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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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James A. Garfield was one of the most extraordinary men ever elected president. Born into abject poverty, he rose to become a wunderkind scholar, a Civil War hero, and a renowned and admired reformist congressman. Nominated for president against his will, he engaged in a fierce battle with the corrupt political establishment. But four months after his inauguration, a deranged office seeker tracked Garfield down and shot him in the back.
But the shot didn't kill Garfield. The drama of what hap­pened subsequently is a powerful story of a nation in tur­moil. The unhinged assassin's half-delivered strike shattered the fragile national mood of a country so recently fractured by civil war, and left the wounded president as the object of a bitter behind-the-scenes struggle for power—over his administration, over the nation's future, and, hauntingly, over his medical care. A team of physicians administered shockingly archaic treatments, to disastrous effect. As his con­dition worsened, Garfield received help: Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, worked around the clock to invent a new device capable of finding the bullet.
Meticulously researched, epic in scope, and pulsating with an intimate human focus and high-velocity narrative drive, The Destiny of the Republic will stand alongside The Devil in the White City and The Professor and the Madman as a classic of narrative history.
From the Hardcover edition.
James A. Garfield was one of the most extraordinary men ever elected president. Born into abject poverty, he rose to become a wunderkind scholar, a Civil War hero, and a renowned and admired reformist congressman. Nominated for president against his will, he engaged in a fierce battle with the corrupt political establishment. But four months after his inauguration, a deranged office seeker tracked Garfield down and shot him in the back.
But the shot didn't kill Garfield. The drama of what hap­pened subsequently is a powerful story of a nation in tur­moil. The unhinged assassin's half-delivered strike shattered the fragile national mood of a country so recently fractured by civil war, and left the wounded president as the object of a bitter behind-the-scenes struggle for power—over his administration, over the nation's future, and, hauntingly, over his medical care. A team of physicians administered shockingly archaic treatments, to disastrous effect. As his con­dition worsened, Garfield received help: Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, worked around the clock to invent a new device capable of finding the bullet.
Meticulously researched, epic in scope, and pulsating with an intimate human focus and high-velocity narrative drive, The Destiny of the Republic will stand alongside The Devil in the White City and The Professor and the Madman as a classic of narrative history.
From the Hardcover edition.
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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 relegated...
About the Author-
  • CANDICE MILLARD is the New York Times bestselling author of The River of Doubt. She lives in Kansas City with her husband and children.
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  • 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
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Destiny of the Republic
Destiny of the Republic
A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President
Candice Millard
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