On July 2, 1881, an attempt was made to assassinate President Garfield, at the Pennsylvania Station, Washington, where he was about to board a train. I heard the news first on the railroad train at Williamstown, Mass., where the President was expected in three or four days.
“Absurd, impossible,” I said. Why should anyone want to kill him? He had nothing but that which he had earned with his own brain and hand. He had fought his own way up from country home to college hall, and from college hall to the House of Representatives, and from House of Representatives to the Senate Chamber, and from the Senate Chamber to the Presidential chair. Why should anyone want to kill him? He was not a despot who had been treading on the rights of the people. There was nothing of the Nero or the Robespierre in him. He had wronged no man. He was free and happy himself, and wanted all the world free and happy. Why should anyone want to kill him? He had a family to shepherd and educate, a noble wife and a group of little children leaning on his arm and holding his hand, and who needed him for many years to come.
Only a few days before, I had paid him a visit. He was a bitter antagonist of Mormonism, and I was in deep sympathy with his Christian endeavours in this respect. I never saw a more anxious or perturbed countenance than James A. Garfield’s, the last time I met him. It seemed a great relief to him to turn to talk to my child, who was with me. He had suffered enough abuse in his political campaign to suffice for one lifetime. He was then facing three or four years of insult and contumely greater than any that had been heaped upon his predecessors. He had proposed greater reforms, and by so much he was threatened to endure worse outrages. His term of office was just six months, but he accomplished what forty years of his predecessors had failed to do—the complete and eternal pacification of the North and the South. There were more public meetings of sympathy for him, at this time, in the South than there were in the North. His death-bed in eight weeks did more for the sisterhood of States than if he had lived eight years—two terms of the Presidency. His cabinet followed the reform spirit of his leadership. Postmaster General James made his department illustrious by spreading consternation among the scoundrels of the Star Route, saving the country millions of dollars. Secretary Windom wrought what the bankers and merchants called a financial miracle. Robert Lincoln, the son of another martyred President, was Secretary of War.
Guiteau was no more crazy than thousands of other place-hunters. He had been refused an office, and he was full of unmingled and burning revenge. There was nothing else the matter with him. It was just this: “You haven’t given me what I want; now I’ll kill you.” For months after each presidential inauguration the hotels of Washington are roosts for these buzzards. They are the crawling vermin of this nation. Guiteau was no rarity. There were hundreds of Guiteaus in Washington after the inauguration, except that they had not the courage to shoot. I saw them some two months or six weeks after. They were mad enough to do it. I saw it in their eyes.