I have no idea whether James Garfield took part in Halloween festivities during his childhood in rural Ohio, but among the first three words that spring to mind when I consider his presidency are “trick or treat!”
Senator-elect Garfield attended the 1880 Republican convention in Chicago as a delegate and supporter of his friend and presidential hopeful John Sherman. Just a few days later, in a state of utter disbelief, he left town as the Republican Party nominee for the presidency.
After one of the closest elections in the nation’s history Garfield became the 20th president of the United States. Unfortunately, just as he seemed to be settling into his new role (and after surviving a vicious political battle with one of his party’s power brokers) he was shot by a disillusioned and possibly mentally deranged assassin.
Eleven weeks later – and just 200 days into his presidency – James A. Garfield died. Only the presidency of William Henry Harrison was shorter; the ninth president’s service as chief executive lasted only 31 days.
The first book on Garfield I’m reading is “Dark Horse: the Surprise Election and Political Murder of President James A. Garfield” by Kenneth Ackerman. Published in 2003, this book is quite popular and well-liked. Everyone who has read this book recommends it enthusiastically, including several regular readers of this site. I’m anxious to see what the fuss is about.
My next Garfield biography will be “Garfield: A Biography” by Allan Peskin. Nearly every president has a thirty- or forty-year-old “go to” biography and this appears to be the standard text for Garfield. As beloved as it once may have been, however, it is seldom read these days and has a reputation for being a bit dusty and dry. But it also seems to be comprehensive, thorough and well-researched…so count me as hopeful.
My last biography of Garfield is the exceedingly popular “Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President” by Candice Millard. Published in 2011, this biography is currently more popular than all but a few of the presidential biographies on my Master List. And, yes, I did double-check…this really is a book about James Garfield.
I must have missed the four minutes that my American History teacher spent on the Garfield presidency and never learned about his exciting personality or dynamic presidency. Or else, as a writer, Millard really is that good.
Consider me curious!