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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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    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 the president's office. Even among the strange and strikingly persistent office seekers that filled Garfield's anteroom every day, Guiteau had stood out. Brown, Garfield's private secretary, had long before...

Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine Paul Michael effectively maintains the thread of a narrative history that is by nature digressive. Candice Millard's excellent account of the 1881 shooting of President James Garfield, barely three months into his presidency, details what is generally a footnote in American history. But Garfield's murder was also the intersection of a number of emerging social and technological forces and is one of American history's great what-if's. Narrator Michael brings a steady tone to a text that has license to roam the tangled history of Reconstruction, the Chicago fire, and the career of Alexander Graham Bell. In its hardcover reviews this novel was criticized for being uneven and disproportionate. Those qualities vanish here, and Michael's empathetic delivery finds a steady course for Millard's many-channeled story. D.A.W. (c) AudioFile 2011, Portland, Maine
  • 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."
  • The Washington Post "Crisp, concise and revealing history....Millard has crafted a fresh narrative that plumbs some of the most dramatic days in U.S. presidential history"
  • Associated Press "Brings the era and people involved to vivid life..... Millard takes the reader on a compelling fly on-the-wall journey with these two men until that fateful day in a train station when Guiteau shot Garfield..... Millard takes all of these elements in a forgotten period of history and turns them into living and breathing things. The writing immerses readers into the period, making them feel as though they are living at that time. Comparisons to Erik Larson's "The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America" are justified, but "Destiny of the Republic" is better."
  • People Magazine "Think you're not interested in James Garfield, our 20th President? Millard's action-packed account of his life and truly strange death should change your mind."
  • 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."
  • 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. She vividly captures an era of savage political infighting, lax security for public figures and appalling medical ignorance....This wonderful book reminds us that our 20th president was neither a minor nor merely a tragic figure, but rather an extraordinary one."
  • Kansas City Star "An achingly good, suspenseful read....compelling characters and nail-biting storytelling, and [readers] will no doubt walk away even more emotionally affected by Garfield's tragedy.....deftly skilled....One cannot help but hope that through Millard's book, the ultimately inspiring story of America's 20th president and the race to save his life will fill our minds and stay awhile."
  • Tucson Citizen "Blends science, medicine, and politics in a crime story that grabs tight and it does not let go until the very last page. This is historical reporting at its very best. Millard has done more, however, than just revisit a presidential shooting..... A remarkable book. It is crisply written and riveting. The murder of Garfield created a crucial turning point in our national history. How this event galvanized our country and changed it forever is a must-read story that features a relentless narrative by a talented writer at the top of her game."
  • Erie Times "Millard chronicles all this with precision and skill. She creates a vivid portrait of the times, a vulnerable nation, political hardball, nightmarish decision-making and the eloquent Garfield, who's a footnote for generations of high school students. She covers topics as diverse as the fiefdom of New York senator and patronage dispenser Roscoe Conkling, and the mind of Alexander Graham Bell, working on an electrical device to find the bullet lodged in Garfield's back. Millard seamlessly unfolds multiple tales....Millard finds the ironies of history throughout this stirring narrative, one that's full of suspense even though you know what's coming. She makes you a witness, not a reader."
  • Richmond Times Dispatch "One was a distinguished winner, the other a disturbed loser. And when their paths intersected, the course of American history was changed. In "The Destiny of the Republic," Candice Millard tells their stories with depth and verve..... exhaustive research.... but the result of her scholarship is decidedly unstuffy. The power of her narrative drives the reader from page to page as the tragic tale unfolds, and the portraits of the main players are created with a love for the relevant detail. "The Destiny of the Republic" is popular history at its best -- accessible, educational and entertaining -- and Millard renders it with grace, power and sympathy."
  • Kirkus, starred review "[Millard demonstrates] the power of expert storytelling to wonderfully animate even the simplest facts....make[s] for compulsive reading. Superb American history"
  • Booklist, starred review "Splendidly insightful....stands securely at the crossroads of popular and professional history"
  • Publishers Weekly "Sparklingly alive...[Millard] brings to life a moment in the nation's history when access to the president was easy, politics bitter, and medical knowledge slight. Under Millard's pen, it's hard to imagine its being better told."
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A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President
Candice Millard
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Candice Millard
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