Sunday, February 14, 2016

Documentary Review: The Murder of a President: American Experience (James Garfield)

This PBS WGBH documentary tells the story of James Garfield.  This is a look at the life of James Garfield, and more particularly his murder.  Garfield started in poor circumstances.  His father died when he was young.  His mother gave James her life savings and he enrolled in school.  He stayed in school by working for the school, an after a couple years was so bright he was serving as a teacher.   After school he married Lucretia Rudolf.  He served in the Civil War, and in fact while in the war was elected to congress.  He would serve in congress until he was nominated for the presidency.  He had risen in congress, and had been elected to the senate when he was nominated for the presidency.  His nomination  for the presidency by the Republican convention of was not planned.  In fact he was managing the campaign of John Sherman, and gave a speech at the convention in his support.  However he was selected on the 36th ballot as an alternative to the three candidates, Ulyssis S. Grant, Sherman and James G. Blaine.  Both Sherman and Blaine turned their support to Garfield.  Chester A. Arthur was selected as the vice presidential candidate.  He was important as he was from New York and part of the political machine of New York Senator Roscoe Conkling.
In those days the party did the campaigning, and Garfield did not do much campaigning.  He did reach out to Conkling and gained his support.  New York was key to winning the election.  In the general election General Winfield Scott Hancock ran on the Democratic ticket.   The race was close in the popular count, with less than 10,000 votes separated the candidates, however in the electoral college the difference was much greater.  Garfield took key states of New York and Indiana, while Hancock took the South.
In Garfield's early days as president he worked to make appointments.  James G. Blaine was selected for Secretary of State.  On appointment not made was that of a member of Conkling's political machine to the New York Customs House.  This was a very lucrative position at the time, with considerable power due to the government being financed by tariffs.   Conkling would resign from the Senate in protest, but when he wasn't reelected as he thought, much of his power was lost.
Another person who felt he was deserved appointment was Charles J. Guiteau.  He was an individual with had worked on the periphery of the campaign, and had published a speech in favor of Garfield.  However no appointment was coming.  At this point Guiteau felt God told him to kill Garfield, and then another person would become president.  He expected to be a hero.
Knowing that Garfield was to travel by train to visit his ailing wife who was convalescing in New Jersey, he took a gun to the train station and waited.  Garfield was shot twice, in the arm and in the back.  The bullet in his back lodged in his abdomen, and was never removed.  Worries about germs had been studied, but not applied in this case.  Doctor Willard Bliss took control of his treatment.  he would not hear any criticism of his methods.  Garfield improved for a time, but then infection set in.  Even Alexander Graham Bell was called in to locate the bullet with a new metal detector.  Bell detected the bullet was not where presumed, but Bliss would not hear this.  Garfield's wife had returned from New Jersey to be with her husband.  However in the end, they both traveled back to New Jersey, with tracks laid to the door of their home, where the president could die on the sea shore.  He was shot July 2 and passed away September 19, 1881.
Still after the assassination of President Lincoln, Garfield had no  guard.  In  fact not even Garfield felt a guard was needed.
One of Garfield's passions was to assure the rights of the Black population.  He wanted to work to guarantee them the vote, as well as an education.  Arthur would become president, and would stand up to Conkling and not appoint him to the Customs position in New York.

No comments:

Post a Comment