#20: Review of “Destiny of the Republic” by Candice Millard (1881)

#20: Review of “Destiny of the Republic” by Candice Millard (1881)

Guys, if you’re going to look more into any of our Presidents, Garfield’s gotta be in your top three. This dude was truly the man. He was kind, visionary, and fought for the rights of African-Americans (Jared Cohen on this podcast thinks Garfield’s death delayed additional Civil Rights legislation by 100 years until LBJ). Nuts!

He was born into poverty and educated at Williams. He kept detailed diaries which is probably another reason I loved this book, and this man, so much because it seemed more personal than some other bios I’ve read so far. The author, Candice Millard, ROCKS! This book does a wonderful job of telling Garfield’s life story, and also Alexander Graham Bell (the inventor of the…what?) and the scientific community’s story at the time.

Garfield died only six months after taking office. The dude who killed Garfield, Charles Guiteau, was CRAZY! I’m talking insane. He was apart of the Oneida community (a utopian commune which I’d love to learn more about), a traveling evangelist, never paid his bills (he’d just move out the rooms he rented before he had to pay), and was convinced that he would be one of Garfield’s secretaries/ambassadors. He had no connection to Garfield, but he was persistent in showing up during Garfield’s “Office Hours” at the White House nearly everyday. 

Last thing I’ll say before a few fun facts. It wasn’t Guiteau’s shot that killed the President, but germs. The main doctor that cared for Garfield distrusted Dr. Joseph Lister’s recently discovered belief that germs were real and bad. Garfield’s autopsy revealed that he died from infection. Millard argues, andI buy it, that had Garfield been shot today he would’ve been back on his feet within a few days, kinda like Reagan. This right here is the main reason that I love history. How nuts is this?! Garfield did not live longer, but presumably would have if he lived today. How sad!

Last last thing. This bio on Garfield that I read is a great one to read if you’re interested in reading a bio of a President. It’s pretty short (260 pages), a very compelling story, and (once I return it here in a few days), you can check it out from the library for FREE!

5 fun facts about James A. Garfield from the book

  1. Robert Todd Lincoln, Lincoln’s son, was present when Garfield was shot in a train station. He was also there when his Dad was shot at Ford’s theatre, AND he was also present when McKinley was shot in 1901. WHAT?! THIS IS NUTS! If you think so, will you give me a retweet??
  2. When it was clear that Garfield was going to die soon, he asked to see the ocean one more time. He loved the ocean ever since he was a boy. So he traveled by train to some rich dude’s house on the coast of NJ so he could see his ocean. To prevent as much moving around as possible, 2,000 people worked all night to lay 3,200 feet of track to take him right up to the front steps of the house. The house was up on a hill and the train was having trouble getting up it, so 200 people rushed to the train’s side to PUSH THE TRAIN UP THE HILL. #history #goals.
  3. Chester Arthur, Garfield’s VP that would succeed him, was a bad dude prior to becoming President. He was Garfield’s enemy’s right-hand man, Senator Roscoe Conkling of NY. Arthur started randomly receiving letters from this woman who basically called him to change and be worthy of the Presidency. It largely worked, and Arthur cut ties with Conkling. Next time I go dreading writing a hand-written note, I’m going keep this in mind.
  4. Garfield stinking loved books, and it was his home in Mentor, OH that became the first Presidential Library. Have any of you been there?!
  5. America’s favorite cartoon cat, Garfield, is named after James A. Garfield. Love it. 

Further learning:

  • I finally finished my list of all the biographies I’ve read and plan to read on the Presidents. Check it out here
  • Check out Candice’s other book that my bro read about Teddy Roosevelt’s journey down the Amazon River called River of Doubt.
  • Another book that I’m reading which I’m really excited about is Tim Harford’s 50 Inventions that Shaped the Modern Economy. It’s also a podcast and they’re short chapters/episodes.

Shoutouts/updates FROM YOU:

  • Shoutout to Whitney Smith who recommended a podcast called Oligies about all kinds of weird and obscure studies like oikology, the study of clutter. Thanks for the recommendation, Whitney! What podcasts are you listening to? I’d love to know!
  • This Friday is Juneteenth which marks the 155th anniversary of the day (June 19, 1865) when Union General Gordon Granger in Galveston, TX read government orders that all slaves in Texas are forever free from this day forth…wahoo!! 

Also, from now on I’m going to give a $5 gift card to a different place every update. In order to win it, you have to send me an email address of someone that you think would like being apart of our journey through the Presidents (& have gotten their permission!). For each email address I’ll enter your name in the hat, so the more email addresses you send me the more likely you are to win FREE MONEY!!

This week’s $5 gift card is for Chick-fil-a…that’s right! Enjoy yourself a buttery-flakey chicken biscuit on your favorite Presidential History newsletter!!


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