Murder of a PresidentAired February 2, 2016
On March 4, 1881, James Garfield became the 20th President of the United States—a position he would hold for only 200 days. Garfield rose from poverty to become the most powerful man in the U.S., and many Americans believed he had the potential to become one of the country's truly great presidents. But on July 2, mentally disturbed drifter Charles Guiteau shot President Garfield as he walked through the Baltimore and Potomac train station. Garfield survived the immediate shooting, but, with the importance of sterilization not yet realized by most American medical professionals, infection set in, killing the president 79 days later.
For many Americans, James Garfield represented not only an American's capacity to rise up in the world, but also the larger notion of what they believed the Union had fought for—equal opportunity for all men, black or white. With his death, many feared that vision died. But instead of Garfield's vision dying with him, his death brought together the American public in a way they had not been united since well before the Civil War. The hope that Garfield had given them for a better day, a more just and equal America, would be carried forward in the decades to come.
Murder of a President is based on Candice Millard's bestselling and Edgar Award-winning book, Destiny of the Republic.
Cast and Crew
Stephanie Haberman Bordas
Based on the Book
Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard
Shuler Hensley ... James Garfield
Kathryn Erbe ... Lucretia Garfield
Will Janowitz ... Charles Guiteau
Talleah Bridges McMahon
Elissa Meyers, C.S.A. & Paul Fouquet, C.S.A.
Lead Animator & Graphic Designer
Assistant On-Line Editor
Post-Production Video Services
Voice-Over Recording Session
Supervising Sound Editor & Re-Recording Mixer
Sound Effects Editors
Post-Production Audio Services
Sync Sound, Inc.
Assistant Camera - Interviews
Sound Recordist - Interviews
Hair/Makeup Artist - Interviews
Production Assistants - Interviews
For Sirena Film
Production Services, Czech Republic
Unit Production Manager
Assistant Location Manager
Second Assistant Camera
Digital Imaging Technician
Supervising Art Director
Assistant Art Director
Assistant Set Decorator
Key Hair/Makeup Artist
Ivana Němcová Simona Hemmyová Lukas Vlcek
Best Boy Electric
Generator (Genny Base)
Oldies Catering/ Radek Valenta
Casting Director – Featured Extras
Arwa Salmanová, Simon Says Casting
Casting Director - Extras
Jessica Horvathová, Cine-Jessy
James Eckhouse ... Dr. Doctor Willard Bliss
Adam LeFevre ... Chester Arthur
Sean Mahon ... Roscoe Conkling
John Hutton ... James Blaine
Daniel Pearce ... Silas Boynton
Jay Deyonker ... Alexander Graham Bell
Daniel Rowland ... Harry Garfield
Ladislav Gergel ... Jim Garfield
Joe Weintraub ... Joseph Stanley Brown
Daniel Brown ... James Norton, Reporter
Ted Otis ... Reporter
Nadia Silva ... Nurse
Karina Rchichev ... Mollie Garfield
Logan Hillier ... Dr. Reyburn
Robert Polo ... Robert Todd Lincoln
Lee Davison ... Dr. Purvis
Barbora Mudrova ... Sarah White
Josef Karas ... Conkling’s Valet
Harry Thompson ... Hotel Page
Josef Gurunz ... Jail Photographer
Brian Caspe ... Jail Guard 1
R. Scott Williams ... Jail Guard 2
Patrik Plesinger ... Charles Tainter
Aleš Košnár ... Officer Kearney
Jiří Šimberský ... Bystander
Josef Rubáš ... Hotel Room Man
Howie Lotker ... Reporter
Ronald Prokes ... Fifth Avenue Hotel Man
Michael Pitthan ... Bigwig 1
Michael Cella ... Bigwig 2
Amy Huck ... Fifth Avenue Woman
John Comer ... Fifth Avenue Player
David Bowles ... Waiter
Joanne M. Klein
Tom Phillips, keyboards
Ian Greitzer, clarinet
Andrew Price, oboe
Kathleen Boyd, flute
Jodi Hagen, violin
Donna Jerome, viola
Michael Curry, cello
Recorded at Music Consultant Studios, Boston, MA
Engineer: Tom Phillips
Rena C. Kosersky
“In Bright Mansions”
As performed by the Fisk Jubilee Singers
Courtesy of Curb Records Inc./Fisk University
The Endicott Estate, Dedham, MA
Slapy Chateau, Slapy, Czech Republic
Ke Karlovu, Albertov, Czech Republic
Lichoceves, Czech Republic
Žofín, Prague, Czech Republic
Special Thanks to
James Garfield National Historic Site
Karla Lang, Palestine Public Library
Archival Materials Courtesy of
Architect of the Capitol
Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University
Brooklyn Historical Society
Chautauqua Institution Archives, Oliver Archives Center
Chicago History Museum
Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library
George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film
Vanishing Georgia Collection, Georgia Archives
Georgetown University Library Booth Family Center for Special Collections
Hiram College Archives
Lake County Historical Society, Inc.
Museum of the City of New York
The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations
Ohio History Connection
Oneida Community Mansion House
Robin Stanford Collection
Stanley B. Burns, MD and The Burns Archive
State Archives of Florida
U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center
University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections
The Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, Ohio
White House Historical Association, White House Collection
For American Experience
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James E. Dunford
An Apograph Productions Inc. film for American Experience.
American Experience is a production of WGBH, which is solely responsible for its content.
© 2016 WGBH Educational Foundation
All Rights Reserved.
Telegram Woman 1 (Actor, audio): Dear Mrs. Garfield, This morning while reading one of the many accounts of our dear President's heroism... I was so overcome that I thought I would write and tell you how very, very much I felt for you. I have not offered a single prayer since our President was first shot but that was for his recovery. My papa and mama do not know that I have written this but I felt I must do it. Our Dear President has gone from our love, to the love of God and his angels.
Narrator: James Garfield had been in office just 200 days. Already many Americans had come to see in his youth, brilliance and kindness the makings of a truly great president. But now he was dead, brought down by an assassin, and -- some believed -- his own doctors.
Candice Millard, Author, Destiny of the Republic: Garfield is on the floor of the station. So someone finds an old horsehair and hay mattress, and they put the President on that, and take him to a room upstairs.
James Blaine (John Hutton): Doctors, what do you need?
Dr. Purvis (Lee Davison): Blankets.
James Blaine (John Hutton): You! Go!
Candice Millard, Author, Destiny of the Republic: Garfield's first concern was for his wife Lucretia.
James Blaine (John Hutton): Sir, what can I do?
James Garfield (Shuler Hensley): Lucretia -- tell her I'm all right.
Candice Millard, Author, Destiny of the Republic: He wanted to make sure that when she heard about this she heard it from him.
James Blaine (John Hutton): Don't you worry. I'll send a telegram.
Dr. Doctor Willard Bliss (James Eckhouse): Let me through please! Please, it's Dr. Bliss! I know the man!
James Blaine (John Hutton): Let him in!
Nancy Tomes, Historian: Within minutes 10 different physicians rush to the train station.
Dr. Doctor Willard Bliss (James Eckhouse): Gently, easy. Flesh wound on the right arm. Entry wound in the back.
Nancy Tomes, Historian: They didn't know the exact track of the bullet. They couldn't tell how much damage it had done.
Dr. Doctor Willard Bliss (James Eckhouse): I'm worried about his liver… Mr. President, I have to probe for the bullet. This is going to be painful. Hold him steady gentlemen. Ready… Easy… Sit him back down… It's remarkable, sir. I've done that hundreds of times -- I've never seen a man hold that steady.
James Garfield (Shuler Hensley): Did you get it?
Dr. Doctor Willard Bliss (James Eckhouse): No. Try to relax.
James Garfield (Shuler Hensley): Lucretia.
Narrator: James Garfield wasn't born to greatness, but to trouble and hardship. Just before his second birthday, a wildfire threatened the family's homestead on the Ohio frontier. James's father saved the farm, but died soon afterward. His mother had little time for grief. Within days of the funeral, she was working in the fields. James would grow up at the raw edge of poverty.
Mary Lintern, Garfield National Historic Site: As he got older he absolutely detested his station in life. He had to face the scorn and the pity of people in the community. When he was sixteen he hired himself out to a local farmer and the farmer's daughter takes a liking to Garfield, and the father says to Garfield that no daughter of his is going to be seen with the likes of a poor boy like him.
Narrator: "To some men," Garfield would write, "the fact that they came up from poverty is a matter of pride. I lament sorely that I was born poor." Books were rare in James's world, but those he did have were read over and over until he could recite them from memory.
Mary Lintern, Garfield National Historic Site: As a teenager, Garfield was really intrigued by a book called The Pirates Own. And he got this idea that he was going to sail the high seas.
Narrator: "My mother tried to turn my attention in other directions," Garfield later recalled, "but I formed the determination to become a sailor. The blue expanse seemed a region of enchantment." The ocean was a long way from Ohio. Although James dreamed of the high seas, he had to settle for work as a crewman on the Ohio and Erie Canal.
Candice Millard, Author, Destiny of the Republic: He was on the canal one night and everyone else was asleep. He slips and he falls into the water. And he's desperately thrashing because he can't swim and he feels the, this rope. And he's pulling at it but he knows that he hadn't tied it to anything on the boat. But miraculously it hooks and he's able to pull himself up onto the boat. To his mind, God had wanted to save him for a purpose, and he was supposed to do something larger with his life.
