James A. Garfield

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I love to deal with doctrines and events. The contests of men about men I greatly dislike.
The world's history is a divine poem, of which the history of every nation is a canto, and every man a word.

James Abram Garfield (19 November 183119 September 1881) was the 20th President of the United States (1881), and the second U.S. President to be assassinated. His term was the second shortest in U.S. history, after William Henry Harrison's. Holding office from March to September of 1881, President Garfield was in office for a total of just six months and fifteen days.

Quotes[edit]

There has been a Divine melody running through the song which speaks of hope and halcyon days to come.
I am trying to do two things: dare to be a radical and not be a fool, which, if I may judge by the exhibitions around me, is a matter of no small difficulty.
The chief duty of government is to keep the peace and stand out of the sunshine of the people.
Things don't turn up in this world until somebody turns them up.
Nobody but radicals have ever accomplished anything in a great crisis.
Tell her I am seriously hurt; how seriously I cannot yet say.
Tortured for the Republic.
The worst days of darkness through which I have ever passed have been greatly alleviated by throwing myself with all my energy into some work relating to others.
I mean to make myself a man, and if I succeed in that, I shall succeed in everything else.
Assassination can be no more guarded against than death by lightning; it is best not to worry about either.
The elevation of the negro race from slavery to the full rights of citizenship is the most important political change we have known since the adoption of the Constitution of 1787. NO thoughtful man can fail to appreciate its beneficent effect upon our institutions and people.
Let us not commit ourselves to the absurd and senseless dogma that the color of the skin shall be the basis of suffrage, the talisman of liberty.
There can be no permanent disfranchised peasantry in the United States. Freedom can never yield its fullness of blessings so long as the law or its administration places the smallest obstacle in the pathway of any virtuous citizen.
To grant suffrage to the black man in this country is not innovation, but restoration. It is a return to the ancient principles and practices of the fathers.
I affirm, therefore, that our present position is one of apostasy; and to give the ballot to the negro will be no innovation, but a return to the old paths, a restoration of that spirit of liberty to which the sufferings and sacrifices of the Revolution gave birth.
  • Be fit for more than the thing you are now doing. Let everyone know that you have a reserve in yourself; that you have more power than you are now using. If you are not too large for the place you occupy, you are too small for it.
    • "Elements of Success", in President Garfield and Education : Hiram College Memorial (1881) by B. A. Hinsdale, p. 327
  • Poverty is uncomfortable, as I can testify; but nine times out of ten the best thing that can happen to a young man is to be tossed overboard and compelled to sink or swim for himself.
    • "Elements of Success" President Garfield and Education : Hiram College Memorial (1881) by B. A. Hinsdale, p. 331
  • The worst days of darkness through which I have ever passed have been greatly alleviated by throwing myself with all my energy into some work relating to others.
    • Reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895), p. 124.
  • I believe in God, and I trust myself in His hands.
    • Reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895), p. 595.
  • I mean to make myself a man, and if I succeed in that, I shall succeed in everything else.
    • A Dictionary of Thoughts : Being A Cyclopedia Of Laconic Quotations from the Best Authors of the World, Both Ancient and Modern (1908) by Tryon Edwards, p. 327
  • The President is the last person in the world to know what the people really want and think.
    • As quoted in Garfield of Ohio : The Available Man (1970) by John M. Tyler.
  • I am receiving what I suppose to be the usual number of threatening letters on the subject. Assassination can be no more guarded against than death by lightning; it is best not to worry about either.
    • As quoted in Garfield of Ohio : The Available Man (1970) by John M. Tyler
  • I have had many troubles, but the worst of them never came.
    • As quoted in The Power of Choice (2007) by Joyce Guccione, p. 49

1850s[edit]

  • The world's history is a divine poem, of which the history of every nation is a canto, and every man a word. Its strains have been pealing along down the centuries, and though there have been mingled the discords of warring cannon and dying men, yet to the Christian philosopher and historian — the humble listener — there has been a Divine melody running through the song which speaks of hope and halcyon days to come.
    • The Province of History (c. 1856), Reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895), p. 620.

1860s[edit]

  • We do not even inquire whether a black man is a rebel in arms, or not, if he is black, be he friend or foe, he is thought best kept at a distance. It is hardly possible God will let us succeed while such enormities are practiced.
    • Regarding slavery (1862), as quoted in Garfield: A Biography (1978), by Allan Peskin, p. 145.
  • For mere vengeance I would do nothing. This nation is too great to look for mere revenge. But for security of the future I would do every thing.
    • Speech in New York City (15 April 1865) on the occasion of Abraham Lincoln's assassination, as reported in John Clark Ridpath, The Life and Work of James A. Garfield (1882 memorial edition), p. 194. Several biographers include this speech, but accounts of his remarks that day vary.
  • If wrinkles must be written upon our brows, let them not be written upon the heart. The spirit should not grow old.
    • Letter to Colonel A. F. Rockwell (13 August 1866)
  • I am trying to do two things: dare to be a radical and not be a fool, which, if I may judge by the exhibitions around me, is a matter of no small difficulty.
    • In a letter to Burke Aaron Hinsdale (1 January 1867); quoted in The Life of Gen. James A. Garfield (1880) by Jonas Mills Bundy, p. 77
  • I am oppressed with a sense of the impropriety of uttering words on this occasion. If silence is ever golden, it must be here, beside the graves of fifteen thousand men, whose lives were more significant than speech, and whose death was a poem, the music of which can never be sung. With words we make promises, plight faith, praise virtue. Promises may not be kept, plighted faith may be broken, and vaunted virtue be only the cunning mask of vice. We do not know one promise these men made, one pledge they gave, one word they spoke: but we do know they summed up and perfected, by one supreme act, the highest virtues of men and citizens. For love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue.
  • The chief duty of government is to keep the peace and stand out of the sunshine of the people.
    • Letter to H. N. Eldridge (12 December 1869) as quoted in Garfield (1978) by Allen Peskin, Ch. 13

