Charles Julius Guiteau
(September 8, 1841 – June 30, 1882) was an American lawyer with a
history of mental illness who assassinated President James Garfield
on July 2, 1881 (Garfield died of complications following the
shooting, on September 19).
Freeport, Illinois, Guiteau was routinely beaten by his father as a
child and left home at an early age. He inherited $1000 from his
grandfather as a young man and went to Ann Arbor, Michigan, in order
to attend the university there. Unfortunately, due to inadequate
academic preparation, he failed the entrance examinations.
After some time trying to do remedial work in the
necessary Latin and algebra, during which time he received numerous
letters from his father haranguing him to do so, he quit and joined
the controversial religious sect, the Oneida Community.
Despite the "free love" aspects of that sect, he
was generally rejected during his five years there--his nickname was
"Charles Gitout." He left the community twice. The first time he
went to Hoboken, NJ, and attempted to start a newspaper based on
Oneida religion, to be called "The Daily Theocrat."
This failed, and he returned, only to leave again
and file lawsuits against the community's founder, John Humphrey
Noyes. Guiteau's father, embarrassed, wrote letters in support of
Noyes, and Noyes maintained that he did not hold any ill-will
towards Guiteau, as "I consider him insane."
Guiteau then obtained a law license in Chicago,
based on an extremely casual bar exam. Undeterred he used his money
to start a law firm in Chicago based on ludicrously fraudulent
recommendations from virtually every prominent American family he
could think of.
He was not successful. He only argued one case in
court, the bulk of his business being in bill collecting, where his
annoying persistence was a useful characteristic. Most of his cases,
however, resulted in enraged clients and judicial criticism.
He next turned to theology. He published a book
on the subject called The Truth which was almost entirely
plagiarized from the work of John Humphrey Noyes.
After that embarrassment, Guiteau took an
interest in politics. He wrote a speech in support of Ulysses S.
Grant called "Grant v. Hancock," which he revised to "Garfield v.
Hancock" after Garfield won the Republican nomination in the 1880
presidential campaign. Alas, he changed little more than the title,
hence mixing up Garfield's achievements with those of Grant.
The speech was only delivered a maximum of two
times, but Guiteau believed himself to be largely responsible for
Garfield's victory. He insisted he should be awarded an
ambassadorship for his vital assistance, first asking for Vienna,
then deciding that he would rather be posted in Paris.
His personal requests to the President and to
cabinet members (as one of many job seekers who lined up every day)
were continually rejected; on May 14, 1881, he was finally told
personally never to return by Secretary of State James Blaine.
He then decided that God had commanded him to
kill the President. Guiteau borrowed fifteen dollars and went out to
purchase a revolver. He knew little about firearms, but did know
that he would need a large caliber gun.
He had to choose between a .44 Webley British
Bulldog revolver with a wooden handle and one with a silver handle.
He chose the one with the silver inlay because he wanted it to look
good as a museum exhibit after the assassination, and, as he
explained at his trial, he thought it was worth the extra dollar.
(The revolver has been lost).
He spent the next few weeks in target
practice—the kick from the revolver almost knocked him over the
first time—and in stalking the President.
On one occasion, he trailed Garfield to the
railway station as he was seeing his wife off to a beach resort in
New Jersey, but decided to do it later, as Mrs. Garfield was in poor
health and he didn't want to upset her.
On July 2, 1881, he lay in wait for the President
at the Baltimore and Potomac Railway station, getting his shoes
shined, pacing, and engaging a cab to take him to the jail later.
As President Garfield entered the station,
looking forward to a vacation with his wife in Long Branch, Guiteau
stepped forward and shot Garfield twice from behind, the second shot
lodging in the back "with the exulting words, repeated everywhere:
'I am a Stalwart of the Stalwarts... Arthur is President now.'" (New
York Herald, July 3, 1881)
Garfield died on September 19, eleven weeks after
being shot, after a long, painful bout of blood poisoning brought on
by his doctors poking the wound with unwashed hands.
Guiteau became something of a media darling
during his trial for his bizarre behavior, including constantly
badmouthing his defense team, formatting his testimony in epic poems
which he recited at length, and soliciting legal advice from random
spectators in the audience via passed notes.
He dictated an autobiography to the New York
Herald, ending it with a personal ad for a nice Christian lady under
thirty. He was blissfully oblivious to the American public's outrage
and hatred of him, even after he was almost assassinated twice
At one point, he argued that Garfield was killed
not by himself but by medical malpractice, which was more than a
little true. Throughout the trial and up until his execution,
Guiteau was housed at St. Elizabeths Hospital in the southeastern
quadrant of Washington, DC.
To the end, Guiteau was actively making plans to
start a lecture tour after his perceived imminent release and to run
for President in 1884, while at the same time he continued to
delight in the media circus surrounding his trial, which he wanted
to be remembered by all if he wasn't released.
He was dismayed when the jury was unconvinced of
his divine inspiration, convicting him of the murder. He was found
guilty on January 23, 1882. He appealed, but his appeal was
rejected, and he was hanged on June 30, 1882 in the District of
On the scaffold, Guiteau recited a poem he had
written called "I am Going to the Lordy." He had originally
requested an orchestra to play as he sung his poem, but this request
Guiteau's trial was one of the first high profile
cases in the United States where the insanity defense was
considered. Guiteau vehemently insisted that while he had been
legally insane at the time of the shooting, he was not really
medically insane, which was one of the major causes of the rift
between him and his defense lawyers and probably also a reason the
jury assumed Guiteau was merely trying to deny responsibility.
In the musical play Assassins
by Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman, Guiteau (referred to as
Charlie) is portrayed as a comical buffoon who sings a cakewalk as
he ascends the scaffold to be executed. Some of the lyrics to the
Ballad of Guiteau were written by Guiteau himself: they are the
words to his "Going to the Lordy" poem mentioned above. Sondheim
fleshed out Guiteau's own song and added music to it, an idea that
Guiteau himself had suggested, when reciting the poem, that the
lyrics "if set to music . . would be rendered very effective."
The life of Charles Guiteau has
many parallels to that of Garfield, the examination of which forms
the primary narrative device of Rick Geary's comic book The Fatal
Bullet: a true account of the assassination, lingering pain, death,
and burial of James A. Garfield, twentieth president of the United
States; also including the inglorious life and career of the
despised assassin Guiteau (1999, Nantier, Beall,
Minoustchine), a volume in his
A Treasury of Victorian Murder.
The assassination of James Garfield is the topic of
the song, "Mister Garfield (Has Been Shot Down)" written by J.
