Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Charles J. Guiteau

Political Ambitions

1880 was an election year. As a lifelong Republican, Guiteau sided with the Stalwarts in the bitter infighting within the party.  He wrote letters and speeches in support of the Stalwarts plan to put Ulysses S. Grant back into the White House. Once the Half-Breeds had narrowly defeated the Stalwarts and put Garfield onto the ticket, Guiteau quickly switched sides and began producing pro-Garfield related documents. The History House claims that on some rallying speeches, Guiteau merely substituted Garfield for Grant, without changing any of the biographical information basically giving Garfield credit for Grant's childhood, decisive battles, and government accomplishments.

After Garfield won the election, the Lauinger Librarys Web site notes that Guiteau believed that a little-heard speech he had given in August of 1880 was the primary cause for the Republican victory.  He reached this conclusion without any external input whatsoever.

Certain now that he was approaching the great heights he was destined for, and equally certain that the Republican Party (and Garfield in particular) were forever in his debt, Guiteau moved to Washington, D.C., to receive what he felt sure would be an endless stream of honors.

Completely ignored by the new administration, Guiteau nevertheless decided to allow himself to be appointed to an international consulate, and he began writing letters to that effect after his arrival in Washington.

To President Garfield he wrote:

Next Spring I expect to marry the daughter of a deceased New York Republican millionaire and I think we can represent the United States government at Vienna with dignity and grace.

Not receiving any response, Guiteau sent Garfield another letter, more overconfident than the previous:

I called to see you this morning, but you were engaged.  (Previously) I sent you a note touching on the Austrian mission.  (The current Austrian Consul), I understand, wishes to remain at Vienna till fall. He is a good fellow (and) I do not wish to disturb him in any event.

What do you think of me for Consul-General at Paris?  I think I prefer Paris to Vienna...and I presume my appointment will be promptly confirmed.

Still receiving no response from Garfield, Guiteau began writing a stream of letters to various government officials, targeting Secretary of State Blaine in particular: January last I wrote Garfield touching the Austrian Mission, and I think he has filed my application and is favorably inclined.  Since then I have concluded to apply for the Consul-General at Paris instead.

I spoke (with Garfield) about it, and he said your endorsement would help, (so I) will talk with you about it as soon as I can get a chance.  There is nothing against me.  I claim to be a gentleman and a Christian.

The History House states that Guiteau had seen the heiress mentioned in the first letter only once, from a distance -- and it is doubtful that Garfield had read any of Guiteaus letters, let alone advised him to get Blaines endorsement.

Secretary of State James Blaine, portrait
Secretary of State James Blaine, portrait
Puzzled by the silence from the administration that owed him so much, but certain that he would be rewarded for his outstanding services, Guiteau increased his letter-writing campaign.  Secretary of State Blaine received so many letters and messages from Guiteau that when one day a strange man approached him and identified himself as the persistent author of the letters, Blaine reportedly shouted at Guiteau: Never speak to me again on the Paris Consulship as long as you live!

Guiteau was stunned.  How could they deny him a position of honor, after his speech and other works had clinched the election?

On hearing the news that the consulate jobs had gone to others, Guiteau felt infuriated and betrayed.

He would not allow himself to be treated so.

He began to concoct a plan, although he would later claim he was directed in his future actions by God.   He may even have eventually come to believe that.

To put his plan into effect, he bought a pistol (Geary states that Guiteau made sure to get a gun with an attractive handle, as he was sure it would soon be featured in a place of honor in a fine museum) and made several aborted attempts at the assassination.  He would later state that he decided not to act on those earlier occasions because of his desire not to accidentally shoot someone else, his displeasure with the weather, or the fact that Garfield's wife was with him and Guiteau didn't want to cause her needless anguish.

On the morning of July 2, 1881, he arose early, ate breakfast, and went out to assassinate the president.

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