Even though he had campaigned for Lincoln, he never really liked the President and considered him a "second-rate Illinois lawyer" who had failed to vigorously prosecute the war. Garfield supported the seizure of rebel property in the North and the execution or exile of Confederate leaders. In the election of , while campaigning for reelection, he scarcely mentioned the President.
Over time, during his eight terms of office, Congressman Garfield tempered his youthful radicalism, becoming a seasoned politician. He developed an ability to work for compromise while still defending the core interests of his Western Reserve constituency. To some observers, Garfield's ability to walk a middle road smacked of opportunism.
To others, it was the mark of a practical politician.
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During Reconstruction, Garfield differed from his more radical colleagues, often supporting moderation toward the defeated South. However, he eventually voted for the impeachment of President Johnson. In and , he backed Ulysses S. Grant for President, though he possessed grave reservations about the general's administrative abilities and political wisdom. As a congressman, Garfield became an expert on financial matters by serving on key committees.
He was also a member of the House Ways and Means Committee. In that capacity, he advocated hard money policies despite the soft money, or inflationary, sentiment of his home district. He opposed all efforts to inflate the supply of money through the issuance of paper currency unbacked by gold; use of the unbacked greenback dollars printed during the Civil War to redeem government bonds; or free and unlimited coinage of silver into coins.
This hard money stance made him a favorite with eastern "Gold Bug" Republicans in their fight to keep the nation's money supply from expanding. As creditors, "Gold Bugs," usually bankers and wholesalers, did not want the money they had loaned out to be paid back with less valuable or inflated paper dollars—dollars that were worth less in their purchasing power than the dollars they had advanced to their debt-owing customers and business clients. See the Cleveland and Harrison presidential biographies for further discussion of the money issue during the Gilded Age.
Garfield also disliked the various cooperative farm programs supported by the Grange, the major voice of the embattled farmers and a group that advocated legislation "Granger laws" regulating railroads. To the Ohio congressman, they represented "communism in disguise.
However, when it came to the interests of his own district, he drew the line, for example, when they demanded a high tariff on pig iron. He opposed labor unions, fought the eight-hour workday for federal workers, and believed that federal troops should be used to break up strikes. During the economic depression of the s, he was so concerned about government spending that he opposed federally funded relief projects.
During his congressional tenure, Garfield was also identified as one of several congressmen who had accepted stock in Credit Mobilier, a construction company for the transcontinental Union Pacific Railroad that had received loans and land grants from the government. The congressmen involved were accused of using their influence to weaken congressional oversight of the company, thereby permitting the company officers to pay themselves huge expenses and salaries.
He also drew opposition because he voted for a retroactive salary increase and was linked to a corrupt paving contract. In , his constituents returned him to the House, but this time the election was hard fought. In the presidential election of , Garfield supported Ohio's governor, Rutherford B. Hayes, for President, in part because of Hayes's "sound money" position and in part because his sheer blandness might make him stronger than such polarizing rivals as Senators Roscoe Conkling of New York and James G.
Blaine of Maine.
Garfield served on the electoral commission that investigated the disputed electoral college returns from South Carolina, Louisiana, Florida, and Oregon. He voted with the seven other Republicans on the controversial fifteen-member committee to give Hayes the election by awarding all the delegates from these disputed states to the Republicans. Indeed, he was one of the "visiting statesmen" who approved the official Republican returns of the contested state of Louisiana.
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To soothe enraged Democrats who controlled the House of Representatives, Garfield worked behind the scenes in support of the Compromise of , which ended military occupation of the South and brought at least one southern Democrat into Hayes's cabinet. During Hayes's administration, Garfield served as the Republican minority leader of the House, earning a reputation as a political strategist able to achieve compromise among the various factions within the increasingly splintered party. Donald Cameron of Pennsylvania and John A.
Logan of Illinois, concentrated on a harsh southern policy and sought the return of Ulysses S. Grant to the White House.
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They called themselves "Stalwarts," while labeling their party rivals mere "Half-Breeds. But little separated the two factions—both sought the spoils of power and patronage. President Rutherford B. Hayes had vowed to be a one-term President, and he kept his pledge. When Republicans convened in Chicago in June , the fight for the nomination stood between former President Ulysses S. Grant, a Stalwart, and James G. Blaine, the Half-Breed senator from Maine. Though he bore the cross of dullness, Sherman might emerge as the ideal compromise candidate.
Garfield nominated Sherman. The convention deadlocked through the next thirty-three ballots, with Grant leading, followed by Blaine and Sherman. Throughout the convention balloting, Garfield had received one or two courtesy votes on each roll call. On the thirty-fourth ballot, Wisconsin cast sixteen votes for Garfield. On the next ballot, Garfield received fifty votes. The move became a stampede on the thirty-sixth ballot as the Blaine and Sherman forces rallied to the Ohio congressman, who had been elected by the Ohio state legislature to the U. Senate just prior to the Republican convention.
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Garfield won votes to Grant's , putting him over the top and giving him the Republican nomination. Conkling's friend and protege, Chester A. Arthur, former customs collector at the Port of New York, received the party's nomination for vice president with Garfield's endorsement.
Conkling warned Arthur against accepting the slot, predicting Garfield's defeat and urging him to "drop it as you would a red hot shoe from the forge. Garfield reluctantly approved, knowing he needed Stalwart support to emerge victorious. When Samuel J. Tilden, former New York governor and the Democratic nominee in , withdrew his name from consideration, the Democrats nominated Winfield S.
Hancock, a Civil War hero and career Army officer. He also fought in the Wilderness campaign and at a dozen other engagements as well. He served as the military governor of Louisiana and Texas during Reconstruction, running afoul of Radical Republicans when his policies supported whites and Democrats over blacks and carpetbaggers. The presidential campaign revealed few differences between the candidates, except for the tariff.
Hancock stumbled when he dismissed the tariff issue as "a local question. Following President Hayes's advice, Garfield kept a low profile during the campaign. Since Garfield was, quite correctly, perceived as tied far more to the Half-Breeds than to the Stalwarts, he immediately realized that he had to mend political fences. During an exchange of views, Garfield promised to recognize all party factions, including the Stalwarts, when presidential appointments were made.
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Though the terms were vague and ambiguous, pundits dubbed the conference the "Treaty of Fifth Avenue. In one of the closest elections on record, Garfield beat Hancock by a mere 7, votes, less than one-tenth of one percent of the total votes cast.
Taking such minor parties as the Greenbackers and Prohibitionists into account, Garfield received only His support was much stronger in the electoral college, where he received votes to Hancock's Each candidate carried nineteen states. Garfield won the northern and midwestern states while Hancock carried the South and most of the border states.