Elliot, recorded by Johnny Cash in 1965 and released by Columbia
Records; re-recorded for the 1972 album "America - A 200 Year Salute
in Story And Song", The assassination is also featured in the song
"Charles Giteau" by Kelly Harrell & the Virginia String Band as
included in the Anthology of American Folk Music.
of assassination was prominently featured in Warren Adler's mystery
novel, American Quartet.
Charles Julius Guiteau (September 8, 1841 – June 30, 1882)
was an American lawyer who assassinated U.S. President James A.
Garfield on July 2, 1881. He was executed by hanging.
Guiteau was born in Freeport, Illinois, the
fourth of six children of Luther Wilson Guiteau and Jane Howe. He
moved with his family to Ulao, Wisconsin, (now Grafton, Wisconsin)
in 1850 and lived there until 1855, when his mother died. Soon after,
Guiteau and his father moved back to Freeport.
He inherited $1,000 from his grandfather (worth over $23,000 in
year-2009 dollars) as a young man and went to Ann Arbor, Michigan,
in order to attend the University of Michigan. Due to inadequate
academic preparation, he failed the entrance examinations. After
some time trying to do remedial work in Latin and algebra at Ann
Arbor High School, during which time he received numerous letters
from his father haranguing him to do so, he quit and joined the
controversial religious sect known as the Oneida Community, in
Oneida, New York, to which Guiteau's father already had close
affiliations. Despite the "group marriage" aspects of that sect, he
was generally rejected during his five years there, and he was
nicknamed "Charles Gitout".
He left the community twice. The first time he went to Hoboken, New
Jersey, and attempted to start a newspaper based on Oneida religion,
to be called "The Daily Theocrat". This failed and he returned to
Oneida, only to leave again and file lawsuits against the community's
founder, John Humphrey Noyes. Guiteau's father, embarrassed, wrote
letters in support of Noyes, and Noyes maintained that he did not hold
any ill-will towards Guiteau, saying "I consider him insane."
Guiteau then obtained a law license in Chicago, based on an
extremely casual bar exam. He used his money to start a law firm in
Chicago based on ludicrously fraudulent recommendations from virtually
every prominent American family of the day. He was not successful. He
only argued one case in court, the bulk of his business being in bill
collecting in which his annoying persistence was a useful
characteristic. Most of his cases, however, resulted in enraged
clients and judicial criticism.
He next turned to theology. He published a book on the subject
called The Truth which was almost entirely plagiarized from the
work of John Humphrey Noyes.
Guiteau's interest turned to politics. He wrote a speech in support
of Ulysses S. Grant called "Grant vs. Hancock", which he revised to "Garfield
vs. Hancock" after Garfield won the Republican nomination in the 1880
presidential campaign. Ultimately, he changed little more than the
title (hence mixing up Garfield's achievements with those of Grant).
The speech was delivered at most two times (and copies were passed out
to members of the Republican National Committee at their summer 1880
meeting in New York), but Guiteau believed himself to be largely
responsible for Garfield's victory. He insisted he should be awarded
an ambassadorship for his vital assistance, first asking for Vienna,
then deciding that he would rather be posted in Paris. His personal
requests to the President and to cabinet members (as one of many job
seekers who lined up every day) were continually rejected; on May 14,
1881, he was finally told personally never to return by Secretary of
State James G. Blaine (Guiteau is actually believed to have
encountered Blaine on more than one occasion).
Assassination of Garfield
Guiteau then decided that God had commanded him to kill the
ungrateful President. Borrowing fifteen dollars, he went out to
purchase a revolver. He knew little about firearms, but did know that
he would need a large caliber gun. He had to choose between a .442
Webley British Bulldog revolver with a wooden handle and one with an
ivory handle. He wanted the one with the ivory handle because he
wanted it to look good as a museum exhibit after the assassination,
but he could not afford the extra dollar. (The revolver was recovered
and even photographed by the Smithsonian in the early 1900s but has
since been lost). He spent the next few weeks in target practice—the
kick from the revolver almost knocked him over the first time- and
stalking the President.
On one occasion, he trailed Garfield to the railway station as the
President was seeing his wife off to a beach resort in Long Branch,
New Jersey, but he decided to shoot him later, as Mrs. Garfield was in
poor health and he didn't want to upset her. On July 2, 1881, he lay
in wait for the President at the (since demolished) Baltimore and
Potomac Railroad Station, getting his shoes shined, pacing, and
engaging a cab to take him to the jail later. As President Garfield
entered the station, looking forward to a vacation with his wife in
Long Branch, New Jersey, Guiteau stepped forward and shot Garfield
twice from behind, the second shot piercing the first lumbar vertebra
but missing the spinal cord. As he surrendered to authorities, Guiteau
fired with the exulting words, repeated everywhere: 'I am a Stalwart
of the Stalwarts. .. Arthur is President now!!'" (New York Herald,
July 3, 1881).
After a long, painful battle with infections brought on by his
doctors poking and probing the wound with unwashed hands and non-sterilized
instruments, Garfield died on September 19, eleven weeks after being
shot. Most modern physicians familiar with the case state that
Garfield would have easily recovered from his wounds with medical care
that was available 20 years later.
Once President Garfield died, the government offically charged
Guiteau with murder. The trial began on November 14, 1881 in
Washington D.C. The presiding judge in the case was Walter Smith Cox.
Guiteau's court appointed defense lawyers were Leigh Robinson and
George Scoville, although Guiteau would insist on trying to represent
himself during the entire trial. Wayne MacVeagh, the U.S. Attorney,
served as the chief prosecutor where he named five lawyers to the
prosecution team: George Corkhill, Walter Davidge, John K. Porter,
Elihu Root, and E.B. Smith.
Guiteau's trial was one of the first high profile cases in the
United States where the insanity defense was considered. Guiteau
vehemently insisted that while he had been legally insane at the time
of the shooting, he was not really medically insane, which was one of
the major causes of the rift between him and his defense lawyers and
probably also a reason the jury assumed Guiteau was merely trying to
deny responsibility for the murder of the President.
George Corkhill, who was the District of Columbia's district
attorney and on the prosecuting team, summed up the prosecution's
opinion of Guiteau's insanity defense in a pre-trial press statement
that also mirrored public opinion on the issue. Corkhill stated; "He's
no more insane than I am. There's nothing of the mad about Guiteau:
he's a cool, calculating blackguard, a polished ruffian, who has
gradually prepared himself to pose in this way before the world. He
was a deadbeat, pure and simple. Finally, he got tired of the monotony
of deadbeating. He wanted excitement of some other kind and notoriety,
and he got it."
Guiteau became something of a media darling during his entire trial
for his bizarre behavior, including constantly cursing and badmouthing
the judge, witnesses, and even his defense team, formatting his
testimony in epic poems which he recited at length, and soliciting
legal advice from random spectators in the audience via passed notes.
