James A. Garfield's Presidency

Start Free Trial

Would James A. Garfield have been a good president?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

A recent poll of political scientists placed James Garfield (1831–1881) a lowly thirty-fourth in the ranking of presidents. However, evaluating his presidency at all is problematic because of his extremely short tenure—only a few months—in the White House.

Like Abraham Lincoln, Garfield was born into poverty. His father was a...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

A recent poll of political scientists placed James Garfield (1831–1881) a lowly thirty-fourth in the ranking of presidents. However, evaluating his presidency at all is problematic because of his extremely short tenure—only a few months—in the White House.

Like Abraham Lincoln, Garfield was born into poverty. His father was a wrestler who died when the future president was still an infant. Garfield's rags-to-riches story is one reason why he was nominated for the White House in the presidential election year of 1880.

Prior to becoming president, Garfield had a solid career in academia, politics, and the military. He was brilliant, especially at ancient languages, and he became a professor. He served with distinction in the Civil War—a common characteristic of presidential candidates in this era.

Had he served a full term as president, it is highly unlikely he would have achieved greatness. Great presidents typically overcame challenging circumstances or even a crisis. The first president, George Washington, helped create the country by winning a war and molding the presidency for his successors. Lincoln governed the nation through the Civil War. Franklin Delano Roosevelt led the nation through the Great Depression and World War II. Garfield, despite his brilliance, would probably have been just another Gilded Age president of the United States.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team