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       Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President, p.1

           Candice Millard
Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President

  Also by Candice Millard

  The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey

  Copyright © 2011 by Candice Millard

  All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.

  DOUBLEDAY and the portrayal of an anchor with a dolphin are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

  This page–this page constitute an extension of this copyright page.

  Jacket design by John Fontana

  Jacket photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Millard, Candice.

  Destiny of the republic : a tale of madness, medicine, and the murder of a president / Candice Millard.—1st ed.

  p. cm.

  1. Garfield, James A. (James Abram), 1831–1881—Assassination. 2. Presidents—United States—Biography. 3. Guiteau, Charles Julius, 1841–1882. 4. Presidents—Medical care—United States—History—

  19th century. 5. Medicine—United States—History—19th century. 6. Bell, Alexander Graham, 1847–1922. 7. Medical instruments and apparatus—United States—History—19th century. 8. United States—Politics and government—1881–1885. 9. Political culture—United States—History—19th century. 10. Power (Social sciences)—United States—History—19th century. I. Title.

  E687.9.M55 2011

  973.8′4092—dc22 2011001549

  eISBN: 978-0-385-53500-7


  For my parents,

  Lawrence and Constance Millard,

  on their fiftieth wedding anniversary



  Other Books by This Author

  Title Page



  Prologue Chosen



  Chapter 1 The Scientific Spirit

  Chapter 2 Providence

  Chapter 3 “A Beam in Darkness”

  Chapter 4 God’s Minute Man

  Chapter 5 Bleak Mountain



  Chapter 6 Hand and Soul

  Chapter 7 Real Brutuses and Bolingbrokes

  Chapter 8 Brains, Flesh, and Blood

  Chapter 9 Casus Belli

  Chapter 10 The Dark Dreams of Presidents

  Chapter 11 “A Desperate Deed”



  Chapter 12 “Thank God It Is All Over”

  Chapter 13 “It’s True”

  Chapter 14 All Evil Consequences

  Chapter 15 Blood-Guilty



  Chapter 16 Neither Death nor Life

  Chapter 17 One Nation

  Chapter 18 “Keep Heart”

  Chapter 19 On a Mountaintop, Alone

  Chapter 20 Terror, Hope, and Despair

  Chapter 21 After All

  Chapter 22 All the Angels of the Universe

  Epilogue Forever and Forever More




  Illustration Credits




  Crossing the Long Island Sound in dense fog just before midnight on the night of June 11, 1880, the passengers and crew of the steamship Stonington found themselves wrapped in impenetrable blackness. They could feel the swell of the sea below them, and they could hear the low-slung ship plowing through the water, its enormous wooden paddle wheels churning, its engine drumming. At steady intervals, the blast of the foghorn reverberated through the darkness, but no ship returned its call. They seemed to be utterly alone.

  Although most of the passengers had long since retired to private cabins or the bright warmth of the saloon, one man stood quietly on the deck, peering into the fog that obscured everything beyond his own pale hands. At five feet seven inches tall, with narrow shoulders, a small, sharp face, and a threadbare jacket, Charles Guiteau was an unremarkable figure. He had failed at everything he had tried, and he had tried nearly everything, from law to ministry to even a free-love commune. He had been thrown in jail. His wife had left him. His father believed him insane, and his family had tried to have him institutionalized. In his own mind, however, Guiteau was a man of great distinction and promise, and he predicted a glorious future for himself.

  Just three days earlier, immediately following the Republican Party’s tumultuous presidential convention in faraway Chicago, Guiteau had decided to pack his few belongings and leave Boston, his sights set on the party’s campaign headquarters in New York. In a surprise nomination, James Garfield, an eloquent congressman from Ohio, had been chosen over a field of powerful contenders, including even former president Ulysses S. Grant. Like Guiteau, Garfield had started out with very little in life, but where Guiteau had found failure and frustration, Garfield had found unparalleled success. The excitement surrounding the unexpected, charismatic candidate was palpable, and Guiteau was determined to be a part of it.

  Absorbed in his own thoughts, and blinded by the thick fog that blanketed the sound, Guiteau did not even see the other ship until it was too late. One moment there was the soft, rhythmic splashing of the paddle wheels. In the next instant, before Guiteau’s eyes, a 253-foot steamship abruptly materialized from the darkness and collided with Guiteau’s ship head-on in a tremendous, soul-wrenching crash of iron and steel. As the Stonington recoiled from the blow and tried to pull astern, it compounded the disaster by tearing away the starboard wheelhouse and wheel of the oncoming ship—its sister steamer, the Narragansett, which had been headed at full speed in the opposite direction.

  On board the Narragansett, passengers were suddenly plunged into darkness, confusion, and terror. As the ship listed steeply, the lights went out and rushing water and scalding steam poured over the decks. Several staterooms were swept away entirely, and one man, who had been asleep in an upper bunk, was thrown out of a gaping hole and into the sound. Just as the shocked passengers, who had rushed from their rooms in nightgowns and bare feet, began to comprehend what had happened, another thunderous blast shook the Narragansett as its boiler, which had been struck by the Stonington, exploded. Flames licked the well-oiled decks, sending a deadly firestorm billowing through the ship.