He dictated an autobiography to the New York Herald, ending it
with a personal ad for a nice Christian lady under thirty. He was
blissfully oblivious to the American public's outrage and hatred of
him, even after he was almost assassinated twice himself. At one point,
he argued before Judge Cox that Garfield was killed not by himself but
by medical malpractice, which was more than a little true ("The
doctors killed Garfield, I just shot him"). But Guiteau's argument had
no legal support. Throughout the trial and up until his execution,
Guiteau was housed at St. Elizabeths Hospital in the southeastern
quadrant of Washington, D.C.
There is still some debate over what constitutes legal insanity,
but most authorities generally agree that the basic test is whether
the defendant knew what he was doing and that his actions were wrong.
At the time of the Guiteau trial, however, the prevailing test of
legal insanity was whether the defendant knew his actions were
criminal. Therefore, even though someone like Guiteau might be
considered insane because he didn't think it was wrong to shoot
President Garfield, he could be convicted if the judge determined that
he understood that the law made it illegal to shoot people. By the
1880s, courts were beginning to apply the less harsh "was it wrong"
test, which also gave the jury rather than the judge the task to
determining insanity. In delivering the closing argument to the jury,
prosecutor Davidge asserted that Guiteau's erratic behavior throughout
the trial stemmed not from insanity, but from his overwhelming ego.
To the end, Guiteau was actively making plans to start a lecture
tour after his perceived imminent release and to run for President
himself in 1884, while at the same time continuing to delight in the
media circus surrounding his trial. He was dismayed when the jury was
unconvinced of his divine inspiration, convicting him of the murder.
He was found guilty on January 25, 1882.
After the guilty verdict was read, Guiteau stood up, despite his
lawyers efforts to tell him to be quiet, and yelled at the jury saying:
"you are all low, consummate jackasses", plus a further stream of
curses and obscenities before he was taken away by guards to his cell
to await execution. He appealed, but his appeal was rejected, and he
was hanged on June 30, 1882 in the District of Columbia. Of the four
presidential assassins, Guiteau lived longer than any after his
victim's death (nine months). On the scaffold, Guiteau recited a poem
he had written called "I am Going to the Lordy". He had originally
requested an orchestra to play as he sang his poem, but this request
Part of Guiteau's brain remains on display at the Mütter Museum in
The Trial of Charles Guiteau: An
by Douglas O. Linder (2007)
A sense of having been
wronged, together with a warped idea of political duty, brought
Charles Julius Guiteau to the Baltimore and Potomac Station in
Washington on July 2, 1881. On that same Saturday morning, President
James Abram Garfield strode into the station to catch the 9:30
A.M. limited express, which was to take
him to the commencement ceremonies of his alma mater, Williams College--and
from there, Garfield planned to head off on a much-awaited vacation.
He never made the 9:30. Within seconds of entering the station,
Garfield was felled by two of Guiteau's bullets, the opening act in
what be a drama that included rising and then falling hopes for the
President's recovery, the most celebrated insanity trial of the
century, and finally civil service reform that backers hoped might
discourage future disappointed patronage seekers from taking
Charles Guiteau's unhappy childhood
began in Freeport, Illinois in September 1841. His mother, who
suffered from psychosis, died shortly after Charles's seventh birthday.
He was raised, for the most part, by his older sister, "Franky"--with
some help from his stepmother following the remarriage of his father
when Charles was twelve. He had speech difficulties and probably also
suffered from what today would be called "attention deficit disorder."
His brother recalled his father offering Charles a dime if he could
keep his hands and feet still for five minutes; Charles was unable to
collect on the offer.
Despite the personal obstacles
Guiteau faced, he is described by Charles Rosenberg, author of
The Trial of the Assassin Guiteau,
as becoming "a moral and enterprising young man." At age 18, he would
tell his sister in a letter that his goal was to work hard and educate
himself "physically, intellectually, and morally." During a lonely
year in college in Ann Arbor, Guiteau took comfort in the theological
writings of John Noyes, founder of the utopian Oneida Community in
upstate New York which practiced what Noyes called "Bible Communism."
Charles left Ann Arbor in 1860 and headed east to Oneida.
After five years, Guiteau left the
Community briefly to make a failed attempt at establishing the
nation's first theocratic newspaper, the
Daily Theocrat. He returned
to Oneida for a year, spent twelve months back with family in
Illinois, and then moved to New York City where a growing resentment
of the Oneida Community would overtake him. Guiteau brought what can
fairly be described as "a frivolous lawsuit" against the Community,
demanding $9000 for his six years worth of work at Oneida. Noyes
responded in affidavit by describing Guiteau in Oneida as "moody, self-conceited,
unmanageable" and addicted to masturbation. Guiteau's attorney, soon
realizing the case was a loser, dropped the cause, but Guiteau
persisted in writing angry and threatening letters to the Community,
blaming it for all of his personal problems, which included no family
and no gainful employment. He sent letters to newspapers, the
Attorney General in Washington, ministers, state officials, and
everyone else he thought might aid in his professed goal of "wiping
out" Oneida. In a letter to Charles's father, Luther Guiteau, John
Noyes described Charles as "insane" and wrote that "I prayed for him
last night as sincerely as I ever prayed for my own son, that is now
in a Lunatic Asylum."
Charles withdrew again to Illinois,
where for a few years he eked out an existence as a debt collection
attorney and managed to find a wife, Annie Bunn, a local librarian.
He proved soon to be an abusive husband, locking Annie in a closet for
hours, hitting and kicking her, and dragging her around the house by
her hair. "I am your master," Guiteau would yell, "submit yourself to
me." The marriage ended after five years.
In the 1870s, Guiteau
moved from place to place, from passion to passion. In 1872, while in
New York collecting a bills from a few deadbeats to pay his own, he
began to take an active interest in politics. His shady collection
practices--including pocketing his commission without paying his
client--landed him a short stay in a New York City jail. In 1875, he
followed--until it died--a far-fetched dream of buying a small Chicago
newspaper and turning it into an influential one by reprinting news
from the New York Tribune,
transmitted telegraphically to Chicago each day. When Charles's grand
scheme collapsed, his father wrote of his son: "To my mind he is a fit
subject for a lunatic asylum."
By the late 1870s,
Guiteau's obsession had become theology and he became an itinerant
lecturer, billing himself as "a lawyer and theologian" (and, on one
handbill, as "The Little Giant of the West"). His lectures--composed
naked, according to his own account--were incoherent ramblings on the
imminent end of the world and Christ's reappearance in Jerusalem in 70
In 1880, Guiteau adopted his final
passion: politics. His cause became promoting the Stalwart faction of
the Republican Party. In 1880, Republicans were split between the
Stalwarts, who preferred to nominate Ulysses Grant for a third
presidential term, and the Half-Breeds, reformers who favored the
nomination of Maine Senator James G. Blaine. After delegates to the
Republican convention in Chicago had cast 33 ballots, Grant led, but
continued to fall just short of the majority needed for the nomination.
