From the Ashes, 1872-1900
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives
DOCUMENT 22RESOLUTION TO CLOSE CITY OFFICES AT THE HOUR OF THE EXECUTION OF CHARLES GUITEAU
June 26, 1882
President James A. Garfield was shot in the back on July 2, 1881 in Washington, D.C. At the scene Charles Guiteau, the assassin, had shouted, "I am a Stalwart and Arthur will be President." He was apprehended on the spot. The Republican Party at this time was dominated by two rival factions. The Stalwarts were allied with Roscoe Conkling of New York and the Half-Breeds championed James G. Blaine of Maine. Personal ambitions rather than principles set these two groups apart. At the Republican National Convention in Chicago in 1880 Garfield had emerged as the compromise candidate on the thirty-sixth ballot. Chester A. Arthur, a Conkling lieutenant, was given the vice-presidential slot. After his election in November, which in large part had been dependent on Conkling's support in New York, Garfield tried to be evenhanded with his party's two factions. Conkling would not be reasonable however in his demands for control of important appointments. He rebuffed the newly elected president openly and in turn Garfield became identified increasingly with Blaine and his Half-Breeds. In protest and disgust Conkling resigned his senate seat, confident that the New York state legislature would reelect him and thereby allow him to return vindicated. This did not happen.
Guiteau was a mentally unbalanced attorney and small-time Stalwart who had unsuccessfully sought a diplomatic post in the new Garfield administration. He claimed that after Conkling's resignation God had ordered him to kill the president in order to replace Garfield with Arthur and thus bring harmony to the Republican Party. Garfield died from his injury on September 19. After a protracted but fair trial Guiteau was hanged on June 30, 1882. In the aftermath of Garfield's death, Chester Arthur became a remarkably honest president and Congress enacted pioneering legislation which provided for some degree of civil service protection in the federal government.
Points to Consider
Why was a resolution to close city offices for one hour on June 30, 1882 being offered?
What was Charles Guiteau's motivation in assassinating President James A. Garfield?
Who succeeded Garfield as president? Considering the twenty-first president's previous career, how did he perform in office?
Which was the most significant political assassination in this country's history? Why?