James A. Garfield was elected as the 20th president of the USA. To follow the line of succession and to understand history, Lincoln was 16th; Andrew Johnson was 17th; Ulysses S. Grant was 18th, Rutherford B. Hayes was 19th, and then came Garfield. He was yet another Republican in a long line of Republicans since before the Civil War and since. The Republican Party has took on the moniker of the party of the North, while the Democrats took on the representation of the South. Some of the greatest issues in the Republican Party however stemmed from a separation between Stalwarts and Lincoln-like members. Lincoln's plan for reuniting the country was going to be that of forgiveness, reconciliation, and tempered reconstruction. While Johnson, Lincoln's vice president, attempted some of these policies, many Republicans did not share Lincoln's kindness towards the South and desired them punished. The old fashioned political "spoils system" reared its head again in DC and the Republicans were split and many others were disillusioned.
This all culminated with the Republican convention for what would be a historic election. The Stalwarts wanted Ulysses S. Grant to run again. They were sure that parading off of Civil War nostalgia would keep the old party in office and ruling. The Republican party had taken a great hit with the election of Rutherford B. Hayes who became the first president to ever lose the popular vote, but still win the election through the delegate swapping and the electoral college. Republicans sensing the tide was changing in America were divided on who to elect. James Garfield was prepared to give stump speech for one Mr. Sherman from Ohio who he planned on backing. The speech Garfield gave however took a life of its own. Here was a man who was a veteran of the Senate and also a General in the Union army. Here was a man who had been president of a college and who knew several languages fluently. After being elected, Garfield would become the first US president to ever give a speech in a language besides English when he gave a speech in German to immigrant onlookers at his farm. Garfield was so stirring with his words and personality, that little by little, Republicans began second guessing Grant, Sherman, and the other popular candidates. GOP Stalwart boss, Sen. Conkling from New York, tried his hardest to get Grant in office, but nostalgia took over and the push for Garfield began. Never before was a man nominated and eventually elected for president as Garfield was. He never spoke for himself at the convention. He never announced his nomination or running. He actually gave a speech to the convention asking them not to elect him. And upon being the nominee, he did not campaign one time. It wasn't that Garfield didn't consider the presidency an honor. It was simply that Garfield has found fulfillment and happiness in his marriage, children, educational pursuit, and religious faith. He knew that the presidency would end up costing him so much more than just time and he dreaded the thought of the sacrifice. Nevertheless, Garfield was nominated and would eventually win convincingly in the general election.
The 20th president of the United States had his work cut out for him from the get go. Not only were the Southern states still apprehensive about DC leadership, but racial bigotry was still ongoing. The spoils system threatened to wreck the party and government as a whole as men like Conkling and his underlings, then including Garfield's vice president and unfortunate successor, Chester Arthur, sought to block and intimidate every individual Garfield appointed or desired to elevate if they weren't a Stalwart. Garfield was passionate about a few things. His family was one. His love for country was another. His hatred for slavery and the Southern way of treating minorities was another. He also hated the system which called for friends of friends of friends to get government positions despite their inability and inexperience to serve. Garfield was jovial, easy going, and the life of the party. He was not a fighter, but he was also not afraid to fight, and fight he did. Garfield took on Conkling over some appointments and humiliated him. Conkling would try several smear tactics and moves to humiliate Garfield, but Garfield's wisdom and actions won him a decisive victory in what would eventually be the demise of Conkling and many of his Stalwart supporters.
Garfield had his eye on elevating the negro to true equal status and sought to educate the Southerners on true equality in an attempt to help all see how Americans of all color, creed, and culture could join together to form a perfect union. He sought to support immigration as immigration had went from approximately 2 million per year to well over 20 million per year in the period after the Civil War and dating past Garfield's brief presidency. Garfield quickly won over all Americans as he registered with them from rich to poor. Knowing that Garfield grew up out of extreme poverty and made something of himself was a story that all red blooded Americans could get behind. His character was an emblem for America as a whole as Garfield was both a scholar and a preacher, a poor person and a person with some wealth, a humble kind person and a determined fighter and defender for all things good, moral, and right.