On the 34th ballot, a move began for a darkhorse compromise candidate:
James Garfield. By the 36th ballot, Garfield was the nominee. Having
gotten most of his support from Half-Breeds, Garfield chose a Stalwart,
Chester A. Arthur, as his running mate. Although Guiteau had written
speeches in support of Grant, when Garfield became the nominee,
Guiteau simply scratched Grant's name from his speech and substituted
Garfield became a frequent visitor
to the Republican Party's campaign headquarters in New York City. He
sought speaking roles, but was rebuffed by campaign officials--except
for one engagement in New York where he was authorized to speak to a
small number of black voters. He reprinted his speech entitled "Garfield
vs. Hancock" (Hancock was the Democratic nominee for president), a
cliche-filled stream of over-the-top arguments, including his
suggestion that the election of Hancock was likely to produce a second
civil war. In November, Garfield narrowly defeated Hancock, and
Guiteau concluded that the ideas presented in his speech secured the
Republican victory. On New Year's Eve 1880, Guiteau wrote Garfield
asking for a diplomatic appointment and wishing the President-Elect a
happy new year.
After Garfield's inauguration in
March 1881, Guiteau stepped up his campaign for a diplomatic post. He
applied for posts as minister in Austria and consul general to Paris,
and made the rounds between the White House and the State Department
promoting his case. He bombarded Secretary of State James Blaine with
letters, arguing it was his "rebel war claim idea" that "elected
President Garfield" and that he deserved appointment as "a personal
tribute" to his critical role in the recent campaign. He also wrote
to Garfield, indicating in a May 10 letter: "I will see you about the
Paris consulship tomorrow unless you happen to send in my name today."
The Administration, unsurprising, grew tired of Guiteau's persistence.
Secretary Blaine bluntly told Guiteau at the State Department on May
14: "Never bother me again about the Paris consulship so long as you
Guiteau, without family and nearly
penniless, grew increasing isolated and depressed. Shortly after his
confrontation with Blaine, Guiteau decided that Garfield needed to be
"removed." In June, Guiteau concluded the mission to remove Garfield
fell to him and was in fact a "divine pressure." On June 15, using
fifteen borrowed dollars, he purchased a snub-nosed, forty-five
caliber revolver. The next day he wrote an "Address to the American
People," making the case for Garfield's assassination. In his address,
Guiteau accused Garfield of "the basest ingratitude to the Stalwarts"
and said the president was on a course to "wreck the once grand old
Republican party." Assassination, Guiteau wrote, was "not murder; it
is a political necessity." He concluded, "I leave my justification to
God and the American people."
Guiteau learned from newspaper reports on
June 30 that President Garfield would be catching a 9:30 A.M. train at
the Baltimore and Potomac Station the following morning. He wrote a
second justification for his planned assassination or, as he called it,
"the President's tragic death." Guiteau, claiming himself to be "a
Stalwart of the Stalwarts," wrote that "the President...will be
happier in Paradise than here." He ended his note with the words "I
am going to jail."
Guiteau arrived at the station about
8:30. He felt ready for the job, having practiced his marksmanship on
a river bank on the way to his destination. Garfield entered the
nearly empty station at 8:25 with Secretary Blaine and a bag-carrying
servant. They had walked several steps into the carpeted "ladies'
waiting room" when Guiteau fired his first shot. It grazed Garfield's
arm. Guiteau moved two steps and fired a second shot. The bullet
entered Garfield's back just above the waist. The president fell as
the back of his gray summer suit filled with blood.
As confusion erupted in the station,
Guiteau tried to reassure onlookers: "It is all right, it is all right."
The police officer on duty grabbed Guiteau.
A city health officer was the first
doctor on the scene. Although he tried to reassure the president,
Garfield said, "Doctor, I am a dead man." Garfield had been moved to
the station's second floor when Dr. D. W. Bliss, who would be
Garfield's head physician for the next eighty days, arrived. As Bliss
and ten other doctors debated what to do next, a police ambulance
arrived and--following Garfield's orders--transported the gravely
wounded president to the White House and up to his bedroom.
In the hours after his arrest, Guiteau
acted strangely. On the way to city jail with a police detective,
Guiteau asked the officer if he was a Stalwart. When the detective
replied that he was, Guiteau promised to make him chief of police. In
jail, he balked at removing his shoes, complaining that if he walked
barefoot over the jail's stone floors "I'll catch my death of cold."
When a photographer snapped his photo he demanded a royalty payment of
Although doctors initially assessed
Garfield's chances as bleak--they expected him to die the evening of
the shooting--after he survived the first forty-eight hours, they
became more optimistic. By July 16, one of Garfield's doctors was
quoted as saying the president's "ultimate recovery is beyond all
reasonable doubt." A week later, however, Garfield's condition
worsened. His conditioned then steadied, but he suffered from a
severe cough, a low-grade fever, and was losing weight through much of
August. On September 6, Garfield was taken by a special train almost
to the door of his summer seaside cottage in New Jersey where, it was
hoped, the ocean breezes might help his deteriorating condition. They
didn't. On September 19, at 10:35 P.M.,
the president died. An autopsy identified the cause of death as a
rupturing of an aneurysm in the splenic artery.
Events Leading to the Trial
In the weeks following Garfield's shooting, Guiteau seemed to enjoy
his new found notoriety. He sent a letter to "the Chicago Press"
announcing his intention to write and publish and autobiography
entitled "The Life and Theology of Charles Guiteau." He expected to
make bail and head out on the lecture circuit to speak on matters
ranging from religion and politics--and he expected the fees for his
lectures to pay for the first-rate lawyers that would surely win his
As the summer progressed, Guiteau became more agitated. He was
upset with prison officials for denying him access to newspapers and
keeping him in near isolation. When word came in September that the
president had died, Guiteau fell to his knees.
Guiteau rebounded quickly, however. The day after Garfield died, he
penned a letter to the new president, Chester Arthur. "I presume you
appreciate [my act]," Guiteau wrote, noting that "It raises you from
$8,000 to $50,000 a year" and from "a political cypher to President of
the United States with all its powers and honors." He described his
victim as "a good man but a weak politician." Guiteau's spirits seem
to rise further with the publication of the autobiography he had
written in prison. The autobiography, published in the New York
Herald, included his personal note that he was "looking for a wife"
and his hope that applicants for the job might include "an elegant
Christian lady of wealth, under thirty, belonging to a first-class
Needless to say, the public included far more Guiteau haters that
Guiteau fans. Concern about lynching led officials to move Guiteau to
a brick cell with only a small opening at the top of a bulletproof
oaken door. His biggest threat, it turned out, was not from the
public, but from prison guards. On September 11, 1881, a guard named
William Mason fired at Guiteau, but missed. (The public responded
with donations to Mason and his family, but the trigger-happy guard
still was court-martialed and received an eight-year term.)
