As a man who rose from poverty, the poor liked him.
As a man who achieved wealth on his own, the wealthy liked him.
As a man who welcomed the former Confederate States back, the South liked him.
As a man who had taken in and hidden a runaway slave, the former slaves liked him.
So why did someone shoot him?
The year was 1881. Before the automobile. Before the Secret Service protected the president. Before medical care included antiseptic practices. Before job seekers went through civil service to get a job with the federal government. Before public mental institutions.
The president walked unguarded in public. He took the train to go out of town just like any other citizen. The bullet-proof limousine came much later.
On the day of the assassination, July 2, 1881, President Garfield walked with a few aides, including the Secretary of State, but none had the responsibility of guarding against would-be assassins. There was a Secret Service then. They protected the public against counterfeiters. They did not protect the president until after the NEXT presidential assassination twenty years later.
The gunman shot Garfield twice in the back. One went through him and one lodged in him. Neither struck a vital organ. The president would have been much better off NOT receiving the medical treatment that he did. The physician who treated him on site did not use gloves nor any anti-septic procedures which were known at the time but not widely practiced. Garfield really died of infection from medical care.
Assassin Charles Guiteau (Gee-To) sought a job in foreign service. He stood in line like many other office seekers. He came back to the White House several times to make his case, mostly with the president’s personal secretary. A simple civil service test would have screened out the man, who had no qualifications for the job he wanted.
Guiteau also harassed the Vice President Chester Arthur and other presidential advisors by stalking them and walking up to them in public. His rude behavior in a church even caught the attention of the president. His family knew he had a mental illness, but could not afford to place him in a private institution. Public institutions were not then common.
History was not of much help to warn the public. While it is true that the assassination of President Lincoln sixteen years prior was still fresh in the public mind, most people believed that the murder was an act of war rather than an assassination.
We still experience the tragedy of violence today. But we are no better off in stopping the recent horror of the movie theater shootings in Aurora, Colorado if we accept the status quo without question. The parallels between Guiteau and the accused shooter in Aurora are startling:
- Both obtained the weapons they used legally and without question.
- Both exhibited signs of anti-social activity before the events for which they are associated.
- Cries for their executions sprang up immediately.
- Few people in either case wanted to discuss the underlying factors, such as gun availability.
So I have some questions about violence, especially gun-related, in our society in 2012:
Does the Second Amendment to the Constitution permit ANYONE to buy a firearm?
(If your answer is yes, you would appear to be in agreement with the strict wording of this Amendment. That would mean children, convicted criminals and the mentally ill may purchase firearms without question).
(If your answer is no, where do we draw the line so as not to contradict the Constitution?)
We need a rational discussion about the use of weapons and who may purchase them. It is not the result of this discussion that matters so much, but the open-mindedness of those who participate. Who wants to talk?
Take the poll on Hartwell Perspective here
Background Source: Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President (Anchor: 2011) by Candice Millard