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Destiny of the Republic
Cover of Destiny of the Republic
Destiny of the Republic
A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President
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James A. Garfield was one of the most extraordinary men ever elected president. Born into abject poverty, he rose to become a wunderkind scholar, a Civil War hero, and a renowned and admired reformist congressman. Nominated for president against his will, he engaged in a fierce battle with the corrupt political establishment. But four months after his inauguration, a deranged office seeker tracked Garfield down and shot him in the back.
But the shot didn't kill Garfield. The drama of what hap­pened subsequently is a powerful story of a nation in tur­moil. The unhinged assassin's half-delivered strike shattered the fragile national mood of a country so recently fractured by civil war, and left the wounded president as the object of a bitter behind-the-scenes struggle for power—over his administration, over the nation's future, and, hauntingly, over his medical care. A team of physicians administered shockingly archaic treatments, to disastrous effect. As his con­dition worsened, Garfield received help: Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, worked around the clock to invent a new device capable of finding the bullet.
Meticulously researched, epic in scope, and pulsating with an intimate human focus and high-velocity narrative drive, The Destiny of the Republic will stand alongside The Devil in the White City and The Professor and the Madman as a classic of narrative history.
James A. Garfield was one of the most extraordinary men ever elected president. Born into abject poverty, he rose to become a wunderkind scholar, a Civil War hero, and a renowned and admired reformist congressman. Nominated for president against his will, he engaged in a fierce battle with the corrupt political establishment. But four months after his inauguration, a deranged office seeker tracked Garfield down and shot him in the back.
But the shot didn't kill Garfield. The drama of what hap­pened subsequently is a powerful story of a nation in tur­moil. The unhinged assassin's half-delivered strike shattered the fragile national mood of a country so recently fractured by civil war, and left the wounded president as the object of a bitter behind-the-scenes struggle for power—over his administration, over the nation's future, and, hauntingly, over his medical care. A team of physicians administered shockingly archaic treatments, to disastrous effect. As his con­dition worsened, Garfield received help: Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, worked around the clock to invent a new device capable of finding the bullet.
Meticulously researched, epic in scope, and pulsating with an intimate human focus and high-velocity narrative drive, The Destiny of the Republic will stand alongside The Devil in the White City and The Professor and the Madman as a classic of narrative history.
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  • Chapter 10 CHAPTER 10

    The Dark Dreams of Presidents
    History is but the unrolled scroll of Prophecy.
    james a. garfield

    The idea came to Guiteau suddenly, “like a flash,” he would later say. On May 18, two days after Conkling’s dramatic resignation, Guiteau, “depressed and perplexed . . . wearied in mind and body,” had climbed into bed at 8:00 p.m., much earlier than usual. 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.”

    Guiteau was certain the idea had not come from his own, feverish mind. 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.

    This time, for the first time, he hesitated. Despite his certainty that the message had come directly from God, he did not want to listen. The next morning, when the thought returned “with renewed force,” he recoiled from it. “I was kept horrified,” he said, “kept throwing it off.” Wherever he went and whatever he did, however, the idea stayed with him. “It kept growing upon me, pressing me, goading me.”

    Guiteau had “no ill-will to the President,” he insisted. In fact, he believed that he had given Garfield every opportunity to save his own life. He was certain that God wanted Garfield out of the way because he was a danger to the Republican Party and, ultimately, the American people. As Conkling’s war with Garfield had escalated, Guiteau wrote to the president repeatedly, advising him that the best way to respond to the senator’s demands was to give in to them. “It seems to me that the only way out of this difficulty is to withdraw Mr. R.,” he wrote, referring to Garfield’s appointment of Judge Robertson to run the New York Customs House. “I am on friendly terms with Senator Conkling and the rest of our Senators, but I write this on my own account and in the spirit of a peacemaker.”

    Guiteau also felt that he had done all he could to warn Garfield about Blaine. After the secretary of state had snapped at him outside of the State Department, he bitterly recounted the exchange in a letter to Garfield. “Until Saturday I supposed Mr. Blaine was my friend in the matter of the Paris consulship,” he wrote, still wounded by the memory. “ ‘Never speak to me again,’ said Mr. Blaine, Saturday, ‘on the Paris consulship as long as you live.’ Heretofore he has been my friend.”

    Even after his divine inspiration, Guiteau continued to appeal to Garfield. On May 23, he again wrote to the president, advising him to demand Blaine’s “immediate resignation.” “I have been trying to be your friend,” he wrote darkly. “I do not know whether you appreciate it or not.” Garfield would be wise to listen to him, he warned, “otherwise you and the Republican party will come to grief. I will see you in the morning if I can and talk with you.”