George Corkhill, the district attorney for Washington, understood
that Guiteau was likely to raise an insanity defense. Guiteau's
speeches, statements, and letters were more than passing strange--and
assassination almost seems by its very nature to be the product of a
diseased mind. Corkhill's early statements on the issue were
dismissive of Guiteau's potential insanity claim. "He's no more
insane than I am," Corkhill told a reporter on July 9. In Corkhill's
view, Guiteau was a "deadbeat" who "wanted excitement" and now "he's
Formal proceedings against Guiteau began in October. On October 8,
Corkhill filed the presentment and indictment against the prisoner for
the murder of James Garfield. Six days later, Guiteau was arraigned.
George Scoville, Guiteau's brother-in-law, appeared and asked the
court for a continuance to gather witnesses for the defense. He told
Judge Walter Cox that the defense intended to make two primary
arguments: that Guiteau was legally insane and that the president's
death resulted from medical malpractice, not Guiteau's shooting.
Judge Cox granted the defense motion and set the trial for November.
Guiteau, unsurprisingly, considered himself supremely qualified to
head his own defense. He drew a sharp distinction between "legal
insanity," which he was willing to claim, and "actual insanity," which
he thought a detestable insult. He was sharply critical, for example,
of Scoville's questions concerning whether any of his relatives had
spent time in lunatic asylums: "If you waste time on such things, you
will never clear me." Instead, in Guiteau's view, he was legally
insane because the Lord had temporarily removed his free will and
assigned him the task he could not refuse. In addition to insanity,
Guiteau proposed to argue that the doctor's clumsy treatment attempts
were the true cause of Garfield's death and, moreover, the court in
Washington lacked jurisdiction to try him for murder because Garfield
died at his seaside New Jersey home.
Scolville's legal conclusions differed from those of his client on
both the issue of causation and jurisdiction. He decided to drop both
arguments and concentrate on insanity. Both Scoville and attorneys
for the government began scouring the country for medical witnesses
best able to address the issue of the assassin's mental state.
Corkhill landed Dr. John Gray, the superintendent of New York's Utica
Asylum, as the prosecution's chief adviser on insanity issues. After
interviewing Guiteau, Gray wrote in a memo to Corkhill that Guiteau
acted out of "wounded vanity and disappointment," not insanity.
Gaining an acquittal by reason of insanity in 1881 was no easy task.
Under the prevailing test, the so-called M'Naghten rule, the
government need only show that the defendant understood the
consequences and the unlawfulness of his conduct. This test, for
Guiteau, posed nearly insurmountable obstacles. Guiteau knew that it
was illegal to shoot the president. He knew that if he pulled out his
revolver and shot and hit the president, that the president might die.
Moreover, Guiteau did not act impulsively, but planned the
assassination and waited for a good opportunity. Under the
conventional interpretation of M'Naghten, Guiteau was a dead man.
The trial of Charles Guiteau opened on November 14, 1881 in a packed
courtroom in Washington's old criminal court building. Guiteau,
dressed in a black suit and white shirt, asked the proceedings be
deliberate so not to offend "the Deity whose servant I was when I
sought to remove the late President." Jury selection proved difficult.
Many potential jurors claimed that their opinions as to Guiteau's
guilt were fixed. "He ought to be hung or burnt," one panel member
said, adding, "I don't think there is any evidence in the United
States to convince me any other way." It took three days, and the
questioning of 175 potential jurors, to finally settle on a jury of
twelve men--including, against the wishes of Guiteau, one African-American.
As the prosecution was set to begin its case, Guiteau jumped up to
announce that he was none too happy about his team of "blunderbuss
lawyers" and that he planned to handle much of the defense himself.
"I came in here in the capacity as an agent of the Deity in this
matter, and I am going to assert my right in this case," he said.
The prosecution focused its early efforts in the trial on detailing
the events surrounding Garfield's assassination. Witnesses included
Secretary of State Blaine, Patrick Kearney (the arresting officer),
and Dr. D. W. Bliss, who performed the autopsy. Letters written by
Garfield shortly before the assassination were introduced as exhibits,
as were several of the vertebrae shattered by Guiteau's bullet.
The most important testimony came from Dr. Bliss. Spectators cried
and cringed as Bliss made his point, using Garfield's actual spine,
that the shot fired by Guiteau directly caused the President's death,
however long it took to do so. As Guiteau was driven away from the
courtroom after Bliss's testimony, a horse pulled alongside his van
and the horse's drunk rider--a farmer named Bill Jones--fired a pistol
through the bars of the van. The bullet struck Guiteau's coat, but
left the prisoner uninjured.
In his opening statement for the defense, George Scoville told
jurors that as society has gained more knowledge of insanity it has
come to recognize that persons so afflicted deserve sympathy and
treatment, not punishment. This trend, he said, is part of becoming a
civilized people: "It is a change all the while progressing to a
better state of things, to higher intelligence, to better judgment."
He argued that the jury should try to determine, based on expert
testimony, whether Guiteau's actions were the product of a deranged
mind. Guiteau, meanwhile, offered untimely interjections. When
Scoville said Guiteau's "want of mental capacity is manifest" in his
business dealings, the prisoner rose to his feet and insisted, "I had
brains enough but I had theology on my mind." At times, according to
newspaper accounts, Guiteau was "foaming at the mouth" as he shouted
his objections to Scoville's characterizations of his odd legal
Defense witnesses painted the picture of a strange and disturbed man.
A physician summoned to Guiteau's home after he threatened his wife
was an ask testified that he had told Guiteau's sister at the time
that his brother was insane and should be committed. He concluded
Guiteau had been captured by "an intense pseudo-religious feeling." A
Chicago attorney who visited Guiteau shortly after the assassination
told how Guiteau, in a voice that veered from a whisper to a shout,
claimed that the shooting of Garfield was the Lord's work and he
merely carried it out. Other witnesses pointed to the strange
behavior of Guiteau's father as evidence that the defendant's insanity
might be a hereditary condition. They told of Luther Guiteau's
attempts at faith healing and his belief that some men could live
Charles Guiteau took the stand on November 28. Responding to his
attorney's questions in a hurried and nervous style, Guiteau traced
for jurors the story of his life. Much of the testimony focused on
his years at the Oneida Community--the community Guiteau grew to hate
and sought to destroy. He also described in great detail his
political activities and inclinations during the spring of 1881,
finally turning to the prayerful period of June when he awaited word
from God as to whether his inspiration to kill Garfield was divine.
