A tale of madness, medicine, and the murder of a president.
The scene is the Republican National Convention and the Republican Party is sharply divided into two warring factions. After two days of voting and 35 ballots, none of the eight candidates received enough votes to win the party’s nomination for President of the United States. No, this is not 2016, but Chicago, 1880.
The balloting begins to change when a single vote is cast for Congressman James A. Garfield who had so eloquently nominated his fellow Ohioan and Secretary of the Treasury John Sherman a few days earlier. On the 36th ballot, Garfield receives an overwhelming majority of the votes and suddenly becomes the party’s nominee despite Garfield never agreeing to become a candidate and, in fact, vigorously resisting it. Garfield knew his life would be forever changed and he feared not for the better.
Three days after Garfield’s nomination, Charles Guiteau, a passenger on a steamship crossing Long Island Sound, survived a fiery collision when his ship hit another in dense fog. Because he survived, Guiteau feels God chose him for a task of great importance. A man of great delusions, Guiteau heads to Washington, D.C.
Though he never campaigned, Garfield spoke to the thousands who traveled to his home in Mentor, Ohio, to see him. After a close race, Garfield is victorious over President Rutherford B. Hayes. Garfield confided to a friend, “There is a tone of sadness running through this triumph which I can hardly explain.
” Less than four months after his inauguration as the 20th president, Garfield was shot by the deranged Charles Guiteau in the Baltimore and Potomac train station. In spite of the best efforts of Joseph Lister, Alexander Graham Bell, and a number of other doctors who intervened to save Garfield’s life, he succumbed after enduring unimaginable pain for 11 and a massive infections caused by the use of unsterilized instruments and fingers of his doctor, D. Edward Bliss.
The story of Garfield’s rise from abject poverty to scholar, university president at the age of 26, staunch abolitionist, Civil War hero, skilled orator, and highly esteemed congressman reads like a Horatio Alger novel. Ann Schooley, who is adept at developing new and inventive ways of discussing a book, distributed pictures of the major characters. Each group assumed the personality of the person in the picture and wrote a quote that person may have said.
The result was extremely interesting and led to deeper discussions about Garfield, Guiteau, Bliss, Bell, Lucretia Garfield, and a cast of other characters. The group was in full agreement that Garfield was one of the most extraordinary men ever elected U.S. president. This admiration led the group to discuss at length how the United States might be a different country today had Garfield lived and presided over the reconstruction of the South after the Civil War.
This book is far more than a biography and is filled with “nuggets” of history and events that may be startling to many readers. It should be at top of everyone’s reading list. About the Author Born in 1968, Candice Millard is a graduate of Baker University and earned a master’s degree in literature from Baylor University.
A former writer and editor for National Geographic, Millard’s first book was the highly acclaimed bestseller, “River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey.” Millard is currently working on a book about Winston Churchill.
She lives in Kansas City with her husband and three children.
What Club Members Thought
“There is nothing in all the earth that you or I can do for the dead. They are past our help and past our praise…They do not need us, but forever and forever more we need them.” James Garfield, August 1880. Garfield did not know how prophetic his words were. One of the most extraordinary men ever elected president, he was in office only four month when he was shot and eventually died from his wounds. However, we do need James Garfield, and need to remember him. Read this marvelous book to discover Garfield, a scholar, solider, and congressman with extraordinary moral character. A totally engaging read! – Betty Eich, LaReynalda
Even though the book recalled a tragic event in our nation’s history, I was glad to have stepped outside the realm of my usual book selections to learn more about James A. Garfield, our 20th president. He came from poverty, worked hard to get a good education, and his family was very important to him. Even when he endured the pain and suffering from the assassination, he remained strong and uplifting to those around him. – Gail Feind, Pennecamp
This is a story about the assassination of President Garfield. I felt as if I was reading a history book in school. Saying this, it was an amazing story about a man I knew little about and who didn’t even want to be president. Also, there were the extraordinary people who surrounded him, from the infamous doctors who should have saved his life but accelerated his death, to the famous Alexander Graham Bell and Joseph Lister. It was also interesting to read about the politics of the time. A must-read book! – Mary Day, Duval
Non-fiction is not my usual genre choice but Destiny of the Republic was wonderful. There were so many “tidbits” of information about President Garfield, Alexander Graham Bell, and the assassin, Charles Guiteau, who was mentioned in a song by Johnny Cash called “Mr. Garfield.” The presenter, Ann Schooley, had a different and interesting way of facilitating, which got so many members involved. By all means, pick up the book. You won’t be disappointed. – Mary Jo Johnson, Ashland