  As the passengers of the Stonington watched in horror, the men and women of the Narragansett, frantic to escape the fire, began to throw themselves and their children over the sides of the blazing ship into the depths of the sound. One terrified young man raised his gun and shot himself as the boat began to sink. In just minutes, the fire grew in intensity until it covered the length of the ship, from stem to stern, and illuminated the sound for miles.

  As the tragedy unfolded before him, Guiteau could hear the screams and desperate cries for help, which continued, disembodied, even after the ship burned to the waterline and then sank, plunging the shell-shocked witnesses, once again, into complete darkness. The frightened and ill-prepared crew of the Stonington lowered lifeboats into the water and circled blindly for hours, searching for survivors by their cries and pulling them to safety by arms, legs, clothing, even the hair of their heads. Many, however, had already drowned, or had drifted beyond help, their cries fading as they were carried away by the tide.

  When the Stonington finally staggered into its home port in Connecticut early on
the morning of June 12, the town’s stunned inhabitants were met with a scene of destruction that, in the words of one reporter, “beggar[ed] description.” The ship’s bow had been smashed in, the timber and planking ripped away nearly to the waterline. Three passengers of the Narragansett who had been rescued from the sound had already died on board. Twenty-seven more had burned to death or drowned. Those who had survived collapsed on the pier, hysterical, nearly naked, their skin left in shreds by the fire. Parents searched frantically for children as crew members solemnly wrapped two bodies, that of a man and a child, in sailcloth and laid them upon rocks near the shore. Two weeks later another body would wash up on Fishers Island.

  As dawn revealed the scale of the carnage, the survivors, even in the midst of their shock and despair, considered themselves extraordinarily fortunate to be alive. Guiteau, however, believed that luck had nothing to do with his survival. As he stepped off a steamship that had come to the Stonington’s rescue, Guiteau felt certain that he had not been spared, but rather selected—chosen by God for a task of tremendous importance. Disappearing into the crowd, he dedicated himself to what he now saw clearly as the divine mission before him.



  • CHAPTER 1 •


  The life and light of a nation are inseparable.


  Even severed as it was from the rest of the body, the hand was majestic. Sixteen feet tall, with long, tapered fingers holding aloft a twenty-nine-foot torch, it sat on the banks of a small lake in Philadelphia in the summer of 1876. It was all that existed of the Statue of Liberty, and it had been shipped in pieces from France for the United States’ Centennial Exhibition, a world’s fair celebrating the country’s first one hundred years. Ten years later, the complete figure, rising more than a hundred and fifty feet from its pedestal and with a bright skin of copper, would be installed in New York Harbor to the awe and admiration of the world. But in 1876, the Statue of Liberty, like the young country to which it would be given, was still a work in progress. A symbol of promise, perhaps, but not yet of triumph.

  Across the lake from the statue, James Abram Garfield walked with his wife and six children under a flawless sky, the scent of a recent rain still hanging in the air. A tall man with broad shoulders and a warm smile, Garfield was, in many ways, the embodiment of the Centennial Exhibition’s highest ideals. At just forty-four years of age, he had already defied all odds. Born into extreme poverty in a log cabin in rural Ohio, and fatherless before his second birthday, he had risen quickly through the layers of society, not with aggression or even overt ambition, but with a passionate love of learning that would define his life. That love had brought him to Philadelphia, for the opening day of the centennial fair.

  Although he was a congressman, Garfield traveled through the exhibition unaided by guards or guides of any kind. Except for his statuesque height and soldier’s posture, he was indistinguishable from the hundreds of thousands of other fairgoers who swarmed the rain-soaked grounds and the eighty miles of asphalt walkways. In just a few weeks, these walkways would be transformed by the summer sun into hot, sticky, lava-like rivers, trapping shoes and small animals. But on that day they felt smooth and solid as the crowd surged through the fairgrounds, headed toward one destination above all others—Machinery Hall.

  With fourteen acres of exhibits, Machinery Hall shivered with life. It pulsed and throbbed so irresistibly that the wooden plank floors vibrated underfoot. Conversations were either muffled by a heavy humming or forced to an early and violent end by a sharp, sudden clack. Exhibits included everything from a machine that could weave a customer’s name into a pair of suspenders while he waited, to an internal combustion engine that William Ford, Henry Ford’s father, had traveled all the way from his farm in Dearborn, Michigan, to see.

  These exhibits were finely calibrated to appeal to no man more than James Garfield. A former professor of ancient languages, literature, and mathematics who had paid for his first year of college by working as a carpenter, Garfield’s interests and abilities were as deep as they were broad. In fact, so detailed was his interest in mathematics, and so acute his understanding, that he had recently written an original proof of the Pythagorean theorem during a free moment at the Capitol. The New England Journal of Education had published the proof just the month before, transparently astonished that a member of Congress had written it.

