He was born in Orange , Cuyahoga County, Ohio , southeast of Cleveland
. He was named for his older brother James Ballou Garfield, who died in
infancy, and his father, Abram Garfield. His father died in 1833 , when
James Abram was 18 months old, and he grew up cared for by his mother and
From 1851 - 1854 he attended the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute
(later named Hiram College ) in Hiram, Ohio . He then transferred to Williams
College in Williamstown, Massachusetts , from which he graduated in 1856
, as an outstanding student who enjoyed all subjects except chemistry .
He then taught at the Eclectic Institute. He was an instructor in classical
languages for the 1856 - 1857 year, and was made president of the Institute
from 1857 to 1860 .
On November 11 , 1858 , he married Lucretia Randolph. They had five
children. A son, James Rudolph Garfield, followed him into politics and
became Secretary of the Interior under Theodore Roosevelt .
Garfield decided that being an academician was not his desire, and studied
law privately, becoming admitted to the bar in Ohio in 1860 . Even before
admission to the bar, he entered politics, becoming an Ohio state senator
in 1859 , serving until 1861 . He was an enthusiastic Republican all his
He noteably found a proof for the Pythagorean Theorem in 1876 .
With the start of the Civil War , Garfield entered the Union Army. He took
command of the 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Gen. Don Carlos Buell assigned
Garfield the task of driving the Confederate forces out of Eastern Kentucky
in November, 1861. He was given the 18th Brigade for the campaign. In December,
he departed Catlettsburg, Kentucky with the 40th and 42nd Ohio Infantries,
the 14th and 22nd Kentucky Infantries, along with the 2nd (West) Virginia
Cavalry and McLoughlin's Squadron of Cavalry. The march was uneventful
until reaching Paintsville, Kentucky , where his cavalry engaged the Confederate
cavalry at Jenny's Creek on Jan. 6th, 1862. The Confederate withdrew to
the forks of Middle Creek, two miles from Prestonsburg, Kentucky on the
road to Virginia. Garfield attacked on Jan. 9th. At the end of the day's
fighting, the Confederates withdrew from the field. Garfield did not pursue
them. He ordered a withdraw to Prestonsburg so he could resupply his men.
His victory brought early recognition to him.
He was transferred in April to the west in time to participate in the
Battle of Shiloh. He also fought at Chickamuaga , eventually reaching the
rank of major general.
Later political career
In 1863 , he re-entered politics, being elected to the House of Representatives
that year. He succeeded in gaining re-election every two years up until
1878 . In the House of Representatives during the Civil War period and
the following Reconstruction Era, he was one of the most hawkish Republicans,
seeking to defeat and later weaken the South at every opportunity. In 1876
, when James G. Blaine moved from the House to the Senate , Garfield became
the Republican floor leader of the House.
In 1876 he was a Republican member of the Electoral Commission that
awarded 22 electoral votes to Rutherford B. Hayes in his contest for the
Presidency against Samuel J. Tilden .
In 1880 , his life underwent a major change. It began with the impending
end of the term of Ohio's Democratic Senator, Allen G. Thurman (who had
also served on the 1876 Electoral Commission). Since the Ohio legislature
was to choose a Senator, and had recently changed from Democratic to Republican
control, Thurman would not be reelected. Garfield was its choice. But before
he could ever sit in the Senate, the Republicans held their Presidential
nominating convention, and he was a leader among those in the convention
who opposed renominating former President Ulysses S. Grant for a third
term. He supported the Secretary of the Treasury , John Sherman of Ohio,
but when neither Grant, Sherman, nor Blaine could win the majority of the
delegates' votes, Garfield was nominated as the Republican candidate for
the presidency himself.
Consequently Garfield declined the seat in the United States Senate
to which he had just been elected by the Ohio Legislature. (Ironically,
the seat then went to John Sherman, whose candidacy for the Presidency
Garfield had advocated.) He defeated the Democratic candidate, Winfield
Scott Hancock , by 214 electoral votes to 155. (The popular vote was much
closer; see U.S. presidential election, 1880 .) He took office in 1881
Garfield was shot by Charles J. Guiteau on July 2 , 1881 , just a few months
after taking office.
Garfield's assassin was apparently upset by being passed over as the
United States consul in Paris . One of the bullets that struck Garfield
lodged in his back and could not be found. ( Alexander Graham Bell devised
a metal detector in an attempt to find the bullet, but the metal bedframe
he was lying on confused the instrument.) He became increasingly ill over
a period of several months because of infection and died on September 19
, 1881 in Elberon, New Jersey .
Secretary of State : William M. Evarts; James G. Blaine