Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Assassination of James Garfield

Charles J Guiteau
James Garfield 20th President of the United States

First the second presidential assassination in American history. Civil War General James Garfield took office after Rutherford B. Hayes decided not to run for re-election. Hayes left office in 1881. He was in office only 200 days. Long enough to appoint a cabinet, have one very minor inside baseball political victory, then die. He could have been a very strong President, his inside baseball victory was over a very powerful member of the Senate. But it wasn't to be.

Charles J. Guiteau a lawyer and a religious zealot, wanted a federal job... Not just any job but consul to Paris... Let's backup a little bit. Why did Chuck want such a high federal job? He wrote a speech entitled Grant vs. Hancock. Grant as in Ulysses Sampson Grant. Grant was what was known at the time as a "Stalwart." The Stalwarts believed that to the victor go the spoils, and applied this philosophy to political appointments after they won high office. They were opposed, in their own party, by the "Half-breeds" who believed that only the best person of the job should get the job.

Anyway, during the Republican national convention the two factions the Stalwarts and the Half-Breeds were involved in a bitter struggle. Not unlike the Democrats today. The way they selected the Presidential candidate was different back then. It all came down to the state's delegates meeting at the convention and voting on a candidate. No messy primary elections to screw things up.
Guiteau changed the name on his speech to read Garfield vs Hancock, and passed it around. There is no evidence that he speech was read or even looked at by any delegate. Essentially it was just one guy passing out a paper that was all about Grant's achievements with Garfield's name on it at a crowded convention.
The convention eventually reached a compromise and the Republicans chose the Half-Breed Garfield as their Presidential candidate with Stalwart VP candidate Chester A. Artur as their ticket.
Guiteau thought that it was because of his speech that Garfield was chosen.

When Garfield won the election in November of 1880, Guiteau thought he deserved a very high post for single handedly winning the nomination for Garfield. If you didn't already realize it already... Chuck be crazy.
Guiteau was a supporter of the Stalwarts, the guys who gave jobs to their cronies. Garfield was a Half-Breed, in favor of giving only the best person the job. Why Guiteau thought that he would get a job from Garfield is beyond me.

Anyhoo, Chuck first wanted to be ambassador to Vienna, but then thought that Paris would better suit him.
When working as a lawyer, Chuck was best known as a bill collector, because of his ability to annoyingly show up everywhere to collect the money owed. This mainly resulted in upset customers. He was not successful as a lawyer... However he now used this annoying trait to show up everywhere Secretary of State James G. Blaine was to ask for his appointment. Eventually Blaine got so fed up that he personally told Guiteau leave and never return. As you can guess that made our buddy Chuck awfully angry.

Chuck now believed that God was commanding him to kill the President for being so thankless to the man who got him nominated. Since he had no money, he borrowed $15 and found himself the best revolver he could buy.

Why did he want the best revolver that money could buy? Because Booth had become famous for shooting Lincoln, and realizing that after he killed the President, he, and everything associated with him, too would become famous.
Even though Chuck be crazy, he still revered the office of the President and felt that this assassination should be carried out with style.
He wanted the President to be dead after being shot, so he wanted a large caliber gun to do the job right. He found what he was looking for in the .44 Webley British Bulldog revolver. Chuck liked one with pearl handles. Chuck thought that would be a gun that would look great in a museum after all this was over with... The problem was that he could not afford the pearl handled one, so he reluctantly bought one with wooden handles.

The gun... or one like it.
Now that the gun was bought, Chuck went to the jail house in Washington for a tour. He wanted to see where he would be spending his time after the shooting. I guess he found everything collio; because after some target practice, Guiteau started to stalk the President.
He got his first chance at success when the President was going to the train station to see off his wife. Guiteau did not take that opportunity, because he knew that the First Lady was ill and he did not want to upset her...

Wait... Chuck, don't you think that the death of her husband would upset her???

