Quotations by Garfield, James A.


If hard work is not another name for talent, it is the best possible substitute for it.

James A. Garfield (1831-1881) US President (1881), lawyer, lay preacher, educator
“College Education,” Speech, Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (Jun 1867)
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A pound of pluck is worth a ton of luck.

James A. Garfield (1831-1881) US President (1881), lawyer, lay preacher, educator
“Elements of Success,” Address, Spencerian Business College, Washington, DC (29 Jun 1869)

Full text.

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Be fit for more than the thing you are now doing. Let everyone know that you have a reserve in yourself, — that you have more power than you are now using. If you are not too large for the place you occupy, you are too small for it.

James A. Garfield (1831-1881) US President (1881), lawyer, lay preacher, educator
“Elements of Success,” speech at Spencerian Business College, Washington, DC (29 Jun 1869)
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Reprinted in in B. A. Hinsdale, ed., President Garfield and Education: Hiram College Memorial, ch. 8 (1882).
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A pound of pluck is worth a ton of luck.

James A. Garfield (1831-1881) US President (1881), lawyer, lay preacher, educator
“Elements of Success,” speech, Spencerian Business College, Washington, D.C. (29 Jul 1869)
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Let us not commit ourselves to the absurd and senseless dogma that the color of the skin shall be the basis of suffrage, the talisman of liberty.

James A. Garfield (1831-1881) US President (1881), lawyer, lay preacher, educator
“Suffrage and Safety,” speech, Ravenna, Ohio (4 Jul 1865)
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In the great crisis of the war, God brought us face to face with the mighty truth, that we must lose our own freedom or grant it to the slave. In the extremity of our distress, we called upon the black man to help us save the Republic; and, amid the very thunders of battle, we made a covenant with him, sealed both with his blood and with ours, and witnessed by Jehovah, that, when the nation was redeemed, he should be free, and share with us its glories and its blessings. The Omniscient Witness will appear in judgment against us if we do not fulfill that covenant.

James A. Garfield (1831-1881) US President (1881), lawyer, lay preacher, educator
“Suffrage and Safety,” speech, Ravenna, Ohio (4 Jul 1865)
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Have we done it? Have we given freedom to the black man? What is freedom? Is it mere negation? Is it the bare privilege of not being chained, of not being bought and sold, branded and scourged? If this is all, then freedom is a bitter mockery, a cruel delusion, and it may well be questioned whether slavery were not better.

James A. Garfield (1831-1881) US President (1881), lawyer, lay preacher, educator
“Suffrage and Safety,” speech, Ravenna, Ohio (4 Jul 1865)
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But liberty is no negation. It is a substantial, tangible reality. It is the realization of those imperishable truths of the Declaration, “that all men are created equal”; that the sanction of all just government is “the consent of the governed.” Can these be realized until each man has a right to be heard on all matters relating to himself? The plain truth is, that each man knows his own interest best. It has been said, “If he is compelled to pay, if he may be compelled to fight, if he be required implicitly to obey, he should be legally entitled to be told what for; to have his consent asked, and his opinion counted at what it is worth. There ought to be no pariahs in a full-grown and civilized nation, no persons disqualified except through their own default.” I would not insult your intelligence by discussing so plain a truth, had not the passion and prejudice of this generation called in question the very axioms of the Declaration.

James A. Garfield (1831-1881) US President (1881), lawyer, lay preacher, educator
“Suffrage and Safety,” speech, Ravenna, Ohio (4 Jul 1865)
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On extending the vote to newly-freed slaves.
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Resolutions cannot nullify the truths of the multiplication table.

James A. Garfield (1831-1881) US President (1881), lawyer, lay preacher, educator
“The Currency,” Speech, House of Representatives (15 May 1868)
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A favorite phrase of Garfield's regarding the dangers of inflation, e.g., "I will not vote against the truths of the multiplication table" (Letter to Harmon Austin (4 Feb 1874)).
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If there is one thing upon this earth that mankind love and admire better than another, it is a brave man — it is the man who dares to look the devil in the face and tell him he is a devil.

James A. Garfield (1831-1881) US President (1881), lawyer, lay preacher, educator
(Attributed)

Quoted in The Phrenological Journal (Dec 1881).
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The divorce between church and state should be absolute. It ought to be so absolute that no Church property anywhere, in any state, or in the nation, should be exempt from equal taxation; for if you exempt the property of any church organization, to that extent you impose a tax upon the whole community.

James A. Garfield (1831-1881) US President (1881), lawyer, lay preacher, educator
Congressional Record, 2(6):538 (1874)
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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.

James A. Garfield (1831-1881) US President (1881), lawyer, lay preacher, educator
Inaugural address (4 Mar 1881)
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Next in importance to freedom and justice is popular education, without which neither freedom nor justice can be permanently maintained.

James A. Garfield (1831-1881) US President (1881), lawyer, lay preacher, educator
Letter accepting the nomination for President (12 Jul 1880)
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The worst days of darkness through which I have ever passed have been greatly alleviated by throwing myself with all my energy into some work relating to others.

James A. Garfield (1831-1881) US President (1881), lawyer, lay preacher, educator
Letter to B. A. Hinsdale (30 Apr 1874)
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I am trying to do two things: dare to be a radical and not be a fool, which, if I may judge by the exhibitions around me, is a matter of no small difficulty.

James A. Garfield (1831-1881) US President (1881), lawyer, lay preacher, educator
Letter to Burke Aaron Hinsdale (1 Jan 1867)
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The lesson of History is rarely learned by the actors themselves.

James A. Garfield (1831-1881) US President (1881), lawyer, lay preacher, educator
Letter to Professor Demmon (16 Dec 1871)
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I am oppressed with a sense of the impropriety of uttering words on this occasion. If silence is ever golden, it must be here, beside the graves of fifteen thousand men, whose lives were more significant than speech, and whose death was a poem, the music of which can never be sung. With words we make promises, plight faith, praise virtue. Promises may not be kept, plighted faith may be broken, and vaunted virtue be only the cunning mask of vice. We do not know one promise these men made, one pledge they gave, one word they spoke: but we do know they summed up and perfected, by one supreme act, the highest virtues of men and citizens. For love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue. For the noblest man that lives, there still remains a conflict. He must still withstand the assaults of time and fortune, must still be assailed with temptations, before which lofty natures have fallen; but with these the conflict ended, the victory was won, when death stamped on them the great seal of heroic character, and closed a record which years can never blot.

James A. Garfield (1831-1881) US President (1881), lawyer, lay preacher, educator
Speech at Arlington National Cemetery, Decoration Day (30 May 1868)
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A speech by Garfield, then a Congressman and a former Union Major General in the Civil War, for the first Decoration Day (later Memorial Day) ceremonies.
Added on 7-Aug-20 | Last updated 7-Aug-20
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