Cuyahoga County Colored Delegation for Garfield and Arthur
By the time James Garfield sought the presidency in 1880, he already had a long history of support for African-American rights, so those African-Americans who could now vote gravitated toward Garfield and the party of Emancipation.
Garfield joined the Republican Party in Ohio in the 1850s and advocated for an antislavery platform while serving as a state senator. Following a stint as a Union soldier in the Civil War, Garfield was elected to congress, where he joined the Radical Republicans, members who believed that President Andrew Johnson wasn’t fulfilling the promise of promoting and protecting the African-American civil rights for which the Union fought.
Garfield voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which granted more rights to former slaves. When Johnson vetoed the bill, the Radical Republicans led the congress in overriding him.
In his inaugural address, Garfield said: “The elevation of the negro race from slavery to the full rights of citizenship is the most important political change we have known since the adoption of the Constitution of 1787.”
During his administration, he appointed African-Americans to several positions, including two former slaves turned abolitionists: Henry Highland Garnet, U.S. ambassador to Liberia,
and Frederick Douglass, District of Columbia Recorder of Deeds.
But he didn’t have the chance to help further the African-American progression toward equal rights; he was assassinated in 1881 by Charles J. Guiteau.
About the Emancipation, Garfield noted in his inaugural speech:
Those who resisted the change should remember that under our institutions there was no middle ground for the negro race between slavery and equal citizenship. There can be no permanent disfranchised peasantry in the United States. Freedom can never yield its fullness of blessings so long as the law or its administration places the smallest obstacle in the pathway of any virtuous citizen.
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