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James Garfield - with Periodic Presidents 

James Garfield was the last of the “log cabin” presidents. He was born into poverty in Ohio and then, through his own hard work, perseverance, and determination became a teacher, a lawyer, a college president at the age of 26, an army general at the age of 30, and a powerful politician. As a member of the House of Representatives he voted for the ratification of the 13th amendment to the Constitution which abolished slavery in the United States. He was six feet tall with a full beard and was widely considered to be an amazing public speaker. In 1880, he won the republican nomination and was elected as the 20th president of the United States…all the while battling powerful men in his own party and being an outspoken champion of the emancipated slaves.


On the morning of July 2, 1881, Garfield was leaving Washington, D.C. to visit his alma mater, Williams College, when he was shot twice (once in the back and once in the arm) by Charles Guiteau. Physicians were not able to find the bullet which was lodged near his spine. Although there were no metal detectors at the time, telephone inventor, Alexander Graham Bell, had devised what he called an “induction balance” that was designed to find the bullet. Unknown to Bell, the president was lying on a bed with metal bed springs and the results were not accurate. All the while, Garfield’s doctors had been probing his wounds with their bare hands. Eventually, President Garfield died of sepsis, or blood poisoning, which was introduced by the treatment given to him. President Garfield died on September 19, 1881. His vice-president, Chester Arthur ascended to the presidency. Ultimately, Garfield’s death may have caused Congress to act on one of his key goals, Civil Service Reform. In 1883, the Pendleton Act, which was designed to do away with the “spoils system” of awarding government jobs in return for political contributions, was passed by the congress and signed into law by President Chester Arthur.

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