  Despite Garfield’s deep admiration for mathematics and the arts, however, he believed that it was science, above all other disciplines, that had achieved the greatest good. “The scientific spirit has cast out the Demons and presented us with Nature, clothed in her right mind and living under the reign of law,” he wrote. “It has given us for the sorceries of the Alchemist, the beautiful laws of chemistry; for the dreams of the Astrologer, the sublime truths of astronomy; for the wild visions of Cosmogony, the monumental records of geology; for the anarchy of Diabolism, the laws of God.”

  After his first day at the exposition, back in the Philadelphia home he and his family had rented, Garfield sat down to write in his diary, just as he had done nearly every night of his life for the past twenty-eight years. With characteristic seriousness of purpose, he wrote that the fair would be a “great success in the way of education.” In Garfield’s experience, education was salvation. It had freed him from grinding poverty. It had shaped his mind, forged paths, created opportunities where once there had been none. Education, he knew, led to progress, and progress was his country’s only hope of escaping its own painful past.

  In 1876, the United States, still reeling from a devastating civil war and its first presidential assassination, was far from the country it hoped to become, and faced daily reminders of the hard challenges that still lay ahead. While men like Garfield strolled the aisles of Machinery Hall in Philadelphia, marveling at the greatest inventions of the industrial age, George Armstrong Custer and his entire regiment were being slaughtered in Montana by the Northern Plains Indians they had tried to force back onto reservations. As fairgoers stared in amazement at Remington’s typewriter and Thomas Edison’s automatic telegraph system, Wild Bill Hickok was shot to death in a saloon in Deadwood, leaving outlaws like Jesse James and Billy the Kid to terrorize the West. As middle-class families waited patiently in line for their chance to marvel at the Statue of Liberty’s hand, freed slaves throughout the country still faced each day in fear and abject poverty.

  So incomplete and uncertain was the United States that, although it was a hundred years old, it did not yet have a national anthem. At the opening ceremony, the exposition’s hundred-piece orchestra, with a chorus of a thousand voices, dutifully performed the anthems of the forty-nine other countries participating in the fair. Only the host country had no official song with which to honor its people, and would not for another fifty-five years. With eight untamed territories and eleven states that still seethed with hatred and resentment and dreamed of secession, a national anthem seemed premature, even presumptuous.

  Garfield understood as well as any man what the Civil War had accomplished, and what it had left undone. When he was still a very young man, he had hidden a runaway slave. As commander of a small regiment from Ohio, he had driven a larger Confederate force out of eastern Kentucky, helping to save for the Union a critically strategic state. In Congress, he fought for equal rights for freed slaves. He argued for a resolution that ended the practice of requiring blacks to carry a pass in the nation’s capital, and he delivered a passionate speech for black suffrage. Is freedom “the bare privilege of not being chained?” he asked. “If this is all, then freedom is a bitter mockery, a cruel delusion, and it may well be questioned whether slavery were not better. Let us not commit ourselves to the absurd and senseless dogma that the color of the skin shall be the basis of suffrage, the talisman of liberty.”

  Garfield knew, however, that there was some suffering that no one could prevent, and whose reach no one was beyond
. Throughout the centennial fair—in hall after hall, exhibit after exhibit—this suffering was unflinchingly apparent. There were rows of coffins of every variety. There were, in the words of one reporter, “instruments for the curing of diseased and deformed bodies and limbs.” An entire exhibit was devoted to a scene of a mother huddled over a crib, crying over the child she had just lost.

  Nearly every family Garfield knew had suffered the death of a child, and his own family was no exception. His first child, a bright-eyed little girl named Eliza, had died of diphtheria when she was just three years old. Garfield had adored her, marveling at her precociousness and nicknaming her Trot, after Elizabeth Trotwell in David Copperfield, one of his favorite books. Thirteen years had passed since Trot’s death, but for Garfield, the pain of losing her was still fresh.

  Although he worried for the health of his surviving children, Garfield himself seemed uniquely out of place among the fair’s somber scenes of death and disease. He had always been poor—and, even as a congressman, continued to live a simple and frugal life—but he had never been frail. On the contrary, he was the picture of health and vitality. With his quick, crisp stride, he was a striking contrast to the men and women at the fair who, rather than walk, chose to pay the exorbitant price of sixty cents an hour to be pushed through the halls in a cushioned “rolling chair” by a uniformed attendant. In many ways, Garfield had less in common with these people—a group that included the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow—than he did the man from Joplin, Missouri, who had loaded a wheelbarrow with minerals from his home state and, over a period of three months, pushed it all the way to Philadelphia for the fair.

  It was this kind of gritty determination that impressed Garfield most. He admired men who seemed not to notice even the most insurmountable of obstacles. He saw that caliber of man all around him at the centennial fair, tinkering with an engine or worrying over the strength of a blade. Among this group, eclipsed by the vast shadow of hundreds of other inventors, were two men whose ideas would not only change the world, but had the unique potential to save Garfield’s life.

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