Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Charles J. Guiteau

Harsh Childhoods

The Presidencies of James A. Garfield & Chester A. Arthur
The Presidencies of James A. Garfield & Chester A. Arthur
To say that Garfield was born into a hard life would be an understatement.  According to Justus Doeneckes book The Presidencies of James A. Garfield & Chester A. Arthur, Garfield was born in 1831 in a rude hut near Orange, Ohio. His mother was widowed soon after Garfield was born, and the young boy spent his early years working long days on the family farm.  As he came of age, he would add to the familys meager fortunes with any other work he could find, including a brief time driving a barge on the rivers of the area. Indeed, his rags-to-riches life inspired Horatio Alger Jr., a classic novelist of such tales, to write the biography From Canal Boy to President in 1881.

Horatio Alger Jr.
Horatio Alger Jr.
Doenecke points to a religious awakening at 18 as a major turning point in Garfields life, leading to his attendance at college, some time spent considering the ministry as his vocation, and his entry into politics in 1859 as the youngest member of the Ohio Legislature.

He continued to rise steadily up the Republican party ladder before becoming its presidential candidate in 1880.

Born into better financial circumstances (but in many ways an equally bleak childhood), Charles Julius Guiteau came into the world in September 1841 in Freeport, IllinoisGeorgetown Universitys Lauinger Library, which holds a special collection of Guiteau-related documents, states that Charles was the fourth child born to businessman Luther Guiteau and his wife Anne.  Two more children followed Charles, and Anne died when Charles was barely 7 years old.  Although Luther would later remarry, the Lauinger Library maintains that his sister Frances practically raised Charles and would become his substitute mother and primary source of moral and financial support for most of his life.

He would choose a disturbing way to repay her for her kindness.

The Freeport locals generally thought the whole Guiteau family was odd, and there was whispered gossip about insanity in the Guiteau gene pool. The Lauinger Library collection includes a letter from one acquaintance of the family to another saying:

I remember of hearing you tell of the funny and strange actions of the Guiteaus.  ...I believe that both Charles and his father were (crazy when it came to) religion...write to me stating the peculiar transactions of...old man Guiteau.

Luther was a strange and stern father, and young Guiteau received many whippings and streams of verbal abuse throughout his childhood.  As sometimes happens with children raised in this kind of oppressive environment, Guiteau coped with his fathers abuse -- and his own resulting feelings of worthlessness -- by developing an inflated sense of self-importance that would later irritate everyone he came into contact with. When people refused to see him as a luminary, Charles would be confused, but he would grow to deny anything that contradicted his own grandiose vision of himself and would refuse to see the reality of his few and pitiful accomplishments.

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