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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

The Influence of Garfield's Father

by Mary Emily Schroeder

Charles Garfield’s father told him, when practically on his death bed, "Remember always what people have done for you and that you give of yourself and your services to the people without thought of remuneration." The tall, towering, and stalwart tree that was to become Charles W. Garfield, was only thus, because, above him and before him, had stood another tall, towering and stalwart tree, his father, Samuel M.  Words from Charles W. regarding his father: "There was a time, when father was elected to the Michigan Legislature, in which I was brought into his confidence in a very unusual way. I had finished my college course and was engaged in an official capacity with my Alma Mater and living at the college [Michigan Agricultural College—later Michigan State University]. Father, in serving his state in the Legislature, was in Lansing, and the same old close relationship existed and I was brought into conference with him upon most of the matters with which he had to deal in his official capacity. He was in poor health and it was a struggle for him to perform the duties which he felt were incumbent upon him, and when an aggravating political contest came up in the Legislature in connection with the election of a United States Senator, because of the independent position that my father took, he was assailed by crafty politicians and men of party influence in such a way that I know it had a great bearing upon his health; and I can see now that the tremendous pressure which was placed upon him to secure his vote and his desire to live up to his convictions, shortened his life.” “During those years the relationship of father to son was, I think, perhaps as valuable to the father as to the son, and I am proud today that I was the son of my father and that I had the experiences which it seems to me are quite rare in this relationship—the result of which has made a continuous impress upon my life in determining the style of service I should give. I think that my own independence of action upon matters of importance is largely a legacy from my father, and, as I recall the events in my life, from my earliest boyhood until his death, it seems to me that there was no factor so great in influencing my life and its purposes as the intimate relationship of father and son."

Excerpted from The Charles W. Garfield Story by Mary Emily Schroeder (available at the Grand Rapids Public Library)

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