BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Ken Ackerman, what got you interested in writing a book about James Garfield?
KENNETH ACKERMAN, AUTHOR, "DARK HORSE": Yes, we had a feeling you would start with that. Garfield is one of those presidents who gets ignored by most historians. If you do a search on Google or any of the other search engines and you type in "Garfield," you`ll get a lot more hits on the cartoon cat than you will on the former president.
What got me started on him was this. I -- the idea for this book flashed in my mind watching the presidential campaign of 1996 and watching the conventions that year. That was the year of Dole versus Clinton. The conventions that year were totally staged. They were scripted. Nothing interesting happened. The networks that year talked about not covering them at all but for the final speeches
And I thought at the time, wouldn`t it be good to write a book about a political convention when they really mattered, when they were passionate, exciting, bare-knuckled contests, unpredictable fights. And I started looking for a good one to write about, and I came up with 1880, which was Garfield. You put that together with the Garfield assassination, one of the more misunderstood events in history, in American history, and the fact that there was a line of causation between the convention and the shooting of the president to me made a compelling story for a book.
LAMB: What was the line?
ACKERMAN: The line was this. The convention -- the politics of that -- at that time, the Gilded Age, after the Civil War, was very much dominated by factional contests, raw power struggles, very similar to what was going on in the business world, very similar to what was going on on the western frontier. At that time, the big fight was between two groups in the Republican Party called the Stalwarts and the Half-Breeds. Garfield got stuck in the middle of that fight. He got stuck between the two sides. His nomination came after a 36-ballot deadlock because the two sides were having a very strenuous tug-of-war that year, and he got caught in the middle. That`s what eventually got him killed.
LAMB: James Garfield in 1880 was how old
ACKERMAN: He was 48 years old
LAMB: What was he doing?
ACKERMAN: He was a congressman. He was kind of a career congressman. He had been in Washington for 16 years, serving in the House of Representatives. He had been the Republican leader. He had been chairman of several committees. He was one of the up-and-coming members of the Republican Party. He was also a Civil War veteran, and that made him a very popular figure.
LAMB: And where did he live?
ACKERMAN: He lived -- he had a house on I Street here in Washington. He was from Ohio. He had a farm that he had bought a few years ago in Mentor (ph), Ohio, just outside of Cleveland.
LAMB: Who was Charles Guiteau?
ACKERMAN: Charles Guiteau is the man who pulled the trigger that -- of the gun that kills Garfield. He is the assassin. He at the time, in 1880, was about 39 years old, somewhat younger. He was living in Boston, Massachusetts, selling insurance.
LAMB: So as I read your book, I kept saying to myself -- I have no idea because I haven`t read all the …books -- this is what`s different about this book. Charles Guiteau makes his entrance about page 134. Why so early? And there`s a thread that runs all the way through the book. Is that new? Is that a new idea that you had?
ACKERMAN: Well, what I tried to do that was a little different than other Garfield books was to show that the assassination of the president was not simply the result of a disappointed office seeker who took out his anger on the president. Charles Guiteau, while he may have, in fact, been insane, was someone who was very caught up in the political process. He was identified, actually, with one of the major factions. He worked with the Stalwarts. He considered himself a Stalwart. He went to New York at the beginning of the campaign and became chummy with the people. He hung out at the headquarters. He gave a couple of speeches. Even though the leaders of the party, of the Stalwart branch, people like General Grant and Roscoe Conkling, the leaders -- even though they considered him very minor, he considered himself very major. And what happened to him was very much wrapped up with the larger politics of the era.
LAMB: Guiteau was from where?
ACKERMAN: He was from Freeport, Illinois.
LAMB: What did he do in his life, up until the age of 39?
ACKERMAN: Well, he was a shift -- shiftless -- shifting character. He never held any job very long. When he was very young, he was brought up by a very strict father, Luther Guiteau, who was -- who had very strong religious beliefs. He was sent to the Oneida community in upstate New York, which was one of the utopian communities at the time. They believed in free love and shared labor. They had a socialist ethic. He didn`t fit in very well there. He didn`t get along with the other people. When he left, he actually sued them, at one point, for wages.