    Guiteau did not see Garfield the next morning, or any day after that. Unknown to him, he had been barred from...

About the Author-
  • CANDICE MILLARD is the New York Times bestselling author of The River of Doubt. She lives in Kansas City with her husband and children.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    July 11, 2011
    This rendering of an oft-told tale brings to life a moment in the nation's history when access to the president was easy, politics bitter, and medical knowledge slight. James A. Garfield, little recalled today, gained the Republican nomination for president in 1880 as a dark-horse candidate and won. Then, breaking free of the sulfurous factional politics of his party, he governed honorably, if briefly, until shot by an aggrieved office seeker. Under Millard's (The River of Doubt) pen, Garfield's deranged assassin, his incompetent doctors (who, for example, ignored antisepsis, leading to a blood infection), and the bitter politics of the Republican Party come sparklingly alive through deft characterizations. Even Alexander Graham Bell, who hoped that one of his inventions might save the president's life, plays a role. Millard also lays the groundwork for a case that, had Garfield lived, he would have proved an effective and respected chief executive. Today, he would surely have survived, probably little harmed by the bullet that lodged in him, but unimpeded infection took his life. His death didn't greatly harm the nation, and Millard's story doesn't add much to previous understanding, but it's hard to imagine its being better told. Illus.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from July 1, 2011

    The shocking shooting and the painful, lingering death of the 20th president.

    "Killed by a disappointed office seeker." Thus most history texts backhand the self-made James Garfield (1831–1881), notwithstanding his distinguished career as a college professor, lawyer, Civil War general, exceptional orator, congressman and all too briefly president. Millard follows up her impressive debut (The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey, 2005) by colorfully unpacking this summary dismissal, demonstrating the power of expert storytelling to wonderfully animate even the simplest facts. As she builds to the president's fatal encounter with his assassin, she details the intra-party struggle among Republicans that led to Garfield's surprise 1880 nomination. The Stalwarts, worshippers of Grant, defenders of the notorious spoils system, battled the Half-Breeds, reformers who took direction from Senators John Sherman and James G. Blaine. The scheming, delusional Charles J. Guiteau, failed author, lawyer and evangelist, listened to no one, except perhaps the voices in his head assuring him he was an important political player, instrumental in Garfield's election and deserving of the consulship to Paris. After repeated rebuffs, he determined that only "removing the president" would allow a grateful Vice President Chester A. Arthur to reward him. During the nearly three excruciating months Garfield lay dying, Alexander Graham Bell desperately scrambled to perfect his induction balance (a metal detector) in time to locate the lead bullet lodged in the stricken president's back. Meanwhile, Garfield's medical team persistently failed to observe British surgeon Joseph Lister's methods of antisepsis—the American medical establishment rejected the idea of invisible germs as ridiculous—a neglect that almost surely killed the president. Moving set pieces—the  1876 U.S. Centennial Exhibition which Garfield attended and where both Lister and Bell presented, the deadlocked Republican Convention, the steamship explosion that almost killed Guiteau, the White House death watch—and sharply etched sketches of Blaine, the overwhelmed Arthur and larger portraits of the truly impressive Garfield and the thoroughly insane Guiteau make for compulsive reading.

    Superb American history.

    (COPYRIGHT (2011) KIRKUS REVIEWS/NIELSEN BUSINESS MEDIA, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

  • Library Journal

    October 1, 2011

    Millard (The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey) presents a dual biography of the 20th U.S. President and his assassin. James A. Garfield and Charles Guiteau were both born into hardscrabble Midwestern circumstances. While Garfield made himself into a teacher, Union army general, congressman, and President, Guiteau, who was most likely insane, remained at the margins of life, convinced he was intended for greatness. When he failed to receive a position in Garfield's administration, he became convinced that God meant him to kill the President. At a railway station in the capital, Guiteau shot Garfield barely four months into his term. Garfield lingered through the summer of 1881, with the country hanging on the news of his condition. In September he died of infection, apparently due to inadequate medical care. Millard gives readers a sense of the political and social life of those times and provides more detail on Guiteau's life than is given in Ira Rutkow's James A. Garfield. The format is similar to that in The President and the Assassin, Scott Miller's book on President McKinley and Leon Czolgosz. VERDICT Recommended for presidential history buffs and students of Gilded Age America. [See Prepub Alert, 3/7/11.]--Stephen L. Hupp, West Virginia Univ. Lib., Parkersburg

