America has suffered the loss of eight Presidents who died in office, four by natural causes, and four by assassination.
Each one was a loss, but the greatest loss is clearly James A. Garfield, our 20th President, who served four months before being wounded by an assassin, Charles Guiteau, and proceeded being the victim of medical malpractice and ignorance, and died after 80 days, much of it in a coma.
Sure, the death of Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy were horrible losses, but all three had already made major contributions.
Sure, the death of William Henry Harrison after a month, and Zachary Taylor after 16 months, was a loss, but both, who had served as military heroes in wartime, did not have the same potential to have a dramatic impact upon history.
Sure, the death of William McKinley by assassination was a tragedy, but it caused America to have Theodore Roosevelt as President.
The death of Warren G. Harding led to Calvin Coolidge, who was certainly an improvement.
But the death of Garfield in 1881 was a case of a man who did not have a chance to show his brilliance, as pointed out yesterday in the Washington Post.
Garfield was born into poverty, but became a professor, Civil War general, businessman, and member of the House of Representatives, elected to the Senate at the same time he became President by a narrow margin, and the only President, therefore, to go directly from the House of Representatives to the White House.
A “dark horse” nominee who really did not want the Presidency, he gave a powerful Inaugural Address on March 4, 1881, speaking up for African Americans and civil rights, and also in his brief term, pushing hard for civil service reform.
Garfield appointed famous abolitionist Frederick Douglass and three other African Americans to posts in his administration, and he was said to have the ability to write in Greek and Latin with both hands, an amazing feat!
Garfield was a man of principle and conviction, and there are various memorials in Washington, DC and elsewhere in honor of a man who only served briefly in the Presidency, and a visit to his home in Mentor, Ohio, as this author has been fortunate to visit, is indeed a memorable event!
So as much as the loss of other Presidents is hard to deal with, the Garfield story is, in many ways, the most tragic!