The Cyclopaedia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States by the Best American and European Writers was an encyclopedia edited by John J. Lalor, first published in New York in 1881. The 1899 edition of the work is published online by the Library of Economics and Liberty. It is now in the public domain.
There are several biographies of American Presidents. They are worth taking a look at and comparing with more recent works.
Here is the biography of James Garfield:
GARFIELD, James Abram, president of the United States 1881, was born at Orange, Cuyahoga county, Ohio, Nov. 19, 1831, and died at Elberon, N. J., Sept. 19, 1881. He was graduated at Williams college in 1856; became a professor in, and afterward president of, Hiram college, Ohio; was admitted to the bar, and served in the army 1861-3, reaching the grade of major general. He was a republican representative in congress 1863-81, was elected U. S. senator for the term 1881-7, but before he took his seat was elected president, July 2, 1881, he was shot by a disappointed office seeker, and the injury resulted in his death.
—Garfield's rise form the position of a driver of mules upon the tow-path to the presidency was great, but others before him have compassed as great an interval. His exceptional success, among the crowd of self-made presidents, Jackson, Van Buren, Fillmore, Lincoln and Johnson, lay in his attainment of a breadth of culture which none of the others approached, and which, though it lay outside of polities, had a very strong influence upon his political career. His life and letters show his constant anxiety to develop his mental powers in every department of thought, so that before his untimely death he had become an intellectual athlete. It is unfortunately useless to speculate on the breadth of development to which twenty years further life and activity would have carried him.
—In congress Garfield was one of the mass of republican members during Thaddeus Stevens' leadership, and after Stevens' death he was by no means the most prominent republican leader until 1876-8, when he met and was a prime factor in defeating the spread of the greenback or "soft money" idea in his party. (See GREEN-BACK-LABOR PARTY, REPUBLICAN PARTY.) The extra sesson of the 46th congress, March 18, 1879 (see VETO), gave him almost the first rank as a party leader. By common consent the work of the debate was left to him. His charge that the southern democrats, having failed to defeat the government in the field, were now endeavoring to "starve it to death," was a very taking and comprehensible point, and did good service for some time afterward. When, in the republican national convention of 1880, it was found that the majority of delegates were divided between Blaine and Sherman, that a strong minority (about 306 in number) were determined upon Grant, and that changes were hopeless, a sudden movement of all the factions nominated Garfield, June 8, on the thirty-sixth ballot, against his own protest. In November he was elected. (See ELECTORAL VOTES.)
—Only two points of Garfield's career have seemed vulnerable to his political opponents: his reception of a fee of $5,000 for arguing the De Golyer claim before a congressional committee, and his alleged complicity in the credit mobilier fraud. (See CREDIT MOBILIER.) As to the former case it need only be said that the arguing of cases, or giving opinions in cases, before courts or committees, by lawyers who are also congressmen, has never been condemned by public opinion and has been unhesitatingly followed by men of all parties; and that in this case the opinion seems to have been worth the fee paid for it. In the latter case the only evidence against Garfield is the naked assertion of Oakes Ames; in his favor are the facts that Garfield was notoriously poor; that he might have used his committee positions to enrich himself with far less danger of exposure than by accepting credit mobilier stock; and, above all, that the stock, which Ames claimed to have given Garfield, remained in Ames' possession for all the five years from 1868 until the explosion in 1873, that its enormous dividends were unhesitatingly appropriated by Ames, and that he showed no notion, until the explosion came, that the stock had ever been the property of any other person than himself. All this would seem absolutely conclusive in the case of any one but a presidential candidate.
—The two New York senators, Conkling and T. C. Platt, were republicans of the Grant faction. Immediately after his inauguration in March, 1881, President Garfield attempted to recognize all the factions of his party in the matter of appointments; but, as the most important New York appointment was given to their opponent, the New York senators, after vainly struggling against its confirmation until May, suddenly resigned, left their party in a minority in the senate, and brought about a great political uproar. A disappointed office seeker, thinking that the Conkling faction would justify any method of attack upon the president, chose this time to gratify his resentment for the refusal to appoint him to a consulship, and shot the president, announcing himself as Conkling's champion. The horrible calamity of the president's assassination served at least one useful purpose; it threw a vivid light upon the evils of the American system of appointments to and removals from office.
—See Hiusdale's Republican Text Book of 1880; Brisbin's Life of Garfield; Bundy's Life of Garfield; Gilmore's Life of Garfield; Balch's Life of Garfield; Smalley's History of the Republican Party.