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This child was born in 1831, the youngest of five, to a poor farming family in a one-room log cabin with a dirt floor and no chimney, in a part of the Ohio Wilderness where children ran barefoot in winter. His father died of a sudden illness before he was even 2, leaving his mother to raise her brood unaided.
His elder sister began to take him to the local log hut school from the tender age of 3, where the precocious tot developed a lifelong love of reading, along with a reputation for being hypersensitive, uncombed and absent-minded. He would later say of those years
"Cold-hearted men frowned upon me, and I was made the ridicule and sport of of boys that had fathers, and enjoyed the luxuries of life."
As a teen, he left home for what he thought would be a romantic seafaring life on a lake schooner, but was turned away with curses by the captain, and started working on the towpath instead. The dreamy adolescent fell into the canal no less than 14 times and had to be fished out every time, but wthin only 6 weeks, he had forged himself a place "with his fists" on the steamship. Having proven himself, the gentle reader returned home and continued his education, having fulfilled his vow: "I mean to make myself a man, and if I succeed in that, I shall succeed in everything else."
Paying his own tuition with carpentry and farm labor, he progressed through school, and although an infamously slow study, he excelled with persistence and industry. The clearly talented youth, who could simultaneously write Latin with one hand and Greek with the other, made his mark by soundly beating the school bully in a prize fight. He deliberately chose a college not sponsored by his particular religious sect, with the aim of exposing himself to different viewpoints, and graduated with high honors in 1856. He returned to teach at his old school, became president of that institution within one year, went on to study law, and was elected to the State House. One of his famous quips was
"If you are not too large for the place you occupy, you are too small for it."
He became an impassioned activist against slavery. At the onset of the Civil War, he joined the Union army, and as a lieutenant colonel was posted to the hostile territory of Kentucky. At Middle Creek, in 1862, with no artillery, and half the number of men his opponent had, he defeated Confederate General Marshall in a hand-to-hand conflict that lasted five hours. Later, at Big Sandy, his troops ran out of food and ammunition, and he grabbed the helm of a ship no one else would pilot in terrible weather conditions, and steamed down the Ohio River to re-supply them. He then marched his soldiers 100 miles in four days through a blinding snowstorm in Cumberland Gap, to victory over Marshall once again. Not long after, due in no small measure to his own efforts, the South lost Kentucky, and he retired a major general, having personified his own aphorism:
"A pound of pluck is worth a ton of luck."
Encouraged to go back into national politics by President Lincoln, he distinguished himself in Congress with a "hard money" currency policy and voting rights for black people -- and two scandals resulting from his naivete in choosing associates. Re-elected nonetheless, he ascended to the Senate, where he took a stand against New York elite political corruption, with an attitude reflected in his observation that
"Things don't turn up in this world until somebody turns them up."
On March 4, 1881, he was elected President. Only a few months thereafter, he was shot by a disgruntled man who had sought but been denied an ambassadorship in his administration. The President languished painfully between life and death for over ten weeks, but finally succumbed to blood poisoning as a result of his surgeons' bungling. We will never know what further deeds he might have accomplished.
Although his tenure as a national leader was short, this consummate self-made man had risen from his humble beginnings to reknown as a soldier, scholar, and public servant. This child, the 20th President of the United States, last of "the log cabin Presidents", was
James A. Garfield, a boy from a "fatherless home."
This fatherless child story was written by Elizabeth G.
* The term "fatherless" is used in this series as it is in current research and policy rhetoric by the U.S. federal government, DHHS and the National Fatherhood Initiative, most U.S. states in connection with child custody law and policy, and various family values and fatherhood interest policy and lobbying groups.
"...Just add Dad, the magic ingredient. It's hard to know where wishful thinking becomes deliberate deception. But this argument, advanced by the fathers' rights movement, is like saying that, since Mercedes Benz owners make more money than people who drive Hyundais, you will become wealthy if you buy a Mercedes..." Mike Peterson
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