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How an Innocent Man Behaves

September 19, 2019

Our astute readers have probably already concluded that the individual we have called the “unsuspecting Congressman” is none other than James A. Garfield, the man who became the 20th President of the United States.

On July 26, 1999 C-Span aired a lengthy profile of President Garfield, interviewing Garfield scholars Allan Peskin and John Shaw.  Around the sixty-three minute mark they were asked about Crédit Mobilier.  Peskin stated that Garfield probably did take stock in Crédit Mobilier.  Shaw then remarked: “It’s always been a disappointment to me that Garfield wouldn’t confess that he’d done it.”  However, Peskin’s book seems to allow for the possibility that Garfield may have thought he had merely agreed to give future consideration to becoming a shareholder in the company.  (See page 361 of the 1999 edition of Peskin’s book.)

If we consider Garfield’s Diary entries from September 9, 1872 until the Speaker appointed a select committee to investigate Crédit Mobilier, we do not see the reaction of a guilty man.

Sept. 9, 1872: “I find my own name dragged into some story which I do not understand but see only referred to in the newspapers.”

September 10, 1872:  “Wrote to [Vice President] Colfax asking him about the nature of the slander against him and me and others.”

December 1, 1872:  “Called on Speaker Blaine and urged the importance of requiring an investigation into the Crédit Mobilier scandal…”

In addition, rather than accept the incomplete exoneration of the investigating committee, Garfield wrote a lengthy rebuttal.  A guilty man might have breathed a sigh of relief and moved on.

These and other actions do not seem to match the behavior of someone who should have confessed “that he’d done it.”  Meanwhile, some prominent members of the opposition came to Garfield’s defense.

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