James Garfield: “The Education President”

James Garfield: “The Education President”

President James Garfield's permanent mark on history seems to be his assassination. But his administration was also a case of lost opportunities.

In his core, Garfield was an educator. Born in poverty himself, he got a college education from Williams College, graduating in 1856. He taught a wide-range of topics at the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (now Hiram College). In 1857, he became the institute’s president. 

As president of the United States, Garfield was a strong supporter of education for the former slaves. He remarked in his Inaugural Address:

“But the responsibility for the existence of slavery did not rest upon the South alone. The nation itself is responsible for the extension of the suffrage, and is under special obligations to aid in removing the illiteracy which it has added to the voting population. For the North and South alike there is but one remedy. All the constitutional power of the nation and of the States and all the volunteer forces of the people should be surrendered to meet this danger by the savory influence of universal education.”

Education was not the complete answer to a very complex issue about race and poverty, and he would have faced a hard time in Congress to get education legislation passed. Yet, if he had lived, Garfield would most likely have kept the issue of education in the forefront of his administration. 

History has proven that education is a key element to rise out of poverty. Today, legislators are grappling with giving citizens access to not just a high school education, but a college one, as well.