James Garfield spent less time presiding over the U.S. than any other president except one: William Henry Harrison, who died from what may have been an enteric infection about a month after his inauguration. Garfield’s stint lasted little more than six months, until he was assassinated by a disgruntled man named Charles Guiteau, who believed Garfield should’ve granted him an ambassadorship. But while Garfield’s presidency was short-lived, his life before the Oval Office was very full—and well-documented, thanks to his commitment to keeping diaries. Now, the Library of Congress is asking people to help transcribe them.
The volumes are divided into three sections. The first, spanning the years 1848 through 1873, starts when Garfield was still a teenager and covers his education at Ohio’s Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (of which he later became president); his marriage to his wife, Lucretia; his time serving in the Union Army during the Civil War; and his early years as an Ohio Republican in the House of Representatives. The second section, which ends in 1879, is a more detailed portrait of Garfield’s career in the House of Representatives. The third section includes, among other things, Garfield’s unexpected nomination as the Republican Party’s candidate for the general election of 1880—a decision made as a compromise at the Republican National Convention, since delegates couldn’t choose between John Sherman, James Blaine, and Ulysses S. Grant.
The final section also contains Garfield’s last diary entry ever, from July 1, 1881. “This opening of the Fiscal Year, and day before my trip to New England, has been very full of work. Appointed very nearly 25 ministers and consuls,” he wrote. He never went on his trip to New England: Guiteau shot him in a train station the very next day, and Garfield died from complications from those bullet wounds more than two months later.
If you’re interested in transcribing some of more than 1600 documents from Garfield’s journals, you can join the Library of Congress’s effort here.