James Garfield succeeded as a teacher, a soldier and politician. His father died when he was two and was steeped in the religion of his mother - the Disciples of Christ. He was elected president of his class at William's Institute and was president of the Institute itself two years later.
Meanwhile, he studied law and spoke on behalf of the Republican Party. In 1859, he won a seat in the Ohio senate. He later served in the military during the Civil War, eventually serving as a major general of volunteers.
In 1862 he was elected to the house and served on the Appropriations and Ways and Means committees. He served floor leader, denounced the Ulysses S. Grant administration as corrupt and endorsed civil service reform. Garfield was elected to the Senate in 1880.
He signed on to manage John Sherman's campaign for the presidential nomination, but in the middle of a speech at the Republican Convention in Chicago, the crowd interrupted with chants of "We want Garfield." Chester Arthur was nominated to be his running mate.
Garfield forswore the use of the spoils system, and in July of 1881 at the railroad station in Washington, D.C., on the way to his 25th reunion, he was shot in the back by a disappointed office seeker. He lingered agonizingly until September 19.