American Presidents

James A. Garfield American Presidents Teacher Guide

James A. Garfield and Gilded Age presidents
July 26, 1999 on C-SPAN
Recommended Use:
Secondary Level

This Teacher Guide was developed by 1999 C-SPAN Teacher Fellow Martha Dailey who teaches A.P. U.S. History at Mt. Greylock Regional High School in Williamstown, MA. where C-SPAN is provided by Adelphia.

In addition to learning about biographical information on the 20th president of the United States, this program will be a catalyst to the wider study of the political parties and issues of the post-Civil War era called the Gilded Age. In office for only 200 days before his assassination on July 2, 1881, James A.Garfield was an opponent and victim of rampant political patronage. The lesson plan is intended for students in political science, US history, and psychology classes.

Materials for this lesson

A U.S. history text that details the history and politics of the Gilded Age; for example, Vol. 11, The Great Republic by Bernard Bailyn, et al. United States Constitution, Article II, Section 1 on the electoral college

C-SPAN's American Presidents program featuring President James A. Garfield

Internet sites:

  • C-SPAN's American President's web site
  • The United States Constitution online
  • Garfield's Inaugural Address web site maintained by AcIS, Columbia University's Bartleby Library.
  • High school teacher Steve Silverman's web site on useless information you can't live without.
  • Georgetown University's Lauinger Library's Special Collections Division web site

    Before Viewing American Presidents
    Part 1
    Students can explore a range of primary and secondary sources using the Internet when studying the political life and death of the 20th president James A. Garfield. James A. Garfield's political career is a stepping stone from which students can understand issues and problems of the time which requires their research and reflection.

    Instruct students to visit C-SPAN's American Presidents web site and use its pull-down menu of presidents biographical details to research each of the Gilded Age presidents from President Hayes to President Harrison. Students should create at timeline of presidents from the Gilded Age by gathering information from the site.

    Part 2
    The twentieth century novelist, Thomas Wolfe, said that the presidents in this period have become "irretrievably lost." Read the following Thomas Wolfe quotation to the class and ask students to answer his questions by using the presidents' portraits, other images and information via the Internet:

    "their gravely vacant and bewhiskered faces mixed, melted together in the sea-depths of a past, intangible, immeasurable, and unknowable" For who was Garfield, martyred man, and who had seen him in the streets of life? Who had heard the casual and familiar tones of Chester Arthur? And where was Harrison? Where was Hayes? Which had the whiskers, which the burnsides; which was which?"

    While Viewing American Presidents
    Announce to students they will conduct research on issues related to James A. Garfield by first viewing C-SPAN program American Presidents program. Students will learn about both Garfield's political career and his personal life from experts on the program. Students will also visit the Garfield National Historic Site in Mentor, Ohio.

    1. Where was James A. Garfield born? Why is he said to be "the last of the log cabin presidents"?

    2. Why was James A. Garfield's life a prototype for the Horatio Alger "self-made man"?

    3. What work did he do to earn money for college? Where did he receive his college education?

    4. After teaching the classics and serving as President of Western Reserve Eclectic Institute, President Garfield was elected to the Ohio Senate in 1859. What was his position during the secession crisis?

    5. Describe James A. Garfield's military career during the Civil War.

    6. When the people of Ohio elected him to Congress the same year, why did President Lincoln urge him to resign his position as major general in the army and become a congressman?

    7. James A. Garfield became a leading member of the Republicans. How many times did he win re-election to Congress?

    8. At the 1880 Republican Convention, James A. Garfield campaigned for his friend. Who was he?

    9. From the context of the program, describe a "dark horse" candidate.

    10. James A. Garfield won the nomination on the 36th ballot and ran against General Winfield Scott Hancock, the Democratic nominee. The Democrat was a hero of a famous Civil War battle--which one?

    11. The election of James A. Garfield was close; out of nine million votes cast, how many were cast for him?

    12. Based on the program, what were President Garfield's accomplishments as president of the United States for 200 days?

    13. How many presidents of the United States have been assassinated? Name them.

    14. Dedicated on Memorial Day in 1890, the James A. Garfield Monument, a Romanesque tribute to Cleveland, Ohio's favorite son, was erected by the citizens of the United States and coordinated by financial magnate, John D. Rockefeller. What is a frieze? How is symbolism used to convey an expanded view of James A. Garfield? What elements of President Garfield's life are memorialized? Name and identify other historical figures buried at Lakeview Cemetery.

    After Viewing American Presidents
    Directions: Choose one of the following four problems to explore in an extended research paper. Use the questions following the description of the problem to guide your research and analysis. Oral presentations in lieu of a paper can be presented with a visual aid designed and prepared by the student.

    Topic 1: James A. Garfield and the Election of 1876
    The Problem: The Democratic Nominee for US President in 1876 was Samuel J. Tilden. He received a majority of the popular votes cast in that election (4,300,590); the Republican candidate, Rutherford B. Hayes, received (4,036,298) of the popular votes. Why was Tilden not elected President? James A. Garfield was an important leader of the Republican Party in 1876 and the answer to our question has a lot to do with the "Compromise of '76", a unique election in American history. As a congressman, James A.Garfield represented the interests of Rutherford B.Hayes and the traditional views of Abraham Lincoln's Republican Party.

