Destiny of the Republic

Candice Millard

Candice Millard’s Destiny of the Republic is a well-written account of the life and death of the United States’ 20th president, James A. Garfield, an exceptional man who is best known for being assassinated. Had Garfield’s wounds been treated to European standards of the time, he would have survived; 19th century Americans “found the notion of ‘invisible germs’ to be ridiculous, and they refused to even consider the idea that they could be the cause of so much disease and death.” Millard’s book details Garfield’s rise from abject poverty to the presidency (even though he protested/declined the nomination). As president, Garfield was weighed down by Chester Arthur, a vice president not of his own choosing, who was the lackey of Roscoe Conkling, a highly corrupt New York political boss and U. S. senator. Even more troubling to Garfield was the public’s full access to the White House—Garfield himself was expected to conduct job interviews for White House positions four hours a day. This is how he met his assassin, lawyer Charles Guiteau, who, by all accounts, was crazier than a shithouse rat. If there was an upside to this tragedy, it was that it had a somewhat unifying effect on the nascent, post-Civil War nation.