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James A. Garfield had the second shortest presidency in U.S. history -- only 200 days -- the last 80 of which were a death vigil. Yet he was a remarkable man and several facts about him are worth noting.

Garfield was the last of America's true "log cabin" presidents. He was from a poor family that subsisted in a log cabin on the Ohio frontier. So our 20th president could really claim log-cabin status, unlike Andrew Jackson and William Henry Harrison, who were called log-cabin presidents but who were from the gentry and reinvented themselves after they went West.

Garfield only lived to the age of 48, but he had an extremely diverse curriculum vitae. He was a classics professor, a college president, an ordained minister, a lawyer, a Civil War general, a congressman, a senator-elect, one of the greatest orators of his day, and the 20th president of the United States. Even as president, he preferred to be called "General."

Garfield was a self-taught military man who greatly admired Napoleon. Inside his house, Lawnfield, are two portraits of the French general.

The above profile of the 20th president is on the grounds of the James A. Garfield National Historic Site in Mentor, Ohio.


Photos and text © Gleaves Whitney 2004