- Historic Sites
My Friend Garfield
One summer brought excitement and glory to the young secretary of a political leader. How could he know that the next one would brim with tragedy?
August 1971 | Volume 22, Issue 5
There had been a great Republican rally at the “Wigwam” [a political clubhouse] at Warren, Ohio. The prominent political leaders were there, and the question arose as to calling on the nominee. In view of the drubbing which the Conkling wing of the party had received at Chicago, largely through the generalship of Garfield, this plan did not awaken much enthusiasm; but the aged and astute Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania [once a member of Lincoln’s Cabinet] said it must be done, and his authoritative decision was accepted. His son, Senator Don Cameron, General U. S. Grant, Senator Conkling and General [John A.] Logan [one-time senator from Illinois] came by special train to Mentor. My duty was to see that the driver had the big two-horse carryall at the station on the dot and to escort the distinguished party to the house. … En route this incident occurred. General Grant said in reflective, quiet tones, in the midst of conversation among the “big four,” “Well, I never like to give a man the benefit of knowing what I think of him.” Senator Conkling broke in, loud and resonant, with, “Well, I do! I remember a reporter from a well-known New York newspaper calling on me for an interview. I received him and said, ‘Young man, what I shall say in no way reflects on you, for you are only doing your duty, but return to your chief and tell him that Senator Conkling will have nothing to do with a journal founded on corruption, fattened on bribery, and edited by a thief.’”…
In the closing days of the campaign, when the autumn chill was in the air and the days in northern Ohio were chiefly gray and depressing, the colored Jubilee Singers from [all-Negro] Fisk University [in Nashville, Tennessee], on tour and filling an engagement in Painesville nearby, asked to come and sing to the nominee. A few neighbors were invited, and the big living room was well filled. There was an unaccountable sense of hush and expectancy. As the General passed by me in the hall he said rather tensely, “My boy! I am going to say a word to them if it kills me.” I knew that something was coming, and as there were no reporters present—praises be—I grabbed a notebook and, holding it against the wall, made a verbatim report of the proceedings, which soon took on a decidedly dramatic aspect. There had been an affecting little speech by the leader of the quartet prior to beginning, and as the singers poured out their melodious and at the same time vibrant but mournful spirituals, the little audience became increasingly emotional. Tears were trickling down the cheeks of many of the women, and one staid old gentleman blubbered audibly behind a door. At the conclusion of the program the General arose and, standing at ease beside the fireplace with his hand resting lightly on the mantel, his address began in low conversational tones, using rhetorical periods which his audience from the South could quickly grasp. He made plain to them his understanding of the needs and aspirations of a race out of place, then suddenly straightening himself up, he closed his brief remarks with the following words delivered in clear, ringing tones, “And I tell you now, in the closing days of this campaign, that I would rather be with you and defeated than against you and victorious.” For a moment there was complete silence and then a sound as of human expirations in unison.
The “story” of the meeting and a copy of the speech appeared in the Cleveland papers, but the closing paragraph was temporarily omitted by the reporter of that interesting event.
Mentor was abandoned on February 28 , and the following morning saw us all domiciled at the Riggs House in Washington, opposite the Treasury Department. Then the turmoil began. The steady grind of work in Ohio which had somewhat dimmed the glamour surrounding the situation was nothing compared with the strain and fatigue which was to come in the next few months. The days of the first, second, and third of March were devoted to stemming the tide of callers and playing a game of hide-and-seek with competing aspirants for Cabinet honors who did not wish to be seen. Aided by my friend Hatch [LorenzoJ. Hatch, an artist], I devoted the night of the third to making a fair copy of the President’s message for delivery at the Capitol the following morning and two flimsies for the rival news bureaus. Very primitive indeed compared with modern methods. By eight o’clock in the morning my task was done, the flimsies delivered, and I fled utterly exhausted to the Massachusetts Avenue home for breakfast and badly needed sleep. I woke in the afternoon about four and went to the White House. As I entered the grounds … I speculated in whimsical fashion as to how I should effect an entrance into that imposing structure. Then the miraculous happened. Hardly was my foot on the last step when the door flew open and a Negro doorman’s voice said in the most ingratiating tones, “Dis way, Mr. Secretary, Colonel [William K.] Rogers (President Hayes’ Secretary) is waiting for you upstairs.” Perhaps the doorman had seen my picture in a paper and shrewdly applied his knowledge.
Next morning, the fifth, I breakfasted with the President again, but this time with almost a sad note he said, “Stand by my boy and look after things. I need all my friends now.”