Oration at Ravenna, Ohio (1865)[edit]

Oration delivered at Ravenna, Ohio (4 July 1865)
  • Fellow citizens, we may now say that the past, with all its wealth of glorious associations, is secure. The air is filled with brightness; the horizon is aglow with hope. The future is full of magnificent possibilities. But God has committed to us a trust which we must not, we dare not overlook. By the dispensation of his Providence, the chains have been stricken from four millions of the inhabitants of this Republic, and he has shown us the truth of that early utterance of Abraham Lincoln's, 'This is a world of compensations; and he who would be no slave must have no slave. Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves, and under a just God cannot long retain it.'
  • In the great crisis of the war, God brought us face to face with the mighty truth, that we must lose our own freedom or grant it to the slave. In the extremity of our distress, we called upon the black man to help us save the Republic; and, amid the very thunders of battle, we made a covenant with him, sealed both with his blood and with ours, and witnessed by Jehovah, that, when the nation was redeemed, he should be free, and share with us its glories and its blessings. The Omniscient Witness will appear in judgment against us if we do not fulfill that covenant. Have we done it? Have we given freedom to the black man? What is freedom? Is it mere negation? Is it the bare privilege of not being chained, of not being bought and sold, branded and scourged? If this is all, then freedom is a bitter mockery, a cruel delusion, and it may well be questioned whether slavery were not better. But liberty is no negation. It is a substantial, tangible reality. It is the realization of those imperishable truths of the Declaration, 'that all men are created equal'; that the sanction of all just government is 'the consent of the governed.' Can these be realized until each man has a right to be heard on all matters relating to himself? The plain truth is, that each man knows his own interest best It has been said, 'If he is compelled to pay, if he may be compelled to fight, if he be required implicitly to obey, he should be legally entitled to be told what for; to have his consent asked, and his opinion counted at what it is worth. There ought to be no pariahs in a full-grown and civilized nation, no persons disqualified except through their own default.' I would not insult your intelligence by discussing so plain a truth, had not the passion and prejudice of this generation called in question the very axioms of the Declaration.
  • But it will be asked, Is it safe to admit to the elective franchise the great mass of ignorant and degraded blacks, so lately slaves? Here indeed is the great practical question, to the solution of which should be brought all the wisdom and enlightenment of our people. I am fully persuaded that some degree of intelligence and culture should be required as a qualification for the right of suffrage. I have no doubt that it would be better if no man were allowed to vote who cannot read his ballot or the Constitution of the United States, and write his name or copy in a legible hand a sentence from the Declaration of Independence. Make any such wise restriction of suffrage, but let it apply to all alike. Let us not commit ourselves to the absurd and senseless dogma that the color of the skin shall be the basis of suffrage, the talisman of liberty. I admit that it is perilous to confer the franchise upon the ignorant and degraded; but if an educational test cannot be established, let suffrage be extended to all men of proper age, regardless of color. It may well be questioned whether the negro does not understand the nature of our institutions better than the equally ignorant foreigner. He was intelligent enough to understand from the beginning of the war that the destiny of his race was involved in it. He was intelligent enough to be true to that Union which his educated and traitorous master was endeavoring to destroy. He came to us in the hour of our sorest need, and by his aid, under God, the Republic was saved. Shall we now be guilty of the unutterable meanness, not only of thrusting him beyond the pale of its blessings, but of committing his destiny to the tender mercies of those pardoned rebels who have been so reluctantly compelled to take their feet from his neck and their hands from his throat? But someone says it is dangerous at this time to make new experiments. I answer, it is always safe to do justice. However, to grant suffrage to the black man in this country is not innovation, but restoration. It is a return to the ancient principles and practices of the fathers. Let me refer you to a few facts in our history which have been but little studied by' the people and politicians of this generation.
  • During the war of the Revolution, and in 1788, the date of the adoption of our national Constitution, there was but one State among the thirteen whose constitution refused the right of suffrage to the negro. That State was South Carolina. Some, it is true, established a property qualification; all made freedom a prerequisite; but none save South Carolina made color a condition of suffrage.
  • The Federal Constitution makes no such distinction, nor did the Articles of Confederation. In the Congress of the Confederation, on the 25th of June, 1778, the fourth article was under discussion. It provided that 'the free inhabitants of each of these States — paupers, vagabonds, and fugitives from justice excepted — shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of free citizens in the several States.' The delegates from South Carolina moved to insert between the words 'free inhabitants' the word 'white', thus denying the privileges and immunities of citizenship to the colored man. According to the rules of the convention, each State had but one vote. Eleven States voted on the question. One was divided; two voted aye; and eight voted no. It was thus early, and almost unanimously, decided that freedom, not color, should be the test of citizenship.
  • No federal legislation prior to 1812 placed any restriction on the right of suffrage in consequence of the color of the citizen. From 1789 to 1812 Congress passed ten separate laws establishing new Territories. In all these, freedom, and not color, was the basis of suffrage.