    1. Review the Constitutional provision for the Electoral College: Article 2, Sec. 1

    2. Find out why there were two sets of electoral votes sent to Washington for the federal election.

    3. Learn about the special "electoral commission" formed to resolve the dispute

    4. What was Congressman James A. Garfield's role in the commission's resolution?

    5. What was the traditional view of the Republican Party in regard to black suffrage?

    6. What specific elements of the "compromise" can you find? What happened to the Congressional Reconstruction program and the federal troops assigned to the South?

    7. Why did the Democrats agree to the electoral count that finally resulted: Hayes: 185; Tilden: 184?

    8. Evaluate this statement by historian Bernard Bailyn: "It took time, for the complete working out of the political compromises of the Reconstruction era. Not until the end of the nineteenth century did white Southerners receive the full price they had demanded in permitting the election of Rutherford B. Hayes. But by 1900 that payment had been made in full. The black man was no longer a political force in the South, and the Republican Party was no longer the defender of black rights."

    Topic 2: James A. Garfield's Inaugural Address
    The Problem: James A. Garfield's inauguration as president of the United States was in March, 1881. Use the online edition of the Inaugural Address and read it in its entirety. You will find numbered paragraphs at the site for easy referencing. No one will ever know if President Garfield could have fulfilled the expectations he set for himself that day because his administration had barely begun when he was assassinated. What was President Garfield's mission? Based on your knowledge of the Gilded Age, prioritize President Garfield's concerns.

    1. In his opening statement, President Garfield mentions the decisive American Revolutionary battle for which the nation was preparing a centennial celebration. What was it and why was it significant?

    2. In President Garfield's words, what was the supreme trial of the U.S. Constitution?

    3. In President Garfield's opinion, what was the most important political change the nation had known since the adoption of the Constitution in 1787? Provide three reasons.

    4. President Garfield said in paragraph 14, "the free enjoyment of equal suffrage is still in question." Read your text and account for his concern. What is President Garfield's solution?

    5. President Garfield is also concerned about illiteracy in the United States. What is his solution?

    6. What two reasons does he give for the prosperity of the nation? Was he a bi-metallist?

    7. In his administration, what does he expect to do for the agrarian population? For industry? For U.S. responsibility for a canal across the isthmus?

    8. What is his major concern regarding the Territory of Utah?

    9. What was his position on Civil Service Reform?

    Topic 3: President Garfield's Election and the Politics of Equilibrium
    The Problem: Bernard Bailyn describes the Democratic and Republican Party lines of the era in these words: "…like two equally matched armies, their skirmishes resembl[ed] the engagements of the still-familiar Civil War." What is meant by the "politics of equilibrium"? Is voter-participation in elections the single most important indicator of "democracy" at work?

    1. In the six presidential elections from 1876 to 1896, an average of 78.5% of the country's eligible voters came to the polls; on off-year elections an average of 62.8% of the voters cast ballots. How does this voter turnout compare with that in the last two elections?

    2. How many voters came to the polls in the election of 1880?

    3. Generally in the Gilded Age, high levels of voting and consistent voting patterns resulted in 16 states voting Republican and 14 voting on the Democratic ticket; what were the five key states for winning the electoral college vote?

    4. Historians generally find no substantive issues separating the two parties, but their flamboyant campaigns and rhetoric related to the Civil War projected a partisan identity. What is meant by "waving the bloody shirt" and how did that tactic contribute to the Republican grip on the presidency between 1872 and 1912? What was the Democratic exception during that time span?

    5. What kinds of slander and scare tactics were used in the election of 1880?

    6. Why was James A. Garfield called "Boatman Jim" and how does he conform to the designation as a "log cabin president"? Who were the other presidents that claim the title?

    7. Identify the factional squabbles within the Republican party; i.e. Roscoe Conkling's "Stalwarts" and James G. Blaine's "Half-Breeds"; what was their major point of difference?

    8. After studying this period of politics, why do you think 75% of all the eligible voters turned out to vote?

    9. After studying the political arena of the Gilded Age, formulate an opinion about the relationship of voter participation as an indicator of "democracy at work".

    Topic 4: James A. Garfield: An Opponent of Political Patronage and its Victim
    The Problem: From President Hayes to President Harrison, Congressional leaders expected their elected presidents to return party loyalty and support with political patronage. After his inauguration, James A. Garfield was pounced upon by political office seekers. He said, "My God! What is there in this place that a man should ever want to get into it?" Six months later, President Garfield was shot by a crazed office worker who had been denied the patronage he sought.

    1. Describe the "machine politics" of the urban centers in the Gilded Age.

    2. Why was Chester A. Arthur chosen to be vice president on the Republican Party's bid for the presidency in 1880?

    3. In the Stalwart and Half-Breed divisions of the Republican Party, which side did President Garfield favor?

    4. Trace Charles Guiteau's political involvement.

    5. The Guiteau trial was a celebrated American "insanity trial" of the 19th century. Why is his trial considered a legal milestone in the judgment of the criminally insane?

    6. How did medical practices of the time contribute to James A. Garfield's death? What connection did Alexander Graham Bell have to the death of the 20th President?

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