|“||I am a Stalwart of the Stalwarts!||”|
— Guiteau after he shot Garfield
Charles Julius Guiteau was the assassin of the 20th President of the United States, James Garfield.
Charles Guiteau was born to Jane Howe August and Luther Wilson Guiteau on September 8, 1841. He was the fourth of six children. He moved to Ulao, Wisconsin in 1850 with his family. He moved again, to Freeport, five years later when his mother died.
He inherited $1,000 from his grandfather 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. Despite cramming in French and algebra at Ann Arbor High School, during which time he received numerous letters from his father concerning his progress, he quit, and on June 1860 joined the utopian religious sect the Oneida Community, in Oneida, New York, with which Guiteau's father already had close affiliations.
Guiteau then obtained a law license in Chicago; however, he was not as successful as a lawyer. He argued only one case in court, the bulk of his business being in bill collecting. His former wife later detailed his dishonest dealings, describing how he would keep disproportionate amounts of the bill and rarely give the money to his clients. He next turned to theology. He published a book on the subject called The Truth which was almost entirely plagiarized from the work of Noyes. He wandered from town to town lecturing to any and all who would listen to his religious ramblings, and on December 1877 gave a lecture at the Congregational Church in Washington, D.C. Guiteau's interest then turned to politics. He wrote a speech in support of Ulysses S. Grant called "Grant against Hancock", which he revised to "Garfield against Hancock" after Garfield won the Republican nomination in the 1880 presidential campaign. Ultimately, he changed little more than the title and any mention of Grant in the speech itself. The speech was delivered at most twice, 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. When on trial, Guiteau stated that his speech elected Mr. Garfield President of The United States. 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 Garfield and to cabinet members as one of many job seekers who lined up every day were continually rejected. At this time, Guiteau was destitute and forced to walk around snowy Washington, D.C., without a coat or boots. On May 14, 1881, he was finally told 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 considered himself a loyal Republican, and his narcissistic personality convinced him that his work for the party was critical to Garfield’s election to the presidency. Later convinced that Garfield was going to destroy the Republican Party by scrapping the patronage system, Guiteau decided the only solution was to remove Garfield and elevate Vice President Chester A. Arthur—a Conkling acolyte—to the presidency.
In the middle of May, Garfield close ally, Secretary of State, James Blaine, told Guiteau that he would never be the consul of Paris. Guiteau was stunned and furious, and he goes back to his boarding house. He believes that God is telling him to either "kill" or "remove" the President and he'll be rewarded. He starts planning the assassination, so he buys the fanciest gun he can afford because he thinks it going to be in a museum someday. He goes to the banks of the Potomac to practice because he never shot a gun before. Guiteau thinks "Could this really be God talking to me?" and God just kept saying "That's what you got to do, you got to kill the President."
Guiteau started stalking Garfield and had opportunities to shot him, but he felt sympathy for Garfield's wife who was sitting beside Garfield. He followed Garfield to church and argued with the Priest. He wrote in his diary on why the President must die.
"To the American people, I conceive the idea of removing the President, because he has betrayed the men that made him, this is not murder, it is a political necessity. This will make my friend Arthur President, and save the republic. I believe President Arthur and Senator Conkling the finest administration this Country has ever had."
On July 2, 1881, Garfield was going to New Jersey to meet with his wife, Lucretia. James Blaine was going to walk with him to the train station to talk about Vice President Arthur. Guiteau had read about the President's trip in the newspaper and thought this was the perfect opportunity to kill the president. After eating breakfast he walked to the Baltimore Train Station. In his pocket, two letters, one to William Tecumseh Sherman, chief of the army, and the other addressed to the White House. When Garfield arrived, he took out his revolver and followed Garfield up the stairs and then shot him twice in the back. He then tried to run but was tackled by a crowd of people. He started to yell "Arthur will be President!"
Once Garfield died, the government officially charged Guiteau with murder. He was formally indicted on October 14, 1881, on the charge of murder, which was previously attempted murder after his arrest. Guiteau pleaded not guilty to the charge. 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 General, served as the chief prosecutor. MacVeagh named five lawyers to the prosecution team: George Corkhill, Walter Davidge, retired judge 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 (because God had taken away his free will), he was not really medically insane, which was one of the major causes of the rift between him and his defense lawyers. He was found guilty on January 25, 1882. After the guilty verdict was read, Guiteau stepped forward, 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. Guiteau appealed his conviction, but his appeal was rejected, and he was hanged on June 30, 1882, in the District of Columbia, just two days before the first anniversary of the shooting.
Since Guiteau only killed one person, the term "M.O." is somewhat misused. When he killed James Garfield, he shot him twice in the back with a British Bulldog revolver.
- July 2, 1881: James Abram Garfield (the 20th President of the United States; shot twice in the back; died two months later)