  • After nearly a quarter of a century of prosperity under the Constitution, the spirit of slavery so far triumphed over the early principles and practices of the government that, in 1812, South Carolina and her followers in Congress succeeded in inserting the word 'white' in the suffrage clause of the act establishing a territorial government for Missouri. One by one the Slave States, and many of the free States, gave way before the crusade of slavery against negro citizenship. In 1817, Connecticut caught the infection, and in her constitution she excluded the negro from the ballot-box. In every other New England State his ancient right of suffrage has remained and still remains undisturbed. Free negroes voted in Maryland till 1833; in North Carolina, till 1835; in ennsylvania, till 1838. It was the boast of Cave Johnson of Tennessee that he owed his election to Congress in 1828 to the free negroes who worked in his mills. They were denied the suffrage in 1834, under the new constitution of Tennessee, by a vote of thirty-three to twenty-three. As new States were formed, their constitutions for the most part excluded the negro from citizenship. Then followed the shameful catalogue of black laws; expatriation and ostracism in every form, which have so deeply disgraced the record of legislation in many of the States.
  • I affirm, therefore, that our present position is one of apostasy; and to give the ballot to the negro will be no innovation, but a return to the old paths, a restoration of that spirit of liberty to which the sufferings and sacrifices of the Revolution gave birth.
  • But if we had no respect for the early practices and traditions of our fathers, we should still be compelled to meet the practical question which will very soon be forced upon us for solution. The necessity of putting down the rebellion by force of arms was no more imperative than is that of restoring law, order, and liberty in the States that rebelled. No duty can be more sacred than that of maintaining and perpetuating the freedom which the Proclamation of Emancipation gave to the loyal black men of the South. If they are to be disfranchised, if they are to have no voice in determining the conditions under which they are to live and labor, what hope have they for the future? It will rest with their late masters, whose treason they aided to thwart, to determine whether negroes shall be permitted to hold property, to enjoy the benefits of education, to enforce contracts, to have access to the courts of justice, in short, to enjoy any of those rights which give vitality and value to freedom. Who can fail to foresee the ruin and misery that await this race, to whom the vision of freedom has been presented only to be withdrawn, leaving them without even the aid which the master's selfish commercial interest in their life and service formerly afforded them? Will these negroes, remembering the battlefields on which two hundred thousand of their number bravely fought, and many thousands heroically died, submit to oppression as tamely and peaceably as in the days of slavery? Under such conditions, there could be no peace, no security, no prosperity.
  • I am glad to be able to fortify my position on this point by the great name and ability of Theophilus Parsons, of the Harvard Law School. In discussing the necessity of negro suffrage at a recent public meeting in Boston, he says: "Some of the Southern States have among their statutes a law prohibiting the education of a colored man under a heavy penalty. The whole world calls this most inhuman, most infamous. And shall we say to the whites of those States, 'We give you complete and exclusive power of legislating about the education of the blacks; but beware, for if you lift them by education from their present condition, you do it under the penalty of forfeiting and losing your supremacy?' Will not slavery, with nearly all its evils, and with none of its compensation, come back at once? Not under its own detested name; it will call itself apprenticeship; it will put on the disguise of laws to prevent pauperism, by providing that every colored man who does not work in some prescribed way shall be arrested, and placed at the disposal of the authorities; or it will do its work by means of laws regulating wages and labor. However it be done, one thing is certain: if we take from the slaves all the protection and defence they found in slavery, and withhold from them all power of self-protection and self-defence, the race must perish, and we shall be their destroyers."
  • Another patriotic speaker thus justly sums up his conclusions: 'We must choose between two results. With these four millions of negroes, either you must have four millions of disfranchised, disarmed, untaught, landless, thriftless, non-producing, non-consuming, degraded men; or else you must have four millions of landholding, industrious, arms-bearing, and voting population. Choose between these two!'
  • Bear with me, fellow-citizens, while I urge still another consideration. By the Constitution, only three fifths of the slaves were counted in forming the basis of Congressional representation. The Proclamation of Emancipation adds the other two fifths, which at the next census will be more than two millions. If the negro be denied the franchise, and the size of the House of Representatives remain as now, we shall have fifteen additional members of Congress from the States lately in rebellion, without the addition of a single citizen to their population, and we shall have fifteen less in the loyal States. This will not only give six members of Congress to South Carolina, four sevenths of whose people are negroes, but it will place the power of the State, as well as the destiny of 412,000 black men, in the hands of the 20,000 white men, less than the number of voters in our own Congressional district, who, under the restricted suffrage of that undemocratic State, exercise the franchise. Such an unjust and unequal distribution of power would breed perpetual mischief. The evils of the rotten borough system of England would be upon us.
  • Indeed, we can find no more instructive lesson on the whole question of suffrage than the history of its development in the British empire. For more than four centuries, royal prerogative and the rights of the people of England have waged perpetual warfare. Often the result has appeared doubtful, often the people have been driven to the wall, but they have always renewed the struggle with unfaltering courage. Often have they lost the battle, but they have always won the campaign. Amidst all their reverses, each generation has found them stronger, each half-century has brought them its year of jubilee, and has added strength to the bulwark of law and breadth to the basis of liberty. This contest has illustrated again and again the saying that 'eternal vigilance is the price of liberty'. The growth of a city, the decay of a borough, the establishment of a new manufacture, the enlargement of commerce, the recognition of a new power, have, each in its turn, added new and peculiar elements to the contest. Hallam says: 'It would be difficult, probably, to name any town of the least consideration in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, which did not, at some time or other, return members to Parliament. This is so much the case, that if, in running our eyes along the map, we find any seaport, as Sunderland or Falmouth, or any inland town, as Leeds or Birmingham, which has never enjoyed the elective franchise, we may conclude at once that it has emerged from obscurity since the reign of Henry VIII.'