Garfield's presidency would be one of the shortest in this nation's great history. He would be shot by an assassin, Charles Guiteau, in a train station there in DC. This was a train station that had somber meaning to Garfield as his son's lifeless body was transferred on a train through this station as he passed at a very young age. President Garfield would also lose a young daughter to death as well early in his marriage. As he waited to board a train, the insane and deranged Guiteau who had believed God told him to kill the president to protect the spoils system and the Stalwart political idea for America, fired two shots at Garfield. One hit him in the arm. The other in the back and lodged itself behind the president's pancreas. Guiteau had become disillusioned with Garfield being that he would not give him an overseas consulship. Guiteau himself had been a scam artist his whole life, parading as an evangelist, living in a religious commune, acting as an attorney, and traveling from town to town to avoid paying the rent for his boarding. He was sure that by killing Garfield, he would be a national hero and would indeed save America. He was beyond insane.
Garfield however would not die from the gunshots. Indeed, the shots were not fatal and had proper care been given to the president, he would have very easily lived. The greatest condemnation for the death of the president would fall on his doctor and surgeon, one Dr. D. Bliss, who was present as Abraham Lincoln's death and who was called by Robert Todd Lincoln, the former president's only living child and Garfield's secretary of war. The overall blame would easily fall on America's medicine, science, and surgery fellowship as a whole however. British surgeon, Joseph Lister, had developed antiseptic surgery in Europe and sought to bring it to America. Lister discovered that germs in the air could easily be passed into open wounds thus causing infections and ultimately death. Lister spoke of how instruments needed to be sterilized and kept clean. However, the arrogance of American medicine would not listen to Lister for the most part, and the leading doctors and surgeons in the US considered his theories ridiculous and refused to practice them. Garfield who survived the gunshots and lived another 79 days, would ultimately die from the unsanitary poking and prodding of unwashed fingers, unsanitary knives and drainage tubes, a lack of fluids, a wrong diet, and stubborn refusal to allow to second opinions or contrary opinions to Dr. Bliss'. Garfield would develop large pus pockets all over his body as the infection would literally kill him. However throughout the whole ordeal, Garfield remained calm, as cheerful as possible, and concerned for his wife and children. He sought company which Dr. Bliss did his best to discourage. He worried about the nation and very much so the fate of his own family should he die. Despite the efforts and knowledge of several other surgeons and even one Alexander Graham Bell who had developed a device to help locate the bullet in the dying president's body, Dr. Bliss continued to be sure of his own diagnostics and remedies. The autopsy on the president would ultimately leave one of the only colleagues Bliss allowed to help him to exclaim that the president would have lived but died because of their errors.
Reading the book, I became incensed at the ignorance of Dr. Bliss. I completely understand the times and that these people didn't have the knowledge we have now. Nevertheless, the pure arrogance and stupidity by which Dr. Bliss cared for the president of the United States is appalling! Without question, the assassin, Charles Guiteau, shot President Garfield. But to be clear, Dr. Bliss killed Garfield for sure. His ignorance and inability to listen or consider other points of view was directly responsible for the death of the president. He would not be found guilty of malpractice, but the findings did make Lister's antiseptic surgery theory and practice a mainstay in the US after the painful reality became known that Garfield's life could have easily been saved. Guiteau was sentenced to death for his role in Garfield's death despite numerous attempts to get him off due to insanity. To be sure, Guiteau was insane. Nevertheless, he had shot the president, and the country demanded retribution. He would eventually be hung almost on the anniversary of the shooting of Garfield.
Garfield's death marked the second assassination of a president. Yet, not much changed in regards to protection for the president and protection and security of the White House. What did change however was the Garfield's death united the country. In what was probably one of the first, if not the first, real signs of solidarity and unity since before the Civil War, both northerners and southerners, came together to mourn the president's passing and to herald his ideas and dreams. Garfield openly pondered to his friends during his last days that he feared he was dying and leaving the world without having left a legacy. And while it is true not many know about Garfield, the real travesty is that history has allowed him to go unheralded and appreciated. He was no doubt a great man and a great president. In his mannerisms, he reminded me of one Teddy Roosevelt. Maybe TR thought so as well as Roosevelt would become great friends with the late president's son, James Jr, and make him his secretary of the interior.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone, but especially those who love American history and those who are interested in little recognized facts and tidbits. I would also highly recommend anything this author, Candice Millard, writes. Having read her book on Teddy Roosevelt's trip down the "River of Doubt," Millard doesn't disappoint in her writing and research for this time in America's republic. Amazing book!