Thursday, March 14, 2013

Lucretia, My Reflection


Prior to a week or so ago, I had never heard of Lucretia "Crete" Randolf Garfield. I mean why would I?  Her husband James Garfield, the 20th US President, was shot in 1881 four months into his first term and died two months later from the treatment of his wounds. The second shortest presidency ever. Another one for trivia night.
I was at the library recently and I picked up a book published in 2012 called "Destiny of the Republic" about James Garfield, a best seller that got rave reviews. I thought this was odd since it is about such an obscure forgotten President. I won't review the book here but let me say that the reviews are well deserved. It is written in a nice narrative style which makes it as engaging as a novel. It was here I met Lucretia.

Today, March 14th is the anniversary of the death of former First Lady Lucretia Garfield born in Garrettsville, Ohio in 1832. She died in 1918 at age 85. People like this always amaze me because of the changes they saw during their lives. When she was born the US was only about 60 years old and the horse was the only way to travel or get messages across long distances. By the time she died the US was well past its Centennial and she had seen the invention of the telephone and the first airplane.
Lucretia met her husband at school in Ohio and they married in 1856. James admits in his diary that he was attracted to her for her intellect rather than just her physical beauty. Together they had seven children. 

After Garfield's Presidential election she began to rehab the very run down White House when she contracted malaria from "bad air" (they hadn't made the connection to mosquitoes yet) and nearly died. Her doctors had her travel to the New Jersey coast to finish recuperating believing that the salt air would be better for her.
together again
Having mostly recovered, Crete was informed that her husband had been shot. She hopped the next train to be near him and await his fate. During the trip, the train she was on broke a piston and nearly derailed which likely would have killed everyone on board. Because of her frail health James was concerned greatly about her even as he lay there with a bullet in his abdomen.
After James died, she and her family moved near Cleveland OH and lived off a trust fund set up for her. Crete lived a mostly private life from then on. That was fine with her, she preferred that sort of life vs. the protocols of political life.
Years later in 1918 while visiting in California she died from undisclosed causes at age 85 and is laid to rest in the Garfield Monument with her husband in Cleveland OH.

Oh and what's up with the "Lucretia, My Reflection" title? Prior to this, the only Lucretia I ever knew was the 1988 Sister of Mercy song. It's not about her but it starts playing in my head every time I hear the name.



Friday, March 1, 2013

Ohio Statehood Day!

March 1st is Ohio Statehood Day when Ohio became the 17th state in 1803. Happy 210th!

Or did Ohio become a state February 19th 1803?

Maybe it was it August 7th...1953?

We tend to think of these older historical events as neat and tidy occasions where gentlemen in white wigs have orderly civil debates and sign documents with fancy quill pens by candlelight. The US was a brand new country and everyone had the same goals...right? Not really. The State of Ohio was formed by a power struggle between two political parties.

at a crossroad
In the early 1800s, the esteemed Arthur St. Clair, a Revolutionary War Veteran and Federalist Party member was the Governor of the NW Territory appointed by his friend George Washington. He even named Cincinnati. Arthur did have that little mishap where he led 3/4 of the US Army to their deaths but even that was forgiven and he remained the NW Territory Governor under Washington. In the late 1700s there were two parties vying for power and by 1800 Democratic-Republican Party had gained control of the House, Senate and Presidency from the Federalists. Some of the key differences of these two parties are summed up nicely here.

St. Clair proposed new state boundaries for the territory that essentially divided it in two and would prevent Ohio from becoming a state at that time since it did not meet the population criteria for statehood.
the man who busted Arthur
Why did he do this? He wanted to remain the Governor and keep his Federalist party in control of the area by creating two new states instead of one. Many of Ohio's new leaders were members of the opposing Democratic-Republican party...and so was the the new US president Thomas Jefferson.

Jefferson was of course was eager to add Ohio as the 17th US State to increase his party's control. So, the 7th US Congress rejected St. Clair's plan and in April 1802 passed the Enabling Act which put Ohio on the fast track to becoming a state by new rules that favored the Democratic-Republican Party.

When Ohio's new Constitutional Convention met in Chillicothe St. Clair angrily denounced the Enabling Act. Word got back to Jefferson and the President promptly fired Art and appointed Charles William Byrd as Governor. You can probably guess that the new guy was also a Democratic-Republican.

all St. Clair got was a rock
With St. Clair out of the way, the new State Constitution was passed in November 1802. On February 19th 1803 the President and Congress approved it and on March 1st 1803, the Ohio General Assembly met for the first time. March 1st became known as Ohio Statehood Day. Edward Tiffin was elected governor of the state of Ohio on March 3, 1803. I'll bet you can guess Tiffin's party affiliation.

The only thing is, there was a problem. In 1953 (yes nineteen) it was discovered that due to a technicality, Congress did not formally declare Ohio a US State. Eventually that was resolved and they backdated statehood to March 1st 1803. More on that here.

What happened to St. Clair? He road off into the sunset with his gout. It turned out he had loaned much of his fortune to the cash strapped US government while serving as Governor for 14 years and Congress never paid him back. As a result of all this, one of America's original military and political leaders, a once powerful man, died disgraced, penniless and forgotten in 1818 at his home in PA.

Isn't politics fun?