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Presidential Key Events

James A. Garfield

 

James A. Garfield - 03/04/1881: A self-made man, Republican James A. Garfield is s…

A self-made man, Republican James A. Garfield is sworn in as the twentieth President of the United States. Garfield served in the Union Army and in the House of Representatives before running for President. Winning the popular election by an very small margin -- only 10,000 votes -- Garfield owes his success partially to New York political boss and Senator William Conkling. In return, Garfield pledges to consult Conkling on government nominations.

March 04, 1881

James A. Garfield - 03/04/1881: Republican James A. Garfield is sworn in as the tw…

Republican James A. Garfield is sworn in as the twentieth President of the United States.

March 04, 1881

James A. Garfield - 03/05/1881: Garfield completes his slate of cabinet members, n…

Garfield completes his slate of cabinet members, naming James G. Blaine as secretary of state and Abraham Lincoln's son, Robert, as secretary of war. Garfield angers Conkling with his nomination of William Windom of Minnesota, a non-Eastern man, as secretary of treasury. Further, Garfield denies Conkling influence in New York politics by appointing William H. Robertson as collector of the port of New York and Thomas L. James postmaster of New York.

March 05, 1881

James A. Garfield - 03/22/1881: Garfield sends his list of nominations to the Sena…

Garfield sends his list of nominations to the Senate, which includes New York senator Conkling's contingent. Conkling will continue to be a source of conflict for the President.

March 22, 1881

James A. Garfield - 03/23/1881: Garfield removes E. A. Meritt from the collectorsh…

Garfield removes E. A. Meritt from the collectorship of the New York Customhouse after Conkling feels assured that the President would not make any such changes. Garfield then sends W. H. Robertson's name to the Senate as his replacement, intensifying the struggle between Garfield and Conkling.

March 23, 1881

James A. Garfield - 05/04/1881: A Democratic filibuster, which ties up the Senate …

A Democratic filibuster, which ties up the Senate beginning March 23, ends when Garfield agrees to remove certain appointments. The end of the filibuster allows Garfield to push for Robertson's confirmation to the New York Customhouse. Earlier, Senator Conkling threatens to publish the Hubbell letter, which appears to link Garfield to the Star Route Scandal, a scheme to skim money from the U.S. Post Office. The link is not a significant one, however, and the publication of the letter proves more damaging to Conkling than Garfield.

May 04, 1881

James A. Garfield - 05/05/1881: On the eve of the senatorial vote on the New York …

On the eve of the senatorial vote on the New York nominees, Garfield learns that Conkling intends to delay action on other nominees and moves for adjournment before Robertson can be considered. Garfield removes all of his nominations with the exception of Robertson.

May 05, 1881

James A. Garfield - 05/08/1881: The Treaty of Washington is signed between the Uni…

The Treaty of Washington is signed between the United States and Britain, initiating friendly relations between the two nations. The treaty provides for an arbitration procedure to settle the Alabama claims, in which the United States demands that Britain pay for damages to American shipping during the Civil War caused by Confederate vessels built and equipped in England. The treaty also renews Canadian-American fishing arrangements.

May 08, 1881

James A. Garfield - 05/16/1881: New York senators Roscoe Conkling and Tom Platt re…

New York senators Roscoe Conkling and Tom Platt resign to protest Garfield's removal of New York nominees to secure Robertson's confirmation.

May 16, 1881

James A. Garfield - 05/18/1881: The Senate confirms Robertson as collector of cust…

The Senate confirms Robertson as collector of customs for the port of New York.

May 18, 1881

James A. Garfield - 05/21/1881: Clara Barton organizes the American Association of…

Clara Barton organizes the American Association of the Red Cross, modeled after the International Red Cross, in Washington, D.C. Barton serves as the organization's volunteer president until 1904.

May 21, 1881

James A. Garfield - 07/02/1881: Garfield Shot

President Garfield is shot in Washington by Charles Julius Guiteau, a deranged, disappointed office seeker.

July 02, 1881

James A. Garfield - 07/02/1881: Charles J. Guiteau, a mentally unstable Stalwart a…

Charles J. Guiteau, a mentally unstable Stalwart attorney who had been denied a consular post, shoots Garfield in a Washington railroad station. “I am a stalwart,” Guiteau proclaims. “Arthur is now President of the United States.”

July 02, 1881

James A. Garfield - President James Garfield Shot

On July 2, 1881, President James Garfield was shot by Charles J. Guiteau as he walked through the Baltimore & Potomac Railroad station with Secretary of State James Blaine. Wounded after only four months in office, the President died from his wounds on September 19, 1881, and Vice President Chester A. Arthur was sworn in as President.

President Garfield had never paid a great deal of attention to securing himself from possible assassination, likening the possibility of the event to the risk of being struck by lightning-all but impossible to prevent and thus pointless to worry about. Even after being shot, the President did not seem to be particularly concerned, telling bystanders who had seen the attack, “I don't think this is serious. I will live.”

Guiteau, the assassin, was a deranged lawyer who fashioned himself an evangelist and had tried to make a career at it. He supported the Stalwart faction of the Republican Party, Garfield's opposition, and had tried unsuccessfully to obtain a consular appointment in Europe from the President. Guiteau came to believe that “removal” of Garfield had become a “political necessity,” due to the administration's refusal to give him the post and the fact that Garfield's assassination would place a Stalwart, Vice President Chester A. Arthur, in the White House.

After shooting Garfield, Guiteau stood by quietly and awaited apprehension. His trial began in the fall of 1881. Although his lawyers wanted him to plead insanity, Guiteau resisted. He was found guilty and executed on June 30, 1882. The Stalwarts became the target of considerable criticism following the assassination, with many arguing that they were responsible for creating an atmosphere of conflict that allowed for an individual such as Guiteau to emerge.

Had Garfield lived, he might have shifted the energies of the Republican Party toward problems that had arisen in the United States as a result of industrialization, instead of maintaining a focus on issues which lingered from the Civil War and Reconstruction. His death delayed the consolidation of party factions and the modernization of the platform. The assassination, however, helped accelerate civil service reforms. The image of Garfield's assassin as a “disappointed office seeker” motivated many to blame the inadequate civil service system for the President's murder and prompted the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act of 1883.

July 02, 1881

James A. Garfield - 07/04/1881: Established in 1880, the Normal School for Colored…

Established in 1880, the Normal School for Colored Teachers, now Tuskegee University, officially opens its doors in Tuskegee, Alabama. Dr. Booker T. Washington serves as the school's first president.

July 04, 1881

James A. Garfield - 09/19/1881: Garfield Dies

President Garfield dies from injuries sustained in the attack.

September 19, 1881

James A. Garfield - 09/19/1881: James Garfield dies from blood poisoning and compl…

James Garfield dies from blood poisoning and complications after surgeons search endlessly to find the lost bullet in his back, lodged in his pancreas. Vice President Chester A. Arthur becomes the twenty-first President of the United States The assassin, Guiteau, will be hanged on June 30, 1882.

September 19, 1881