Served: March 4, 1881 – September 19, 1881
Born: November 19, 1831
Birthplace: Moreland Hills, Ohio
Died: September 19, 1881
Occupations: Lawyer, teacher, lay preacher, elder
Political Party: Republican
Spouse: Lucretia Rudolph
200 Days in the White House
After serving nine terms in the House of Representatives, James Abram Garfield made the leap to president in 1881.
Unfortunately for him, his presidency was approximately 200 days long and was the second shortest presidency in history, the first being William Henry Harrison’s month-long term. He was the second president to be assassinated; Abraham Lincoln was the first.
Although Garfield spent a short time in office, he accomplished as much as he could during his shortened term, including appointing African-Americans to federal positions and cleaning up the postal service.
A Difficult Upbringing
Garfield worked hard to overcome adversities in life, including losing his father at 2. During his youth, Garfield earned the money needed for his schooling, and in 1856 he graduated from Williams College.
He became a professor at the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute in Ohio, and that same year was appointed the school’s president. In 1859, Garfield began studying law, and by 1861 he had been admitted to the Ohio bar.
During the Civil War, Garfield joined the Union Army, and in 1861 he was appointed lieutenant colonel and tasked with driving Confederate forces out of Kentucky. His success not only brought him recognition as an army leader, but he was also promoted to brigadier general and later chief of staff to Commander William S. Rosecrans.
In 1858, Garfield married Lucretia Rudolph, and they had seven children. His son James R. Garfield later became secretary of the interior under Theodore Roosevelt’s administration.
James A. Garfield’s Pets
- Kit, Molly Garfield’s mare
- A Newfoundland dog named Veto
MORE PETS! Check out our photo gallery of selected White House pets
A Shortened Presidential Term
Garfield’s political career began when he was elected Ohio state senator in 1859 as a Republican. During the Civil War, his political career was put on hold as he joined the military and climbed its ranks. However, he was talked into returning by President Lincoln in 1862, and he went on to serve in the House of Representatives for 18 years.
In 1880, Garfield defeated the Democrats and took reign of the White House until his assassination in 1881. Before his assassination, Garfield was able to begin restructuring the post office department, which at the time was in desperate need of reform. He also filled a vacancy in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Did You Know…?
- After he was shot in 1881, Garfield lay injured for 80 days in the White House. He was treated by Alexander Graham Bell, who tried to find and remove the bullet. However, eventually the president died from an infection and internal hemorrhaging.
- Garfield’s annual salary was $50,000, which quickly dwindled with the day-to-day expenses of living in the White House. In fact, he couldn’t even afford a horse and buggy for the White House stables, and he used a pre-owned buggy given to him by Rutherford B. Hayes. The president’s salary wasn’t increased until 1909, as William Taft took office, to $75,000.
- A previous assassination attempt by Charles J. Guiteau was abandoned when the eventual assassin lost his nerve.