Future President James A. Garfield Vividly Describes His Trip to England and Scotland, and His Concern for His Family (and Politics) in His Absence

“Monday went to London where we stopped ten days. On Saturday the 10th August we went to Leominster & visited Shakespeare’s home and grave [in Stratford]. Also the castle of Warwick and ruins of Kenilworth. On Monday we went to Rowsley in Derbyshire & visited the ruins of Hadon Hall - and the fine palace of Chatsworth where Mary Queen of Scots was long in prison. Hence we went to Sheffield, where I visited the iron and steel works…I am very anxious to know how the college is getting along…We are under the greatest obligations to [his sister] Mary for taking care of our children while we are away…Tell me if there is any political news in the District. Was my little address to the people of the District published & how was it received? Has any fault been found with me for coming away?”

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Garfield was a college professor at Hiram College who, after the Civil War, went on to serve in the House of Representatives. Tariffs had been raised to high levels during the war. Afterwards, Garfield, who made a close study of financial affairs, advocated moving towards free trade, though the standard Republican position...

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Future President James A. Garfield Vividly Describes His Trip to England and Scotland, and His Concern for His Family (and Politics) in His Absence

“Monday went to London where we stopped ten days. On Saturday the 10th August we went to Leominster & visited Shakespeare’s home and grave [in Stratford]. Also the castle of Warwick and ruins of Kenilworth. On Monday we went to Rowsley in Derbyshire & visited the ruins of Hadon Hall - and the fine palace of Chatsworth where Mary Queen of Scots was long in prison. Hence we went to Sheffield, where I visited the iron and steel works…I am very anxious to know how the college is getting along…We are under the greatest obligations to [his sister] Mary for taking care of our children while we are away…Tell me if there is any political news in the District. Was my little address to the people of the District published & how was it received? Has any fault been found with me for coming away?”

Garfield was a college professor at Hiram College who, after the Civil War, went on to serve in the House of Representatives. Tariffs had been raised to high levels during the war. Afterwards, Garfield, who made a close study of financial affairs, advocated moving towards free trade, though the standard Republican position was a protective tariff that would allow American industries to grow. This break with his party cost him much emotionally, and the result of the struggle was that he lost his place on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee in 1867.

The constant pressure and exertion began to wear upon him and his health broke down. By the advice of his physician in the summer of that year, accompanied by his wife, Garfield went to Europe sailing, from New York in the steamer City of London which carried them across the Atlantic in thirteen days. Remembering the ambitions of his boyhood to become a sailor, Garfield enjoyed his voyage as few men do who cross the sea. As they steamed up the Mersey in Liverpool, Garfield humorously remarked looking into its muddy waters, “The quality of Mersey is not strained”. He was absent from New York seventeen weeks and in that time made the tour most familiar to travelers. He landed at Liverpool and went down to London, stopping at Chester which is near the home of his ancestors. He remained in London about a week and while there listened to the great reform debate which resulted in giving the ballot to 700,000 Englishmen. He saw Gladstone, Disraeli, Bright and other great Englishmen, and after a week of sightseeing and studying there visited other parts of England. He then visited Scotland making the tour of the lakes, and then crossed the North Sea, landing at Rotterdam. Republican politicos James J. Blaine and Justin S. Morrill were with them in Scotland. There the Garfields visited the home of Robert Burns and read “Tam O Shanter”. Thence he went to Brussels and up the Rhine to Switzerland, and then across the Alps into Italy visiting Florence and Rome. Near a year of life was crowded into a week while Garfield lived amid the ruins of antiquity and the remnants of the Roman Empire. At Milan and Venice he made short stops, but at Rome he remained a week studying its ruins and monuments and being carried back to the classic times which since his college days have been the delight of his imagination. On his return he spent another week in Paris, and then after a few days in London and Liverpool returned to the U.S. This journey widened his knowledge of men and things and gave him what he sought – restored health.

Autograph letter signed, Edinburgh, Scotland, August 19, 1867, to Wallace J. Ford, a close friend of Garfield’s who was handling his affairs while he was in Europe. In it, he described his trip up to the time he reached Scotland. “I was very glad to receive your letter of the 23rd July, which came to hand just before we left London. You cannot appreciate how earnestly we desire to hear from home & from any place in the U.S. We have had no letters except yours and mother’s and Mary’s [his sister], & yours is our latest news.

“We reached Liverpool July 25th, the next day went to Chester & spent Sunday. Monday went to London where we stopped ten days. On Saturday the 10th August we went to Leominster & visited Shakespeare’s home and grave [in Stratford] . Also the castle of Warwick and ruins of Kenilworth. On Monday we went to Rowsley in Derbyshire & visited the ruins of Hadon Hall – and the fine palace of Chatsworth where Mary Queen of Scots was long in prison. Hence we went to Sheffield, where I visited the iron and steel works. Thence to York the ancient Roman capital of England – and on Thursday came from York to this place, a distance of 200 miles in five hours. We have since on arrival visited many places of interest, and shall leave today for the Highland lakes.

“I have been much better since I reached England – there I was for several months though I am by no means in full health. I have been quite unwell since I reached Edinburgh & am still suffering from a fever, diarrhea and headache. But I presume it is the sudden change in the weather. Last Wednesday in England the thermometer was 90 degrees. Today it is none too warm with an overcoat. I am very glad I came away for it has relieved me from a great burden of work which I know would have been upon there.

“I am very anxious to know how the college is getting along [Hiram College in Ohio, where Garfield was an instructor]. Please write me fully on all points. We are entirely satisfied with Lottie’s [Lottie Sackett, Principal of the Ladies’ Department at Hiram] being at our house, provided it is entirely agreeable to Mary & mother. We are under the greatest obligations to Mary for taking care of our children while we are away, and we want her to do whatever will be most agreeable to her. I am glad to hear that my address in College is being well received. I have heard good reports from it in several ways. I brought a few copies with me and have had the opinion of some men here on the subject.

“Tell me if there is any political news in the District. Was my little address to the people of the District published & how was it received? Has any fault been found with me for coming away? If mother and Mary need any more money, please supply them & I will pay you when I get home. I wish you would see to having the cistern fixed. And now Wallace, I want you to pardon this very stupid letter. I am really to unwell today to write. I went Sunday to hear an old Scotch Presbyterian but he was a poor speaker and I slept half the time – & I am not half awake now. I beg you to write me often and fully. We shall go to the Continent in a few days. Direct to me to care of John Monroe & Co., Paris, France…”

A fascinating letter, filled with Garfield’s descriptions of the sights, concern for his family, interest in Hiram College, and curiosity about the political situation at home.

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