Historical Highlights

The Election of President James Garfield of Ohio

November 02, 1880
The Election of President James Garfield of Ohio Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
President James Garfield served in the House immediately prior to his election to the presidency.
On this date, Representative James Garfield of Ohio became the first (and still the only) sitting House Member to be elected President of the United States. Born to a family of modest means, he eventually earned an A.B. degree from Massachusetts’s Williams College in 1856. Rising to the rank of general in the Civil War, he was elected to the first of nine terms in the House in 1862, resigning his commission to take his seat at the opening of the 38th Congress (1863–1865). Garfield was a tireless advocate for “hard money” (gold or silver specie), eventually chairing the Appropriations Committee and serving as the GOP’s de facto leader. In 1880, after the Ohio legislature elected him to the Senate, Garfield attended the Republican National Convention to nominate Treasury Secretary John Sherman of Ohio for President over James G. Blaine of Maine and Ulysses S. Grant of Ohio. However, when the convention deadlocked, the Wisconsin delegation surprised everyone when it cast 16 votes for Garfield. Eventually, on the 36th ballot, he was nominated as a compromise candidate. Garfield’s focus on monetary issues in a period of financial instability, as well as his captivating life story, gave him an advantage over Democratic candidate, General Winfield Scott Hancock. Garfield won the closest popular vote in presidential history—a mere 10,000 votes—but he swept the Electoral College in the Midwest and Northeast. “We stand to-day upon an eminence which overlooks a hundred years of National life,” Garfield said, opening his Inaugural Address. “Before continuing the onward march, let us pause on this height for a moment to strengthen our faith and renew our hope.” Garfield’s victory was short-lived. In July 1881, four months after his inauguration, he was shot at the Baltimore and Potomac train station and died from his wounds that September.

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