He wrote some religious tracts and tried to sell them but never very successfully. He worked as a lawyer. He worked as a bill collector. He worked -- he tried to start a newspaper at one point but couldn`t get funding for it. He was married for a few years, but his marriage ended up in divorce because he beat his wife. He never had much money. He was always a step or two ahead of the bill collectors.
LAMB: Well, go back to -- you talked about he was a member of the Stalwart faction. Where were the Stalwarts located?
ACKERMAN: Well, geographically, they were all over the country. They were -- the Stalwarts were the group of -- within the Republican Party, there were two factions, and they went back to the time of General Grant, when President -- when General Grant was the president. The Stalwarts were the Republicans who were the most loyal to Grant, and that`s how they defined themselves. They were the hard-line true believers in General Grant. In a way, the radical Republicans of the Reconstruction era evolved into the Stalwarts of the post-Reconstruction era.
LAMB: Where`d they get the name?
ACKERMAN: Just -- that I don`t know. But they were the true believers. They were the hard core.
LAMB: And that`s all it meant, is that...
ACKERMAN: That`s all it meant.
LAMB: ... if you were Stalwart, you loved Grant.
ACKERMAN: You loved Grant. It was not -- there was very little ideological here. This was -- the difference between them became very much factional, personality-driven.
LAMB: And if you`re a Half-Breed, what did that mean?
ACKERMAN: Half-Breed -- that word came from the same era. It started out as an insult. The people who weren`t very strong toward Grant were considered half-breeds. It was -- it was the way you would refer to someone almost as a traitor, that they weren`t strong enough in their support of the team.
LAMB: They were all Republicans?
ACKERMAN: They were all Republicans. This is all within the Republican Party. After a while, though, when the Grant administration became tarnished with scandal and Grant`s reputation fell, the Half-Breeds -- they started to view that name as a compliment. They included a number of reformers, at first, but over time, they simply became the opposite side of the Stalwarts. They were led by two very strong personalities, the Stalwarts by General Grant and increasingly by a group of Senate bosses, primarily Roscoe Conkling. The Half-Breed side was taken over by James G. Blaine, who was their leader in 1880.
LAMB: What was he like?
ACKERMAN: Blaine is an interesting character. He`s probably the most like a modern politician, a very smart man, a very charming man. He was the speaker of the House of Representatives for about a dozen years, and that was where he made his national reputation. He was a newspaper writer in Maine. He was one of a number of newspapermen at the time who went into politics and made that their base.
He`s someone who, when he came into a room, he would know everyone`s name. He would have a joke to say to everyone. He got -- he had very good people skills. He -- his politics were similar to the Stalwarts, in the sense that they all believed in civil rights for the South, a protective tariff for industry, those kinds of things. But Blaine was part of the progressive wing of the party, in the sense that he reached out to the younger voters, to the western frontier, to the north. And he rubbed the wrong way with some of the Grant supporters.
LAMB: You also had Roscoe Conkling that you mentioned. What was he all about?
ACKERMAN: Roscoe Conkling was one of the real personalities of the era, in a way that -- someone asked me when they read this book, Is there -- is there not a Roscoe Conkling cult in the country? And my response was, There really ought to be. Roscoe Conkling was the senator from New York state. He was the leader of the Stalwart wing. He was the leading senator, in the sense that they didn`t have a majority leader of the Senate, at that point, as a formal position, but he really filled it. He was the most talkative person on the Senate floor. He was a very vain, arrogant, strong-willed, opinionated person. He was a brilliant orator. He was a credible candidate for president in 1876. He was very close personally with Grant. And after a while, he devoted his strength of personality to building up the machine in New York state.
LAMB: James Garfield, the last man to go from the United States House of Representatives to the presidency.
LAMB: No one since then.
ACKERMAN: No one since then.
LAMB: And you, by the way, teach us all along in your footnotes a lot about the history of what`s happened over in the Senate. Did you -- and the House. Did you do that on purpose? I mean, was that...
ACKERMAN: Oh, yes. I was trying to show how things were different then versus now, particularly the Senate is much different then than it is today, in the sense that the U.S. Senate in 1880 conducted a lot of its business in secret, private sessions. Its members were elected by state legislatures rather than voters. As a result, it was a much less accountable body. It was much more swayed by strong personalities, by -- it was much -- much clubbier than it is today, even though it still has that reputation.