Narrator: James's seafaring dreams were cut short. Six weeks after setting out, he returned home, deathly ill with malaria. While he was recovering, his mother, desperate to set her son on a better path, handed him her life savings. Eliza Garfield's $17 were enough for one term of college. As James later recalled, "No greener boy ever started out to school."
Mary Lintern, Garfield National Historic Site: He must have seemed very strange on that campus. He had coarse clothing, he had bushy hair, he was a confirmed rustic. But he had a lot going for him too at the same time. He was very charismatic, a tall man, broad shoulders, piercing blue eyes and he was extremely intelligent.
Narrator: The Western Reserve Eclectic Institute transformed Garfield from a rough canal man into a passionate and determined student. When the money ran out, he paid his way by working as a janitor and carpenter around the school. As James's horizons widened, his ambitions grew. "I am resolved to make a mark in the world," he wrote. "There is some of the slumbering thunder in my soul and it shall come out."
Mary Lintern, Garfield National Historic Site: He had just made up his mind that he was going to do better than any other student. And he got to a point where he was smarter than some of his teachers.
Candice Millard, Author, Destiny of the Republic: He was such an extraordinary student, that by his second year, instead of working as the janitor, they made him a professor of literature, mathematics and ancient languages.
Narrator: Among the students assigned to Garfield's Greek literature class was Lucretia Rudolph, the daughter of one of the school's benefactors. One day, when the students gathered for a photograph, James seized the opportunity.
Candice Millard, Author, Destiny of the Republic: Just before it was about to be taken, James whispered something to the photographer and he's able to slip in right next to Lucretia and she's sort of surprised that he would take such liberties but that was the kind of man he was.
Narrator: For James and Lucretia, love didn't come easily. Although James proposed within six months of their class photo, both had lingering doubts.
Mary Lintern, Garfield National Historic Site: They were emotionally incompatible. Garfield was very expressive. And Lucretia was just too shy to be openly affectionate with him. When they would come together, she would be very stiff and formal.
Kathryn Allamong Jacob, Historian: He writes to her saying, "Won't you please loosen up." She responds with a really remarkable letter in which she lays out her expectations and what she wants from this relationship. They need to talk about things together. And she reserves the right to be critical of him, and he has to listen, he has to hear her out. They are both still filled with doubt and uncertainty.
Narrator: Despite their apprehensions, Lucretia and James were married on November 11, 1858. Their first years were miserable: as Lucretia endured repeated pregnancies and miscarriages, James was usually absent, pursuing a fledgling career in politics.
Lucretia Garfield (Kathryn Erbe, audio): Dear James, There are hours when my heart almost breaks with the cruel thought that our marriage is based upon the cold stern word Duty. I hope time may teach me to be satisfied with the love you will teach your heart to give.
Mary Lintern, Garfield National Historic Site: He was an extremely selfish man for those first years. Garfield was just finding his powers and he was finding just how incredibly magnetic he was. He's speaking and people are throwing flowers and applauding him. Women are falling all over him, men are falling all over him. That's pretty powerful. Why does he want to stay home with shy little Lucretia?
Narrator: Just as Garfield's political career was getting off the ground, the country plunged into civil war.
James Garfield (Shuler Hensley, audio): My Dear Crete: The news is causing great excitement. It seems to me that the wanton attack on Sumter can result in nothing but a long and bloody war. I long to be in the strife and help fight it out. We must stand by the country and sustain its authority.
Narrator: James joined the Union Army in 1861, shortly after the outbreak of hostilities. With little training and no experience, he headed up a small regiment sent to clear the Confederates out of Eastern Kentucky. At the Battle of Middle Creek Garfield led his men to an audacious victory. The triumph brought him a flash of fame.
What stayed with Garfield, however, was the memory of stepping into a clearing after the battle, and seeing what he thought were sleeping soldiers. His heart froze when he realized that the young men were dead. At that moment, Garfield would later recall, something went out of him that never came back -- "the sense of the sacredness of life and the impossibility of destroying it." Within weeks, he was leading his men through northern Alabama. There, for the first time, he came face to face with slavery.
Heather Cox Richardson, Historian: It's important to try and get your head into what it looked like for these soldiers to go down and see men and women and children literally imprisoned on these plantations. And Garfield had an incredibly visceral reaction.
James Garfield (Shuler Hensley, audio): My Dear Lucretia: For two days we've passed splendid plantations, where slaves toil on in the fields and dare hardly look up at us. We reached this place early this morning. A whole drove of slaves came to the road and shouted for joy, saying, "Take us with you, we will work, we will do anything for you." Slavery may have great charms for the rich, but no one can fail to see that it is the poor man's bane.
Kenneth D. Ackerman, Writer: Garfield became a true believer in abolition, and in securing the rights of freed slaves. He put his life on the line in the Civil War, he fought in a number of battles including some very tough ones. And he was committed to the cause.
James Garfield (Shuler Hensley, audio): This is my hope, that when we shall return to civil life, there shall go up an unrelenting cry for freedom. If this shall ever be realized, the thousands who have fallen on the bloody field, or in the fever wards of the hospitals, will not have died in vain.
Narrator: Even as Garfield was marching through Alabama, his friends back in Ohio put him up for election as the Republican candidate for the House of Representatives. Although he remained at the front and never campaigned, Garfield won handily in November. But when the time came to take his seat at the end of 1863, the war was at a critical stage, and General Garfield was reluctant to leave his men.
Kenneth D. Ackerman, Writer: He went to see Abraham Lincoln and the president told him in so many words that he had enough generals, and that where he really needed support at that point was on Capitol Hill. So that's where Garfield went.
Narrator: As Garfield began his congressional career, the Goddess of Liberty was being installed on the Capitol Dome, and Union victory was in sight. On January 31st, 1865, he voted for one of the most important pieces of legislation in the nation's history -- the 13th amendment, which abolished slavery. Three months later the architect of that amendment was shot down by an assassin.
James Garfield (Shuler Hensley, audio): My Dear Lucretia: My heart is so broken with our great national loss that I can hardly think or write or speak. It remains for us to keep that faith, to go forward in the great work until it shall be completed. This nation shall be saved from its enemies; its glory shall be restored. On the ruins of slavery and treason, the temples of freedom and justice shall be built, and shall survive forever.
Narrator: Tragedy struck at home, too. James and Lucretia were consumed with grief when their eldest daughter Trot died at the age of three. Their marriage all but ended soon afterward, when James had an affair with a woman in New York. He came home overwhelmed with guilt, and confessed his infidelity to Lucretia.
Mary Lintern, Garfield National Historic Site: She tells him to confront this woman and to tell her face to face that it's over. But later she responds almost sympathetically.
Candice Millard, Author, Destiny of the Republic: He thought at the time, "I don't know if she can ever really love me again." But he began to realize how strong she was. And from that time on, they were deeply, deeply in love.
Kathryn Allamong Jacob, Historian: She had an unwavering moral compass, which Garfield admired and learned from and respected her for. She had the ability to draw out the best in him and to draw him out of his self-absorption, to be a better man.
James Garfield (Shuler Hensley, audio): We no longer love because we ought to, but because we do. Were I free to choose out of all the world the sharer of my heart and home and life, I would fly to you and ask you to be mine as you are.
Narrator: On the evening of June 5th, 1880, Chicago's Grand Pacific Hotel was bursting at the seams. The Republican Party was in town to choose its candidate for the upcoming presidential election. Fifty thousand delegates, reporters and hangers-on had streamed into the city. They stuffed themselves five and six into hotel rooms; the unlucky ones slept in hallways or saloons. James Garfield had managed to find a room, but even he had to share with a total stranger. By the summer of 1880 Garfield had become the foremost Republican in the House of Representatives.
Candice Millard, Author, Desti ny of the Republic: Garfield had several assets as a politician. People trusted him as someone who's not thinking about their own career but thinking about what good they can do for the country. He was also just an extraordinary public speaker. He was confident, he was poised, he was articulate, and everyone said his speeches were incredibly moving and powerful.
Narrator: Garfield was scheduled to deliver the nominating address for a long-shot candidate, fellow Ohioan John Sherman. He hadn't finished writing the speech; his heart wasn't in it. In fact, Garfield despaired at the state of the whole Republican Party. It had divided into warring factions, torn apart by the convulsive changes sweeping over the United States.
An industrial revolution was dividing the country along new lines. For the first time, more Americans were living in cities than on farms. Millions now worked in factories where 14-hour days, harrowing conditions, and starvation wages were common. Meanwhile, those factories were channeling unimaginable wealth to a growing aristocracy. By 1880, the inequalities of capitalism were so vast that they threatened democracy itself. Government was infected by cynicism and corruption.
For Republicans like James Garfield, equality of opportunity was still a central tenet of their creed. But another faction was coming to dominate the party. Known as the Stalwarts, they coveted the spoils of the new economy and championed what was called "machine politics," a system of kickbacks and patronage that made it hard for ordinary people to get ahead. The Stalwarts wanted former president Ulysses S. Grant to be the party's candidate once again. Although Grant was personally honest, his first two terms had been rife with corruption, and the Stalwarts wanted more of the same. Despite the opposition of men like Garfield, Grant was favored to win the nomination. Grant's main opponent was James Blaine, a charismatic senator. There was bad blood between the Grant and Blaine factions, which was on full display during their nominating speeches.
Candice Millard, Author, Destiny of the Republic: By the time the nominating address for Grant was finished, the Stalwarts are all shouting for Grant, it's reverberating through the hall, and Garfield has to give his speech on behalf of Sherman. He got up and he started to talk about, 'Where is the real heart of this convention. It's not here, with all these powerful men. It's in each home, where Americans are quietly and calmly thinking about the future of this country.'
