|Date(s):||July 2, 1881|
|Location(s):||Washington City, District of Columbia|
|Tag(s):||President, assassination, James A. Garfield|
|Course:||“US History since the Civil War,” University of Toronto Scarborough|
|Rating:||5 (1 votes)|
At 9:30am, the morning of July 2nd, 1881, President James A. Garfield was shot at Baltimore and Potomac Depot, a train station in Washington, D.C. (Salt Lake Daily Harold, 1881). In the ladies room of the train car, two shots were fired at President Garfield, with one bullet penetrating his right arm and the other piercing his abdomen just above the right hip, near his kidney (Salt Lake Daily Harold, 1881). The weapon used was an extremely heavy California caliber gun known as a “Bulldog” (Salt Lake Daily Harold, 1881).
The initial rumor was that ex-console Marseilles Gatto, who had been removed from office earlier, was behind the murder plot (Salt Lake Daily Harold, 1881). However, it was the man immediately caught fleeing the scene, Charles J. Gitteau, who was deemed as Garfield’s killer. Following the murder, Gitteau walked out of the train, passing Captain Parkee, a ticket agent who realized what Gitteau had done, jumped through the window after him and tackled him to the ground (Salt Lake Daily Harold, 1881). With the help of two police officers and no resistance from the assassin himself, Gitteau was arrested and taken to police headquarters continuously hollering “I did it and will go to jail for it. I am a stalwart, and Arthur will be President” (Salt Lake Daily Harold, 1881).
As all this commotion was occurring outside of the train, the scene inside was just as hectic. Multiple doctors monitored Garfield’s condition, giving hourly updates as they could. At some points, doctors remarked that the President might not make it. At other points throughout that day, his condition improved greatly (Salt Lake Daily Harold, 1881). Ultimately, Garfield would survive his attack for a short period of time, but not without great suffering and pain. During the months of July and August, Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, unsuccessfully tried to locate the bullet lodged in Garfield’s abdomen with a metal detector he had specifically designed for the President (“Life and Death in the White House”, americanhistory.si.edu). Despite all the efforts made by Bell and other medical experts, Garfield succumbed to his injuries on September 19th, 1881, dying from an infection and internal hemorrhage “James Garfield, whitehouse.gov).
When a theory was brought forth, prior to the President’s passing, suggesting that the attempted assassination was a result of a calculated plot, Garfield simply just shook his head saying that “[He did] not believe it.”(The Evening Critic, 1881). Charles Gitteau, however, did have a plan. The unsuccessful lawyer believed that the president’s political decisions were threatening the position of the Republican Party and its power within government (“Life and Death in the White House”, americanhistory.si.edu). Gitteau was found guilty on January 25th, 1882 and executed in June that same year “Topics in Chronicling America - The Garfield Assassination”, loc.gov).
Although Garfield did not sign off on any legislation while in office, his death has contributed to the development of equal opportunity in modern day American politics. In 1883, one year after the execution of his assassin and only three years after his death, the Pendleton Civil Service Act was passed by congress ("Pendleton Civil Service Act", britannica.com). This legislation established the mechanism of permanent federal employment based on merit rather than on political party affiliation ("Pendleton Civil Service Act", britannica.com). At the time, this was a tactic to avoid an unknown, “deranged office seeker”, such as Gitteau, from ever entering politics. This is relevant to today’s society because this act eliminates corrupt practices, forcing congress members, such as presidents, to appoint people based on their credentials rather than on patronage and remain true to the American dream of equality for all.