LAMB: Another point you make that goes all the way from that time to the year 2001 was the closeness of the Senate after the election of 1880.
ACKERMAN: Yes, that was -- that was something that was very striking. The year 2000, two years ago, was the first Senate tie since 1880. And it was the first time that the Senate had flipped mid-year. When Senator Jeffords changed parties and -- went from being a Republican to an independent and shifted the Senate control two years ago, that was the first time that that had happened since, in fact, the Garfield assassination changed it in 1881.
LAMB: You mention about the closed-door sessions. And you also have another footnote that says, "Up until 1929"...
LAMB: What happened? What was -- what were the rules in the Senate?
ACKERMAN: Up until 1929, the rules were that for nominations, specifically, and for treaties, specifically, these would be handled in what was called "executive session." An executive session was essentially a secret session of the Senate. It was not reflected in the Congressional Record or the formal records of the Senate. The public was kept out. The doors were closed. And that`s where the voting took place. That`s where the debates took place.
LAMB: Did you know how people voted?
ACKERMAN: Only through gossip. The newspapers would go and track down senators and ask them what had happened, and some senators would talk about it. But there was no formal way to know.
LAMB: So all cabinet nominations, all Supreme Court Justices, anybody that was nominated by the president, the public would not see the debate, hear the debate and be able to sit in there. The press couldn`t report it, and you didn`t know how the votes were.
ACKERMAN: That`s correct. And also, there were no public hearings for even cabinet members, let alone judges. If there -- to the extent that there were hearings, they were generally behind closed doors, and often there were no hearings at all.
LAMB: So what changed it in 1929?
ACKERMAN: I don`t know exactly what changed it in 1929, but that is when the rule was changed.
LAMB: Let me read a paragraph of yours. This is early in the book, on page 15. "Today you can search the `Congressional Record and Globe` through 200 years of debate and never see a member of Congress insult a colleague so directly, brutally and articulately on the record in public, looking directly at him across the room, as Blaine did to Conkling that day. It was one of the best speeches of Blaine`s life, utterly spontaneous, memorably colorful and profoundly destructive."
What was the day?
ACKERMAN: This was the day in 1866 when James Blaine and Roscoe Conkling had a real dust-up in the House of Representatives which caused a life-long feud between the two men, a bitter, life-long feud between the two men. It started over an argument about whether -- whether to take away the job of an obscure military bureaucrat. In the course of it, Conkling used language which Blaine perceived as calling him a liar and possibly threatening him to a duel.
At the end of it -- this took place over two or three days, but in the end of the final day of it, Blaine took the floor, read a long letter that accused Conkling virtually of fraud, of taking double payments from the government. Conkling responded with a very arrogant, dismissive gesture towards Blaine. Blaine came back and gave a two-paragraph speech, spontaneously, extemporaneously, where he refused to -- referred to Conkling and his "grandiloquent turkey gobbler`s strut," his arrogance. He used classical allusions in it. He referred to Hercules and Thucydides (ph). And at the end of it, the two men would never talk to each other for virtually the rest of their lives.
LAMB: And they were all Republicans.
ACKERMAN: These were all Republicans. This was all intramural within the Republican Party. And it`s interesting because it did unfold over several days. It occurred to me, at least, that if an elder Republican had sat the two of them down -- this is when the two of them were still young. They were in their 30s. If someone had sat them down and said, Cool it. You`re on the same side, bury the hatchet, they probably would have done it. But instead, this got out of control and went on from there.
LAMB: What have you done in your life that got you to the point where you would even understand all this stuff?
ACKERMAN: Well, I worked on Capitol Hill for a lot of years. I worked -- I did two long stints on Capitol Hill. I worked for Senator Charles Percy in the late 1970s and early 1980s, as a counsel on the Governmental Affairs Committee...
LAMB: Chicago Republican.
ACKERMAN: Chicago Republican. And then more recently for Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont.
LAMB: Vermont Democrat.
ACKERMAN: Vermont Democrat. So I`ve worked on both sides, for a Republican and for a Democrat.
LAMB: And did you work for Dan Glickman at the Agriculture Department?
ACKERMAN: Yes. I was the administrator of the Risk Management Agency, which oversees the federal crop insurance program. I did that for seven years, both under Dan Glickman and under Mike Espy, who were the secretaries at the time.