Narrator: As Garfield was delivering his address to the delegates, he shouted, "And now gentlemen of the Convention, what do we want?" From the midst of the crowd came an unexpected answer: "We want Garfield!"
Candice Millard, Author, Destiny of the Republic: Garfield tries to protest and he says, "What, you know, you -- I'm not even a candidate, you know? You can't nominate me without my agreement," and he's immediately gaveled down.
Narrator: For three days and 33 ballots, the convention was deadlocked between the Grant and Blaine factions. Then, on the 34th ballot, exhausted delegates began switching their votes to Garfield.
Kenneth D. Ackerman, Writer: Garfield had been a congressman for 16 years. He had personal contacts with, probably literally most of the people in the room. And they all knew him as a moderate, open-minded, intelligent person. He was someone that they trusted.
Narrator: Two ballots later, an astonished Garfield found himself the Republican candidate for president.
Candice Millard, Author, Destiny of the Republic: Garfield immediately wrote to Lucretia, asking her if she was in agreement with having this thrust on them.
James Garfield (Shuler Hensley, audio): Dear Wife, If the result meets your approval, I shall be content.
Lucretia Garfield (Kathryn Erbe, audio): The events of the past week seem more and more unreal. But I suppose I shall grow accustomed to it after a while. I ought to be now, for I have had to travel fast, and think faster ever since I have known you, just to keep within seeing distance.
Kathryn Allamong Jacob, Historian: Back home in Ohio, Lucretia knew that her life would change and the life of her children and that his life would change, and she worried about that a great deal. On the other hand, she thought he was destined for greatness, and she did not want to stand in his way.
Narrator: Garfield's candidacy heralded a new direction for the party and, many hoped, for the country.
Heather Cox Richardson, Historian: The nomination of James Garfield in 1880 was not simply a question of exchanging one bearded 19th century politician for another. It was the difference between machine politics that served only a few and a government that would serve everybody. Garfield would be the representative and the defender of that vision of America.
Narrator: In the wake of his surprise nomination, Garfield retreated to his farm in Mentor, Ohio, just twenty miles from the log cabin where he had been born. He made the most of his enforced vacation, tending to his farm, and relaxing with Lucretia and the children.
Todd Arrington, Garfield National Historic Site: During the 1880 presidential campaign, he didn't do a lot of campaigning. Garfield is told, by none other than the sitting president, Rutherford B. Hayes, that the best thing he can do is to just go home and not say anything and look wise.
Narrator: Garfield was deeply moved when ordinary people started coming from far and wide, just to see him. In what came to be known as front porch talks, he would stand on his wide veranda speaking to enormous gatherings. The most stirring moment came when the members of a group from an all-black university -- the Fisk Jubilee Singers -- stood before his farmhouse and sang. When the performance ended Garfield stood to address the group. "I tell you now," he said, "that I would rather be with you and defeated than against you and victorious."
While Garfield bided his time in Ohio, his campaign was being run by party bosses in New York. In 1880, New York was twice as big as any other city in the country -- the center of commerce, culture, and power. The Democratic and Republican parties each ran fearsome political machines there. Republican headquarters were located in a building on Fifth Avenue, which had become a hive of activity. Among those drawn to the excitement was a troubled drifter, recently arrived in town. Charles Guiteau had tried everything and he had failed at everything. He had failed at law, journalism, debt collecting, and preaching. Most recently, Guiteau had become obsessed with politics. He had written a speech extolling Garfield's virtues, and managed to have it printed.
Candice Millard, Author, Destiny of the Republic: He thought that he was going to be famous for it, and he was going to be wealthy and he was going to be, beloved. He believed that he was special, that he was extraordinary, and that God had something great in mind for him. But he was delusional. He saw himself completely differently than everyone else saw him.
Narrator: Guiteau had always believed that God had great plans for him. After spending his life trying to divine God's intentions, he had finally received a sign on his way to New York.
Candice Millard, Author, Destiny of the Republic: They were crossing the Long Island Sound at night and there's a heavy fog… when out of this great dense fog and blackness appears this steamship and they crash.
Narrator: Guiteau listened to the screams as the passengers threw themselves and their children into the water to escape the flames. He was rescued by a boat that raced to the scene, and arrived in Manhattan a changed man.
Candice Millard, Author, Destiny of the Republic: Guiteau felt that it wasn't an accident that he survived this; it was divine intervention. God had plucked him out for a purpose. And that purpose was becoming clear to him.
Narrator: For all the activity at campaign headquarters, it looked like Garfield was headed for defeat. The odds were almost insurmountable because of a radical change in the South. In the wake of the Civil War, black men had been given the right to vote, a right enforced by federal troops stationed throughout the South. Because African Americans were intensely loyal to the party of Lincoln, Republican candidates could count on carrying several Southern states. But by 1880 most of those federal soldiers had been withdrawn, leaving white Southerners free to suppress the black vote through terror and violence. As a result, the Republican Party had been all but banished from the old Confederacy.
Kenneth D. Ackerman, Writer: For the first time in 1880 you now had the solid South. And the solid South was backed up by violence, intimidation, voter suppression, all of the things that would become Jim Crow.
Narrator: Democrats could count on sixteen Southern states; Republicans fifteen Northern ones. The territories in the west didn't vote. That left seven states undecided, including the most populous in the Union. New York is where the election would be decided. And New York belonged to Senator Roscoe Conkling.
Candice Millard, Author, Destiny of the Republic: Roscoe Conkling was arguably the most powerful man in America at that time. He was the senior senator from New York, and he hated Garfield because Garfield wanted to reform the spoils system. And the spoils system was the source of Conkling's power.
Narrator: As the leader of the Stalwarts, Conkling had opposed Garfield's nomination at the convention. Now Garfield needed his support. He first tried to win Conkling over by offering the vice presidency to Chester Arthur.
Heather Cox Richardson, Historian: Chester Arthur's most important attribute was that he was a right hand man of Roscoe Conkling. He's never held elected office. He is not in any way a very serious thinker or a very serious person. But Garfield is trying to soothe Conkling's feelings.
Kenneth D. Ackerman, Writer: Conkling was so angry at this point, he was prepared to sit out the election. So for Garfield to have any hope of winning, he needed to get Conkling in the game. And that meant cutting a deal.
Narrator: At the beginning of August, Garfield braced himself for a trip to New York. The real agenda was a quiet negotiation with Conkling in his offices at the Fifth Avenue Hotel. Everyone knew what Conkling wanted in return: control of the New York Customs House.
Kenneth D. Ackerman, Writer: The New York Customs House was not only one of the most important financial institutions in the country; it was also one of the most important political institutions in the country. This was the period before the modern income tax, so the federal government was funded by tariffs, by import fees. And some 70% to 80% of all imports coming into America came in through the port of New York.
Candice Millard, Author, Destiny of the Republic: The New York Customs House accounted for one third of the country's entire revenue. Incredible amounts of money that are coming in and Conkling can use that to give out jobs and to win loyalty.
Narrator: As Garfield made his way east, he was wary. The Customs House was the source of Conkling's power, and he used that power to undermine the last two presidents. Somehow, Garfield had to avoid enabling such a dangerous rival.
Kenneth D. Ackerman, Writer: Garfield made the pilgrimage to New York, and Roscoe Conkling stood him up, which caused a major stir, since everyone kind of knew that he was the one who was making the demands.
Narrator: Garfield had no option but to deal with Conkling's underlings, led by Chester Arthur. However much he resented being snubbed, Garfield couldn't leave New York without some sort of agreement with the Stalwarts.
Chester Arthur (Adam LeFevre): Mr. Garfield, Senator Conkling is willing to support your campaign. But he wants certain assurances.
Kenneth D. Ackerman, Writer: What exactly happened in that hotel room is one of the great mysteries of the campaign. And what Conkling understood to come out of the meeting, having talked with several of the people who sat through the meeting, was that Garfield had promised him control of the New York Customs House. Garfield's understanding was that he had fudged it, that he had worded his answers in a way that were something less than promises.
Narrator: One way or another, Garfield secured the backing of Conkling and the Stalwarts. With that done, they joined the Republican faithful who were gathering downstairs for a rally. Among them was the strange young man from campaign headquarters.
Charles Guiteau (Will Janowitz): I think you're on the right track. Very good, very good.
Chester Arthur (Adam LeFevre): Have I had the pleasure?
Charles Guiteau (Will Janowitz): Charles Guiteau. You know me -- we've met at headquarters.
Chester Arthur (Adam LeFevre): Ah!
Charles Guiteau (Will Janowitz): Oh -- here's my speech. I can help you. I can help you.
Chester Arthur (Adam LeFevre): We're grateful for your help, Mr. Guiteau. Gentlemen.
Charles Guiteau (Will Janowitz): I'll see you at headquarters. Charles Guiteau.
Narrator: Guiteau had made good use of his time in New York, introducing himself to Republican leaders, and even delivering a few speeches. If Guiteau could help elect the president, he was sure that he would be rewarded. And his efforts seemed to be paying off when the New York Times listed him alongside party luminaries.
Garfield's trip culminated in an address to 50,000 people gathered opposite the hotel in Madison Square Park. It was his only major speech of the campaign. Garfield chose to take a stand on the issue closest to his heart: the fate of ex-slaves in the South.
