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Unique Garfield Presidential Appointment of a Great-Grandson of Moses Austin to Replace his Father as Postmaster of Benham, Texas
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Garfield’s presidential documents are rare. He was inaugurated on March 4, and shot by a crazed office-seeking assassin, Charles Guiteau, on July 2. Garfield lingered until September 19, but was unable to fulfil his presidential duties. Though this document is dated two weeks before Garfield took office, given the time it took for preparation and presentation for signing, this was not an unusual practice. The Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate records Bryan’s nomination by President Rutherford B. Hayes, on February 11, 1881, and approval by the Senate on February 18. The clerk did make an error, though, conflating the appointee and his town, writing “William J. Brenham” in the second name blank. Besides the general rarity of Garfield’s presidential documents, we have seen very few of his documents relating to Texas.

JAMES ABRAM GARFIELD. Document Signed (“James A. Garfield”) as President, 1 p., folio, Washington D.C., February 18, 1881 (but actually signed after March 4 and before July 2, 1881), partially printed and accomplished in manuscript, appointing William J. Bryan as Postmaster of Brenham, Washington County, Texas; countersigned by Thomas L. James as Postmaster General. Gold Post Office seal with two red ribbons affixed to lower left; folding creases; some blearing to last three letters of signature; small loss at meeting of two folds; faint offset to signature from seal.

Inventory #24707       Price: $9,000

William Joel Bryan (1852 - 1882) was born in Brazoria County, Texas. His father, Moses Austin Bryan (1817-1895), was a nephew of Stephen F. Austin and grandson of Moses Austin who fought in the Battle of San Jacinto (1836) and served as a major in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. William Joel Bryan succeeded his father as postmaster of Brenham, Texas in 1881. He died in Independence, Texas the following January. He is not to be confused with William Joel Bryan (1815-1903) his uncle and namesake.

Thomas Lemuel James (1831 - 1916), a native of Utica, New York, worked as a journalist, customs official, and postmaster of New York City before President Garfield appointed him United States postmaster general in March 1881. A noted advocate of civil service reform, James eliminated his department’s deficit and initiated an investigation of abuses and frauds within the postal service, with the latter effort resulting in the Star Route trials of 1882-1883. Following Garfield’s assassination, James resigned as postmaster general in December 1881. Thereafter he worked as a bank president and served as mayor of Tenafly, New Jersey. Married four times, he died in New York City at the age of eighty-five.

James Garfield (1831-1881) was the twentieth President of the United States. After graduating from Williams College in Massachusetts, he entered politics and was elected Ohio State Senator in 1859. He opposed Confederate Succession, raised Ohio troops, entered the Union army, and rose to the rank of Major General, serving with distinction at Chicamauga. Elected to the U.S. Senate in 1880, he became the Republican Party’s compromise candidate in the 1880 election after Ulysses S. Grant, John Sherman, and James Blaine all failed to secure a majority at the Republican convention. Four months into his Presidency, he was shot by a deranged office seeker and lingered for nearly three months, although he was unable to govern. During his brief Presidency, he initiated civil service reforms, reformed the Post Office, made four federal court appointments, and appointed Stanley Matthews to the Supreme Court.

Additional Background

Excerpted from the University of Virginia Miller Center, “Life Before the Presidency.”

“He never knew his father, Abram Garfield, a strong man known for his wrestling abilities, who had died when James was scarcely an infant. Like his father, James was good with his fists and loved the outdoors, but he never liked farming. He dreamed instead of becoming a sailor. At age sixteen, Garfield ran away to work on the canal boats that shuttled commerce between Cleveland and Pittsburgh. During his six weeks on the boats, he fell overboard fourteen times, finally catching such a fever that he had to return home. While recovering, Garfield vowed to make his way in the world using brains rather than brawn….

In 1850, at age eighteen, Garfield experienced a religious conversion and was baptized into the denomination of his parents, the Disciples of Christ…. He relished the opportunity to hear Ralph Waldo Emerson and … fancied himself a reformer, identifying with the antislavery beliefs of the new Republican Party.

