It’s a slow Friday afternoon, and in spite of my earlier apology, I’m feeling a little ghoulish. You may already know about Charles Julius Guiteau, a thirty-nine-year-old crazy person who in 1881 assassinated President James A. Garfield, believing himself to have been appointed by God for the mission when Garfield refused to give him a patronage position. (During the campaign, Guiteau had written long speeches and tactical papers, sending them all to Garfield and fancying himself a top adviser.) Defended by his brother-in-law George Scoville, who argued for his client’s insanity, Guiteau was convicted on January 5, 1882, after an hour’s deliberation by the jury.
The convicted murderer was sentenced to hang on 30 June. He remained convinced that President Chester A. Arthur, owing his position to Guiteau’s act, would pardon him. [N.B.—Arthur's wife was a Virginian.] In late June a group of neurologists unsuccessfully petitioned Arthur to spare Guiteau’s life, not out of gratitude, but because they believed he was insane. Meanwhile, Guiteau published his autobiography, The Truth and the Removal, the first half a religious tract he had written earlier and the second half a collection of documents and commentaries on Garfield’s assassination and the trial.
I read this last bit here, and immediately went looking for the book. And, as always, I thank you, Archive.org, for what we see above appears to be an edition signed by the doomed author himself. It reads, more or less:
Mr Reid has a lightly corrected copy of this book.
All future editions must be printed from that.
Waiting to Die
May 17th 1882
As promised, the first half of the manuscript is a commentary on things biblical, while the preface, that begins on page 101, brings the realm of God into the contemporary world.
“Who fired that shot?” I, personally, or I, as the agent of the Deity. I say the Deity inspired the act and forced me to do it, and that He will take care of it. I say Garfield deserved to be shot.
How does one respond to that? A New York judge once said—years earlier, it turns out—that “if a man has an irresistible impulse to commit murder, the law should have an irresistible impulse to hang him.”
And so it was with Charles Guiteau.
RE THE POST’S TITLE: Townes Van Zandt, after the jump.