James Garfield (Shuler Hensley): Gentlemen, ideas outlive men. Ideas outlive all human things. And all that we mean today by our meeting as veterans and comrades, is to stand as a sacred guard about the truth for which we fought.
Narrator: By 1880, many Northerners felt they had sacrificed enough for African Americans. Now they wanted only to heal the scars left by the war, even if it meant abandoning former slaves to the mercy of their former masters. Garfield was determined to turn back that tide.
James Garfield (Shuler Hensley): We have seen white men betray the flag and fight to kill the Union, but in all that long and dreary war you never saw a traitor under a black skin. In all that period of terror and distress no Union soldier was ever betrayed by any black man anywhere, and as long as we live we'll stand by these black allies of ours.
Heather Cox Richardson, Historian: Garfield believed that every man -- African American as well as white American -- should have a say in his government. Every man should be able to vote to protect his property, protect his labor, and protect his destiny in America.
James Garfield (Shuler Hensley): We will stand by them until the equal sunlight of liberty shall shine upon every man, black or white, in the Union. Citizens of New York, thank you for this magnificent demonstration. Thank you, thank you.
Narrator: On October 25th, Cooper Union in New York City filled to overflowing. The crowd had come to hear the most famous black man in America, former slave Frederick Douglass. "James Garfield must be our President," Douglass said. "Colored men, I know Garfield. He is right on our questions, take my word for it. He has shown us how man in the humblest circumstances can grapple with man, rise, and win."
On November 2nd, Garfield cast his vote in Mentor's town hall. The next morning he awoke to learn that he was the 20th President of the United States. Every state in the old Confederacy had voted for the Democrats, while most of the North had gone with Garfield. Sure enough, the difference in the election was Roscoe Conkling's New York.
On the morning of March 4th, 1881, a hundred thousand people braved the cold and made their way to the Capitol. Meanwhile, the President-elect prepared for his inauguration, together with the rest of his presidential party. Frederick Douglass had the honor of leading the procession, but no one was prouder than the president's 79 year-old mother. Three decades before, Eliza Garfield had given James her life savings so that he could go to college. Now she was the toast of Washington, with a gown to match.
At precisely noon, Frederick Douglass led the procession out onto the portico. James Garfield took the oath, and delivered the address he had finished just hours before. Then he and Lucretia spent the afternoon reviewing the inaugural parade. After the formal reception that night, the Garfields stayed in the White House for the first time, sleeping, as James wrote, "too soundly to remember any dream."
Garfield was well-acquainted with the ways of Washington, but nothing could have prepared him for the flood of office seekers that inundated the White House. Anyone who had done anything for the campaign showed up to collect his reward. And that included the man who could most honestly claim to have put James Garfield in the White House.
Joseph Stanley Brown (Joe Weintraub): Senator Conkling!
Roscoe Conkling (Sean Mahon): What on earth is that?
Joseph Stanley Brown (Joe Weintraub): It's a typewriter. They're going to replace pens. Watch.
I'll let the president know you're here.
Roscoe Conkling (Sean Mahon): Incredible.
Kenneth D. Ackerman, Writer: Today, the number of political appointments that an incoming president has to fill is maybe two or three thousand. In 1880, the number of political appointments was over 80 thousand. Roscoe Conkling had come to collect.
Joseph Stanley Brown (Joe Weintraub): The President will see you now.
Kenneth D. Ackerman, Writer: And on his agenda was the New York Customs House.
Roscoe Conkling (Sean Mahon): So, how do you like your new digs?
James Garfield (Shuler Hensley): They come with a lot of new friends.
Roscoe Conkling (Sean Mahon): A man has to look after his friends.
James Garfield (Shuler Hensley): Indeed. And I intend to do so.
Roscoe Conkling (Sean Mahon) : Well that's fine. What do you have in mind?
James Garfield (Shuler Hensley): Levi Morton as minister to France.
Roscoe Conkling (Sean Mahon): Oh, well if Levi wants to be put out to pasture that's all well and good.
James Garfield (Shuler Hensley): It's a nice pasture. Stewart Woodford for U.S. Attorney, Louis Payn for Marshal Southern District. And I've asked Tom James to be Postmaster General.
Roscoe Conkling (Sean Mahon): Mmm, well, this is all to the good, but it's not why we're here.
James Garfield (Shuler Hensley): Senator, I will look out for your interests, but I am the president.
Roscoe Conkling (Sean Mahon): And you wouldn't be if it weren't for me.
James Garfield (Shuler Hensley): I'm sure we can reach some sort of accommodation. You will have plenty of friends in this administration. And you have Mr. Arthur right here in the White House.
Roscoe Conkling (Sean Mahon): With all due respect, I didn't fight the election in order to make Chester Arthur Vice President.
James Garfield (Shuler Hensley): We all fought the election. If you'll excuse me, there are other people who need my attention.
Roscoe Conkling (Sean Mahon): We are not done here. What are you going to do with the New York Customs House?
James Garfield (Shuler Hensley): I can't make any promises at the moment.
Roscoe Conkling (Sean Mahon): You made promises last August.
James Garfield (Shuler Hensley): I said that I would look out for your interests.
Roscoe Conkling (Sean Mahon): Then do that, sir. And you just keep in mind that your administration will be no more successful than I wish it to be.
Narrator: If Garfield was going to implement his vision of a just and equal America, he would first have to win control of his own party. "Of course I deprecate war," he wrote a friend. "But if it is brought to my door, the bringer will find me at home."
Charles Guiteau (Will Janowitz): Senator Conkling! Senator Conkling!
Chester Arthur (Adam LeFevre): Not now!
Narrator: Convinced that he, too, had played a key role in getting the president elected, Charles Guiteau had decided on the appropriate payment: he was going to be the next consul to Paris.
Charles Guiteau (Will Janowitz): May I?
Narrator: Already, Guiteau had become a familiar face at the White House. Garfield's secretary remembered seeing him at least fifteen times. At a White House reception, Guiteau had crept up behind Lucretia to hand her his calling card, carefully pronouncing his name so that she wouldn't forget him.
Candice Millard, Author, Destiny of the Republic: He's going to the White House every day. He's going to the State Department every day. He's sitting in the park outside of the White House, waiting for Garfield, waiting for any chance to convince the president that he deserves this consulship to Paris.
Charles Guiteau (Will Janowitz): Congratulations on your victory, sir -- we cleaned them out, just like I thought we would.
James Garfield (Shuler Hensley): Thank you -- what can I do for you?
Charles Guiteau (Will Janowitz): I am here about the Paris consulship.
James Garfield (Shuler Hensley): The Paris consulship?
Charles Guiteau (Will Janowitz): This is a speech I gave in New York. It was sent to all the leading editors and orators in August. Very soon thereafter, they took up the ideas therein -- the very ideas that resulted in your election.
James Garfield (Shuler Hensley): Well thank you sir.
Charles Guiteau (Will Janowitz): So it's settled then?
James Garfield (Shuler Hensley): I'll look into it.
Charles Guiteau (Will Janowitz): Charles Guiteau -- Paris -- thank you sir.
James Garfield (Shuler Hensley): Thank you.
Nancy Tomes, Historian: A troubled soul. I think that's the best way to describe him. And he took those troubles everywhere he went. Guiteau grew up with a father who, by our standards, would be an abusive parent, physically, psychologically terrorizing his children. But he did it in the name of religion.
Candice Millard, Author, Destiny of the Republic: Guiteau's mother died when he was very young, so he had no one to turn to but his father. But Charles wasn't what his father had expected in a son. Guiteau was awkward, and he stammered. His sister -- his sister Francis -- would never forget when she heard her father yelling at Charles "say the word" and Charles would stammer, and he would beat him. "Say it," he couldn't say it, and he would hit him again, "say it," hit him again. And she heard this just repeated, going on and on and on. But Charles still wanted to please his father and so he fell into this religious zealotry as well, and that's what led him to this commune.
Nancy Tomes, Historian: Oneida was a biblical community in upstate New York. It was founded by John Humphrey Noyes and his followers with an idea of perfecting human relationships. Noyes was a champion of free love. So men and women could choose to have multiple sex partners. And there were rules about how you did this. Unfortunately, Charles Guiteau could not master the intricacies of these rules. So, while he's there he forms no bonds at all. He was that disturbed and disturbing.
Candice Millard, Author, Destiny of the Republic: It was a very lonely life that he led. He moved from boarding house to boarding house, always slipping out before the rent was due.
Nancy Tomes, Historian: The whole story of his life is kind of moving from one place to another, trying to realize this dream of being God's chosen.
Narrator: In 1881 Washington was no longer the small, provincial city that Garfield had known as a young Congressman. In the last 20 years the city's population had almost tripled. Entire neighborhoods had sprung up near the Capitol, home to the multitudes who worked in the bulging government departments to the north of the Mall. The breakneck growth had given Washington a ramshackle feel. The White House itself was falling apart: rugs covered holes in the floors, and at night the Garfields could hear rats scampering in the walls and under the floorboards. Even worse was the marsh that bordered the residence's South Lawn, where the Potomac looped around the half-finished Washington monument. Raw sewage in the river coated the air with a heavy stench that was inescapable during the hot summer months.
But for the Garfields, the White House was the saving grace of the presidency. In their first five years of marriage, James had been home for just five months. Now, the family lived together in a cherished sanctuary. No matter the pressures of work, home was always close by. Even on the busiest days, the president found time to check in on his five children.
Jim Garfield (Ladislav Gergel): Mmmnh...