Though a serious student, James enjoyed hunting, fishing, billiards, and drink in moderation, refusing to take the temperance pledge or to join in its cause. He also enjoyed the ladies, dating three young women simultaneously. Garfield eventually fell in love with Lucretia "Crete" Rudolph, one of his classmates at the Eclectic Institute…. An attractive young lady, she possessed a keen intellect and equaled Garfield in her appetite for knowledge. While Garfield finished his studies at Williams, she taught school…. In 1858, he and Lucretia got married. Studying law on his own, he passed the Ohio bar exam in 1861.

In 1856, Garfield campaigned in Ohio for John C. Frémont, presidential candidate of the newly formed Republican Party. Three years later, he threw himself into state politics, becoming the youngest member of the Ohio legislature.

An enthusiastic abolitionist, Garfield believed that under no circumstances could the institution of slavery be allowed to extend into any of the western territories. Although he did not condone John Brown's bloody raid on Harpers Ferry, he believed that Brown's trial and execution would "be the dawn of a better day." In the presidential election of 1860, Garfield campaigned for Abraham Lincoln. When Southern states began to withdraw from the Union, Garfield came out strongly against secession and urged the federal government to respond with force. …

In mid-August 1861, Garfield organized the 42nd Ohio Infantry, rising from lieutenant colonel to full colonel within a few weeks. Twice he gained distinction: In January 1862 at the battle of Middle Creek, his greatly outnumbered brigade defeated the Confederates, thereby leaving him in control of eastern Kentucky. In September 1863 at Chickamauga, he made a daring ride under enemy fire. By then, he was a major general, the youngest officer to hold this rank. Garfield served as chief of staff under Major General William S. Rosecrans, commander of the Army of the Cumberland, though he undermined his superior by supplying negative information to the War Department. In December 1863, Garfield resigned from the Army to take his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, to which the war hero had been elected the previous November without ever having campaigned.

During the war years, Garfield distinguished himself as one of the most radical Republicans in Congress. Even though he had campaigned for Lincoln, he never really liked the President and considered him a "second-rate Illinois lawyer" who had failed to vigorously prosecute the war. Garfield supported the seizure of rebel property in the North and the execution or exile of Confederate leaders…. During Reconstruction, Garfield differed from his more radical colleagues, often supporting moderation toward the defeated South. However, he eventually voted for the impeachment of President Johnson. In 1868 and 1872, he backed Ulysses S. Grant for President, though he possessed grave reservations about the general's administrative abilities and political wisdom.

As a congressman, Garfield became an expert on financial matters by serving on key committees. … He opposed all efforts to inflate the supply of money through the issuance of paper currency unbacked by gold; use of the unbacked greenback dollars (printed during the Civil War) to redeem government bonds; or free and unlimited coinage of silver into coins. This hard money stance made him a favorite with eastern "Gold Bug" Republicans.… Garfield took a middle line, advocating moderate and low tariff rates in response to the demands of his rural constituents for cheap European manufactured goods. However, when it came to the interests of his own district, he drew the line, for example, when they demanded a high tariff on pig iron. He opposed labor unions, fought the eight-hour workday for federal workers, and believed that federal troops should be used to break up strikes. During the economic depression of the 1870s, he was so concerned about government spending that he opposed federally funded relief projects...

Garfield was also identified as one of several congressmen who had accepted stock in Credit Mobilier, a construction company for the transcontinental Union Pacific Railroad that had received loans and land grants from the government. The congressmen involved were accused of using their influence to weaken congressional oversight … thereby permitting the company officers to pay themselves huge expenses and salaries. Garfield admitted that he had received only $329 from the company. He also … was linked to a corrupt paving contract. In 1874, his constituents returned him to the House, but this time the election was hard fought.

In the presidential election of 1876, Garfield supported Ohio's governor, Rutherford B. Hayes, for President, in part because of Hayes's "sound money" position and in part because his sheer blandness might make him stronger than such polarizing rivals as Senators Roscoe Conkling of New York and James G. Blaine of Maine. Garfield served on the electoral commission that investigated the disputed electoral college returns from South Carolina, Louisiana, Florida, and Oregon. He voted with the seven other Republicans on the controversial fifteen-member committee to give Hayes the election by awarding all the delegates from these disputed states to the Republicans. Indeed, he was one of the "visiting statesmen" who approved the official Republican returns of the contested state of Louisiana. To soothe enraged Democrats who controlled the House of Representatives, Garfield worked behind the scenes in support of the Compromise of 1877, which ended military occupation of the South and brought at least one southern Democrat into Hayes's cabinet.”

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