Of the four assassinated presidents, James Garfield is the least recognized. Kennedy’s administration was televised. McKinley was in his second term following the Spanish-American War. And Lincoln was, well, you know... Lincoln? But Garfield falls into that hazy, post-Reconstruction period where nothing much seems to be going on; no war, no global economic or social crisis, no real era-identifying issue. And that’s a shame, because, brief though Garfield’s time was, it was still productive and he confidently set out to steer a recalibrated country towards the modern era.
The last president to be born in a log cabin, James Garfield was born near Cleveland, Ohio, on Nov 19, 1831. Two years later his father died and he was raised by his single mother in straitened circumstances. Regardless of their poverty, she scraped enough money together to send her bookish son to school and then to college. Highly intelligent, after three years in college he out-learned all of his teachers, graduated with honors, and was a teacher himself before becoming a lawyer. In 1858 he married Lucretia Rudolph and the following year was elected to the Ohio State Senate. He served in the Civil War as a major general and saw action at Middle Creek, Shiloh, and Chickamauga. In 1863 he was elected to the House of Representatives where he served until 1880. When he was elected president, Garfield became the first, and thus far the only, president to come directly from the House.