The year is 1881. The civil war has ended, but those fortunate enough to have lived through the battle still carry the scars, quite literally the lead and shrapnel, and families still mourn their losses on both sides. Lincoln has been assassinated, slavery abolished, and three presidents have since carried the weight of a nation. James A. Garfield had no intention of becoming America’s 20th president, but was unanimously elected to run as the Republican candidate after giving an inspiring speech in support of the would-be nominee.
Garfield’s presidency lasted only 200 days, 80 of which he fought heroically in his bed attempting to recover from an assassin’s bullet, shot into his back and resting behind his pancreas. He died not from the bullet wound though, but of heart failure, caused by massive infection due to the doctors of that day continued and crude means of treatment.
Though his life was cut short, he left an incredible legacy of quotes and speeches that illustrate the character of man he was and what I believe we ought to seek in our leaders. Below are a few of my favorites.
“I mean to make myself a man, and if I succeed in that, I shall succeed in everything else.”
“Man cannot live by bread alone; he must have peanut butter.”
“This honor comes to me unsought. I have never had the presidential fever; not even for a day.”
“The sin of slavery is one of which it may be said that without the shedding of blood there is no remission.”
“The chief duty of government is to keep the peace and stand out of the sunshine of the people.”
“I am a poor hater.”
“Right reason is stronger than force.”
“I never meet a ragged boy in the street without feeling that I may owe him a salute, for I know not what possibilities may be buttoned up under his coat.”
“If wrinkles must be written on our brow, let them not be written on our heart. The spirit should not grow old.”
“Ideas are the great warriors of the world, and a war that has no idea behind it, is simply a brutality.”
“There are men and women who make the world better just by being the kind of people they are. They have the gift of kindness or courage or loyalty or integrity. It really matters very little whether they are behind the wheel of a truck or running a business or bringing up a family. The teach the truth by living it.”
If you are interested in learning more about this incredible man (and you should) there is likely no better book than Candace Millard’s Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President also available on Audible. Not only does Millard go into great detail about President Garfield, she also contrast him with the lunatic assassin Charles Guiteau and brilliantly brings in the life of Thomas Edison to the story and the important role he played in attempting to save the President’s life.