James A Garfield

Essay by thesunintheskyHigh School, 11th gradeA+, May 2004

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The great American novelist Thomas Wolfe, in his book "From Death to Morning" (1935), once referred to them: "Garfield, Arthur, Harrison, and Hayes, time of my father's time, blood of his blood, life of his life, . . . were the lost Americans: their gravely vacant and bewhiskered faces mixed, melted, swam together in the sea depths of a past intangible, immeasurable, and unknowable as the buried city of Persepolis. And they were lost. For who was Garfield, martyred man, and who had seen him in the streets of life? Who could believe that his footfalls ever sounded on a lonely pavement? Who had heard the casual and familiar tones of Chester Arthur? Where was Harrison? Where was Hayes? Which had the whiskers, which the burnsides: Which was which? Were they not lost?" (Thomas Wolfe, www.americanpresident.org)

The reason, why Wolfe thinks the presidents were lost, is because they served rather uneventfully after the Civil War.

But in Garfield's case this was caused by his early assassination a mere 100 days after he assumed office:

It's September 18, 1881 and I strongly believe that I'm lying on my deathbed. Those doctors had taken a three-inch wound and turned it into a twenty-inch gouge. My faith in them vanished and pictures of my life start running in front of my inner eye like a movie. I remember the log cabin near Cleveland, Ohio, where I was born on Nov. 19, 1831 as the youngest of five children of Abram and Eliza Ballou Garfield. My father died in 1833 so I never had the chance to get to know him. My mom brought up her young family unaided and impressed the high standard of moral and intellectual worth on us. She displayed almost heroic courage. We grew up in poverty, but...