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Hayes’ first target in his meager reform effort was to remove Chester A. Arthur, a strong Conkling man, from his post as head of the New York City Customs House. Arthur had been notorious for using his post as customs collector to gain political favors for Conkling. When Hayes forcibly removed him from the position, even Half-Breeds questioned the wisdom of the move and began to distance themselves from Hayes. The loss of his meager public support due to the Compromise of 1877 and the declining Congressional faction together sealed Hayes fate and made his reelection impossible.

An assassin’s bullet sets the stage for civil service reform

In the wake of President Hayes’ failure, Republicans began to battle over a successor for the 1880 presidential election. Initially, Stalwarts favored Grant’s return to the White House, while Half-Breeds promoted their leader, James Blaine. Following an expected convention deadlock, both factions agreed to a compromise presidential candidate, Senator James A. Garfield of Ohio, with Chester Arthur as his vice-presidential running mate. The Democratic Party turned to Winfield Scott Hancock, a former Union commander who was a hero of the Battle of Gettysburg, as their candidate.

Garfield won a narrow victory over Hancock by forty thousand votes, although he still did not win a majority of the popular vote. But less than four months into his presidency, events pushed civil service reform on the fast track. On July 2, 1881, Charles Guiteau shot and killed Garfield ( [link] ), allegedly uttering at the time, “I am a Stalwart of Stalwarts!” Guiteau himself had wanted to be rewarded for his political support—he had written a speech for the Garfield campaign—with an ambassadorship to France. His actions at the time were largely blamed on the spoils system, prompting more urgent cries for change.

An illustration shows Garfield leaning backward in pain with a crowd assisting him, while Guiteau struggles with several men in the background.
Garfield’s shooting and the subsequent capture of the assassin, Charles Guiteau, are depicted in this illustration for a newspaper of the day. The president clung to life for another two months after the assassination.

The assassination of a president

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

Charles Guiteau was a lawyer and supporter of the Republican Party, although not particularly well known in either area. But he gave a few speeches, to modest crowds, in support of the Republican nominee James Garfield, and ultimately deluded himself that his speeches influenced the country enough to cause Garfield’s victory. After the election, Guiteau immediately began pressuring the new president, requesting a post as ambassador. When his queries went unanswered, Guiteau, out of money and angry that his supposed help had been ignored, planned to kill the president.

He spent significant time planning his attack and considered weapons as diverse as dynamite and a stiletto before deciding on a gun, stating, “I wanted it done in an American manner.” He followed the president around the Capitol and let several opportunities pass, unwilling to kill Garfield in front of his wife or son. Frustrated with himself, Guiteau recommitted to the plan and wrote a letter to the White House, explaining how this act would “unite the Republican Party and save the Republic.”

Guiteau shot the president from behind and continued to shoot until police grabbed him and hauled him away. He went to jail, and, the following November after Garfield had died, he stood trial for murder. His poor mental health, which had been evident for some time, led to eccentric courtroom behavior that the newspapers eagerly reported and the public loved. He defended his case with a poem that used religious imagery and suggested that God had ordered him to commit the murder. He defended himself in court by saying, “The doctors killed Garfield, I just shot him.” While this in fact was true, it did not save him. Guiteau was convicted and hanged in the summer of 1882.

Questions & Answers

what is taring and feathering?
Dominic Reply
Isnt there any laws in place for gun control?
Ryan Reply
How would you characterize the former president’s reaction? What do you think he means by writing that the Missouri Compromise line “is a reprieve only, not a final sentence”?
Tonda Reply
Compare and contrast the steamboats of the antebellum years with technologies today. In your estimation, what modern technology compares to steamboats in its transformative power?
Tonda Reply
airplanes to jets. Another would be electric trains.
Darren
I would say the Internal Combustion engine was as if not more transformative the the Steam power which it replaced. The ability of the Steamboat to rapidly move large amounts of goods through the water ways that weave there way from town to town increased our fledgling country's economy. I can draw direct coraleris with the National highway system built during the 1950's that were soon clogged with Transport trucks using I.C.E.
Pancho
what are the impact of the missionaries on indigenous knowledge of black communities
Don Reply
What were the initial issues that lead to the introduction of legislation
Benedicta Reply
what is the main title of franklin D roosevelt
Allan Reply
the president of the USA
Yangduk
who abolish slavery
ABDOURAHMAN Reply
Abraham Lincoln
Yangduk
who was the fists empire in americans
Alex Reply
who organized the most massive attack in American History, which caused the Germans to begin to retreat in September 1918?
Jmora Reply
"Black Jack" Pershing
Victor
Is there answers anywhere to all of the critical thinking questions?
Heather Reply
What were the direct causes of the civil war
Trinity Reply
How did slavery issues effect the war
Trinity
How were politics involved
Trinity
north wanted to unify the south
Maleek
south wanted independence
Maleek
freeing slaves was just a way to recruit black soldiers to fight for north
Maleek
Lincoln couldn't let the south separate from the union , agriculture was way to valuable
Maleek
South felt North was opposing their interests and would be better off as a separate nation
Victor
progressive reforms under Theodore Roosevelt
Karpi Reply
TR was determined to pursue the public interest
Victor
what was the main thing suposed to happen when the tea party
Gavin Reply
Which plan resolved the issue of representation for the U.S. Constitution?
Nichole Reply
The plan which became known as the seventeenth amendmet.
WIlliam
amendmet because not an article of bill of rights.
WIlliam

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Source:  OpenStax, U.s. history. OpenStax CNX. Jan 12, 2015 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11740/1.3
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