    Copyright 2011 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from August 1, 2011
    What a shame for himself and for the country that the kind, intelligent, and charming president James Garfield did not see his administration through to completion. (He had been in office only four months when, in July 1881, he was shot by a deranged office seeker; in September, he died.) That is the sentiment the reader cannot help but derive from this splendidly insightful, three-way biography of the president; Charles Guiteau, who was Garfield's assassin; and inventor Alexander Graham Bell, whose part in the story was an unsuccessful deathbed attempt to locate the bullet lodged somewhere in the president's body. Garfield, who largely educated himself and rose to be a Civil War general and an Ohio representative in the House, was the dark-horse candidate emergent from the 1880 Republican National Convention. Guiteau, on the other hand, led a troubled life and came to believe it was his divine mission to eliminate Garfield in revenge for the new president's steps against proponents of the spoils system. Bell could have been the hero of the whole sad story, but his technology failed to save the stricken president's life. Millard's book, which follows her deeply compelling The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey (2005), stands securely at the crossroads of popular and professional historyan intersection as productive of learning for the reader as it undoubtedly was for the author.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2011, American Library Association.)

  • Janet Maslin, Top 10 Recommendations for 2011 A New York Times Notable Book of 2011
    Winner of the 2012 PEN award for Research Nonfiction

    "A staggering tale....Millard digs deeply into the turmoil that got James A. Garfield elected, the lunacy that got him shot and the medical malfeasance that turned a minor wound into a mortal one."
  • The New York Times Book Review
    "One of the many pleasures of Candice Millard's new book, Destiny of the Republic, [is] that she brings poor Garfield to life--and a remarkable life it was.....Fascinating... Outstanding....Millard has written us a penetrating human tragedy."
  • The Wall Street Journal "A spirited tale that intertwines murder, politics and medical mystery, Candice Millard leaves us feeling that Garfield's assassination deprived the nation not only of a remarkably humble and intellectually gifted man but one who perhaps bore the seeds of greatness.... splendidly drawn portraits.... Alexander Graham Bell makes a bravura appearance"
  • The New York Times "Fascinating......Gripping.....Stunning....has a much bigger scope than the events surrounding Garfield's slow, lingering death. It is the haunting tale of how a man who never meant to seek the presidency found himself swept into the White House. . . . Ms. Millard shows the Garfield legacy to be much more important than most of her readers knew it to be."
  • USA Today "Destiny of the Republic displays Millard's energetic writing and rare ability to effortlessly educate the listener."
  • The Christian Science Monitor "Fascinating.... Millard builds a popular history that is both substantive and satisfying. Filled with memorable characters, hairpin twists of fate and consequences that bring a young nation to the breaking point, "Destiny of the Republic" brings back to roaring life a tragic but irresistible historical period..... Meticulous research...Intriguing"
  • Washington Post "A winning amalgamation of history and adventure. They [Millard's books] exhibit a keen eye for human frailties."
  • The Seattle Times "Fascinating....Millard colorfully recreates the political milieu of 1880....The story is a natural for narrative history. Millard has created a readable and colorful account."
  • Portland Oregonian "Millard provides a splendidly written and suspenseful account of this fascinating episode in American history"
  • Salon
    "[Garfield's] murder serves as a lens through which to examine Garfield's life, Guiteau's peripatetic existence, the fortunes of the Republican Party, the political spoils system, the role of scientific invention, and the state of the American medical profession. By keeping a tight hold on her narrative strands, Millard crafts a popular history rich with detail and emotion. One of the pleasures of the book is the chance to learn more about Garfield, who appears as a fully realized historical figure instead of a trivia answer.....ability to bring to life the man at the center of her story, and his brief entry into the annals of presidential history."
  • The Washington Times "It takes a gifted writer to prompt a reader to spend a lot of time with a book in which James Garfield is the main character. Candice Millard has done that. In addition to providing insights about our 20th commander-in-chief, "Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President" is an engaging, elegantly written and insightful look at the political and scientific developments of late-19th century America....In the best tradition of the great writers of narrative nonfiction, Ms. Millard deftly blends the stories of Garfield and Bell and assassin Charles Guiteau and makes readers feel as if they were witnesses to the key events..... research and narrative prowess....twists and turns....This tale of physician error contextualized by politics and murder makes for riveting reading. Ms. Millard recounts this episode of our nation's history in a style that keeps readers on the edge of their seats even though the ending is known."
  • Cleveland Plain Dealer "Splendid....recovers for us just what a remarkable -- even noble -- man Garfield was......She also chillingly depicts his killer....highly readable account offers much more than parallel biographies, however.
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A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President
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