When people hear of the history of presidential assassinations, their minds usually go to the famous assassinations of Presidents Abraham Lincoln or President John F Kennedy. Most people would be shocked to know that there have been over 30 assassination attempts on various presidents, with a total of four being killed while in office. In addition to the two aforementioned heads of state, Presidents Garfield and McKinley were also murdered while holding the title of President of the United States.
President James Garfield became president on March 4th, 1881 and was shot later that year by Charles Guiteau. Guiteau was a repeated failure in every enterprise he partook in. By the time of the 1880 election, he took a particular fascination with politics. Originally supporting Ulysses S. Grant, Guiteau switched his loyalties to James Garfield after he won the Republican nomination.
Guiteau wrote a poorly worded speech in support of Garfield, that he never delivered but did end up publishing (without paying the printer) and distributing it. The speech had little to no impact on Garfield’s victory, however Guiteau did not see it that way and awaited his reward for his help from the newly elected president. He told the Secretary of State that he would like a position in Vienna, but he could settle for a position in Paris.
After being shut down he claimed to receive a message from God, instructing him to kill the president. After buying a pistol with an ivory handle (because he believed it would look better in a museum than a regular pistol), he shot the President on July 2, 1881. Garfield later died from complications from the bullet wound.
Guiteau would later testify in court, albeit only in epic poem or song format. He claimed that he should be charged with attempted murder, but not the actual homicide, putting that blame on the doctors. Even in court he proclaimed that his act was the spoken will of God. The jurors did not seem to agree, and sentenced him to death, much to the surprise of Guiteau who was running ads in his autobiography for a future spouse as well as planning a speaking tour once he was released. It is no wonder that his defense team considered an insanity plea, which would have been among the first in such a high profile case.
He was hung right after dancing up the stairs to the gallows, shaking the hand of the executioner, and reciting a self written poem titled I Am Going to the Lordy. Vice President Chester Arthur became president in the wake of this disaster.
Unlike James Garfield, President William McKinley had been in office many years before the fatal attack against him. He was elected in 1897 and was going into his second term in 1901. Mckinley was known to enjoy interactions with the public. While he had security guards (unlike most presidents in the 1800s including Garfield) he was rather laid back in the self protection department and was known to throw large gatherings in which he could interact with the people.
Unfortunately, this came to be his downfall. Around this time, anarchist movements were growing more popular worldwide. Many people, often who felt they were harmed or cheated in some way by the government, started to turn to these radical movements. One of these people was Leon Czolgosz.
Czolgosz, like many others, was negatively affected by the Panic of 1983. The son of immigrants, he lost his job when the economy turned south, and he began to look for reasons why his life had been turned upside down. He became an anarchist shortly after, and began to plan his nefarious scheme.
President McKinley was taking part in a public reception in his honor, and was shaking the hands of the thousands who sought to meet him. He went to shake the hand of Czolgosz, assuming the handkerchief in his hand was simply to wipe his brow on the hot, early September day. The president could never have expected that innocent looking handkerchief to be concealing the weapon of his demise. As they touched hands, at 4:07 pm on September 6, 1901, Czolgosz shot President McKinley twice in the stomach, wounds that would later prove to be fatal when the President died on September 14th. He was succeeded by then Vice President Theodore Roosevelt.
Czolgosz was heard at the scene saying “I done my duty.” After his trial, the jury took hardly half and hour to proclaim him guilty. He was sentenced to death by electric chair.
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With love, Caleb Williams