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Old July 2nd, 2002, 04:10 PM   #1
Clayton in Walnut Creek
Posts: n/a
OT: this date in history - Presidential assasination

On July 2, 1881, Charles J. Guiteau shot and fatally wounded the new President James A. Garfield in the lobby of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Depot in Washington, D.C. as he yelled, "I am a stalwart and Arthur is President now!" Guiteau, a lawyer with a history of mental illness, blamed the president for not selecting him for a job at the U.S. Consulate in Paris.

Afflicted with religious delusions, the factionalism of the election of 1880 had given Guiteau's paranoia a political focus. He expressed several times the conviction that he had been commissioned by God to murder Garfield, and was surprised to discover that his action was deplored by Garfield's political opponents and supporters alike. In spite of Guiteau's manifest insanity at his trial, his attorneys were unable to gain an acquittal on that basis.

President Garfield did not die immediately, but lingered for 11 weeks, during which time surgeons attempted to find the bullet which had lodged in his back. In spite of Joseph Lister's discoveries on the use of antiseptics in surgery, the practice of sterilization had not caught on, and Garfield's wound was probed by the unwashed fingers of many physicians. The infection which ensued in his wound caused his death.

On September 6, Garfield was sent to the New Jersey shore in an attempt to aid his recovery. Despite initial signs of improvement, he died two weeks later of an infection in his back and an abdominal hemorrhage. Charles J. Guiteau was hanged on June 30, 1882.

Garfield's incapacitation sparked a constitutional crisis. The Cabinet was divided over whether Vice President Chester Arthur should assume the office of the incapacitated president or merely act in his stead. Because Congress was out of session, the issue remained unresolved at the time of Garfield's death. The Twenty-fifith Amendment (1967) to the Constitution addresses the succession of power to the Vice President in the event of a President "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office."

American History Pages
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