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Democrats Defend Garfield

September 26, 2019

James Garfield was a Republican Congressman from Ohio.  He belonged to the same political party as the Great Emancipator.  Prior to his service as a high ranking officer in the Union Army he had been a Disciples of Christ minister.  By small town standards he should have been above reproach.  But this was Washington, D.C., and everyone was a potential suspect.

Fellow Republican Oakes Ames had gotten himself into deep trouble with the Crédit Mobilier scandal, and he was not above incriminating others.  In his diary entry for Friday January 24, 1873, Garfield wrote: “Mr. Ames has gone from bad to worse in his testimony today contradicting the statements of [Vice President] Colfax, [Congressman] Kelley and others and is seemingly determined to smutch everybody before he is broken.”

Ames had already implicated Garfield despite the lack of a paper trail that would have proven Garfield’s complicity.  Meanwhile, some Democrats who knew Garfield’s character came to his defense.  Chief among these was former Attorney General and Secretary of State Jeremiah Sullivan Black.

Prominent newspaper correspondent Donn Piatt wrote:  “General Garfield, personally considered, is singularly pure and upright.  He is one of the few men in public life who can look his beautiful little wife and lovely children in the face without shame.  We say this advisedly, for we have known General Garfield intimately all his public life, and we can advise the mud machine, called partisan papers, that attempts at blackmailing Garfield’s character will be signal failures, and will be met by protests from such eminent Democrats as the Hons. Jeremiah Black, Allen G. Thurman and Justice Field, who have already put themselves to record in his behalf.”

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