Garfield didn't seek nod, but party gave it

Posted at 8:08 PM, May 13, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-13 20:08:51-04

There were so many men running for the Republican nomination for president that the political party had become fractured with infighting and highly-vocal disputes.  It was a political battle so fierce, Republican delegates went into the party's national gathering knowing whoever won the nomination would have to come out of a brokered convention.

The year was 1880.  The convention was held in Chicago.  There were 14 men running for the GOP nomination for the nation's highest office.  So fierce was the competition, delegates took 35 ballots.  Still, none of the 14 could garner enough votes to become the nominee.  Enter Ohio's James A. Garfield. 

"It was clear after a while that a compromise candidate was needed," said Todd Arrington, site manage of the James A. Garfield National Historic Site in Mentor, OH.  "The Republicans needed someone who could appeal to all factions of the party," said Arrington.

Garfield, who had served in the U.S. House of Representatives and had recently been elected a U.S. Senator from Ohio, had not yet been sworn into his new office.  As a senator-elect, Garfield spoke passionately for fellow Ohioan John Sherman, who was the Secretary of the Treasury.

"In order to win victory, we need the vote of every Republican," said Garfield as he pushed for his Sherman.  "Who do we want," Garfield asked.  He was surprised when the answer came from many in the convention gathering.  "Garfield, Garfield," many of the members began to shout.   That set the stage for Garfield's rise to the nomination.  

On the next ballot, the 36th, Ohio's James A. Garfield was voted the nominee.

Arrington, who as the site manager at the James A. Garfield National Historic site, spends at least eight hours a day with images of Garfield and the story of the man who left that house in Mentor for the Republican convention in Chicago.  Little did Garfield know he would return to his home as the compromise nominee and eventually the president of the United States.

A few weeks ago, the 2016 Republican campaign for the nomination was up in the air.  There were predictions of a brokered convention.   Today, the party seems to have settled in with the idea that Donald Trump is the presumptive nominee.  Talk of a brokered convention has faded.

Still, in politics, anything can happen.   Just ask Garfield, the Ohioan who had been elected as senator-elect, but had not yet taken that office.  He never became a senator.  In 1880, the presidency got in the way.