Narrator: He would drag his teenage sons Jim and Harry out of bed.
James Garfield (Shuler Hensley): Time to get up!
Narrator: Give 14-year-old Mollie a quick hug before she ran off to school, and warn young Irvin and Abraham about racing through the corridors on their bicycles. The White House was the family home James and Lucretia had always longed for.
Harry Garfield (Daniel Rowland): Well thank God for Mother.
James Garfield (Shuler Hensley): I do, every day.
Narrator: On the morning of May 3rd, 1881, the comforting routine was upended when Lucretia woke with a fever. As her temperature shot up to 104 degrees, James sent for four different doctors. They confirmed that she had malaria, a constant danger for those living near the Potomac swamps. Lucretia was moved to a room on the north side of the house, to get her further from the river air. Garfield sat with her through the nights, but could do little to help. Within a week Lucretia was hovering at the brink of death, and her husband had all but disappeared from public view.
James Garfield (Shuler Hensley, audio): All my thoughts center on her. If I thought her return to health could be insured by my resigning the Presidency, I would not hesitate a moment about doing it.
Narrator: Despite the deepening crisis in the White House, there was no letup in the war between Garfield and Roscoe Conkling. The president had fired the opening shot soon after their White House meeting, when he appointed one of Conkling's bitterest enemies to head the Customs House. As Americans waited for word of the First Lady's condition, Conkling plotted his revenge, and the opposition press savaged Garfield.
Chester Arthur (Adam LeFevre): "The President of the United States has been making a use of his official powers which justifies his removal in disgrace from office."
Roscoe Conkling (Sean Mahon): Who's that?
Chester Arthur (Adam LeFevre): Herald. "Garfield has done some of the worst things that a man in power can possibly do, which justifies his removal from office."
Roscoe Conkling (Sean Mahon): I'm going to resign.
Chester Arthur (Adam LeFevre): What are you talking about?
Roscoe Conkling (Sean Mahon): I'm going to resign my Senate seat.
Chester Arthur (Adam LeFevre): Why? You've got Garfield on the ropes.
Roscoe Conkling (Sean Mahon): Listen: I resign, what happens next?
Chester Arthur (Adam LeFevre): The state legislature appoints a replacement.
Roscoe Conkling (Sean Mahon): Exactly. I resign. The press keeps tearing him apart. Soon enough my friends in the New York legislature vote overwhelmingly to send me right back to the Senate. I'll show him who runs this place.
Chester Arthur (Adam LeFevre): The timing isn't good -- there's lots of sympathy for the first lady...
Roscoe Conkling (Sean Mahon): That'll pass.
Chester Arthur (Adam LeFevre): I don't know.
Roscoe Conkling (Sean Mahon): I do.
Narrator: Conkling resigned his seat in the U.S. Senate. Garfield reacted to the news with a shrug. It was, he wrote in his diary, "a very weak attempt at the heroic." If Conkling and Arthur felt that Garfield had betrayed them, so did Charles Guiteau. In the middle of May, Garfield's close ally, Secretary of State James Blaine told Guiteau that he would never be the consul to Paris.
Candice Millard, Author, Destiny of the Republic: Guiteau is stunned, and he's furious, and he goes back to his little boarding house, and his little cot in that room, and he feverishly thinks about it, and thinks about it, and grows more and more angry. And then he has, what he believes, is a divine inspiration.
Nancy Tomes, Historian: God says to Guiteau, "You need to kill the president." Or "remove him," as he said. "You've got to get rid of him and then you will be rewarded." And it's at that point he starts planning.
Candice Millard, Author, Destiny of the Republic: The first thought that Guiteau has is that he is going to be famous. So, he buys the fanciest gun he can afford because, he thinks well, you know, it's, of course, going to be in a museum some day. And then he goes to the banks of the Potomac to practice, 'cause he's never even shot a gun before.
Nancy Tomes, Historian: Guiteau thinks, "Can this really be God talking to me?" And God just kept saying, "That's what you've got to do. You've got to kill the president."
You would think that after the Lincoln assassination, people would have decided that there should be guards around the president. Au contraire. Very strong belief that, because the United States was a democracy, that if you didn't like your leaders, you would simply kick 'em out of office. Assassination was unnecessary.
Todd Arrington, Garfield National Historic Site: The Lincoln assassination in 1865 was viewed as really an anomaly. Nobody gave much thought to the idea that a president could be assassinated outside of a context like the Civil War. So James Garfield can walk out of the White House and walk down the street by himself.
Narrator: Guiteau had opportunities to strike. Lucretia had finally recovered enough that the couple could be seen taking rides around the city. And when she was leaving Washington to convalesce at the New Jersey shore, Guiteau trailed her and James to the train station. He had a clear shot, but was overcome with sympathy for the First Lady, and couldn't pull the trigger.
Candice Millard, Author, Destiny of the Republic: Guiteau follows him everywhere. He even follows him to church. He sits behind Garfield, and he disagrees with something the minister says, and he shouts out. And Garfield that night writes in his diary about this young man, you know, shouting in church. Guiteau is absolutely spinning out of control.
Charles Guiteau (Will Janowitz, audio): To the American People: I conceived the idea of removing the President, because he has proved a traitor to the men that made him. This is not murder, it is a political necessity. This will make my friend Arthur president, and save the Republic. I expect President Arthur and Senator Conkling will give the Nation the finest administration it has ever had.
Narrator: By the beginning of July, Roscoe Conkling was in trouble. He had given up his Senate seat, but nothing had gone according to plan. There was no tidal wave of support, and it looked like the New York Legislature might not vote him back to the Senate at all.
Chester Arthur (Adam LeFevre): We've lost Platt.
Roscoe Conkling (Sean Mahon): Change his mind.
Chester Arthur (Adam LeFevre): It's too late for that.
Roscoe Conkling (Sean Mahon): Who else do you have?
Chester Arthur (Adam LeFevre): We don't have the votes. I've played every angle...
Candice Millard, Author, Destiny of the Republic: It was hubris. He believed that he was so powerful and so important that no one would dare to lose him. He could resign and people would beg him to come back.
Narrator: Three months into Garfield's presidency, Roscoe Conkling's political career was hanging by a thread. His only hope of regaining power was his connection to the vice president.
Conkling's demise transformed the outlook for Garfield's presidency. He had all but destroyed his most dangerous adversary. Now that he was in control of his own party, the president might realize the dream he had proclaimed during the campaign, that "the equal sunlight of liberty should shine upon every man, black or white, in the Union." The clouds had parted everywhere. Lucretia was well again, and waiting for him in New Jersey.
Candice Millard, Author, Destiny of the Republic: It's been such an incredibly stressful and difficult four months. And he's so looking forward to this opportunity to get away from Washington and the White House.
James Blaine (John Hutton): Hail the conquering hero!
James Garfield (Shuler Hensley): Mr. Blaine!
James Blaine (John Hutton): You've vanquished your enemies, and now you're being reunited with your bride. It's a red letter day at the White House, sir.
James Garfield (Shuler Hensley): I was raised to be wary of good fortune, but I can't help feeling a little bullish today.
James Blaine (John Hutton): And so you should, after the fight you've had.
James Garfield (Shuler Hensley): Well, you'll have to excuse me, but I'm due at the train station.
James Blaine (John Hutton): I'd like to have a word with you about Vice President Arthur.
James Garfield (Shuler Hensley): Why don't you come along?
Narrator: Charles Guiteau had read about the president's trip in the newspaper. It was the opportunity he had been waiting for.
Charles Guiteau (Will Janowitz): That's enough -- I have an appointment.
Narrator: That morning, he had risen early, taken a stroll in Lafayette Park, eaten a hearty breakfast, then walked across town to the Baltimore and Potomac Railway Station. In his pocket were two letters: one to William Tecumseh Sherman, Chief of the Army, and the other addressed to the White House.
Charles Guiteau (Will Janowitz, audio): The President's tragic death is a sad necessity, but it will unite the Republican Party, and save the Republic. I presume the President is a Christian and that he will be happier in Paradise than here. It will be no worse for Mrs. Garfield to part with her husband this way than by natural death.
Candice Millard, Author, Destiny of the Republic: He is thinking my life is gonna change now too. I'm going to be famous and I'm going to get everything that I deserve, that I've been entitled to for so long.
Charles Guiteau (Will Janowitz): Arthur will be president! Arthur will be president!
Kenneth D. Ackerman, Writer: The news of the shooting spread very quickly. The practice back then was that newspapers would have bulletin boards and they would take the latest telegraphed messages from Washington about this or anything else and post them out front. And those bulletin boards quickly started attracting very large crowds. Within an hour or so of the shooting, you saw newspaper extra editions starting to appear in the big cities. So it didn't take long for news of the shooting to reach the American public.
Todd Arrington, Garfield National Historic Site: People are starting to hear reports even as the first examinations of Garfield's wounds were being done on the floor of the train station.
Robert Todd Lincoln (Robert Polo): We've got to get him back to the White House.
James Blaine (John Hutton): How do we know it's safe out there?
Robert Todd Lincoln (Robert Polo): Did you see the gunman?
James Blaine (John Hutton): Yes.
Robert Todd Lincoln (Robert Polo): Was he alone?
James Blaine (John Hutton): I don't know.
Todd Arrington, Garfield National Historic Site: Obviously there's great confusion. They don't know how many people might be out there trying to commit assassinations. There's any number of possible conspiracies here.
