James Garfield, a powerful figure in the Reconstruction-era Congress, took office in 1881 with a goal of uniting the Republican Party, which was split between the Stalwarts (who strongly favored political patronage) and the so-called Half-Breeds (who believed patronage bred corruption). Garfield sought to shake off Congress’s persistent challenges to the president’s constitutional power to appoint and simultaneously favored broad reforms to the system of federal appointments. Ironically, he was assassinated by a mentally disturbed, disgruntled office-seeker and died barely six months after he took the oath of office. In death, Garfield accomplished reforms that had eluded him during his brief presidency.
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