When I was growing up in Ohio one of my family’s favorite things to do was to visit museums and historic homes across the state. Lawnfield, the home of James A. Garfield, was a place that we visited numerous times. In fact I believe my obsession with collecting old books started right there in the barn on the property. I remember there was a book sale being held there on one of our visits and I purchased a U.S. History book from the late 1800’s. I’m sure it’s around here somewhere.
I have to admit though that at the time I was more interested in the house itself and the pictures of the family and not so much about Garfield and his political career. I knew that President Garfield had been assassinated, but I knew none of the details of his death. Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard, filled a large hole in my knowledge of Garfield, his life, his presidency and his horrible ending.
James A. Garfield did not desire to be President he was thrust in the role by a public clamoring for someone to guide them through their lingering divisions after the Civil War. He was an honest man, respected and committed to healing the nation. But only four months into his presidency a madman would change everything.
Charles Guiteau, a clearly insane individual, shot Garfield at close range in a Washington D. C. railway station on July 2, 1881. At that time in the United States the President had no secret service agents or any kind of protection, so he was an easy target. With chaos breaking out in the station, the President was moved to an upstairs room and Dr. D. Willard Bliss was called in to attend the President by Robert Todd Lincoln, Garfield’s secretary of war. The actions of Dr. Bliss in that railway station would seal the fate of Garfield. The bullets fired into the President would not have killed him, but the medical treatment he received would be fatal.
It’s fascinating and sad that the stubbornness and lack of medical knowledge by Dr. Bliss caused undo suffering and ultimately death to President Garfield. This book was so interesting and really made me think about our 20th President in a whole new light.