He had been lying on his cot in his small, rented room for an hour, unable to sleep, his mind churning, when he was struck by a single, pulsing thought: "If the President was out of the way every thing would go better. It was a divine inspiration, a message from God. He was, he believed, in a unique position to recognize divine inspiration when it occurred because it had happened to him before. Even before the wreck of the steamship Stonington, he had been inspired, he said, to join the Oneida Community, to leave so that he might start a religious newspaper, and to become a traveling evangelist. Each time God had called him, he had answered.
|Published (Last):||18 May 2010|
|PDF File Size:||6.60 Mb|
|ePub File Size:||10.71 Mb|
|Price:||Free* [*Free Regsitration Required]|
Shelves: nonfiction , biography , american-history If most people were to be asked today what they thought of Garfield, they would most likely offer an answer about a cartoon cat, and not the 20th president of the United States, the president who served only days in office, the second president to be assassinated, and one of our great losses as a nation. Image from Penguin Random House Speakers Bureau Candice Millard, the author of The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelts Darkest Journey, here follows the paths of two men, the ill-fated If most people were to be asked today what they thought of Garfield, they would most likely offer an answer about a cartoon cat, and not the 20th president of the United States, the president who served only days in office, the second president to be assassinated, and one of our great losses as a nation.
No political conspiracies were involved, at least not outside the delusions of an addled mind. While the assassin did have political views they were likelier to be the same as those of his target than anywhere in opposition.
No, he was your basic nutter, who convinced himself that God wanted him to take out the president. While clearly disturbed, Guiteau had an interesting past. His mother died when he was 7 and he was raised by his father, a religious fanatic, and follower of John Humphrey Noyes, the founder of the utopian Oneida commune in upstate New York. Charles did not have a lot of success with the ladies, even at Oneida, which must have really stung.
I guess in that way he was a harbinger of Republicans of a later era. Guiteau was in DC seeking a political appointment from the president, just compensation, in his mind, for the assistance he had given to the campaign.
He had suffered delusions of grandeur for a long time. His own family had sought to have him put away. But the slippery bastard fled before they could complete his committal. His parents were farmers, working land-grant turf. But dad passed away when James was still a boy. Through hard work and recognition of his native brilliance by enough people who had the means to help, Garfield managed to get an excellent education.
His oratorical skills were state of the art for his time. He was elected to the state legislature and soon thereafter put into the national Congress, with hardly any effort at all on his part. This accidental president never sought that office either. In fact, he attended the Republican convention to give the nominating speech for his fellow Ohioan, John Sherman.
But after dozens of ballots, with no hope of any of the major candidates winning enough votes to get the nomination, delegates began looking for an alternative. And thus was James A Garfield nominated for president by his party. Garfield had been anti-slavery, as had his party. For freed slaves, an impoverished and, until recently, almost entirely powerless segment of the population, Garfield represented freedom and progress, but also, and perhaps more importantly, dignity.
As president, he demanded for black men nothing less than what they wanted desperately for themselves—complete and unconditional equality, born not of regret but respect. So Garfield was a pretty good guy, remarkably, considering that the Civil War had ended less than 16 years prior, acceptable to both the South and the North, a brilliant, Renaissance man. Millard offers not only a window into the personal and political history of Garfield, a literal log-cabin Republican, we also get a look at the time.
One element is further confirmation re what a fetid swamp DC was well, it remains a fetid swamp these days, but for other reasons , a place where rats roamed at will view spoiler [but if I step out of the way, they seem happy to dash past. Ok, that last may be a slight exaggeration, but the gist remains. It was a biologically unhealthy place. In addition to the intersecting lines of Garfield and Guiteau, a little extra attention is directed toward a young Scottish inventor, a fellow whose chief concern was helping the hearing impaired.
He had, not long before, brought to market a remarkable new device. This made for an interesting time for him. Once the world realized just what he had created, thieves, swindlers and worst of all, lawyers, came after him like a wolf pack on the trail of an injured deer.
How much time must one dedicate to defending oneself in court in order to retain control of that which you, yourself created? Lots, and it was making him miserable. Still, he had a thing for inventing. We speak, of course, of Alexander Graham Bell, a young man still. His efforts merit considerable attention and entail a lot of drama. Actually, considering that we are all well aware of the outcome, it is rather remarkable how much dramatic tension there is in this non-fiction account.
We get a look at the medical sorts who dove in when the president was shot, some reasonable, and some determined to place their own interests above the health of Garfield. We get to see yet another example of the arrogance of power leading to a dark end when it chooses to ignore scientific advances in the fact-based world.
And we get to see some of the places where the leading edge of medical thought and technology were struggling for recognition. Joseph Lister had revolutionized European medical practices with his insistence on antiseptic environments for medical care. But those who insisted on local exceptionalism preferred to leave their patient in environments we would probably describe today as filthy, and saw nothing wrong with poking their fingers into open wounds.
Garfield, ultimately, suffered an iatrogenic death. The bullets did not kill him. His doctors did. Sadly medical care is the third leading cause of death in the USA today, so some things have not changed all that much. Re government, Millard fills us in on some of the political game-playing of the time, and how it was used to generate governmental stasis.
There is much here that resonates, and that reminds us how far we have come in some ways, and how little we have grown in others. I contemplated making a table showing vs , and doing the comparison and contrast more graphically, but I will leave that for other reviewers. I merely note that such a list could indeed be constructed. One interesting point made here is that both Guiteau and Garfield felt themselves to have been touched by God.
Both had faced death while aboard ships and both felt that they had been spared by the Almighty for some greater purpose. It seems unlikely that they were both right. History books need not be dull. The best give us a sense of a time and a place, let us see some of the personalities afoot in that world, look into how things came to be the way they were and how events of that time have echoed down to us today.
While the subject is not exactly laugh-riot material, if you love to learn, it will make you smile. It has made others smile as well.
And it is quite filling. If you are of a cartoonish persuasion, you might even think of it as lasagna for the brain.
A cruel thing to ask, but historically the assassination of James A. Garfield made little difference. The death of Abraham Lincoln , 16 years earlier, was seen as a Christlike sacrifice — and left generations of historians guessing what his continued presence might have meant for Reconstruction. Kennedy allowed the ascent of two of our most dynamic presidents, Theodore Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson , both of whom pushed through long overdue social and economic reforms. The death of President Garfield led to. At their best, they presided over some years of prosperity; at their worst, they gave us two of the most corrupt administrations in our history.
Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President