A few days later on July 2nd 1881 the President returned to the train station. He was off to see his ailing wife. Chuck had everything prepared. He had his gun, he knew where he would intercept and shoot, he even
had a cab waiting to take him to jail. The train station was crowded and Chuck thought that there may be a possibility that the crowd my lynch him. He did not want to go out like that.
As the president past him buy Chuck stepped behind the President and fired twice. The first shot grazed the President's arm, but the second one entered the first lumbar vertebra but missed the spinal cord.

Guiteau did not have a chance to get to his cab, the Washington police nabbed him and as they hauled him away Chuck was yelling: "I am a Stalwart of the Stalwarts. .. Arthur is President now!!" Arthur, as you recall, was Garfield's Vice President, and a Stalwart.

Now begins the weird part of the story... Garfield was taken back to the White House, then to New Jersey never having lost consciousness. Cue every freaking doctor in the Washington area.
At the time sterilization and sanitary procedures were preached, but not really practiced or believed in. So the first doctor that saw Garfield, Williard Bliss, went looking for the bullet. How? With his unwashed finger. He just stuck it in to the wound. After not finding the bullet, the doctor went poking around with an unsterilized metal probe, carving out new wounds as he went.
Now that Bliss had made a mess of things, the Army Surgeon General wanted a go. So he started sticking his unwashed fingers, and unsterilized probes in to the President. Did I mention there was no such thing as anesthesia back then? Yeah, no anesthesia. Garfield was in unthinkable agony.
After not finding the bullet, the doctors all agreed that the bullet was in the liver and the President would soon die.
The President lived. And so what does a good doctor do when his patent is living in the late 19th century? Start shoving your unwashed fingers in his wound of course!
More finger poking, this time by the Navy Surgeon General. He was so convinced that the bullet was in the liver that he actually punctured the liver while looking for the bullet. Of course the channel that the bullet made through the body was so messed up by now that there was no possible way to find where it went.
With the liver punctured, the Navy doctor said that the President would die in 24 hours.

Strike Two.

The President did not die. And, again, what does a good doctor do when his patent is living in the late 19th century despite your best efforts? Call the guy who invented the telephone!

Alexandar Grahm Bell was called in to see if he could find the bullet. Bell rigged up a metal detector to see if he could find the bullet. He thought he did, but the bullet was much deeper than originally thought. All this time the doctors are still putting their unwashed hands and instruments in to the President's now festering wound.
Since the President was getting worse, the doctors decided that they would have to cut the President open to get the bullet out. They did not find the bullet where Bell had told them it was. It was found later that Bell's metal detector did work... it had detected the metal in the frame and the springs of the mattress.

Now what started out as a 3 inch wound, is a 20 inch canal that was heavily infected, oozing puss, unbearably painful, and causing sepsis.
The President hung on then died of a massive heart attack, brought on by a clot in a blood vessel, no doubt from his wound. It was September 19th... 79 days AFTER he was shot.

So with the doctors successful in their attempts to kill the President, attention again focused on the now infamous Charles J. Guiteau.

As the President lay being slowly killed by his doctors, Guiteau was working on his defence. He thought that he could easily beat an assault wrap by reason of insanity. After all it was God's hands that did the assaulting, not his.
Chuck thought that after he got out of prison he would go on the lecture circuit, making huge sums of money. He even started dictating his autobiography, complete with personal ads for "... an elegant Christian lady of wealth, under thirty, belonging to a first class family..."

Chuck be crazy.

Mean while editorials were being written speaking about a certain "Judge Lynch" that needed to be sent to see our good buddy Chuck.
Then the President died.
This thoroughly convinced Chuck that his act was the absolute will of God. How could God deny so many prayers of so many Christian Americans for the life of the President, if God did not want Garfield dead? He wrapped himself in prayer.
About a month after Garfield's death Guiteau was arranged. His defence team was his brother-in-law George Scoville and Leigh Robinson. And for some reason Guiteau liked to say that his lawyer was incompetent. During the arraignment Chuck had this to say:
I plead not guilty to the indictment and my defense is threefold:
1. Insanity, in that it was God's act and not mine. The Divine pressure on me to remove the president was so enormous that it destroyed my free agency, and therefore I am not legally responsible for my act.
2. The president died from malpractice ...if he had been well treated he would have recovered.
3. The president died in New Jersey, and, therefore, beyond the jurisdiction of this court.

