James A. Garfield's Presidency

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Was James Garfield a bad president?

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President James Garfield served in office for only a few months: March 1881–September 1881. On July 2, 1881, he was shot. After that, he lingered for a few months before finally succumbing to his injury. Because of the extreme brevity of his administration, it is difficult to rate him as...

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President James Garfield served in office for only a few months: March 1881–September 1881. On July 2, 1881, he was shot. After that, he lingered for a few months before finally succumbing to his injury. Because of the extreme brevity of his administration, it is difficult to rate him as a president.

He was assassinated by Charles Guiteau, a disappointed office seeker. Indeed, at the time, patronage was an important and controversial issue. Political allies expected to be rewarded with positions in exchange for their support. For example, Roscoe Conkling, senator from New York, had a powerful political machine in New York based on patronage. Garfield was vexed by the patronage issue during his presidency. Two years after his death, in 1883, Congress passed a civil service reform act.

A second problematic issue for Garfield's presidency was the Star Route scandal. This involved fraud in the awarding of postal contracts.

Garfield had enjoyed success as a general and professor prior to the presidency, and he was honest and capable. But we do not know how he would have handled a full presidential term.

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