NOTE: This is much longer than we normally publish but it is my hope you will find several useful nuggest herein. dj).
James A. Garfield is special to many of us who preach because he was a preacher in the churches of Christ. Major General Garfield was a Union officer during the tragic War Between the States. His troops were stationed outside of Mooresville, AL in July of 1861 and he, in a letter to his wife, indicated that the brethren had invited him to preach. He did.
What many do not realize is that a large number of people in the south strongly objected to slavery and refused to fight, to give up citizenship, and sent delegates to the convention to vote against succession. For instance in Alabama in 1860 there were roughly a million people living in the state. About 45% were slaves. Most were not in North Alabama (for example in Winston County there were about 3,500 people living in there and only about 120 slaves most owned by 3 men). Most tend to think all southerners were slave owners, vile or at least in favor of slavery. The fact is many members of the churches of Christ vocally opposed slavery. When the convention was held to vote on succession the vote was 61%-39% with most opposition coming from northern Alabama. Many Christians lost life, home and all because of their helping slaves and refusing to take up arms.
Back to Garfield: In 1880 he went to Republican Convention to nominate John Sherman (Secretary of the Treasury and brother to General Sherman of Civil War fame) to be the candidate for President. Garfield was considered the most eloquent man in Congress and to have him give the nominating speech was a big win for Sherman. In a very split convention with several candidates no one emerged as a leader. On the 34th vote over a two day period Garfield received two shocking votes. On the 35th ballot apparently some thought this was a good idea and he received 50 votes. Garfield loudly protested that he did not come to have his name put forward. He was ignored in his pleas to have it removed and on 36th ballot he got 399 votes MORE than enough to win the nomination to be the Republican candidate for President. To unite the party Chester Allen Arthur was put forth as the Vice Presidential Candidate. Garfield won. It is reported that as he left Ohio and the church where he served as an elder he said “I step down from the highest office on earth to assume the Presidency.
Garfield took the oath of office on March 3, 1881 and served 4 months before he was shot on July 2 on a train platform to take his first trip out of D.C. The wound, while severe was not life-threatening and he probably would have recovered and lived out a normal life but numerous doctors (12 or more) probed the wound trying to find the bullet. They did this with unsterilized hands which led over time to infection. The whole country waited by newspaper offices for any updates. They would be posted about 2 to 3 times a day with wildly differing news from one to the next. Within hours of the shooting he was sitting up, talking and writing letters. He even made a trip out of the White House at some point to the beach. But as he continued to be an experiment for the doctors his condition worsened and he died Sept 19, two and a half months after he was shot.
The country was in mourning but not JUST over the death of the President. THERE was another drama going on. Much of the country did not want Arthur as their president and even his friends doubted he had the integrity to put together a good administration.
Few people today know much of anything about President Chester A. Arthur. He did a lavish update on the appearance of the White House. He was a widower who deeply loved his wife and kept a picture of her by his bed until the day he died. He dressed very stylishly and because of that he was called “The Dude President.”
But what was most know about him when he became Vice-President was that he was a corrupt politician. He was known for back room deals and his reputation was that he made decisions that benefited himself and his cronies. In fact, President Rutherford B. Hayes had fired him from his job in the New York House of Customs for corruption. He was part of the Stalwarts who were notable for being deeply corrupt. But something happened along the way.
In fact Alexander McClure would write at the end of Arthur’s presidency, "No man ever entered the Presidency so profoundly and widely distrusted as Chester Alan Arthur, and no one ever retired ... more generally respected, alike by political friend and foe."
When his son Allen died in 1937 his son, President Arthur’s grandson, Chester Allen Arthur III inherited 1,800 documents by and about his grandfather. For about 4 to 5 decades these documents had been locked in a bank vault. But III found a massive treasure when he began to sort through them. 23 letters from a before unheard of lady named Julia Sand. Arthur III placed an add in the New York Herald Tribune to see if he could find any of her relatives, if she had any. He heard from one of her nephews, Paul Rosier, who was living our his retirement in Miami Beach. Rosier told Arthur III about his aunt Julia. About the lively political discussions she would have. And Rosier remembered one night, August 5, 1882, when the President paid a surprise visit to the house. They were amazed!
Though she had never been to DC, never been involved in any politics, and never met Garfield or Arthur (or anyone else of note) it is believed she played a profound influence on Arthur’s life and presidency.
Here is her first letter she wrote to Arthur just days after the President had been shot.
“ The hours of Garfield's life are numbered – before this meets your eye, you may be President. The people are bowed in grief; but – do you realize it? – not so much because he is dying, as because you are his successor. What president ever entered office under circumstances so sad?…
The day [Garfield] was shot, the thought rose in a thousand minds that you might be the instigator of the foul act. Is not that a humiliation which cuts deeper than any bullet can pierce?
Your kindest opponents say 'Arthur will try to do right' – adding gloomily – 'He won't succeed though making a man President cannot change him.'…But making a man President can change him! Great emergencies awaken generous traits which have lain dormant half a life. If there is a spark of true nobility in you, now is the occasion to let it shine. Faith in your better nature forces me to write to you – but not to beg you to resign. Do what is more difficult & brave. Reform! It is not proof of highest goodness never to have done wrong, but it is proof of it, sometimes in ones career, to pause & ponder, to recognize the evil, to turn resolutely against it…. Once in awhile [sic?] there comes a crisis which renders miracles feasible. The great tidal wave of sorrow which has rolled over the country has swept you loose from your old moorings & set you on a mountaintop, alone.
Disappoint our fears. Force the nation to have faith in you. Show from the first that you have none but the purest of aims.
You cannot slink back into obscurity, if you would. A hundred years hence, school boys will recite your name in the list of presidents & tell of your administration. And what shall posterity say? It is for you to choose….” — Julia Sand
Julia was 31 years old. As far as we know Arthur never wrote her back. She continued to write. Sand would refer to herself as the President's "little dwarf", an allusion to the idea that in the President’s big “royal court," only the dwarf would have the courage to tell the truth to him.
America's lack of faith in Arthur had inspired her to attempt to inspire him.
On September 19, 1881 President Garfield died and Arthur was sworn in as the U.S. President. The next letter from Sand came September 25, 1881. She wrote in part: "You are a better & nobler man, due to the manner in which you have borne yourself through this long, hard ordeal."
She believed in him. Determined to speak truth and better things into his life, strove to inspire him to be his best self.
And, apparently it deeply affected him. He began civil service reform, he placed several black men in roles of leadership in his administration. He became a much better president than most anyone would have imagined. He refused to appoint people based on the corrupt spoils system.
In 1882 she wrote to him: “Do you feel flattered how awfully surprised [people] are, whenever you do anything good. Well, go on surprising them. But I am never surprised because I expect it of you. If you had done otherwise, I should have been dismally disappointed.” And Julia slipped back into the woodwork. She was a virtual recluse, wrote a few articles for magazines, was sickly, never married and were it not for these 23 letters and Arthur’s grandson outside her family no one would even know of her.
I write all of this because in a very real sense this is what we as ministers are trying to do. We are trying to get people to see what they can be in Christ, to help them be better, to see what their better self would do. To challenge them beyond what they have become through sin. We work in obscurity. But God knows. And we will affect some, some we may never even know we are impacting. Let me encourage and challenge you to keep on. Keep on believing in what God can do through others, that they can be more and better and do great things as they live for Him.
The Assassination of President James Garfield: The History and Legacy of the President's Death by Charles River Editors
http://www.therestorationmovement.com/ (Thanks Scott Harp for this great site)
Wikipedia pages on Election of 1880, Chester Arthur, and James Garfield