He took some of his own narrow escapes from death (a ship collision at
sea, a jump from a speeding train, three attempted shootings) as
evidence that God had an important plan for him. He insisted that he
had performed a valuable service in killing Garfield: "Some of these
days instead of saying 'Guiteau the assassin', they will say 'Guiteau
On cross-examination, prosecutor John K. Porter tried to suggest to
jurors that what the defense claimed was evidence of insanity was
instead only evidence of sin. He forced Guiteau to concede that he
thought the assassination would increase sales of his autobiography.
He demanded to know whether Guiteau was familiar with the Biblical
commandment, "Thou shalt not kill." Guiteau responded that in this
case "the divine authority overcame the written law." He insisted, "I
am a man of destiny as much as the Savior, or Paul, or Martin Luther."
The heart of the defense case was built by medical experts. Dr.
James Kienarn, a Chicago neurologist, testified that a man could be
insane without suffering from delusions or hallucinations. He offered
his expert opinion--accepting as true a long list of assertions about
Guiteau and his state of mind--that the defendant was doubtless insane.
(Kiernan's credibility, however, was badly damaged in cross-examination
when he guessed one out of every five adults was--or would become--insane.)
Seven additional medical experts for the defense followed Kiernan to
the stand, but seemed--to most observers--to add little new support
for the insanity claim.
Few experts had been as adamant about Guiteau's insanity as New York
neurologist Dr. Edward C. Spitzka. He had written that it was as
plain as day that "Guiteau is not only now insane, but that he was
never anything else." It is no wonder that Scoville depended heavily
on Spitzka's testimony. On the stand, Spitzka told jurors that he had
"no doubt" that Guiteau was both insane and "a moral monstrosity."
The doctor drew his conclusions as much from his looks (including his
lopsided smile) as his statements, concluding that the defendant had "the
insane manner" he had so often observed in asylums. He added, based
on his interview with the prisoner, that Guiteau was a "morbid egotist"
who misinterpreted and overly personalized the real events of life.
He thought the condition to be the result of "a congenital
malformation of the brain." On cross-examination, prosecutor Walter
Davidge forced Spitzka to admit that his training was as a veterinary
surgeon, not a neurologist. Conceding the point, Spitzka said
sarcastically: "In the sense that I treat asses who ask me stupid
questions, I am."
The prosecution countered with its own medical experts. Dr. Fordyce
Barker testified that "there was no such disease in science as
hereditary insanity." Irresistible impulses, the doctor testified,
were not a manifestation of insanity, but rather "a vice." Prison
physician Dr. Noble Young testified that Guiteau was "perfectly sane"
and "as bright and intelligent a man as you will ever see in a
summer's day." Psychiatrist (called an "alienist" at the time) Allen
Hamilton told jurors that the defendant was "sane, though eccentric"
and "knew the difference between right and wrong."
Dr. John Gray, superintendent of New York's Utica Asylum and editor
of the American Journal of Insanity,
took the stand as the prosecution's final--and star--witness. Gray,
based on two full days of interviews with Guiteau, testified that the
defendant was seriously "depraved," but not insane. Insanity, he said,
is a "disease" (typically associated with cerebral lesions, in his
opinion) that shows itself in more than bad acts. Guiteau displayed
far too much rationality and planning to be truly insane, Gray
Closing arguments began on January 12, 1882. Prosecutor Davidge
emphasized the legal test for insanity, which he claimed Guiteau
failed to meet. Guiteau, Davidge argued, knew that it was wrong to
shoot the President--and yet he did. He warned the jury not to reach
a result that would be "tantamount to inviting every crack-brained,
ill-balanced man, with or without a motive, to resort to the knife or
to the pistol." Judge Porter, in the government's final argument,
predicted that Guiteau will soon feel for the first time real "divine
pressure, and in the form of the hangman's rope." For the defense,
Charles Reed argued that common sense alone--the facts of his life,
his vacant glance--should persuade jurors of Guiteau's insanity. He
told jurors that if it were up to Christ, he would heal and not punish
such an obviously disturbed man as his client. Scoville, in a closing
argument that lasted five days, suggested that Guiteau's writings
could not be the product of a sane mind and that the defendant was
owed the benefit of doubt. He scoffed at the prosecution's suggestion
that only a cerebral lesion could prove a man insane: "Those experts
hang a man and examine his brain afterward."
Guiteau offered his own closing. At first, Judge Cox denied his
request. Disappointed, Guiteau said that the judge had denied the
jurors "an oration like Cicero's" that would have gone "thundering
down the ages." Later, when the prosecution (fearing adding a
possible point of error to the record) withdrew its objection to
Guiteau's request, Judge Cox reversed his decision. Guiteau looked
skyward and swayed periodically during his address, which included the
singing of "John Brown's Body" and featured comparison's between his
own life as "a patriot" and other patriots such as George Washington
and Ulysses S. Grant. He insisted that the shooting of Garfield was
divinely inspired and that "the Deity allowed the doctors to finish my
work gradually, because He wanted to prepare the people for the change."
He warned the jury that if they convicted him, "the nation will pay
for it as sure as you are alive."
The jury deliberated for only an hour. In a candlelit courtroom,
jury foreman John P. Hamlin announced the verdict: "Guilty as indicted,
sir." Applause filled the room. Guiteau remained oddly silent.
The Sentence and Aftermath
Judge Cox sentenced Guiteau "to be hanged by the neck until you are
dead" on June 30, 1882. Guiteau shouted at the judge, "I had rather
stand where I am that where the jury does or where your Honor does."
On May 22, Guiteau's appeals were rejected. Guiteau still held out
the hope that President Arthur, the benefactor--as he saw it--of his
act, would grant a pardon. Arthur listened to arguments by defense
experts for twenty minutes on June 22. Five days later, the President
granted an interview with another defense partisan, John Wilson.
Guiteau wrote a letter to Garfield asking that he at least stay the
execution until the following January so that his case might "be heard
by the Supreme Court in full bench." On June 24, President Arthur
announced that he would not intervene. Hearing the news, an angry
Guiteau shouted, "Arthur has sealed his own doom and the doom of this
Guiteau approached his hanging with a sense of opportunity. He
abandoned his plan to appear for the event dressed only in underwear
(so as to remind spectators of Christ's execution) after being
persuaded that the immodest garb might be seen as further evidence of
his insanity. In the prison courtyard on June 30, 1882, Guiteau read
fourteen verses of Matthew and a poem of his own that ended with the
words, "Glory hallelujah! Glory hallelujah! I am with the Lord!" The
trapdoor opened and Guiteau fell to his death. Outside the jail, a
thousand spectators cheered the announcement of the assassin's demise.