LAMB: And what are you doing now?
ACKERMAN: I`m a lawyer in Washington, D.C. I work at a law firm called Olson (ph), Frank (ph) and Wida (ph), that specializes in agriculture, food and drug, medical devices, several other fields. And I`m more and more becoming a writer.
ACKERMAN: I enjoy it. I enjoy -- I enjoy learning. I enjoy -- I enjoy digging up these old stories that no one has found before and putting them on paper and bringing them to light.
LAMB: So of all the stuff in your book, where did you find the juiciest tidbit that, as you look back on what you`ve got here in this book, that you enjoyed the most?
ACKERMAN: The juiciest tidbit? I`ll give you this one. The Chester Alan Arthur papers -- Chester Alan Arthur was the -- was Garfield`s vice president. He was a member of the opposite faction. He was part of the reason Garfield was killed. Garfield was killed to put Arthur in the White House. When Guiteau pulled the trigger, he said, "I am a Stalwart, and Arthur will be president." For some time, Arthur had to live with that onus because people suspected that he may have had something to do with it, even though there`s no evidence that he did.
Arthur was a very vain man, in the sense that he was a clotheshorse. He dressed well. He ate well. He lived in a beautiful brownstone home on Lexington Avenue in New York City. He drank good wine. He went to the best clubs. In his papers, he made a point to throw out all of the politically interesting letters, all of the sensitive materials. What he saved were his bills from the tailor, his bills from hotels, his daily to-do lists.
The juiciest tidbit that you asked for is that I thought was when Garfield was getting ready to become vice president of the United States -- excuse me -- when Arthur was getting ready to become vice president, the way he prepared himself was he went on a shopping binge. He -- and the bill is sitting in his papers at the Library of Congress. He bought seven suits, a new coat, several pairs of trousers, several shirts, got several old suits pressed for a total of not quite $800, which in modern dollars would be almost $20,000. And he paid in cash.
LAMB: While we`re talking about Chester Arthur, who became president of the United States because of the assassination -- he had a job in New York, appointed by which president?
LAMB: And how long was he in the job?
ACKERMAN: About six or seven years.
LAMB: He was fired by Rutherford B. Hayes?
ACKERMAN: Suspicion -- well, for tolerating corruption, even though no corruption on him was ever shown.
LAMB: And the job was?
ACKERMAN: He was collector of the port of New York.
LAMB: You say that he made $20,000 back then. Today that`d be worth $400,000.
LAMB: Which had been more than the president of the United States -- well, today the president gets $400,000, but back then, he would actually have made more than the president of the United States?
ACKERMAN: Well, two ways. One, his fixed salary was about $12,000, which was more than the fixed salary of the vice president of the United States, the cabinet, the members of the Senate, everyone but the president. And then in addition to that, he, as the head of the office, was allowed to collect certain commissions or bounties. The reason this was such a powerful job was that something like three quarters to 80 percent of all imports into the United States came through New York City.
The port -- the collection house, the customs house, is where the tariffs were collected, and those tariffs made up the bulk of the United States treasury. Almost -- or I think over $100 million a year came in just through the New York custom house. Arthur, as the collector, was able to keep a certain percentage of uncollectables that took extra work to nail down. If there were disputed bills, for instance, he was able to keep a portion of that as his commission. That was later repealed. It was something called "moieties (ph)," and it was later repealed by Congress. But if you add that to his salary, in most years, he was making more than the president.
LAMB: And that plays a role in the book, the collector of the port of New York.
LAMB: Because why?
ACKERMAN: The collector of the port of New York was not only the most important financial operation outside of Washington, D.C., it was the most important political appointive post in the country, really, and clearly in New York state. And the reason was because it controlled the patronage. It controlled about 2,000 jobs, plus a payroll of $2 million at a time when party coffers were -- parties collected money by making federal employees pay a part of their salary to the party. So the collector of the port of New York was an extremely powerful political position, and it was very heavily fought over.
Roscoe Conkling, as the New York state senator representing the Stalwart wing of the party, insisted that he have control of that position. Garfield, when he became president, after some hesitation, after being pulled back and forth on this, ultimately decided that he, as the president, needed to control the position, and so he appointed to it a man who was a political enemy of Conkling, who Conkling felt he had to defeat.
