"His ultimate place in history will be far less exalted than that which he now holds in popular estimation" --- New York Times
During the six and a half minutes we spent on the Presidency of James Garfield in my freshman U.S. History class back in 1965 chances are better than even that I was not paying close attention. I hate to admit it but the truth is that I knew virtually nothing about the 20th President of the United States until the owner of my local bookstore recommended author Candace Millard's riveting book "Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President" the other day. What I learned about Garfield and the astonishing events surrounding his assassination was a revelation to me. Candace Millard grabbed my undivided attention from the opening pages of this book and held onto it until the very final sentence. As so many other reviewers have noted "Destiny of the Republic" proves to be a superb work of history.
To say that James Garfield was a reluctant Presidential candidate would be a vast understatement. Garfield had been an educator, was an avowed abolitionist and served as a General in the Union Army. Furthermore, he cherished the limited time he spent working on his farm back home. This was a man of many interests. Garfield had proudly served as a Congressman from his beloved state of Ohio for nine consecutive terms when his name was floated as a possible compromise candidate at the hopelessly deadlocked 1880 Republican National Convention in Chicago. Garfield firmly resisted the idea but after the 34th ballot the tide turned and his party beckoned him to serve. During the fall of 1880 Garfield did not actively campaign. Rather, he spoke to groups of varying sizes from the front porch of his home in Mentor, OH. He once reflected "I have so long and so often seen the evil effects of the presidential fever upon my associates and friends that I am determined it shall not seize me." Garfield would be elected that November and Candace Millard presents a largely favorable portrait of the new administration. It seemed that the new President was succeeding in finally bringing the country together after the ravages of Civil War. His brief administration was marked by honesty, decency and above all common sense. He might well have gone on to become a great President and a household name.
But sadly a deranged man named Charles Guiteau had other ideas. Suffice to say that Mr. Guiteau had an extremely bizarre background. Charles had lived in a commune in Oneida, NY for six years and had spent several years as a lawyer and for a time traversed the countryside as a travelling evangelist. He rarely paid his bills and once threatened his sister Frances with an ax. Guiteau had illusions of grandeur and in his mind thought he deserved a position in the new administration. He could frequently be seen milling about Washington in the spring of 1881 and when no appointment was forthcoming he decided that "if the President was out of the way everything would be better". Candace Millard does a workmanlike job of retracing Guiteau's movement between the time he made his fateful decision in May and July 2nd when he did the dirty deed. Perhaps there is no better evidence of Guiteau's insanity than a letter he penned to General William Tecumsah Sherman only hours before the assassination. After the shooting President Garfield was taken to the White House. At the recommendation of Robert Todd Lincoln Garfield was put under the care of Dr. Willard Bliss who had treated this father after he had been shot by John Wilkes Booth. You will learn the myriad reasons why this proved to be a rather unfortunate choice for James Garfield.
At the beginning of "Destiny of the Republic" Millard offers brief profiles of the British surgeon and pioneer of antiseptic surgery Joseph Lister and the eminent scientist, inventor, engineer and innovator Alexander Graham Bell. I wondered what they had to do with all of this and was fascinated to learn of their connection as the story unfolded. I might also make mention of the 20 or so pages of vintage photographs included in the book that really helped to bring these events to life for me. Painstakingly researched and elegantly written "Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President" is among the best books I have read in 2012. This is an extremely important addition to the literature of assassinations in America. Very highly recommended!
I must confess that, before reading this book, I knew next to nothing about James Garfield, other than that he was president for a short time before he was shot and subsequently died. This book has greatly expanded my knowledge of a man who, had he lived, might have become a very important president. The first part of the book goes into Garfield's early life, and his election to the presidency, but it doesn't delve very deeply into this aspect. The author is much … more
I guess I would qualify as a frustrated writer. My work requires very little writing and so since 1999 I have been writing reviews on non-fiction books and anthology CD's on amazon.com. I never could … more
Consider the Source
Use Trust Points to see how much you can rely on this review.