Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A president to admire

Here's a new biography of James Garfield, who appears to have been one of America's most under-rated presidents (not to mention one of the shortest to serve). The book is Destiny of the Republic. Garfield was a fatherless boy in rural Ohio, who left school at sixteen to do manual labor In time he enrolled at Western Reserve (now Hiram College), paying his tuition by working as a janitor, and made such a splash that the college hired him as an assistant professor in his sophomore year. After getting a degree from Williams College in Massachusetts, he went back to Western Reserve as its president at the age of twenty-six. This is the sort of career trajectory I really admire, and which alas would be unthinkable today.

Garfield served heroically in the Civil War and was elected to Congress while still in uniform. When the Republican convention of 1880 found itself deadlocked, it turned to him, and he became president in March 1881, only to be shot by an assassin four months later. Evidently he would have survived if his doctor had not been an idiot. (Gregory House MD lay far in our future.) Blue skies! -- Dan Ford


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