(Not to be confused with The Presidents of the United States of America)
Rutherford B. Hayes ← James A. Garfield → Chester A. Arthur
"The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable."
—James A. Garfield
President Garfield had the second shortest term of any sitting president (beaten only by William Henry Harrison). On July 2, 1881, he was shot in a train station by Charles Guiteau, a mentally-ill man who believed in his insanity that he was owed a government job, and that Garfield was refusing to appoint him.
Due to horribly botched treatment by his doctors, who repeatedly tried to remove the bullet (with their bare hands-this was shortly before Louis Pasteur discovered germs), causing Garfield to become infected and endure intense pain for eighty days before finally expiring. The wound would not even have killed him if they had simply left the bullet alone. Garfield died on Monday, September 19, 1881.
Despite Guiteau claiming the doctors had killed the president, not him ("I only shot him," technically half-correct), he was duly found guilty and executed.
This incident is credited by some for convincing future Presidents that perhaps using government jobs as rewards may not be such a good idea. Garfield himself had complained before his shooting about how many would-be officeholders were requesting a handout, and the fact he was gunned down by a would-be appointee spurred the system. He also notably complained that being in politics cut down on his free time - in a commencement address. While not often portrayed in popular culture, he was, of course one of the subjects of the Stephen Sondheim musical Assassins. He was also discussed in Sarah Vowell's book Assassination Vacation, and was voiced in the audiobook by none other than Jon Stewart.
He was a Civil War hero and could write Greek with one hand and Latin with the other at the same time. He was also a former college president and preacher.
Check out a one-minute biography here.
- Cruel and Unusual Death: His getting shot was painful but brief. His actual death was over a series of months after infection set in and the man wasted away until he finally passed, never regaining consciousness.
- Dark Horse Victory: His being the Republican nominee for the election. No one wanted Hayes back, and the only Republican who was a possible choice was James G. Blaine,and he had enough enemies he lost, so Garfield wound up being the surprise victor.
- Shout-Out: Hark! A Vagrant has "Another Dang Garfield Cartoon"