The trial began on November 14, 1881. It was a very strange affair... As we have found out before Chuck be crazy. And we all know crazy makes for good entertainment.

At the start of the trial Chuck started handing out fliers to the press that said "I am... charged with maliciously and wickedly murdering one James A. Garfield. Nothing can be more absurd, because General Garfield died from malpractice... the issue here is "Who fired that shot; the Deity or me?"
Yeah... pretty sure you did there Chuck...

Jury selection was a madhouse. At the end the court went through 131 perspective jurors, most of which were excused when they mentioned things like no amount of torture was good enough, He, Guiteau, ought to be lynched, and he ought to be hanged. Eventually they got the 12 they needed.

As Robinson began his opening statement, Guiteau leapt to his feet and shouted:
I do not want to hear any more speeches of Mr. Robinson's. I want him to get out of the case... I want to say emphatically that Mr. Robinson came into the case without consulting me; that I know nothing about him; that I don't like the way he talks; and I ask him to retire. I expect to have some money shortly, and I can employ any counsel I please. I want it understood that I am not a beggar or a pauper.

The money Guiteau was talking about was the money that he expected to come from lectures and the sale of his autobiography. Crazy.

As the trial went forward, it became clear that Chuck wanted it to be known that he was the leader of his defence team and that he was pretty much defending himself in the case. At one point the judge said that if Guiteau addressed the court again, the judge would have him removed.
After that the real fun began. It was filled with the crazy of Guiteau, and all of the uptight sexual issues that Victorian America had to offer.
At one point, Chuck jumped out of his seat and chased his brother-in-law around the courtroom saying that he was no criminal attorney. As the bailiffs restrained him he was heard to be yelling "Mind your own business!!"
He was frequently heard berating his lawyers, and asking the judge for "first class" talent.
Guiteau's attorneys did their best to show that Chuck be crazy. Something that we, and the rest of 1881 America, already knew. As the lawyers presented their case, Chuck began to take offence and would yell things out trying to defend his own crazy.
Scoville said "[Guiteau] had neither the mental nor the physical capacity for hard work," Chuck then took it upon himself to call out: "I had brains enough, but I had theology on my mind... there is no money in theology... I left a $5000 law business to do that kind of work, but you see how I came out."
The prosecutor believed, as many people did at that time, that sexual activity brought on insanity. He questioned our buddy Chuck about the time he spent in the Oneida Community, a utopia community set up on the belief that Jesus' second coming had already happened and that marriage did not exist. Instead every man was married to every woman, thus the community practiced "free" love. Chuck said that he had sex with three women there, but other than that remained chaste.

As the trial wore on, Guiteau became more and more abusive towards his lawyer. At one time the court reports that he said to his brother-in-law:
You are about as consummate a jackass, I must say, as I ever saw... I would rather have some ten-year-old boy try this case than you... I could have got three or four first-class lawyers on this case that were anxious to come if you hadn't elbowed them off with your consummate egoism and vanity."

Finally on January 23, 1882, after three long months of crazy, the defense rested. The jury went out to deliberate the case... for less than an hour. Chuck was found guilty of murder in the first degree. He was sentenced to hang by the neck until dead.
As he waited for sentence to be carried out, he attempted to sell the suit he shot Garfield in. He signed many pictures and sent them for sale. He still thought that God would intervene and set him free. He was wrong.
On June 30, 1882 Chuck was led to the gallows. He faced a crowd of thousands that gathered to watch the assassin of President James Garfield die. He tried to recite a self made poem, but was only able to repeat "I am going to the Lordy, I am so glad" over and over again. The noose was fitted around his neck, and sentence was carried out.

It is interesting to note that the so called Stalwart Chester A. Arthur imposed a very Half-Breed like system when selecting his cabinet. He created a merit system, and confirmed that all that he hired for positions were qualified for the job. Arthur served out the rest of Garfield's term and did not run for re-election.

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