Narrator: Lucretia was in her hotel room in Elberon, New Jersey, preparing for her husband's arrival, when a messenger appeared at the door with a telegram. "There has been an accident," he told her. Perhaps she should return to Washington. Within the hour, she was on a special train, speeding back to the White House. But eighteen miles from Washington, the First Lady encountered an excruciating delay, when her train's locomotive came apart and almost jumped the rails. It would be hours before she had any hope of reaching her husband.
An hour after the shooting, Garfield insisted that he didn't want to die on the floor of a railway station. The president was carried outside to a makeshift ambulance and driven back to the White House.
Joseph Stanley Brown (Joe Weintraub): There are soldiers all over the lawn.
Dr. Doctor Willard Bliss (James Eckhouse): Stay away from the windows -- we don't know who's out there.
Candice Millard, Author, Destiny of the Republic: Garfield is in excruciating pain. He's had his wound probed again and again and again. He's been vomiting repeatedly ever since the shooting, so he's intensely dehydrated… He was able to ask one of the doctors, "What do you think my chances of survival are?" And he said, you know, "They're not good." They didn't know where the bullet was and they believed that he would not survive the night.
Narrator: As Garfield's prospects darkened, attention turned to Vice President Chester Arthur, who was travelling to New York with Roscoe Conkling.
Kenneth D. Ackerman, Writer: They were just getting off the boat in New York City that morning when they heard the word that Garfield had been shot. There weren't a lot of details available, and when they got to the Fifth Avenue Hotel -- that's where they were staying -- they were surrounded by reporters.
Reporters (Actors): There they are! Mr. Vice President! Mr. Vice President!
Fifth Avenue Reporter (Ted Otis): Mr. Vice-President, the assassin said that he shot President Garfield on your behalf. What do you have to say?
Chester Arthur (Adam LeFevre): What are you talking about?
Fifth Avenue Reporter (Ted Otis): "Arthur will be President." Those were his words.
Chester Arthur (Adam LeFevre): Look: I don't know who this man is.
Roscoe Conkling (Sean Mahon): We're needed upstairs.
Fifth Avenue Reporter (Ted Otis): Do you have anything to say about the death threats?
Chester Arthur (Adam LeFevre): What?
Fifth Avenue Reporter (Ted Otis): The hotel has received several threats to your lives.
Roscoe Conkling (Sean Mahon): We have to go.
Candice Millard, Author, Destiny of the Republic: The idea that this corrupt puppet might become president is just unbelievable. Across the country people are rising up in anger believing that Chester Arthur wants nothing more than for Garfield to die so he can get his hands on the presidency, with Conkling behind him.
Narrator: There was plenty of fodder for conspiracy theories, starting with the gunman himself. As Washington descended into chaos, Charles Guiteau was taken to a cell in the District Jail. Ever since he shot the president, he had been telling anyone who would listen about his connections to Chester Arthur.
Charles Guiteau (Will Janowitz): Don't you worry my friend. You stick to me. Arthur and all those men are my friends, and I'll have you made Chief of Police.
Todd Arrington, Garfield National Historic Site: Guiteau genuinely believes that Arthur will reward him, pardon him and give him a job, and view him as a hero.
Nancy Tomes, Historian: Guiteau was jubilant. He had executed his plan in his mind to perfection. He sat there fully expecting that they were going to remove him from jail, and celebrate his having ridded the Republic of this bad president.
Narrator: All day, Garfield had been afraid that he would die without seeing Lucretia once more. Time and again he asked after her. For Lucretia, the day had been an agony of suspense as she struggled to reach her husband.
Mary Lintern, Garfield National Historic Site: When Lucretia arrives at the White House she was still frail from malaria, but she summons up the strength to see her husband. Garfield starts talking to his wife about plans for the future without him and she says, "No, do not speak again of death, I am here to nurse you back to life."
Narrator: Within 24 hours of the shooting, more than a dozen doctors had examined the president. But one of them had clearly taken charge.
Dr. Doctor Willard Bliss (James Eckhouse): Mrs. Garfield. I'm Doctor Bliss.
Lucretia Garfield (Kathryn Erbe): Doctor. I am very grateful. Mr. Garfield speaks highly of you.
Dr. Doctor Willard Bliss (James Eckhouse): Please -- it's an honor to serve such a man. Your husband is a remarkable patient. His courage and fortitude are almost unique.
Lucretia Garfield (Kathryn Erbe): I've always thought so.
Dr. Doctor Willard Bliss (James Eckhouse): He has rallied against all odds. But in order for him to heal, he needs rest and isolation. This is why I have screened off his bed, and prohibited visitors.
Lucretia Garfield (Kathryn Erbe): Of course.
Dr. Doctor Willard Bliss (James Eckhouse): Now madam, may I advise you to go and get some rest.
Lucretia Garfield (Kathryn Erbe): I can't leave him. When I was ill he was at my bedside night and day.
Dr. Doctor Willard Bliss (James Eckhouse): Precisely. You're still in delicate health. You mustn't fall ill again, for your sake, and for his.
Lucretia Garfield (Kathryn Erbe): It is a comfort to know he is in such capable hands.
Narrator: That morning, Dr. Bliss sent a letter to the other physicians, informing them that their services were no longer necessary. They all respected what they assumed to be the president's wishes. With that, Dr. Bliss gained complete control of the case, and of the information reaching the public. As the weeks passed, it appeared that Garfield had been spared, and his recovery was in good hands. Grateful Americans flooded the White House with letters of support, prayer, and advice.
Telegram Man 1 (Actor, audio): Dear Mr. President, the employees of the Southwest freight station of the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad tender their sincere congratulations on your escape from death and earnestly pray for your recovery.
Telegram Woman 2 (Actor, audio): The Point Chautauqua Baptist Union hereby give expression to their profound admiration for the fortitude and sublime Christian faith of the president.
Telegram Man 3 (Actor, audio): Dear President, I am a young man, and I've always felt that you were a true friend to young men educationally, morally, religiously, and politically.
Telegram Man 4 (Actor, audio): Sir, the citizens of Newport invite you to become their guest and to receive their hospitality during your convalescence. Our citizens will place at your disposal a suitable residence, and whatever may be necessary or convenient for you, while you will consent to tarry with us.
Telegram Man 5 (Actor, audio): Sir, I send you two Woodcocks killed by myself on the battlefield of Monocacy expressly for you. They were killed 3:30 o'clock. I hope you will enjoy them.
Telegram Woman 4 (Actor, audio): Mr. Garfield, I watched very careful your sickness since the time you was shot, and feel very happy at the good news that you are getting better every day now. We pray that you will soon be able to watch over our great country again.
Nancy Tomes, Historian: Garfield's immune system was fighting back sufficiently that he did seem to improve. He also became more optimistic, his family became more optimistic, despite the trauma of the shooting.
Lucretia Garfield (Kathryn Erbe, audio): I hope the dangers are nearly passed. My heart is full of gratitude, so full that I have no words wherewith to express it.
Todd Arrington, Garfield National Historic Site: Lucretia Garfield becomes a very important figure during the summer of 1881. There's a great outpouring of sympathy and support for the president, and for the first lady as well. She's almost always by his side, she's in the White House with him, she's taking care of him, trying to nurse him back to health.
James Garfield (Shuler Hensley): Mollie won't like that -- they've made her look very strange.
Lucretia Garfield (Kathryn Erbe): Never mind Mollie -- please tell me I don't look like this!
Dr. Doctor Willard Bliss (James Eckhouse): Pulse 106. Sir, they've done Mrs. Garfield a great injustice.
Lucretia Garfield (Kathryn Erbe): Thank you doctor.
Dr. Doctor Willard Bliss (James Eckhouse): Just one shot. Very good. And… yes, good. Now, try to relax.
Silas Boynton (Daniel Pearce): Mrs. Garfield.
Lucretia Garfield (Kathryn Erbe): Silas!
Silas Boynton (Daniel Pearce): How is he?
Lucretia Garfield (Kathryn Erbe): He's so much better. We've been spared. Doctor Bliss, I'd like to introduce a family friend -- and the president's cousin -- Dr. Silas Boynton.
Silas Boynton (Daniel Pearce): Dr. Bliss.
Dr. Doctor Willard Bliss (James Eckhouse): Dr. Boynton.
Lucretia Garfield (Kathryn Erbe): I hope you don't mind -- I asked him to come.
Dr. Doctor Willard Bliss (James Eckhouse): Certainly. But I'm afraid you've wasted your time, Doctor -- the crisis has passed.
Lucretia Garfield (Kathryn Erbe): I hope you don't mind if Dr. Boynton stays. It would be a comfort to see a familiar face...
Dr. Doctor Willard Bliss (James Eckhouse): Of course madam. We're due to change the president's dressings -- so you might both want to step outside.
Silas Boynton (Daniel Pearce): I would very much like to observe, if you don't mind.
Dr. Doctor Willard Bliss (James Eckhouse): As you wish.
Lucretia Garfield (Kathryn Erbe): Thank you so much for coming Silas.
Dr. Doctor Willard Bliss (James Eckhouse): Give me a hand here, will you. Sir, this won't but take just a second. Just a few seconds. Easy. Very good, sir. Just going to change your dressings.
Candice Millard, Author, Destiny of the Republic: Bliss, like most of the doctors in the United States, didn't really even believe in germs at that time. They wouldn't even change or wash their surgical aprons. They felt that the more blood and pus that was encrusted on them, the more experience it showed.
