James Garfield: 20th President: Assassinated Young

Updated on December 11, 2019
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Angela loves history and feels it is essential to our future to know the past—or else be destined to repeat it.

Official Presidential Portrait


His School Year and Early Career

James Abram Garfield, the 20th President, was born in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, where he became the last President to be born in a log cabin. His father passed away when he was only two years old. As a result, he worked very hard to earn money for his education.

As a boy, he cut wood, farmed, as well as attended school when he was able. At 16, he began driving horses and mules that pulled boats on the Ohio Canal as a tow boy.

To afford college, he worked as a janitor at Williams College in Massachusetts, where he attended. When he graduated, he became a professor of Greek and Latin at Western Reserve Eclectic Institute in Ohio. It is now known as Hiram College. A year after becoming a professor there, he became the college's president. He was known to amuse his students by writing Greek with one hand and Latin with the other at the same time.

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Fighting in Civil War and Elected Positions

When Lincoln called for volunteers at the start of the Civil War, Garfield left his job and fought in the war. Others took notice of his success when he battled at Middle Creek, Kentucky, against Confederate troops. Lincoln rose in ranks to become a brigadier general. Two years later, he became a major general of volunteers after he heroically delivered a message that saved his regiment from disaster after his horse had been shot while he was riding it.

In 1859, he was elected to the Ohio Senate as a Republican. Then in 1862, President Lincoln convinced him to resign his career as a major general and join the United States Congress. Garfield served for 18 years or nine terms in the House of Representatives, winning election after election. He became the leading Republican in the House.

In 1880 during an election year, he became a Republican U.S. Senator. Republicans were having a hard time deciding on a candidate. Garfield was pushing for his friend John Sherman. Unfortunately, each time Sherman failed to win the votes needed and they voted 35 times, never once coming to a decision.

Finally, on the 36th ballot, Garfield was nominated; he not only became the Republican representative but won the election against the Democratic nominee General Winfield Scott Hancock by 10,000 popular votes.

Garfield's Presidency and Assassination

While President, many people begged Garfield for Civil Service jobs, going so far as stopping his carriage to ask him. Since he could not give a job to everyone, many people left disappointed. One of them was Charles Guiteau.

Four months after taking office, in July of 1882, Garfield's Secretary of State invited American republics to a conference in Washington. Unfortunately, this meeting never took place.

While awaiting a train in Washington on July 2, 1881, Guiteau shot Garfield twice. Since there was not yet X-ray machines, the doctors were not able to locate and remove the bullets. Even Alexander Graham Bell, who had invented the telephone, attempted to no avail to find the bullet with an induction-balance electrical device he had created. He laid in the Executive Mansion for weeks. He seemed to be recuperating and was taken to the seaside in New Jersey on September 6th. Then on September 19, 1881, Garfield died due to an infection and internal bleeding. It was only 200 days after being inaugurated. Fourteen years later, X-ray machines that could have saved his life were invented.

Assassination Attempt


Fun Facts

  • He was one of the four presidents to be assassinated, but unlike the others, he did not die immediately from his injuries. He was one of eight presidents who died while in office.
  • First left-handed president, although he could write with both hands. He often would impress his students while working as a professor by writing Greek with one hand and Latin with the other.
  • He was the first president to have his mother witness his Inaugural Address.
  • While in battle, he had his horse shot out from under him and still managed to deliver the message he intended to.
  • Was considered a dark horse candidate, because he was only nominated after Republicans voted 35 times prior.

The Tragic Death of President James Garfield

Basic Facts

November 19, 1831 - Ohio
President Number
Military Service
United States Army and Union Army (Major General)
Wars Served
American Civil War Battle of Middle Creek Battle of Shiloh Siege of Corinth Battle of Chickamauga
Age at Beginning of Presidency
49 years old
Term of Office
March 4, 1881 - September 19, 1881
How Long President
6 months
Chester A. Arthur
Age and Year of Death
September 19, 1881 (aged 49)
Cause of Death
complications from a gun shot wound made many months prior

Garfield at 16


List of United States Presidents

1. George Washington
16. Abraham Lincoln
31. Herbert Hoover
2. John Adams
17. Andrew Johnson
32. Franklin D. Roosevelt
3. Thomas Jefferson
18. Ulysses S. Grant
33. Harry S. Truman
4. James Madison
19. Rutherford B. Hayes
34. Dwight D. Eisenhower
5. James Monroe
20. James Garfield
35. John F. Kennedy
6. John Quincy Adams
21. Chester A. Arthur
36. Lyndon B. Johnson
7. Andrew Jackson
22. Grover Cleveland
37. Richard M. Nixon
8. Martin Van Buren
23. Benjamin Harrison
38. Gerald R. Ford
9. William Henry Harrison
24. Grover Cleveland
39. James Carter
10. John Tyler
25. William McKinley
40. Ronald Reagan
11. James K. Polk
26. Theodore Roosevelt
41. George H. W. Bush
12. Zachary Taylor
27. William Howard Taft
42. William J. Clinton
13. Millard Fillmore
28. Woodrow Wilson
43. George W. Bush
14. Franklin Pierce
29. Warren G. Harding
44. Barack Obama
15. James Buchanan
30. Calvin Coolidge
45. Donald Trump


  • Freidel, F., & Sidey, H. (2009). James Garfield. Retrieved April 22, 2016, from https://www.whitehouse.gov/1600/presidents/jamesgarfield
  • Sullivan, George. Mr. President: A Book of U.S. Presidents. New York: Scholastic, 2001. Print.
  • U.S. Presidential Fun Facts. (n.d.). Retrieved April 22, 2016, from http://kids.nationalgeographic.com/explore/history/presidential-fun-facts/#geo-washington.jpg
  • What are some interesting facts about presidents and first ladies? (n.d.). Retrieved April 22, 2016, from https://www.whitehousehistory.org/questions/what-are-some-interesting-facts-about-presidents-first-ladies

© 2017 Angela Michelle Schultz


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