Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard
James A Garfield was clearly a brilliant man, and one who had no interest in becoming president. He was a college president, a Civil War general for the Union who became a congressman, and was an advocate for freed slaves as well as an inspiring speaker. In 1880, Garfield gave a speech nominating John Sherman, the brother of General William Tecumseh Sherman, at the chaotic Republican convention, although the most notable candidates were James G. Blaine and Ulysses S. Grant. The convention became deadlocked and took two days to nominate a candidate for president. Remarkably, James Garfield became the nominee, won the election, and took office in March, 1881. He hired the youngest private secretary in history, Joseph Stanley Brown, age 23, who later married the president’s daughter Mollie. Brown was the only one who could turn away the long lines of office seekers who appeared at the White House daily, including Charles Guiteau, a failed lawyer who wanted to be the French Ambassador. On July 2, 1881, he shot the president as he entered a train station. The president died on September 19, and Guiteau was tried for murder. He used an insanity defense, and also stated that while he shot the president, he did not kill him. Guiteau was absolutely correct, as Garfield died of malpractice. Candice Millard relates the fascinating story of Garfield’s life and family, the misguided pride of Dr. D. Willard Bliss, the valiant attempts of Alexander Graham Bell to locate the bullet, and the surprising legacy of one of our most overlooked presidents, the last to be born in a log cabin. I found this book to be fascinating, and at only 260 pages, it’s a very readable look at a time when the election (and protection) of presidents was very different from today.
For more about Garfield and the book, visit the author’s website.