From Candice Millard’s new book, Destiny of the Republic, on the assassination of President James A. Garfield:
Inexplicably, it seemed that the only cause for which Garfield would not fight was his own political future. In an early-adopted eccentricity that would become for him a central “law of life,” he refused to seek an appointment or promotion of any kind. “I suppose that I am morbidly sensitive about any reference to my own achievements,” he admitted. “I so much despise a man who blows his own horn, that I go to the other extreme.” From his first political campaign, he had sternly instructed his backers that “first, I should make no pledge to any man or any measures; second, I should not work for my own nomination.” The closest he had come to even admitting that he was interested in a political office was to tell his friends, when a seat in the U.S. Senate became available in 1879, that “if the Senatorship is thus to be thrown open for honorable competition, I should be sorry to be wholly omitted from consideration in that direction.” After a landslide victory, his campaign’s expenses amounted to less than $15o.
When it came to the presidency, Garfield simply looked the other way. He spent seventeen years in Congress, and every day he saw men whose desperate desire for the White House ruined their careers, their character, and their lives. “I have so long and so often seen the evil effects of the presidential fever among my associates and friends that I am determined it shall not seize me,” he wrote in his journal in February 1879. “In almost every case it impairs if it does not destroy the usefulness of its victim.”