Skip to comments.The Man Who Didn't Want to be President
Posted on 02/17/2014 4:00:54 AM PST by Kaslin
Nearly 1,000 days stretch between this Presidents' Day and the next presidential election. Yet already it is impossible to escape the maneuvers, machinations, and media coverage of men and women so consumed with winning the highest office in the land that the lust for power all but oozes from their pores. For as long as most of us can remember, the obsessive quest for the presidency has been an indelible feature of American politics. Try to envision a successful candidate for the White House who doesn't have that "fire in the belly": a candidate prepared to accept the job if it seeks him out, but not driven by such insatiable ambition that everything else pales by comparison. It would be easier to envision a team of unicorns.
And yet America once had such a president. He was James A. Garfield of Ohio, a remarkable individual who rose from grinding poverty to the presidency of the United States without ever thrusting himself forward as a candidate for election to anything. It is a shame that Americans don't know more about this gifted yet modest leader, as they doubtless would had he not been fatally shot by an assassin just four months after becoming president.
On the eve of Garfield's inauguration as the nation's 20th chief executive, he told a group of old friends: "This honor comes to me unsought. I have never had the presidential fever, not even for a day."
It was true. At every step of his political career, Garfield had to be urged to serve for the good of the country. He was first elected to Congress during the Civil War in 1862, while he was on active duty as a major general in the Union Army. The 31-year-old Garfield, a Republican and ardent abolitionist, "receiv[ed] nearly twice as many votes as his opponent, although he had done nothing to promote his candidacy," writes Candice Millard in Destiny of the Republic, her 2011 history of Garfield's election and tragic death. He didn't take his congressional seat for another year and then only because President Lincoln pressed him to do so. "I have resigned my place in the army and have taken my seat in Congress," Garfield wrote in a letter home. "I did this with regret [b]ut the President told me he dared not risk a single vote in the House."
A competent lawmaker with a reputation for conciliation, Garfield served nine terms in the House, before being elected to the US Senate in 1880. It was as Ohio's senator-elect that he arrived at the Republican National Convention in Chicago that June. He had come to serve as floor manager for Treasury Secretary (and fellow Ohioan) John Sherman in what was expected to be a three-way fight for the GOP nomination. The other leading contenders were former President Ulysses S. Grant and US Senator James G. Blaine of Maine.
But none of the three could win the 379 votes needed for nomination. As the convention remained deadlocked through ballot after ballot, some delegates began floating Garfield's name as a compromise. On the 34th ballot, after a day and a half of voting, 17 votes were unexpectedly cast for Garfield. Dumbfounded, he rose to protest, objecting vehemently to any effort to nominate him.
"The announcement contains votes for me," said Garfield, who had remained loyal to Sherman throughout the proceedings. "No man has a right, without the consent of the person voted for, to announce that person's name and vote for him in this convention. Such consent I have not given" Before he could finish, the convention chairman Massachusetts Senator George F. Hoar, who had privately hoped all along that the party would unite behind Garfield gaveled him out of order. The polling continued. On the 35th ballot, there were 50 votes for Garfield. By the 36th, with even Sherman throwing his support to his ally, it was all over. Garfield was nominated with 399 votes. As the convention erupted in cheers and song, a "shocked and sickened" Garfield was beset by well-wishers. To one delegate's congratulations, he replied: "I am very sorry that this has become necessary."
Five months later, he was elected president. On March 4, 1881, he was sworn in, and delivered an inaugural address passionate in its emphasis on the rights of freed blacks. "Former slaves in the crowd openly wept," Millard recounts. Many more Americans would weep six months later, when Garfield died of the gunshot wound he had received on July 2, 1881.
"I suppose I am morbidly sensitive about any reference to my own achievements," the 20th president once acknowledged. "I so much despise a man who blows his own horn, that I go to the other extreme."
Not many presidents have been more suited for high office than this admirable man who never lusted for power. Would that his like were in the mix for 2016.
I nominate Ben Carson as that man.
Ohio ping list
James A. Garfield won the Presidency by less than 10,000 votes, less than 1/10 of 1%. That margin is still the record.
Excellent point, because Dr Carson does not want to be President
Asked by Beck for his thoughts on the Second Amendment, Carson gave the popular pro-gun argument: Theres a reason for the Second Amendment; people do have the right to have weapons.
But when asked whether people should be allowed to own semi-automatic weapons, the doctor replied: It depends on where you live.
I think if you live in the midst of a lot of people, and Im afraid that that semi-automatic weapon is going to fall into the hands of a crazy person, I would rather you not have it, Carson elaborated.
However, if you live out in the country somewhere by yourself and want to own a semi-automatic weapon, he added, Ive no problem with that.
I don’t think we are going to find one man or woman who thinks as we do on every issue every time at a rate of 100%. Dr. Ben has many great qualities. If he ever ran for the white house, that’s where you hope to find something close to a balanced view that is acceptable in its totality.
Most of the house was a spacious yet humble log cabin with even a room for Garfield's elderly mother. The luxurious part of the house, including a fabulous library, was built after the president's death from small donations of well-wishers throughout the country.
Garfield left a lot of direct descendants still living in the area. I believe one of his sons served in a cabinet post under President Theodore Roosevelt. But for the most part, they've went into work in the private sector, never traded on their connections and even show up from time to time to pay admission to tour the family home, not even giving their connection unless asked.
Oh, I thought this was an article about the last two GOP candidates...
Is there a chance for redemption? What if Dr. Ben said a year from now, that “After a more complete appraisal of my comments in reference to the 2nd Ammendment, I have ‘evolved’”. and he now shares your opinion on private gun ownership being non-negotiable. Would you consider him then? Remember, we are talking about a surgeon, albeit a very good one. The Doctor has only now turned his full attention to matters that we discuss daily on sites like this one. Even highly successful professionals are at times open minded enough to learn something to a greater depth.
I thought this was going to be about Romney’s last run!
James A. Garfield—a great Republican!
I attended the James A. Garfield School in Boston.
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