13 September 2011

Gitout

From Janet Maslin's New York Times review of Destiny Of The Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President (New York: Doubleday 2011) by Candice Millard -
At an exhausting point when more than 30 ballots had been cast, [James] Garfield rose to speak out against the chaotic "human ocean in tempest” he was witnessing. He injected a voice of reason. "I have seen the sea lashed into fury and tossed into spray, and its grandeur moves the soul of the dullest man," he said. "But I remember that it is not the billows, but the calm level of the sea, from which all heights and depths are measured."

Delegates began unexpectedly throwing their votes to Garfield. He had not been a presidential candidate; now suddenly he was the Republican nominee. When he and his family were swept into the White House, Garfield wrote: "My God! What is there in this place that a man should ever want to get into it?"

Garfield particularly bristled at the calling hours a president then traditionally kept. During this time he met members of the public, many of them office seekers. He quickly noticed a particularly obnoxious visitor: Charles Guiteau, whose pestering was so extreme that Garfield cited him as an "illustration of unparalleled audacity and impudence." The grandiose and frankly creepy Guiteau wrote so many letters that he became enough of a nuisance to be noticed by other members of the Garfield administration and family. A former lawyer and theologist who earned himself the nickname "Charles Gitout," he met Garfield on numerous occasions before deciding to shoot him.

Guiteau, whose story has also been much overlooked, made no secret of his plotting. In a letter explaining his plans to the American people, he reasoned: "It will be no worse for Mrs. Garfield, to part with her husband this way, than by natural death. He is liable to go at any time any way." He scouted jails, deciding where he wanted to be incarcerated. He left instructions ("please order out your troops") for Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, who would be marshalling troops for Guiteau. They protected the assassin from being killed by a mob before he could go to trial.