In the years following Guiteau's execution, public opinion on the
issue of his insanity shifted. More people--and almost all
neurologists--came to the view that he was indeed suffering from a
serious mental illness. Guiteau's case was seen in medical circles as
supporting the theory that criminal tendencies were often the result
of hereditary disease.
Assassination of James A. Garfield
James A. Garfield was shot in Washington, D.C. on July
2, 1881 by Charles J. Guiteau at 9:30 a.m., less than four months
after taking office as the twentieth President of the United States.
Garfield died eleven weeks later on September 19, 1881, the second of
four Presidents to be assassinated, following Abraham Lincoln and
preceding William McKinley and John F. Kennedy. His Vice President,
Chester Arthur, succeeded Garfield as President.
Stalking the President
After failing in several ventures—theology, a law
practice, bill collecting, time in the Oneida Community—Charles
Guiteau's interest turned to politics. He wrote a speech in support of
Ulysses S. Grant called "Grant vs. Hancock", which he subsequently
revised to "Garfield vs. Hancock" after Garfield won the Republican
nomination in the 1880 presidential campaign. Guiteau never even
delivered the speech in a public setting, instead printing up several
hundred copies, but he believed that this speech along with his other
efforts were largely responsible for Garfield's narrow victory over
Winfield S. Hancock in the election of 1880. Guiteau believed he
should be awarded a diplomatic post for his vital assistance, first
asking for Vienna, then settling for Paris.
He loitered around Republican headquarters in New York
City during the 1880 campaign, expecting rewards for his effort, to no
avail. Still believing he would be rewarded, Guiteau arrived in
Washington on March 5, the day after Garfield's inauguration, and
actually obtained entrance to the White House and saw the President on
March 8, dropping off a copy of his speech.
He proceeded to spend the next two months roaming
around Washington, shuffling back and forth between the State
Department and the White House, approaching various Cabinet members
and other prominent Republicans and seeking support, to no avail.
Guiteau was destitute and increasingly slovenly due to
wearing the same clothes every day, the only clothes he owned, but he
did not give up. On May 13, 1881, he was banned from the White House
waiting room. On May 14, 1881, he was finally told personally never to
return by Secretary of State James G. Blaine: "Never speak to me again
of the Paris consulship as long as you live."
After this encounter, Guiteau decided that he had been
commanded to kill the ungrateful President. Guiteau borrowed $15 and
went out to purchase a revolver. He knew little about firearms, but
did know that he would need a large caliber gun. He had to choose
between a .44 Webley British Bulldog revolver with a wooden handle and
one with an ivory handle. He chose to buy the one with the ivory
handle because he thought it would look good as a museum exhibit after
the assassination. (The revolver was recovered and even displayed by
the Smithsonian in the early 1900s but has since been lost.)
He spent the next few weeks in target practice—the kick
from the revolver almost knocked him over the first time—and stalking
the President. He wrote a letter to Garfield, saying that he should
fire Blaine, or "you and the Republican party will come to grief." It
was ignored, as was all the correspondence Guiteau sent to the White
Guiteau continued to prepare carefully, writing a
letter in advance to Commanding General of the United States Army
William Sherman asking for protection from the mob, and writing other
letters justifying his action as necessary to heal dissension between
factions of the Republican Party. He even went to the District of
Columbia jail, asking for a tour of the facility to see where he'd be
incarcerated. (He was told to come back later.)
Guiteau spent the whole month of June following
Garfield around Washington. On one occasion, he trailed Garfield to
the railway station as the President was seeing his wife off to a
beach resort in Long Branch, New Jersey, but he decided to shoot him
later, as Mrs. Garfield was in poor health and he didn't want to upset
Garfield was scheduled to leave Washington on July 2
for his summer vacation. On that day, Guiteau lay in wait for the
President at the (since demolished) Baltimore and Potomac Railroad
station, on the southwest corner of present day Sixth Street Northwest
and Constitution Avenue, Washington, D.C.
President Garfield had come to the Sixth Street Station
on his way to his alma mater, Williams College, where he was scheduled
to deliver a speech. Garfield was accompanied by two of his sons,
James and Harry, and Secretary of State James G. Blaine. Secretary of
War Robert Todd Lincoln waited at the station to see the President off.
Garfield had no bodyguard or security detail; with the exception of
Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, U.S. presidents never used any
As President Garfield entered the waiting room of the
station Guiteau stepped forward and pulled the trigger from behind at
point-blank range. "My God, what is that?" Garfield cried out,
flinging up his arms. Guiteau fired again and Garfield collapsed. One
bullet grazed Garfield's shoulder; the other lodged in his spine in
the first lumbar vertebra but missing the spinal cord.
Guiteau put his pistol back in his pocket and turned to
leave the station for the cab he still had waiting outside, but he was
apprehended before he could leave by policeman Patrick Kearney, who
was so excited at having arrested the man who shot the president that
he neglected to take Guiteau's gun from him until after their arrival
at the police station. The rapidly gathering crowd screamed "Lynch him!"
but Kearney took Guiteau to the police station a few blocks away. As
he surrendered to authorities, Guiteau uttered the exulting words,
repeated everywhere: "'I am a Stalwart of the Stalwarts! I did it and
I want to be arrested! Arthur is President now!'"
This statement briefly led to unfounded suspicions that
Arthur or his supporters had put Guiteau up to the crime. The
Stalwarts were a Republican faction loyal to ex-President Grant; they
strongly opposed Garfield's Half-Breeds. Like many Vice Presidents,
Arthur was chosen for political advantage, to placate his faction,
rather than for skills or loyalty to his running-mate. Guiteau, in his
delusion, had convinced himself that he was striking a blow to unite
the two factions of the Republican Party.
Garfield's suffering and death
Garfield, conscious but in shock, was carried to an
upstairs floor of the train station. One bullet remained lodged in his
body, but doctors could not find it. Young Jim Garfield and James
Blaine both broke down and wept. Robert Todd Lincoln, deeply upset and
thinking back to the death of his father, said "How many hours of
sorrow I have passed in this town."
Garfield was carried back to the White House. Doctors
told him that he would not survive the night, but the President did
not die. He remained conscious and alert. The next morning his vital
signs were good and doctors began to hope for recovery. A long vigil
began, with Garfield's doctors issuing regular bulletins that the
American public followed closely throughout the summer of 1881. His
condition fluctuated. Fevers came and went. Garfield struggled to keep
down solid food and spent most of the summer eating little, and that
In an effort to relieve the sick man from the heat of a
Washington summer, Navy engineers rigged up an early version of the
modern air conditioner. Fans blew air over a large box of ice and into
the President's sickroom; the device worked well enough to lower the
temperature twenty degrees.
