Presidential Assassin Charles J. Guiteau Executed: On This Day, June 30

Charles J. Guiteau, Desire for a civil service job might seem like an odd reason to commit a capital crime—but it was one of the reasons given by the man who assassinate President James A. Garfield, Charles J. Guiteau. He shot the President on July 2, 1881, and Garfield died two months later, on September 19, 1881.

Charles Julius Guiteau employed the unusual medium of poetry to plead his innocence. His odd behavior in court made him a media sensation. While the poem shown here was never published, Guiteau was obviously worried about his historical legacy. The verse illustrates his obsession with fame.

I executed
the Divine command.
And Garfield did remove,
To save my party,
and my country
From the bitter fate of War.

The poem is a unique look into the mind of one of American history’s more eccentric characters. Suffering perhaps from schizophrenia, Guiteau, an attorney, felt he was owed a government job for the few speeches he made in support of Garfield during the 1880 presidential campaign. After repeated attempts to obtain an ambassadorship, he was told by Secretary of State James Blaine never to return. This dismissal led him to shoot Garfield in 1881. Here Guiteau recapitulates his overtures and laces his poem with extreme religious imagery, calling the assassination a "Divine command." He attempts to satisfy his martyred ego and to vindicate his actions, writing, "I saved our party and our land." Guiteau compares his plight to Moses’, writing "God kept Moses. / He will me. / I fear no man!"

Guiteau’s arguments held no sway with the jury, and he was executed on June 30, 1882.

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