Nancy Tomes, Historian: The germ theory was in the air, but it was still a theory. One of the most important popularizers of germ theory was a Scottish surgeon named Joseph Lister, who said to himself, "If there are living germs in the air while surgeons are operating, that could be the source of wound infections. So I am going to experiment as a surgeon by using disinfectant." And he chose carbolic acid as his disinfectant of choice. So antisepsis was the removal of germs. It's what the phrase meant. He does this starting in the mid-1860's and he sees a spectacular reduction in post-operative infection. By the early 1870's there's an awareness of Lister's theory and Lister's technique. Did everyone believe Lister? No.
Candice Millard, Author, Destiny of the Republic: Like many other doctors, Bliss believed that antisepsis was still too unproven, and he's not going to risk the president's health on any sort of newfangled medical idea. He thought it was ridiculous to fear something you couldn't even see.
Dr. Doctor Willard Bliss (James Eckhouse): Good sir, good. You just get some rest.
Silas Boynton (Daniel Pearce): The wound looks inflamed -- have you cleaned it? Doctor, shall we go over the prognosis?
Dr. Doctor Willard Bliss (James Eckhouse): Dr. Boynton, you may be the president's cousin, but he is my patient.
Silas Boynton (Daniel Pearce): What are you talking about?
Dr. Doctor Willard Bliss (James Eckhouse): What is the nature of your practice?
Silas Boynton (Daniel Pearce): I don't have a practice. I teach at the Women's Homeopathic Medical College in Cleveland.
Dr. Doctor Willard Bliss (James Eckhouse): And what experience do you have with gunshot wounds?
Silas Boynton (Daniel Pearce): None to date.
Dr. Doctor Willard Bliss (James Eckhouse): I have been practicing for 36 years, including two years as chief of surgery at the Armory Hospital here during the war. I don't know what the war was like for you in Cleveland, but my lighter duties included treating thousands of gunshot wounds. So: you may observe. But you will not interfere, and you will not offer your opinions in front of the president or Mrs. Garfield. Do you understand?
Silas Boynton (Daniel Pearce): Doctor Bliss...
Dr. Doctor Willard Bliss (James Eckhouse): The President has appointed me as his personal physician. I think we should trust his judgment.
Narrator: Dr. Bliss had a genuine affection for Garfield. They had been friendly growing up in Ohio, and had both survived the crucible of the Civil War. During the war, Bliss had risen to the top echelons of the Army's Medical Department. But afterward his career was almost destroyed by Washington's medical establishment, in part because he took an interest in the new field of homeopathy. Publicly branded a quack, Bliss lost his practice and his reputation. One of the few men who stood by him in that dark hour was Representative James Garfield. Bliss renounced homeopathy, but it took years to recover his reputation. He emerged from the experience deeply reluctant to embrace new ideas in medicine.
Bliss gave no credence to the warnings about cleanliness coming from Boynton and others. Instead, he administered morphine every day, along with brandy and an assortment of rich foods, which Garfield was unable to keep down. Rather than trying a simpler diet, Bliss began feeding the president rectally, with beef bouillon, warmed milk, egg yolk, and a little opium. By then, the wound in Garfield's back had been probed more than a dozen times with unwashed fingers and instruments. Bliss wasn't overly concerned about the president's fever. And he thought it a good sign when the wound began producing what he called "laudable" pus.
Nancy Tomes, Historian: The aggressive probing for the bullet created a channel in the president's flesh that became the portal for disease-causing bacteria to gain access deep into his body.
Narrator: From the outset, Americans' sympathy for the president had been matched only by their fascination with the would-be assassin. And Charles Guiteau was only too willing to indulge that curiosity.
Charles Guiteau (Will Janowitz): I don't want to appear too strained or awkward.
Candice Millard, Author, Destiny of the Republic: He felt that now he was famous. And he took full advantage of it. He gave every interview he could. He sat for portraits. He wrote his autobiography -- which he sent to the New York Herald to be published.
Jail Photographer (Josef Gurunz): Ok.
Candice Millard, Author, Destiny of the Republic: He even made it known that he was looking for a wife -- he hoped to find a wealthy young woman.
Jail Photographer (Josef Gurunz): Hold that.
Candice Millard, Author, Destiny of the Republic: He believed that the American people were with him.
Jail Photographer (Josef Gurunz): Ok.
Nancy Tomes, Historian: He was rational on some level, but so profoundly irrational on others. The pattern suggests schizophrenia, possibly paranoid schizophrenia. There has also been speculation that, as a young man, he contracted syphilis. Mental hospitals in the late 19th century were filled with patients in the later stages of cerebral syphilitic infection.
Charles Guiteau (Will Janowitz): Make sure you get the right expression on my face and eyes.
Jail Photographer (Josef Gurunz): Alright, hold that.
Charles Guiteau (Will Janowitz): I will, of course, expect a $25 royalty.
Narrator: Guiteau was still confident that Chester Arthur would reward him when he finally took office. This time there would be no doubt about who had made the president. In fact, few people still believed that Arthur had been involved in the shooting. But that didn't mean they wanted him in the White House.
Heather Cox Richardson, Historian: Americans are horrified. They think that Chester Arthur is going to get into office, he's going to turn everything over to Roscoe Conkling, his friend and buddy, and they're going to run the country, just pillaging, essentially, as they go.
Candice Millard, Author, Destiny of the Republic: In fact, Arthur is terrified. He's hiding away in a house of a friend, a senator who's left the city for the summer. And no one knows where he is.
Narrator: By late July, the United States had been effectively without a president for almost a month. The Constitution offered no guidance and there was no precedent. Secretary of State Blaine had asked Arthur to take over the president's responsibilities, but the vice president refused.
Candice Millard, Author, Destiny of the Republic: He just disappears, and a journalist finally tracks him down. He's walking through the house searching for him.
Chester Arthur (Adam LeFevre): What are you doing?
James Norton, Reporter (Daniel Brown): I'm sorry to bother you, sir. James Norton from the New York Times. May I?
Kenneth D. Ackerman, Writer: Chester Alan Arthur is being forced to really take a look in the mirror at himself, at his behavior, at the way the Stalwarts had affected the country. Arthur at this point had to make one of those real choices about what kind of person is he going to be.
James Norton, Reporter (Daniel Brown): Senator Conkling has dominated the last two presidents. Do you think you can you stand up to him?
Chester Arthur (Adam LeFevre): I am Vice President. President Garfield is fighting for his life. We should all pray for his deliverance. Good day sir.
James Norton, Reporter (Daniel Brown): But sir, do you think you could explain...
Chester Arthur (Adam LeFevre): Good day sir.
Nancy Tomes, Historian: Garfield is holding his own for a couple of weeks, but then at the end of July the level of infection escalates. He's racked by fevers, he's racked by chills. Abscesses start popping up all over. These are all classic symptoms of massive septicemia -- septic blood from the bacteria that is growing in his body and then releasing their toxic by-products.
Narrator: On the 23rd of July, three weeks after the shooting, Garfield suddenly began suffering what were called "rigors" -- chills, fevers, delirium. As the crisis escalated, Doctor Bliss began resorting to ever more extreme measures, including isolation so complete that Garfield had no view of the outside world, and was rarely allowed to see his children.
With the president hidden from public view, Americans saw the tragedy through the lens of newspapers and illustrated magazines. They wanted nothing more than to help their stricken president. When Bliss's bulletins indicated that Garfield was able to keep milk down, a company in Baltimore sent a prize dairy cow, which was kept tied up on the White House lawn. Hearing that Lucretia made squirrel soup for her husband, two North Carolina girls sacrificed their beloved pet to the cause. The president's Catholic cook made a habit of discreetly sprinkling holy water into his food. And day after day, crowds kept an anxious vigil outside the White House. Among those desperate to help the president was the country's most famous inventor: 34 year-old Alexander Graham Bell. When Bell read accounts of Garfield's suffering, he became obsessed with developing a less barbaric method of locating the bullet.
Alexander Graham Bell (Jay Deyonker): This could be the trick. And he won't feel a thing.
Dr. Doctor Willard Bliss (James Eckhouse): Are you sure?
Alexander Graham Bell (Jay Deyonker): Positive.
Narrator: Bell abandoned his other work, left his pregnant wife in Boston, and shut himself away in a small lab on Connecticut Avenue, not far from the White House. Drawing on the principles he had used in the telephone, Bell and his assistant invented the world's first metal detector. Bliss had been dismissive of Bell's efforts at first, but now he was growing desperate.
Dr. Doctor Willard Bliss (James Eckhouse): I'll take that.
Alexander Graham Bell (Jay Deyonker): Mr. Tainter is very familiar with the apparatus.
Dr. Doctor Willard Bliss (James Eckhouse): I think it best.
Alexander Graham Bell (Jay Deyonker): It is a delicate procedure...
Dr. Doctor Willard Bliss (James Eckhouse): I think it best.
Alexander Graham Bell (Jay Deyonker): As you wish.
Narrator: Bell had already pushed the boundaries of science in developing his device.
Alexander Graham Bell (Jay Deyonker): Proceed.
Narrator: But was now suddenly up against a new complication. Dr. Bliss had stated publicly many times that the bullet was lodged in the president's right side. It now became clear that he expected Bell to find it where Bliss had said it was. The doctor wouldn't even allow Bell to examine the left side of the president's body.
Alexander Graham Bell (Jay Deyonker): Wait. Maybe there? I don't know -- have a listen.
Charles Tainter (Patrik Plesinger): I don't think so.
Alexander Graham Bell (Jay Deyonker): I'm sorry. The signal is much weaker than it was in our tests.
