James A. Garfield was born in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, in 1831. His father died in 1833, when Garfield was only two years old and so his mother had to carry on working the family farm by herself. With the death of his father, the family fell into poverty.

While growing up, James drove canal boat teams, and earned enough money to further his education at college. He attended Western Reserve Eclectic Institute at Hiram, Ohio, and was graduated from Williams College in 1856. He returned to Western Eclectic Institute and became a classics professor. Later, he became the president of the College.

In 1858, he was married to Lucretia Rudolph and had seven kids. Eliza, Harry, James, Mary, Irvin, Abram, and Edward.

James Garfield was an advocate for free-soil principles and soon became a supporter of the newly organized Republican Party. And in 1859, he was elected to the Ohio Legislature. During the succession crisis, he advocated coercing the seceding states back into the Union.

During the Civil War, he helped to recruit the 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry and became the infantry's colonel. He fought at Shiloh in April 1862, served as a chief of staff in the Army of the Cumberland, saw action at Chickamauga in September of 1863.

When the Union victories had been few in 1862, he successfully led a brigade at Middle Creek, Kentucky, against Confederate troops. And in 1862, at the age of 31, he became brigader general, only to be made a major general in 1863. Meanwhile, in 1862, he was elected by fellow Ohioans to The United States House of Representatives. He was persuaded by President Lincoln to resign his army job and remain in Congress. Said Lincoln, "It is easier to find major generals than to obtain effective Republicans for Congress." Garfield held his House seat for 18 years by winning repeated elections and became the leading Republican in the House. As Chairman of the House committee on Appropriations, he became an expert on fiscal matters. He also advocated a high protective tarriff, and sought a firm policy of Reconstruction for the South. In 1880, he was elected to the United States Senate.

At the Republican Convention in 1880, he failed to win the Presidential nomination for his friend, John Sherman, but became the "dark horse" nominee on the 36th ballot. In November 1880, he became the 20th President, winning with a 10,000 vote margain over the Democratic challenger, General Winfield Scott Hancock.

As president, he strengthened Federal authority over the New York Customs House, the stronghold of Senator Conkling. He named Conkling's arch-rival, William H. Robertson, to run the Customs House. This ruling was contested, but Garfield would not back down. "This will settle the question whether the President is registering clerk of the Senate or the Executive of the United States."

Garfield's presidential career came to an abrupt end on July 2, 1881, in a Washington railroad station when he was shot by Charles Guiteau, only four months into Garfield's presidency. For eighty days the president lay ill and performed only one official act, the signing of an extradiction paper. Alexander Graham Bell tried to find the bullet in Garfield's body with a metal detector, but was unsuccessful at locating it, because Garfield was laying on a mattress with metal springs. He was taken to New Jersey and seemed to be recuperating but died on September 19, 1881 from an infection and internal hemmorage.

It took James Garfield 11 weeks to die after being shot in the back by Charles Guiteau in 1881. The bullet nicked an artery, and it was this wound that eventually killed him: but the efforts of the best physicians of his time would have finished him off anyway.

Since it was believed that the bullet itself would cause infection, the first concern was to find it. This was done by poking into the wound, trying to follow the bullet's channel with a metal probe or a finger. And because most American doctors were still skeptical about Louis Pasteur's 20-year-old theory of bacterial infection, the probes were not sterilized and some of the fingers were not even washed.

Smith Townshend, District of the Columbia health officer, was the first doctor to stick his finger into Garfield's wound. He didn't find the bullet, but reportered that the president complained of heaviness, numbness,and pain in his legs, and that he declared himself to be a dead man.

D.W. Bliss, a prominent Washington surgeon and Garfield's friend, succeeded in getting his heavy Nelaton probe stuck in the fragments of a shattered rib. Removal was quiet painful. Undaunted, he tried again with his little finger, then with a long, thin, flexible silver probe.

Over the next few days, the list of famous doctors who poked into Garfield's wound was impressive. So was the depth to which they probed: upon withdrawing his finger, the surgeon general of the navy reported feeling a perforated liver seven inches from the bullet's entry point.

To relieve the president's discomfort, an engineer improvised air conditioning using an exhaust fan and 3,000 feet of turkish toweling saturated with iced saltwater.

The wound began to suppurate. Dr. Agnew performed two operates to enlarge and drain it. A month later, the president showed signs of blood poisoning. His face was paralyzed, his mind began wandering, and he lost 80 pounds.

Another month later, his nicked artery burst and he died. At his autopsy, the bullet was found encapsulated in scar tissue far from any of the doctors' probings, doing no harm.

It is of some humorous note that, while his time in The Office of the President of the United States of America was short, he did find time to name his dog "Veto". This was apparently a statement intended as a warning for Congress.

James A. Garfield is also famous for his ability as an ambidextrous polyglot. He was a classics professor before his political career, and was proficient in several languages. It is said that he liked to impress his friends with a party trick in which he would translate an English text into two languages simultaneously, writing Latin with one hand, and Greek with the other.

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