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Charles Guiteau Trial: 1881

Imaginary Insult Prompts Revenge

Guiteau never had any position of importance in the Garfield campaign except in his own mind. Guiteau's behavior had always been erratic, and it is possible that he contracted venereal diseases that further aggravated his mental problems. He was inspired to write a speech, which he hoped that Garfield would use in a debate with the Democratic presidential candidate, W.S. Hancock. Garfield never even read the speech, much less used it in the debate, but Guiteau was convinced that Garfield won the election thanks to his speech. Guiteau demanded to be appointed ambassador to France, and he even personally accosted Secretary of State James G. Blame several times. Blaine tried to put Guiteau off politely, but be eventually lost patience and, on their final encounter, pushed Guiteau away and told him never to bother him again.

Bitter with resentment, Guiteau decided to take revenge against Garfield. Guiteau trailed Garfield throughout the month of June 1881, waiting for the right opportunity. On July 2, Guiteau got his chance. The Washington newspapers had reported Garfield's plans to go on a trip with his family, and Guiteau waited for the president at the train station, from where he was to leave. In the station's lobby, Guiteau came from behind Garfield and shot the president in the back. Station police rushed to arrest Guiteau, who offered no resistance. Meanwhile, Garfield was taken away for medical attention.

Guiteau's shot didn't kill Garfield outright. The president survived only to be diagnosed as having a fatal wound. The bullet had grazed Garfield's spine and lodged in his stomach, where it came to rest in such a position that blood continued to circulate but the bullet could not be removed without killing Garfield. The doctors therefore didn't operate, and they could do nothing for Garfield except try to make him comfortable until the inevitable happened. Garfield was a strong man, and he lived for almost three months until September 19, 1881. The American public was outraged by the murder, and one of the soldiers that guarded Guiteau's prison even tried unsuccessfully to shoot him before trial.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1833 to 1882Charles Guiteau Trial: 1881 - Imaginary Insult Prompts Revenge, Was Guiteau Insane?, Suggestions For Further Reading