Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard

I loved this book.  There was so much that I gleaned from it.  I loved reading about President James A. Garfield.  He was an incredible man with amazing, heroic character.  He was against slavery and didn’t want to be president.  None of us are born great, we have to earn it through all the experiences we encounter along life’s road and it’s up to us to use these experiences to make us great or to shrink from them.  So many people are shrinkers- they hope the troubles go away but every now and then there is a person who uses their experiences to make a difference, to unsettle things as they are and in that is greatness.  Although, most of us hardly heard of Garfield in our history books or knew what he accomplished as a president, his life is so worth examining and that’s why I highly recommend this well-written book.

From the New York Times, Review by Kevin Baker

“Yet it is one of the many pleasures of Candice Millard’s new book, “Destiny of the Republic,” that she brings poor Garfield to life — and a remarkable life it was. He was the last president to be born in a log cabin. His father died when James was just 1, succumbing to “exhaustion and fever” after fighting a wildfire that had threatened his home. The boy’s mother struggled desperately to make a living for James and his three siblings but donated some of her farmland so their community would have a schoolhouse. James was taught to consider himself the equal of any man — to walk “with his shoulders squared and his head thrown back,” a trait he would always possess.

A near drowning while he labored on the Erie and Ohio Canal convinced him that God “had saved me for my mother and for something greater and better than canalling,” he wrote. For the next few years, he worked his way up through local schools and Williams College; at the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (now Hiram College), a preparatory school, he mastered his studies so thoroughly that he was promoted from janitor to assistant professor. Returning there to teach, he became the school’s president at 26. In his spare time, he passed the Ohio bar.

Excelling both in combat and as a top staff officer, he rose to the rank of major general during the Civil War but was sickened by the carnage of battle. “Garfield would later tell a friend,” Millard writes, “that ‘something went out of him . . . that never came back; the sense of the sacredness of life and the impossibility of destroying it.’ ”

Elected to Congress in 1862, Garfield fought for black rights and liberty, writing in his pocket diary, “Servitium esto damnatum”— “slavery be damned.” Modest to a fault, he toiled diligently in the legislative vineyards for 17 years. Even his foibles were endearing: he loved to hear himself talk (speaking “on the floor of Congress more than 40 times in a single day”), something he admitted was a “fatal facility.”

To everyone’s amazement, he won the Republican nomination in 1880, in a deadlocked convention. With a plurality of just 10,000 votes, he became the last member of the House to go directly to the White House.”

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