I am trying to do two things: dare to be a radical and not a fool, which is a matter of no small difficulty. –James A. Garfield
The extraordinary story of President James Garfield is told beautifully by Candice Millard (The River of Doubt) in her latest work of narrative history, Destiny of the Republic. It’s probably not a stretch to assume that most people know very little about President Garfield. He was the 20th president of the United States, hailing from what one Turnrow associate considers to be the greatest state in the union, Ohio, a place "known for brilliant men," we're told, including many U.S. presidents. Most would remember Garfield as the second U.S. president who was assassinated. (And let’s be honest, if you remember the assassin's name, Charles J. Guiteau, it's because of this.)
It was refreshing to read such an enthralling account of one of our lesser known presidents. Millard brilliantly recounts Garfield’s early days as a congressman and his unique rise to the presidency — unique because, in an act unheard of today, Garfield was elected to the presidency not because of wild ambition or influence or that he spent loads of money but because he was actually the best man for the job, and the people anointed him.
Garfield’s short presidency resonates because he faced many of the same problems affecting our country today. During his presidency he encountered mass political corruption and public discontent. Amazingly, in the short time he was president, he was able to rectify many of these issues with common sense and a high moral standing.
The most fascinating part of Destiny of the Republic focuses on the aftermath of President Garfield’s assassination, only 16 years after Lincoln's murder and just four months into his presidency. Garfield did not immediately die as a result of his gunshot wounds and suffered for 80 days after. His wounds were not fatal and his injuries today would have likely detained him for only a couple of weeks. Even in his time, his wounds would not have been fatal had it not been for the ignorance of his doctors. (And you think you have problems with healthcare!)
This book is perfect for history readers but it is so well written that even the most casual non-fiction reader will find it fascinating. It is a fast-paced thrilling account of Garfield’s life which includes many accessory, yet equally fascinating characters like Robert Todd Lincoln and Alexander Graham Bell. Moreover, with the hope of not sounding trite, it is an inspiring reminder of how great America can be and how important the struggle for democracy is for our country.