  • It was a doctrine old as the common law, maintained by our Anglo-Saxon ancestors centuries before it was planted in the American Colonies, that taxation and representation were inseparable correlatives, the one a duty based upon the other as a right But the neglect of the government to provide a system which made the Parliamentary representation conform to the increase of population, and the growth and decadence of cities and boroughs, had, by almost imperceptible degrees, disfranchised the great mass of the British people, and placed the legislative power in the hands of a few leading families of the realm. Towards the close of the last century the question of Parliamentary reform assumed a definite shape, and since that time has constituted one of the most prominent features in British politics. It was found not only that the basis of representation was unequal and unjust, but that the right of the elective franchise was granted to but few of the inhabitants, and was regulated by no fixed and equitable rule. Here I may quote from May's Constitutional History: 'In some of the corporate towns, the inhabitants paying scot and lot, and freemen, were admitted to vote; in some, the freemen only; and in many, none but the governing body of the corporation. At Buckingham and at Bewdley the right of election was confined to the bailiff and twelve burgesses; at Bath, to the mayor, ten aldermen, and twenty-four common-councilmen; at Salisbury, to the mayor and corporation, consisting of fifty-six persons. And where more popular rights of election were acknowledged, there were often very few inhabitants to exercise them. Gatton enjoyed a liberal franchise. All freeholders and inhabitants paying scot and lot were entitled to vote, but they only amounted to seven. At Tavistock all freeholders rejoiced in the franchise, but there were only ten. At St. Michael all inhabitants paying scot and lot were electors, but there were only seven. In 1793 the Society of the Friends of the People were prepared to prove that in England and Wales seventy members were returned by thirty-five places in which there were scarcely any electors at all; that ninety members were returned by forty-six places with less than fifty electors; and thirty-seven members by nineteen places having not more than one hundred electors. Such places were returning members, while Leeds, Birmingham, and Manchester were unrepresented; and the members whom they sent to Parliament were the nominees of peers and other wealthy patrons. No abuse was more flagrant than the direct control of peers over the constitution of the Lower House. The Duke of Norfolk was represented by eleven members; Lord Lonsdale by nine; Lord Darlington by seven; the Duke of Rutland, the Marquis of Buckingham, and Lord Carrington, each by six. Seats were held in both Houses alike by hereditary right.'
  • Scotland and Ireland were virtually disfranchised; Edinburgh and Glasgow, the two largest cities of Scotland, had each a constituency of only thirty-three members. A majority of the members of the House of Commons were elected by six thousand voters. This state of affairs afforded ready opportunities for the moneyed aristocracy to buy seats in Parliament, by the purchase of a few voters in rotten boroughs ; and also enabled the ministry to secure a servile majority in the Commons. The corruption resulting from these conditions, as exhibited in the latter half of the eighteenth century, can hardly be realized by the present generation. They afford, however, an illustration of the universal truth, that a government which does not draw its inspiration of liberty, justice, and morality from the people will soon become both tyrannical and corrupt.
  • In these facts we discover the cause of the popular discontent and outbreaks which have so frequently threatened the stability of the British throne and the peace of the English people. As early as 1770 Lord Chatham said, 'By the end of this century, either the Parliament must be reformed from within, or it will be reformed with a vengeance from without.' The disastrous failure of Republicanism in France delayed the fulfillment of his prophecy; but when, in 1832, the people were on the verge of revolt, the government was reluctantly compelled to pass the celebrated Reform Bill, which has taken its place in English history beside Magna Charta and the Bill of Rights. It equalized the basis of representation, and extended the suffrage to the middle class; and though the property qualification practically excluded the workingman, a great step upward had been taken, a concession had been made which must be followed by others. The struggle is again going on. Its omens are not doubtful. The great storm through which American liberty has just passed gave a temporary triumph to the enemies of popular right in England. But our recent glorious triumph is the signal of disaster to tyranny, and victory for the people. The liberal party in England are jubilant, and will never rest until the ballot, that 'silent vindicator of liberty', is in the hand of the workingman, and the temple of English liberty rests on the broad foundation of popular suffrage. Let us learn from this, that suffrage and safety, like liberty and union, are one and inseparable.
  • It is related in ancient fable that one of the gods, dissatisfied with the decrees of destiny, attempted to steal the box in which were kept the decrees of the Fates; but he found that it was fastened to the throne of Jupiter by a golden chain, and to remove it would pull down the pillars of heaven. So is the sacred ballot-box, which holds the decrees of freemen, linked by the indissoluble bond of necessity to the pillars of the Republic; and he who tampers with its decrees, or plucks it away from its place in our temple, will perish amid the ruins he has wrought.
  • But in view of the lessons of the years of contest that have crowned the nation with victory, with the inspirations of liberty and truth brightly lighting the pathway of the people, who can doubt the equity of their voice? The nations of the earth must not be allowed to point at us as pitiful examples of weak selfishness. In the exigencies of this hour, our duty must be so done that the eternal scrolls of justice will ever bear record of the nobility of the nation's heart Animated, inspired, generous, fearless, in the work of liberty and truth, long will the Republic live, a bulwark of God's immutable justice.