Dr. Doctor Willard Bliss (James Eckhouse): But it is a signal.
Alexander Graham Bell (Jay Deyonker): I don't think it's conclusive.
Dr. Doctor Willard Bliss (James Eckhouse): But it confirms all of the other evidence. I think that we can declare your test a success, Mr. Bell. We thank you for all of your hard work. But now the president must have his rest. Thank you.
Narrator: Bliss announced publicly that Bell had confirmed his conclusions, and told the inventor that his services were no longer needed.
Candice Millard, Author, Destiny of the Republic: Even by 1880s standards, Garfield was receiving very questionable medical care. He's being given alcohol and morphine every day. He is being given rich foods. He is growing more and more sick every day as this infection takes over his body.
Narrator: Behind the scenes, the struggle over Garfield's treatment was becoming more intense. Bliss had demoted Silas Boynton to nursing duties and excluded him from all decision-making, but the younger doctor remained a thorn in his side.
Candice Millard, Author, Destiny of the Republic: Lucretia had asked Silas Boynton to stay, and to watch. And he did and he was horrified by what was going on.
Nancy Tomes, Historian: Boynton was a homeopathic physician. One of the hallmarks of this alternative approach was an emphasis on cleanliness. A homeopath would believe in keeping the patient calm, rested, nourished, and clean; the opposite of what Bliss was doing.
Narrator: Reporters sensed that something was going wrong, and they found Silas Boynton only too willing to back up their suspicions. Boynton was most incensed by Bliss's exclusion of other doctors, a clear breach of medical ethics.
Lucretia Garfield (Kathryn Erbe): Will you excuse us please?
James, Silas has raised an important question. Did you assign Dr. Bliss to be your doctor?
James Garfield (Shuler Hensley): I don't know.
Silas Boynton (Daniel Pearce): He's told everyone that you put him in charge. And he's using that to get rid of anyone who might challenge him.
James Garfield (Shuler Hensley): As well he should.
Silas Boynton (Daniel Pearce): What do you mean?
James Garfield (Shuler Hensley): He's worked himself half to death for me.
Silas Boynton (Daniel Pearce): It's not for you -- he just wants to make a name for himself. He's blind with ambition. If he just cleaned the wound...but he's too obstinate.
Lucretia Garfield (Kathryn Erbe): Silas thinks all that pus is a sign of danger.
James Garfield (Shuler Hensley): Silas, he has seen many more wounds than you have.
Silas Boynton (Daniel Pearce): Yes, and how many of those soldiers did he kill?
Lucretia Garfield (Kathryn Erbe): Silas...
Silas Boynton (Daniel Pearce): No. It has to be said. Your life is at stake. Please talk to him.
James Garfield (Shuler Hensley): She already has. It's no use Silas.
Nancy Tomes, Historian: The infection becomes more generalized throughout his body, and he gets much sicker, much faster. There comes a tipping point when the immune system starts to lose the battle.
Candice Millard, Author, Destiny of the Republic: For Bliss, it's becoming a nightmare. He writes to a friend, "I can't afford to have him die," and he underlines each separate word.
James Garfield (Shuler Hensley): Doctor.
Dr. Doctor Willard Bliss (James Eckhouse): Sir?
James Garfield (Shuler Hensley): I'm dying.
Dr. Doctor Willard Bliss (James Eckhouse): Don't give up. You can't give up.
James Garfield (Shuler Hensley): I want to go to the sea.
Dr. Doctor Willard Bliss (James Eckhouse): I can't allow that sir. There are things I have yet to try...
James Garfield (Shuler Hensley): I'm not asking your permission. I'm not asking your permission.
Narrator: On the 6th of September 1881, at 6:00 in the morning, President Garfield was tenderly carried from his room in the White House to a specially-constructed train. The journey to the New Jersey coast was a transcendent expression of public affection.
Thousands of men and women lined the route in ghostly silence, throwing straw on the tracks to soften the ride. To ease the final stage of the journey, two thousand volunteers worked through the night, laying track to the door of Garfield's cottage. When the train's engine got stuck on an incline, hundreds of workers uncoupled the president's car, and pushed it home with their bare hands. Garfield, who had been cut off from the world ever since the shooting, was deeply moved.
Candice Millard, Author, Destiny of the Republic: Garfield used to talk about how when someone is ill you can really see, what he referred to as, the bed of the sea. Their true character comes through. And this was absolutely the case with Garfield himself. When he was so ill and in incredible pain, he was always kind, and considerate and concerned about other people, making jokes and wanting to put them at ease. Everybody around him benefitted tremendously from his example.
Narrator: Since the day of the shooting, soldiers had stood guard outside Guiteau's jail, protecting him from his fellow citizens. On September 11th, one of them decided he'd had enough. As his shift began he took aim at the silhouette in the jail window.
Nancy Tomes, Historian: From our perspective now, absolutely no doubt, Guiteau was profoundly mentally ill. But the sad truth is, in 1881, it didn't matter what was wrong with him. You can find many a statement saying: "I don't care if he was insane. I want him dead. I want him strung up."
Lucretia Garfield (Kathryn Erbe): James? Look what they've done to you. I hate them James. Why can't I go with you? Please, don't leave me alone. Oh James, I'm sorry.
Dr. Doctor Willard Bliss (James Eckhouse): It's over.
Telegram Woman 5 (Actor, audio): Dear Mrs. Garfield, The heavens weep and our tears fall over our dear departed Leader. Please forgive me if I have done wrong in writing to you.
Telegram Man 8 (Actor, audio): The assassin has struck at the heart of the country. Believe me dear Madam when I assure you that in all parts, and amongst all classes, a common feeling of horror at the crime, and sympathy with the stricken, is paramount in the heart of every true man.
Telegram Man 6 (Actor, audio): My Dear Mrs. Garfield, I sympathize very deeply with you in the loss of your noble husband. I prayed often for his recovery but the good Lord has taken him home, where we hope to meet him. With highest regards, An Ex-Confederate Soldier.
Telegram Woman 7 (Actor, audio): The hearts of the Nation are bowed with grief. Dear Mrs. Garfield, we as a Nation claim you and your children. God has left you to us. And that you may be comforted and sustained, think how we all love you.
Narrator: James Garfield's body was returned to Washington on the same train that had taken him to the sea. The small towns that dotted the route were draped in mourning. Bells tolled, and crowds gathered in respectful silence. When they reached the White House, Lucretia's final ordeal began, as she undertook her part in the nation's mourning.
Todd Arrington, Garfield National Historic Site: There's this great outpouring of sympathy and support for Mrs. Garfield, for the family. And in fact, Garfield's funeral in Cleveland, at the end of September, was larger than the Lincoln funeral.
Narrator: Now that the president was gone, Americans' greatest fear was that Guiteau would escape the gallows by pleading insanity. They avidly followed reports of the tragedy's last chapter. Guiteau was put on trial, but there was never any doubt about the outcome. After 72 days of testimony, it took the jury a little over an hour to find him guilty.
Candice Millard, Author, Destiny of the Republic: Guiteau breaks my heart a little. He never should have been allowed to hurt anyone, much less the President of the United States. They walked to the gallows and he was allowed to read this poem, which he wrote. The signal that was agreed upon was that when he was ready, he would drop the poem. And he finished the poem and he called out, "Glory, glory, glory," and he let the poem fall.
Narrator: During the trial, Guiteau had offered an unsettling defense: "The doctors ought to be indicted" he charged, "not me." Although Guiteau's argument did him no good in court, it struck a nerve with the public. An autopsy proved that Bliss was mistaken about the position of the bullet, and that the president had in fact died of a massive infection. A few months after Guiteau's execution, Congress launched an investigation into the president's medical treatment. Bliss was pilloried, both for his misjudgments and for his jealousy of other doctors.
Heather Cox Richardson, Historian: There's probably only one man in America who thinks this whole thing has worked out quite well and that's Roscoe Conkling. Finally his right hand man is President of the United States and he fully expects that Arthur is going now to take his orders.
Narrator: A few weeks after Arthur's swearing in, Roscoe Conkling called on the new president to lay out his plans for the administration. Washington was buzzing with rumors of Conkling's demands. Secretary of State, some said, or perhaps Treasury.
Kenneth D. Ackerman, Writer: We don't know exactly how the conversation went, but it was pretty clear they had a pretty bad argument. Arthur, to his credit, said no to Roscoe Conkling. And it was a very politically courageous thing for Arthur to do. As one Stalwart put it, he's not Chet anymore, he's now the President of the United States.
Narrator: With Chester Arthur in the White House, the wheels of government began turning again. Life went on across the country, but many Americans were haunted by a sense of loss. For laborers, field hands, immigrants, settlers, for everyone hoping to rise through hard work, James Garfield had embodied the American dream, a dream that was being obscured by the strife and divisions of the Gilded Age. In an era shot through with cynicism and corruption, he had dared to summon once again the better angels of their natures.
Heather Cox Richardson, Historian: Garfield would come to represent that vision for which the Union had fought. Garfield believed that everybody should have equality of opportunity and that the government should help them get that. And that included black men as well as white men. With the assassination of Garfield, that dream -- the dream for which the Union had fought -- that vision died.
Todd Arrington, Garfield National Historic Site: There's this great sense that Garfield represented lost potential. There's no question that Garfield could have been a great president.
Candice Millard, Author, Destiny of the Republic: He'd been incredibly kind and just and courageous. Garfield for even a short time raised our sights and made us more tolerant and more open-minded.