HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: A Biography of James A. Garfield: The Preacher President
Author: William Makepeace Thayer
Cover Illustrator: Jason Atwell
Publisher: A Beka Book, republished in 2000
Related website: https://www.abeka.com/ (publisher)
Language level: 1
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Ages 12-18
Rating: ***** 5 stars (EXCELLENT)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Thayer, William Makepeace. A Biography of James A. Garfield: The Preacher President (originally published in 1880; republished in 2000 by A Beka Books, a division of Pensacola Christian College, Pensacola, FL). James Abram Garfield (1831-1881) was the twentieth President of the United States and had the second shortest term in office, the only one shorter being that of William Henry Harrison. This biography will give students a detailed look at the life of President Garfield from a poor canal boy to Chief Executive of the United States. This American legend exemplified the character that makes a great leader. Reading how he stood up for righteousness through his godly life will challenge others to stand up for righteousness too. The book is part of the Sons of Liberty Series from A Beka, which includes three other biographies by Thayer, of Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln, plus the autobiography of Booker T. Washington.
Garfield was born in a log cabin in Orange Township, Cuyahoga County, OH. His father Abram died when the boy was but eighteen months old, so James was raised by his widowed mother and older brother Tom. The book takes an in-depth view of his life, from boyhood to manhood, including his early childhood work as a farmer, carpenter, barn-builder, black-salter, wood chopper, and canal boy; his education at Geauga Seminary, the Eclectic Institute of Hiram, and Williams College; and his labors as a school teacher, college professor, state Senator, major-general in the Civil War, United States Representative, and finally President. According to the Preface, author William M. Thayer began to gather the material for his biography shortly after Garfield’s nomination in 1879. It is said to have been published originally in 1880, but chapters 26 and 27 discuss his assassination and death, so they may have been added later. This volume may be a students’ edition of From Log-Cabin to White House: The Life of President James A. Garfield also by William Thayer which was published in 1881.
There are references to keeping the Sabbath and ministers as “Pastors,” but the author shows the dangers of drinking alcohol and points out how Garfield’s religious beliefs were his guiding light. Thayer wrote, “Abram Garfield and his noble wife were Christians. Before removing to Orange they united with a comparatively new sect, called Disciples, though Campbellites was a name by which they were sometimes known, in honor of the founder of the sect, Alexander Campbell.” While I would not have used some of this inaccurate terminology, the fact that Garfield was associated with the Disciples is interesting. During his time as a teacher and college professor, he often did appointment preaching. Also, while he did go to school at times, whenever he was unable to do so, for whatever reasons, “Mrs. Garfield instructed James and assisted Thomas somewhat in his studies.” Thus, at least for part of the time, Garfield was homeschooled. This excellent biography presents the life of James A. Garfield as a model of the dignity, morality, and tenacity that should characterize those who would lead us today.