spacer James A. Garfield James A. Garfield (1831-1881)
Twentieth President (March-September 1881)

Through repeated balloting at the Republican convention of 1880, delegates remained deadlocked in their effort to name a presidential candidate. Finally, after thirty-five ballots, they were ready for a compromise. Rejecting both front-running choices, James Blaine and Ulysses S. Grant, the delegates endorsed James A. Garfield, an Ohio congressman whose current aspirations were limited to becoming a senator.

The patronage-driven factionalism that plagued the Republican convention and ultimately led to Garfield's nomination unfortunately continued to fester following his assumption of the presidency. On July 2, 1881, angered that Garfield had not awarded him a public office, a member of the GOP's "Stalwart" faction shot him as he went to board a train. Eleven weeks later, Garfield was dead from his wound.

This staid portrait by Norwegian artist Ole Peter Hansen Balling may have captured Garfield's physical traits accurately, but it did not convey the spellbinding impact that he sometimes had on people. Having once been a lay preacher, Garfield was at his most impressive when speaking. According to one observer, his thoughts sometimes seemed to issue forth at the podium "like solid shot from a cannon."

Ole Peter Hansen Balling (1823-1906)
Oil on canvas, 1881
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Gift of International Business Machines Corporation

Enlarged image