James A. Garfield, 20th president of the United States and second principal of the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute, which later became Hiram College, is an important part of the College’s legacy. Hiram Garfield Presidency Scholars Hallie Chavez ’18 of Parma, Julian Gilbert ’18 of University Heights, Devon Jones ’18 of Cleveland and Bishop Sanders ’17 of Urbana burnished that legacy when they presented as members of a panel on aspects of Garfield’s 1880 “front porch” presidential campaign. The panel served as a highlight of the third annual Garfield Symposium held Saturday, Nov. 12 at the Ellenwood Recreation Center in Bedford.
“I was delighted that these four Garfield Presidency Scholars volunteered for this opportunity to take part in the symposium,” says Doug Brattebo, Ph.D., director of the Garfield Center for the Study of the American Presidency and associate professor of political science at Hiram. “The audience was deeply engaged in the Scholars’ account of key facets of Garfield’s general election bid for the presidency.”
The scholars presented as two two-person teams, with Gilbert and Jones concentrating on Garfield’s attitudes and policies pertaining to race, while Chavez and Sanders focused on Garfield’s approach to education policy and the role that education had played in his life. The Scholars prepared for the symposium by conducting research that drew from books, articles and archival sources relevant to Garfield’s 1880 campaign.
“This was a wonderful occasion for these Scholars to celebrate President Garfield’s legacy while reaching out to the regional community in Northeast Ohio,” says Dr. Brattebo. “As always, they represented the College admirably, and they also gained invaluable insight into the kinds of conferences that will be a staple of graduate education and professional endeavors.”
Gilbert and Jones highlighted Garfield’s evolution into an ardent abolitionist by the time of the Civil War, and his subsequent resolve that his (too-short) presidency must enforce the rights of African Americans throughout the South. Jones observes, “Garfield’s commitment to racial equality was crystal clear, and reconstruction might have unfolded quite differently had he not been assassinated.” Chavez and Sanders emphasize that, just as education transformed Garfield’s own life and prospects, as president he was determined that educational opportunities should become more plentiful for all Americans.
“One cannot help but be mightily impressed by Garfield’s reverence for education as a great force for the improvement of the republic,” Chavez says.
Dr. Brattebo delivered the symposium’s lunchtime keynote presentation, “Presidential Campaigns: An Evolving American Institution.” In the immediate aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, Dr. Brattebo’s presentation sought to convey how the roles played by democracy, time, money and ambition in presidential contests have evolved across recent decades.
“I am proud that a Hiram education, plus a lot of hard work and preparation by these four students, made it possible for them to play a signal role in this third annual event,” Dr. Brattebo says. “The liberal arts are where it is at when it comes to preparing students to live meaningful lives while meeting the intellectual, economic and societal challenges of this time and all time.”