The newly-elected President James Garfield was standing at the train station in Washington, D.C. railway, deep in conversation with his secretary of state while waiting for his ride when Charles Guiteau drew an ivory-handled .44 caliber pistol, which he carefully selected thinking it would look good in a museum later on, and fired at the President. The first shot hit his elbow, while the second shot made its way in his back. In his mind, the President had wronged him, and Guiteau believed Garfield’s death was needed to save the country.

The assassin tried to escape, but the crowd converged him as the President yelped, “I am dead!” but he wasn’t. He lived for the next two months in agony before succumbing to the infected wounds he got during surgery in failed attempts to locate and remove the bullets.

The Would-Be Assassin

Charles J. Guiteau (Bell, C. M. (Charles Milton), approximately 1849-1893, photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Before the very act of shooting the Garfield, Charles Guiteau’s life had been a whirlwind from the very beginning. After inheriting $1,000 (which amounts to around $29,000 in 2020) from his grandfather, he went to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to attend the University of Michigan. However, due to his insufficient academic preparation, he failed the entrance exams. His father kept writing him letters to ask about his progress. He soon decided to quit and join a utopian religious sect called Oneida Community, which his father had close affiliations with. Guiteau greatly looked up to the group’s founder, John Humphrey Noyes, seeing him as a perfect being.  The Oneida’s were part religious cult and part utopian socialists living a communal existence, practicing group marriage and believed Christ had already returned and they could create a heaven on Earth.  The cult never had more than 100 members and when they eventually dissolved a part of them became suddenly capitalist and formed a joint-stock company called Oneida Community Limited to run their small business operations.  This eventually led it to become the Oneida that makes silverware and cutlery today.

Despite being an active member, his fellows were not too fond of Guiteau in the entirety of his five years stay. He left the community and started a newspaper called The Daily Theocrat. When it failed, he went back to sue the Oneida Community, demanding payment for the work he had supposedly performed for them. This greatly embarrassed his father, who thought he was either insane or possessed by the devil. His sister, who was initially on his side, withdrew her support after he threatened her with an ax.