died; James learning to read at age three, attending school at four, undertaking manual labor at ten and doing farm work for wages at age sixteen. Attending school for a few months each winter, he became an avid reader, knowing his Bible well. He was a member of the Disciples of Christ Church.1
At age eighteen he attended a local academy, the following year entering the Eclectic Institute in Hiram, Ohio, where, working as a janitor, doing odd jobs and teaching at a public school, he was able to pay for his education and save $350.00. Garfield entered Junior Class at Williams College in Massachusetts, graduating three years later as valedictorian; having served as teacher in order to pay his tuition. Garfield led prayer meetings on campus and was also president of his debating society and editor of the Williams Quarterly.2
Returning to the Eclectic Institute, Garfield taught Latin and Greek, while studying law. At 26 he was elected to President of the Eclectic Institute, which became Hiram College. He mastered the art of oratory. He was a frequent preacher of the Gospel in churches, it being reported that throughout a twenty-seven-day time span, he preached as many sermons; seven students accepting Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. 3
His wife, Lucretia Rudolph Garfield, bore him five children who survived. One of his sons became President of Williams College, while another became Secretary of the Interior. Garfield, an anti-slavery advocate, was elected in 1859 to the Ohio State Senate. During the Civil War he gained the reputation of “preacher-soldier.” He also gained the distinction of attaining the highest rank among Army Volunteers, that of Major-General.4
At the suggestion of Abraham Lincoln, he took his place as a delegate in the U.S. House of Representatives, favoring the Library of Congress, from which, it is said, he consulted more books than any other congressman except Charles Sumner. Garfield led the cause for a new Library of Congress historic building, which was inaugurated in 1897, after his death.
At a speech in New York after Lincoln’s assassination, he quieted the fears of the people by proclaiming: “Fellow citizens, God Reigns, and the government still lives.”
In June, 1880, Garfield was nominated for the Presidency. While serving as twentieth U.S. President, he boldly exposed financial frauds and authorized a thorough investigation of scandals in the Postal Star Routes. He encouraged the “Good Neighbor” policy with South America, as well as the Panama Canal.5
The untimely death of Ohio’s greatest hero was mourned nationally and internationally.
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1 Official Documentation. Office of the Architect of the Capitol, Washington, D.C.