Doctors continued to probe Garfield's wound with dirty,
unsterilized fingers and instruments, attempting for no particular
reason to find the location of the bullet. Alexander Graham Bell
devised a metal detector specifically for the purpose of finding the
bullet lodged inside Garfield, but the metal bed frame Garfield was
lying on made the instrument malfunction.
Because metal bed frames were relatively rare, the
cause of the instrument's deviation was unknown at the time. On July
29 Garfield met with his Cabinet for the only time during his illness;
the members were under strict instruction from the doctors not to
discuss anything upsetting.
Garfield became increasingly ill over a period of
several weeks due to infection, which caused his heart to weaken. He
remained bedridden in the White House with fevers and extreme pains.
Garfield's weight dropped from over two hundred pounds to 135 pounds
as his inability to keep down and digest food took its toll. Blood
poisoning and infection set in and for a brief period the President
suffered from hallucinations.
On September 6, Garfield was taken to the Jersey Shore
to escape the Washington heat, in the vain hope that the fresh air and
quiet there might aid his recovery. Garfield was propped up in bed
before a window with a view of the beach and ocean. New infections set
in, as well as spasms of angina. He died of a massive heart attack or
a ruptured splenic artery aneurysm, following blood poisoning and
bronchial pneumonia, at 10:35 p.m. on Monday, September 19, 1881, in
Long Branch, New Jersey. The wounded president died exactly two months
before his 50th birthday. During the eighty days between his shooting
and death, his only official act was to sign an extradition paper.
Most historians and medical experts now believe that
Garfield probably would have survived his wound had the doctors
attending him been more capable. Several inserted their unsterilized
fingers into the wound to probe for the bullet, and one doctor
punctured Garfield's liver in doing so. This alone would not have
brought about death as the liver is one of the few organs in the human
body that can regenerate itself. However, this physician probably
introduced Streptococcus bacteria into the President's body and that
caused blood poisoning for which at that time there were no
Chester Arthur was at his home in New York City when
word came the night of September 19 that Garfield had died. After
first getting the news, Arthur said "I hope—my God, I do hope it is a
mistake." But confirmation by telegram came soon after. Arthur took
the oath of office, administered by a New York Supreme Court judge,
then left for Long Branch to pay his respects before going on to
Garfield's body was taken to Washington, where it lay
in state for two days in the Capitol Rotunda before being taken to
Cleveland, where the funeral was held on Sept. 26.
Guiteau's trial and execution
Represented by his brother-in-law, George Scolville,
Guiteau became something of a media darling during his trial for his
bizarre behavior, including constantly badmouthing his defense team,
formatting his testimony in epic poems which he recited at length, and
soliciting legal advice from random spectators in the audience via
passed notes. He claimed that he was not guilty because Garfield's
murder was the will of God and he was only an instrument of God's will.
He sang "John Brown's Body" to the court.
He dictated an autobiography to the New York Herald,
ending it with a personal ad for a nice Christian lady under thirty.
He was blissfully oblivious to the American public's outrage and
hatred of him, even after he was almost assassinated twice himself. At
one point, he argued that Garfield was killed not by him but by
medical malpractice ("The doctors killed Garfield, I just shot him").
Throughout the trial and up until his execution, Guiteau was housed at
St. Elizabeths Hospital in the southeastern quadrant of Washington,
Guiteau's trial was one of the first high profile cases
in the United States where the insanity defense was considered.
Guiteau vehemently insisted that while he had been legally insane at
the time of the shooting, he was not really medically insane, which
was one of the major causes of the rift between him and his defense
lawyers and probably also a reason the jury assumed Guiteau was merely
trying to deny responsibility.
To the end, Guiteau was actively making plans to start
a lecture tour after his perceived imminent release and to run for
President himself in 1884, while at the same time continuing to
delight in the media circus surrounding his trial. He was dismayed
when the jury was unconvinced of his divine inspiration, convicting
him of the murder. He was found guilty on January 25, 1882.
He appealed, but his appeal was rejected, and he was
hanged on June 30, 1882 in the District of Columbia. On the scaffold,
Guiteau recited a poem he had written called "I am Going to the Lordy".
He had requested an orchestra to play as he sang his poem, but this
request was denied.
Part of Charles Guiteau's preserved brain is on display at the Mütter
Museum at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Guiteau's bones
and more of his brain, along with Garfield's backbone and a couple of
ribs, are kept at the National Museum of Health and
Medicine in Washington, D.C. on the grounds of the Walter Reed Army
Garfield's assassination was instrumental to the
passage of the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act on January 16, 1883.
Garfield himself had called for civil service reform in his inaugural
address and supported it as President in the belief that it would make
government more efficient. It was passed as something of a memorial to
the fallen President. Arthur lost the Republican Party nomination in
1884 to Blaine, who went on to lose a razor-close election to Democrat
The Sixth Street rail station was later demolished. The
site is now occupied by the West Building of the National Gallery of
Art. No plaque or memorial marks the spot where Garfield was shot, but
a few blocks away, a Garfield memorial statue stands on the southwest
corner of the Capitol grounds.
As of 1896, the "Great Tom" bell at St. Paul's
Cathedral in London, England had only ever rung upon the deaths or
funerals of members of the British royal family, the Bishop of London,
or the London mayor; a sole exception was made when the bell was rung
upon Garfield's death.
The question of Presidential disability was not
addressed. Article II, section 1, clause 6 of the Constitution says
that in case of the "Inability [of the President] to discharge the
Powers and Duties of the said Office, the same shall devolve on the
Vice President", but gives no further instruction on what constitutes
inability or how the President's inability should be determined.
Garfield had lain on his sickbed for 80 days without performing any of
the duties of his office except for the signing of an extradition
paper, but this did not prove to be a difficulty because in the 19th
century the federal government effectively shut down for the summer
regardless. During Garfield's ordeal, the Congress was not in session
and there was little for a President to do. Blaine suggested the
Cabinet declare Arthur acting President, but this option was rejected
by all, including Arthur, who did not wish to be perceived as grasping
Congress did not deal with the problem of what to do if
a President was alive but incapacitated as Garfield was. Nor did the
Congress take up the question 38 years later, when Woodrow Wilson
suffered a stroke that put him in a coma for days and left him
partially paralyzed and blind in one eye for the last year and a half
of his Presidency. It was not until the ratification of the Twenty-fifth
Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1967 that United States
law provided a procedure for what to do if the President were
Nor did the Congress take any measure to provide for
Presidential protection. It was not until after the murder of William
McKinley twenty years after Garfield that the Congress charged the
United States Secret Service, originally founded to prevent
counterfeiting, with Presidential security.
The Garfield Tea House, built by the citizens of Long
Branch, New Jersey with the rails that had been laid down specifically
to give Garfield's train access to their town, still stands today near
the location where Garfield died.