Speech in the House of Representatives (1866)[edit]

Speech in the House of Representatives (1 February 1866)
  • And first, we must recognize in all our action the stupendous facts of the war. In the very crisis of our fate God brought us face to face with the alarming truth that we must lose our own freedom or grant it to the slave. In the extremity of our distress we called upon the black man to help us save the Republic, and amid the very thunder of battle we made a covenant with him, sealed both with his blood and ours, and witnessed by Jehovah, that when the nation was redeemed he should be free and share with us the glories and blessings of freedom. In the solemn words of the great proclamation of emancipation, we not only declared the slaves forever free, but we pledged the faith of the nation 'to maintain their freedom', mark the words, ;to maintain their freedom'. The omniscient witness will appear in judgment against us if we do not fulfill that covenant. Have we done it? Have we given freedom to the black man? What is freedom? Is it a mere negation, the bare privilege of not being chained, bought and sold, branded and scourged? If this be all, then freedom is a bitter mockery, a cruel delusion, and it may well be questioned whether slavery were not better.
  • But liberty is no negation. It is a substantive, tangible reality. It is the realization of those imperishable truths of the Declaration 'that all men are created equal', that the sanction of all just government is 'the consent of the governed'. Can these truths be realized until each man has a right be to heard on all matters relating to himself?
  • Mister Speaker, we did more than merely to break off the chains of the slaves. The abolition of slavery added four million citizens to the Republic. By the decision of the Supreme Court, by the decision of the Attorney-General, by the decision of all the departments of our Government, those men made free are, by the act of freedom, made citizens. As another has said, they must be "four million disfranchised, disarmed, untaught, landless, thriftless, non-producing, non-consuming, degraded men, or four million land-holding, industrious, arms-bearing, and voting population. Choose between the two!"
  • Mister Speaker, let us learn a lesson from the dealing of God with the Jewish nation. When his chosen people, led by the pillar of cloud and fire, had crossed the Red Sea and traversed the gloomy wilderness with its thundering Sinai, its bloody battles, disastrous defeats, and glorious victories ; when near the end of their perilous pilgrimage they listened to the last words of blessing and warning from their great leader before he was buried with immortal honors by the angel of the Lord ; when at last the victorious host, sadly joyful, stood on the banks of the Jordan, their enemies drowned in the sea or slain in the wilderness, they paused and made solemn preparation to pass over and possess the land of promise. By the command of God, given through Moses and enforced by his great successor, the ark of the covenant, containing the tables of the law and the sacred memorials of their pilgrimage, was borne by chosen men two thousand cubits in advance of the people. On the further shore stood Ebal and Gerizim, the mounts of cursing and blessing, from which, in the hearing of all the people, were pronounced the curses of God against injustice and disobedience, and his blessing upon justice and obedience. On the shore, between the mountains and in the midst of the people, a monument was erected, and on it were written the words of the law, 'to be a memorial unto the children of Israel forever and ever.'
  • Let us learn wisdom from this illustrious example. We have passed the Red Sea of slaughter; our garments are yet wet with its crimson spray. We have crossed the fearful wilderness of war, and have led our four hundred thousand heroes to sleep beside the dead enemies of the Republic. We have heard the voice of God amid the thunders of battle commanding us to wash our hands of iniquity, to 'proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.' When we spurned his counsels we were defeated, and the gulfs of ruin yawned before us. When we obeyed his voice, he gave us victory. And now at last we have reached the confines of the wilderness. Before us is the land of promise, the land of hope, the land of peace, filled with possibilities of greatness and glory too vast for the grasp of the imagination. Are we worthy to enter it ? On what condition may it be ours to enjoy and transmit to our children's children? Let us pause and make deliberate and solemn preparation. Let us, as representatives of the people, whose servants we are, bear in advance the sacred ark of republican liberty, with its tables of the law inscribed with the 'irreversible guaranties' of liberty. Let us here build a monument on which shall be written not only the curses of the law against treason, disloyalty, and oppression, but also an everlasting covenant of peace and blessing with loyalty, liberty, and obedience; and all the people will say, Amen.

1870s[edit]

  • The ideal college is Mark Hopkins on one end of a log and a student on the other.
    • Statement that he is reported to have first made at an Alumni Dinner in Delmonico's Restaurant in New York. (28 December 1871). Hopkins was a personal friend and the president of Williams College.
  • It is not part of the functions of the national government to find employment for people — and if we were to appropriate a hundred millions for this purpose, we should be taxing forty millions of people to keep a few thousand employed.
    • To B. A. Hinsdale in 1874, as quoted in The Life and Letters of James Abram Garfield: 1831-1877 (1925) by Theodore Clarke Smith, p. 517
  • I will not vote against the truths of the multiplication table.
    • To H. Austin (4 February 1874) as quoted in Garfield (1978) by Allen Peskin, Ch. 17
  • The return to solid values is always hard... Distress, panic, and hard times have marked our pathway in returning to solid values.
    • Speech (22 June 1874) US Congressional Record, 43rd Congress, 2nd session
  • I am a poor hater.
    • Diary (26 April 1876) as quoted in Garfield (1978) by Allen Peskin, Ch. 13
  • Nobody but radicals have ever accomplished anything in a great crisis. Conservatives have their place in the piping times of peace; but in emergencies only rugged issue men amount to much.
    • Statement of 1876, in The Diary of James A. Garfield: 1875-1877 (1983), edited by Harry James Brown and Frederick D. Williams. p. 396
  • Few men in our history have ever obtained the Presidency by planning to obtain it.
    • Diary (4 February 1879)

1880s[edit]

