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Manuscript/Mixed Material New Year's greeting from presidential assassin Charles Julius Guiteau to his jailer, 31 December 1881.

About this Item

Title

  • New Year's greeting from presidential assassin Charles Julius Guiteau to his jailer, 31 December 1881.

Created / Published

  • 31 December 1881

Headings

  • -  Arrest
  • -  Imprisonment
  • -  Law
  • -  Presidents
  • -  Assassinations
  • -  Garfield, James A. (James Abram) (1831-1881)
  • -  Guiteau, Charles Julius (1841-1882)
  • -  Insanity
  • -  Manuscripts

Genre

  • Manuscripts

Notes

  • -  Reproduction number: A45 (color slide)
  • -  Presidential assassinations maintain a strong hold on the American imagination. The assassination of President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) continues to resonate with Americans, and Abraham Lincoln's murder holds a central place in the nation's memory. Many Americans have at least some awareness of the murder of William McKinley (1843-1901), which elevated Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) to the presidency. Far less known, however, is the assassination of the nation's twentieth president, James A. Garfield (1831-1881). Garfield died on 19 September 1881, seventy-nine days after being shot in the back at a Washington, D.C., railroad station. Garfield's assassination is poorly remembered today, largely due to the short span of time he served in office, only four months, and the little that was achieved during his presidency. Yet at the time, Garfield's death was deeply mourned, and his life's achievements would be impressive in any era. The son of poor Ohio farmers, Garfield acquired a Williams College education and later became a teacher and college president. He served as a Union major general early in the Civil War and in 1863 was elected to the United States House of Representatives. A compromise candidate for a divided Republican Party, Garfield defeated Democratic nominee Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock (1824-1886) by a slim margin in the 1880 presidential election.
  • -  Garfield's assassin was Charles Julius Guiteau (1841-1882), an Illinois native with a checkered career and erratic personal life. A failure at academic and journalistic pursuits, Guiteau turned to law, embarking on a marginal career tainted by dishonest practices. He also styled himself a preacher and student of religion, and as a young man spent several years at John Humphrey Noyes's utopian community in Oneida, New York. But Guiteau's lectures and writings on Christianity drew only meager audiences. Despite his dim career prospects, Guiteau lived well beyond his means, staying in fashionable hotels and purchasing expensive clothing without paying the bills. He was also known to be abusive, mistreating his wife (who divorced him in 1874 for his dalliances with prostitutes) and at one point threatening his sister with an axe.
  • -  By 1880 Guiteau had developed an interest in national politics. He was a hanger-on at Republican headquarters in New York City during the presidential campaign, and published a speech in support of Garfield's candidacy. After Garfield's election, Guiteau repeatedly pestered the president and members of his cabinet for appointments to diplomatic posts. Disappointed by their rebuffs, in spring 1881 Guiteau had what he described as a divine inspiration to take the president's life. Doing so, he believed, would heal the factionalism in the Republican Party and thereby save the nation. After stalking Garfield for several weeks, Guiteau shot the president in a Washington, D.C., railroad terminal on 2 July 1881.
  • -  Garfield survived until September, and Guiteau, captured at the scene of the assassination, stood trial for murder in November 1881. The trial was a national sensation and an important legal case as well, as Guiteau's attorney argued that his client was insane at the time of the shooting, an early use of such a defense. The trial became a forum on the issue of legal insanity, as thirty-six doctors testified as expert witnesses. Guiteau's conduct at trial also was notable. He constantly interrupted and berated the prosecuting attorneys, witnesses, judge, and even his own counsel, and he relished his celebrity status. Dozens of people wrote to him, seeking his autograph. Shown here is one such autograph, given to his jailer on the occasion of New Year's Eve 1881. Guiteau viewed the public's interest as an indication of support and a sign that he would be acquitted. But the jury rendered a guilty verdict on 26 January, and on 30 June 1882, Guiteau was executed by hangman's noose.

Source Collection

  • Charles Guiteau Collection

Repository

  • Manuscript Division

Online Format

  • pdf
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Chicago citation style:

New Year's greeting from presidential assassin Charles Julius Guiteau to his jailer, 31 December. 31 December, 1881. Manuscript/Mixed Material. https://www.loc.gov/item/mcc.076/.

APA citation style:

(1881) New Year's greeting from presidential assassin Charles Julius Guiteau to his jailer, 31 December. 31 December. [Manuscript/Mixed Material] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/mcc.076/.

MLA citation style:

New Year's greeting from presidential assassin Charles Julius Guiteau to his jailer, 31 December. 31 December, 1881. Manuscript/Mixed Material. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/mcc.076/>.