  • It would convert the Treasury of the United States into a manufactory of paper money. It makes the House of Representatives and the Senate, or the caucus of the party which happens to be in the majority, the absolute dictator of the financial and business affairs of this country. This scheme surpasses all the centralism and all the Caesarism that were ever charged upon the Republican party in the wildest days of the war or in the events growing out of the war.
  • Next in importance to freedom and justice is popular education, without which neither freedom nor justice can be permanently maintained.
    • Letter accepting the Republican nomination to run for President (12 July 1880)
  • I thank you doctor, but I am a dead man.
    • To a doctor treating his wound. Quoted in John Whitcomb, Claire Whitcomb "Real Life at the White House", Routledge, 2002, p. 177.
  • I love to deal with doctrines and events. The contests of men about men I greatly dislike.
    • Diary (14 March 1881)
  • My God! What is there in this place that a man should ever want to get into it?
    • Diary (8 June 1881) as quoted in Garfield (1978) by Allen Peskin, Ch. 24
  • The sin of slavery is one of which it may be said that without the shedding of blood there is no remission.
    • Diary (8 June 1881)
  • Strangulatus pro republica.
    • Tortured for the Republic.
    • Last written words, two days before he died; these are sometimes reported as being his last words. (17 September 1881) Variant translation: "Tortured for the sake of the republic."
  • Garfield: "Old boy! Do you think my name will have a place in human history?"
    Rockwell: "Yes, a grand one, but a grander one in human hearts. Old fellow, you mustn’t talk in that way. You have a great work yet to perform."
    Garfield: "No. My work is done."
    • Conversation with his secretary, Colonel Rockwell the day before he died. These have been reported as his last spoken words. (18 September 1881)

Speech Nominating John Sherman for President (1880)[edit]

Speech at the Republican National Convention, Chicago, Illinois (5 June 1880) nominating John Sherman for President. His address was considered so impressive that it is generally credited with inspiring others to rally around him as a "dark horse" candidate.
I have seen the sea lashed into fury and tossed into spray, and its grandeur moves the soul of the dullest man; but I remember that it is not the billows, but the calm level of the sea, from which all heights and depths are measured.
  • Nothing touches my heart more quickly than a tribute of honor to a great and noble character; but as I sat in my seat and witnessed this demonstration, this assemblage seemed to me a human ocean in tempest. I have seen the sea lashed into fury and tossed into spray, and its grandeur moves the soul of the dullest man; but I remember that it is not the billows, but the calm level of the sea, from which all heights and depths are measured. When the storm has passed and the hour of calm settles on the ocean, when the sunlight bathes its peaceful surface, then the astronomer and surveyor take the level from which they measure all terrestrial heights and depths.
  • Gentlemen of the Convention, your present temper may not mark the healthful pulse of our people. When your enthusiasm has passed, when the emotions of this hour have subsided, we shall find below the storm and passion that calm level of public opinion from which the thoughts of a mighty people are to be measured, and by which final action will be determined.
  • Not in Chicago, in the heat of June, but at the ballot-boxes of the Republic, in the quiet of November, after the silence of deliberate judgment, will this question be settled. And now, gentlemen of the Convention, what do we want?
  • Twenty-five years ago this Republic was bearing and wearing a triple chain of bondage. Long familiarity with traffic in the bodies and souls of men had paralyzed the consciences of a majority of our people; the narrowing and disintegrating doctrine of State sovereignty had shackled and weakened the noblest and most beneficent powers of the national government; and the grasping power of slavery was seizing upon the virgin territories of the West, and dragging them into the den of eternal bondage.
    At that crisis the Republican party was born. It drew its first inspiration from that fire of liberty which God has lighted in every human heart, and which all the powers of ignorance and tyranny can never wholly extinguish. The Republican party came to deliver and to save.
  • Then, after the storms of battle, were heard the calm words of peace spoken by the conquering nation, saying to the foe that lay prostrate at its feet: "This is our only revenge — that you join us in lifting into the serene firmament of the Constitution, to shine like stars for ever and ever, the immortal principles of truth and justice: that all men, white or black, shall be free, and shall stand equal before the law."
  • In order to win victory now, we want the vote of every Republican — of every Grant Republican, and every anti-Grant Republican, in America — of every Blaine man and every anti-Blaine man. The vote of every follower of every candidate is needed to make success certain. Therefore I say, gentlemen and brethren, we are here to take calm counsel together, and inquire what we shall do.
  • We want a man whose life and opinions embody all the achievements of which I have spoken. We want a man who, standing on a mountain height, traces the victorious footsteps of our party in the past, and, carrying in his heart the memory of its glorious deeds, looks forward prepared to meet the dangers to come. We want one who will act in no spirit of unkindness toward those we lately met in battle.
  • He has shown himself able to meet with calmness the great emergencies of the government. For twenty-five years he has trodden the perilous heights of public duty, and against all the shafts of malice has borne his breast unharmed. He has stood in the blaze of "that fierce light that beats against the throne"; but its fiercest ray has found no flaw in his armor, no stain upon his shield. I do not present him as a better Republican or a better man than thousands of others that we honor; but I present him for your deliberate and favorable consideration. I nominate John Sherman, of Ohio.

Inaugural address (1881)[edit]

Inaugural address (March 4, 1881) Full text at Yale University
Let all our people, leaving behind them the battlefields of dead issues, move forward and in their strength of liberty and the restored Union win the grander victories of peace.
We may hasten or we may retard, but we can not prevent, the final reconciliation.
The civil service can never be placed on a satisfactory basis until it is regulated by law.
  • Fellow-Citizens: We stand to-day upon an eminence which overlooks a hundred years of national life — a century crowded with perils, but crowned with the triumphs of liberty and law. Before continuing the onward march let us pause on this height for a moment to strengthen our faith and renew our hope by a glance at the pathway along which our people have traveled.
  • The colonists were struggling not only against the armies of a great nation, but against the settled opinions of mankind; for the world did not then believe that the supreme authority of government could be safely intrusted to the guardianship of the people themselves.
    We can not overestimate the fervent love of liberty, the intelligent courage, and the sum of common sense with which our fathers made the great experiment of self-government. When they found, after a short trial, that the confederacy of States, was too weak to meet the necessities of a vigorous and expanding republic, they boldly set it aside, and in its stead established a National Union, founded directly upon the will of the people, endowed with full power of self-preservation and ample authority for the accomplishment of its great object.
  • Under this Constitution the boundaries of freedom have been enlarged, the foundations of order and peace have been strengthened, and the growth of our people in all the better elements of national life has indicated the wisdom of the founders and given new hope to their descendants.
  • The supreme trial of the Constitution came at last under the tremendous pressure of civil war. We ourselves are witnesses that the Union emerged from the blood and fire of that conflict purified and made stronger for all the beneficent purposes of good government.
  • The will of the nation, speaking with the voice of battle and through the amended Constitution, has fulfilled the great promise of 1776 by proclaiming 'liberty throughout the land to all the inhabitants thereof.' The elevation of the negro race from slavery to the full rights of citizenship is the most important political change we have known since the adoption of the Constitution of 1787. NO thoughtful man can fail to appreciate its beneficent effect upon our institutions and people. It has freed us from the perpetual danger of war and dissolution. It has added immensely to the moral and industrial forces of our people. It has liberated the master as well as the slave from a relation which wronged and enfeebled both. It has surrendered to their own guardianship the manhood of more than 5,000,000 people, and has opened to each one of them a career of freedom and usefulness.
  • No doubt this great change has caused serious disturbance to our Southern communities. This is to be deplored, though it was perhaps unavoidable. But those who resisted the change should remember that under our institutions there was no middle ground for the negro race between slavery and equal citizenship. There can be no permanent disfranchised peasantry in the United States. Freedom can never yield its fullness of blessings so long as the law or its administration places the smallest obstacle in the pathway of any virtuous citizen.
  • The emancipated race has already made remarkable progress. With unquestioning devotion to the Union, with a patience and gentleness not born of fear, they have "followed the light as God gave them to see the light." They are rapidly laying the material foundations of self-support, widening their circle of intelligence, and beginning to enjoy the blessings that gather around the homes of the industrious poor. They deserve the generous encouragement of all good men. So far as my authority can lawfully extend they shall enjoy the full and equal protection of the Constitution and the laws.
  • It has been said that unsettled questions have no pity for the repose of nations. It should be said with the utmost emphasis that this question of the suffrage will never give repose or safety to the States or to the nation until each, within its own jurisdiction, makes and keeps the ballot free and pure by the strong sanctions of the law.
  • It is the high privilege and sacred duty of those now living to educate their successors and fit them, by intelligence and virtue, for the inheritance which awaits them. In this beneficent work, sections and races should be forgotten and partisanship should be unknown. Let our people find a new meaning in the divine oracle which declares that "a little child shall lead them," for our own little children will soon control the destinies of the Republic.
  • My countrymen, we do not now differ in our judgment concerning the controversies of past generations, and fifty years hence our children will not be divided in their opinions concerning our controversies. They will surely bless their fathers and their fathers' God that the Union was preserved, that slavery was overthrown, and that both races were made equal before the law. We may hasten or we may retard, but we can not prevent, the final reconciliation.
  • Enterprises of the highest importance to our moral and material well-being unite us and offer ample employment of our best powers. Let all our people, leaving behind them the battlefields of dead issues, move forward and in their strength of liberty and the restored Union win the grander victories of peace.
  • The civil service can never be placed on a satisfactory basis until it is regulated by law. For the good of the service itself, for the protection of those who are intrusted with the appointing power against the waste of time and obstruction to the public business caused by the inordinate pressure for place, and for the protection of incumbents against intrigue and wrong, I shall at the proper time ask Congress to fix the tenure of the minor offices of the several Executive Departments and prescribe the grounds upon which removals shall be made during the terms for which incumbents have been appointed.
  • I am about to assume the great trust which you have committed to my hands. I appeal to you for that earnest and thoughtful support which makes this Government in fact, as it is in law, a government of the people.
    I shall greatly rely upon the wisdom and patriotism of Congress and of those who may share with me the responsibilities and duties of administration, and, above all, upon our efforts to promote the welfare of this great people and their Government I reverently invoke the support and blessings of Almighty God.

Garfield's Words (1882)[edit]

I am glad to have the opportunity of standing up against a rabble of men who hasten to make weathercocks of themselves.
Quotations from Garfield's Words: Suggestive Passages from the Public and Private Writings of James Abram Garfield (1882) edited by William Ralston Balch
  • If there be one thing upon this earth that mankind love and admire better than another, it is a brave man — it is a man who dares to look the devil in the face and tell him he is a devil.
  • I am glad to have the opportunity of standing up against a rabble of men who hasten to make weathercocks of themselves.
  • I have always said that my whole public life was an experiment to determine whether an intelligent people would sustain a man in acting sensibly on each proposition that arose, and in doing nothing for mere show or demagogical effect.
  • It is not manly to lie even about Satan.
  • I would rather be defeated than make capital out of my religion.
  • The men who succeed best in public life are those who take the risk of standing by their own convictions.
  • The great Carlyle has said that the best gift God ever gave to man was an eye that could really see; I venture to add that an equally rare and not less important gift is the courage to tell what one sees.
  • I must do something to keep my thoughts fresh and growing. I dread nothing so much as falling into a rut and feeling myself becoming a fossil.



Disputed[edit]


Misattributed[edit]

  • History is philosophy teaching by example, and also warning; its two eyes are geography and chronology.
    • This quote was already published in 1853, when Garfield was only 22.
  • Ideas control the world.
    • John Wingate Thornton, The historical relation of New England to the English Commonwealth (1875), p. 46
  • Most human organizations that fall short of their goals do so not because of stupidity or faulty doctrines, but because of internal decay and rigidification. They grow stiff in the joints. They get in a rut. They go to seed.
  • Whoever controls the volume of money in any country is absolute master of all industry and commerce.... And when you realize the entire system is very easily controlled, one way or another, by a few powerful men at the top, you will not have to be told how periods of inflation and depression originate.
  • The truth will set you free — but first it will make you miserable.
    • Attributed without citation to Mark Twain as well as Garfield in recent years, this may have arisen sometime in the 1970s, with earliest publication yet located Pinochet's Chile : An Eyewitness Report, 1980/81 (1981) by Morna Macleod, p. 5.
  • I take it that the question of employees is only a question of private and corporate economy, and individuals or companies have the right to buy labor where they can get it cheapest. We have a treaty with the Chinese government which should be religiously kept until its provisions are abrogated by the action of the general Government, and I am not prepared to say that it should be abrogated until our great manufacturing and corporate interests are conserved in the matter of labor.
    • This politically motivated misattribution was contained in a forged letter circulated during the 1880 presidential campaign. Reported in Paul F. Boller, John George, They Never Said It: A Book of Fake Quotes, Misquotes, and Misleading Attributions (1990), p. 31.

Quotes about Garfield[edit]

Who of us, having heard him here or elsewhere, speaking upon a question of great national concern, can forget the might and majesty, the force and directness, the grace and beauty of his utterances. ~ William McKinley
  • Now we'll use a freemen's right, as thinking freemen should. Shouting the battle cry of Garfield, and we'll place our ballots where they'll do the toiling millions good. Shouting the battle cry for Garfield. Hurrah, boys for Garfield!
  • He rushes into a fight with the horns of a bull and the skin of a rabbit.
    • Jeremiah S. Black, as quoted in Garfield of Ohio : The Available Man (1970) by John M. Tyler
  • James A. Garfield must be our President. I know. Colored man, he is right on our questions, take my word for it. He is a typical American all over. He has shown us how man in the humblest circumstances can grapple with man, rise, and win. He has come from obscurity to fame, and we'll make him more famous. Has burst up through the incrustations that surround the poor, and has shown us how it is possible for an American to rise. He has built the road over which he traveled. He has buffeted the billows of adversity, and tonight, he swims in safety where Hancock, in despair, is going down.
  • Here he was leader and master, not by combination of scheming, not by chicanery or caucus, but by the force of his cultivated mind, his keen and farseeing judgment, his unanswerable logic, his strength and power of speech, his thorough comprehension of the subjects of legislation. Always strong, he was strongest on his feet addressing the House or from the rostrum the assembled people. Who of us having heard him here or elsewhere speaking upon a question of great national concern can forget the might and majesty, the force and directness, the grace and beauty of his utterances? He was always just to his adversary, an open and manly opponent, and free from invective. He convinced the judgment with his searching logic, while he swayed his listeners with brilliant periods and glowing eloquence. He was always an educator of people. His thoughts were fresh, vigorous, and instructive.
    • William McKinley, in a eulogy during an unveiling of a statue of Garfield (19 January 1886), as quoted in One of the People : Life and Speeches of William McKinley (1896) by F. T. Neely also quoted in The Life and Letters of James Abram Garfield: 1831-1877 Vol. 2 (1925) by Theodore Clarke Smith
  • Although elected, General Garfield never took his seat in the Senate of the United States. His legislative career ended here, where it had practically begun eighteen years before. His nomination for the Presidency occurred soon after the Legislature of Ohio had chosen him Senator, and came to him, as did all of his honors, because deserved. Although unsought, no mere chance brought him this rare distinction. His solid reputation rendered it not improbable at any time. He had the qualities which attached his great party to him and the equipment which filled the fullest measure of public and party requirements. From the stirring scenes at Chicago to the succeeding election he bore himself like a statesman and patriot fit for the highest trust. He advanced in public confidence, and whenever he met with or addressed the people, he enlarged the circle of his admiring followers and friends. … He was twenty-three years of age when he confronted the practical duties and the wider problems of life. All before had been training and preparation, the best of both, and his marvelous career ended before he was fifty. Few have crowded such great results and acquired such lasting fame in so short a life. Few have done so much for country and for civilization as he whom we honor to-day, stricken down as he was when scarce at the meridian of his powers. He did not flash forth as a meteor; he rose with measured and stately step over rough paths and through years of rugged work. He earned his passage to every preferment. He was tried and tested at every step in his pathway of progress. He produced his passport at every gateway to opportunity and glory.
    His broad and benevolent nature made him the friend of all mankind.
    • William McKinley, in a eulogy during an unveiling of a statue of Garfield (19 January 1886), as quoted in One of the People : Life and Speeches of William McKinley (1896) by F. T. Neely.

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