LAMB: We`re obviously going to skip an awful lot that`s in your book, but I want to go to Charles Guiteau -- 39 years old, a lawyer, Freeport, Illinois, Chicago, Boston, Oneida, New York. Why does he come to New York City? Is that where he goes first in this whole business?
ACKERMAN: Yes. He comes to New York City -- in 1880, at the time of the convention, he`s had a lot of -- he`s at loose ends in his life. Nothing he`s ever done has really amounted to much. He`s tried to do a lot of things, but he`s -- but he`s never really -- nothing has really clicked for him. His marriage had fallen apart. His -- none of his jobs had really -- had really worked. He decided at that point that he`d really like to get involved in politics. So he goes to New York City, which at the time was where the national political parties had their national offices. And he went to the national Republican committee -- or excuse me, the New York state Republican committee, which was the largest, most important one, and volunteered for the campaign.
LAMB: I want to jump to the end, and then we`ll come back to this.
LAMB: James -- after James Garfield was elected president, on what day did Charles Guiteau shoot him?
ACKERMAN: July 2.
LAMB: Of the first year.
ACKERMAN: Of the first year. Garfield had been president for just about four months when he was shot.
LAMB: And where did he shoot him?
ACKERMAN: He shot him in the train station in Washington, D.C. It was the Baltimore and Potomac train station, which is on the site of where the National Gallery of Art is today.
LAMB: What time of day did he shoot him?
ACKERMAN: It was about 9:30 in the morning.
LAMB: And with what kind of weapon?
ACKERMAN: It was a revolver. It was called an English Bulldog. It was a five-shot revolver.
LAMB: And you say that he had a choice of what weapon he wanted to buy.
LAMB: But he chose the weapon that he shot him with for a reason.
ACKERMAN: Yes. He -- Guiteau, in a way, had delusions of grandeur about himself, and in a way, they weren`t unrealistic. He decided he was going to shoot the president. He was going to -- excuse me -- he was going to remove the president. And he recognized his gun would probably end up in a museum. So when he went to buy a gun -- he didn`t own one at that time -- there were two that he saw in the shelf. One had an ivory handle and the other had a wooden handle. And the calculation in his mind was, You know, the one with the ivory handle would look better in a museum if I use that one to shoot the president with. It cost an extra buck, but that`s what he bought.
LAMB: Do you happen to know where that gun is today?
ACKERMAN: I understand it is in the Smithsonian, but I have not seen it.
LAMB: You also say -- and I`ll take us through the -- you can help us take us through the timeline -- but that the -- a couple of days before he shot the president, he went to the jail.
LAMB: For what reason?
ACKERMAN: He wanted to see what the jail was like. He wanted to see where he`d be serving time.
LAMB: Did he get to?
ACKERMAN: He walked all the ways out to the jail. The jail at the time was on the site of where Robert F. Kennedy Stadium is today, near that Anacostia River. He walked all the ways out there. He knocked on the front door. He said, I`d like to come in and look around. The jailer thought he was a kook, thought that he was a crank, and told him to get lost. And he walked away.
LAMB: Did he end up in that jail?
ACKERMAN: Yes, he ended up in that jail.
LAMB: And then once he got there, how long did he stay there?
ACKERMAN: He stayed there until he was hanged, and he was hanged early the next year. So less than a year.
LAMB: You know where he`s buried?
ACKERMAN: He`s actually not buried. He`s -- after he was hanged, they did an autopsy on him, partly because there had been such a huge debate over whether he was insane or not. They didn`t really find anything very interesting, and his -- his skeleton, his brain, and I believe he spleen were kept in a medical museum in the Washington area.
LAMB: Viewable by people that want to see it?
ACKERMAN: I don`t think it`s viewable. I did double check. It is listed as still being there, but I don`t think it`s on public display. I didn`t -- I didn`t go over to try to look at it.
LAMB: So they didn`t bury the rest of the body somewhere?
ACKERMAN: They didn`t bury the rest of the body.
LAMB: Was there any doubt when he was on trial that he was guilty of this?
ACKERMAN: There`s no doubt that he pulled the trigger that shot the president.
LAMB: Go back to, again -- well, let me just ask you this. At what point did he make a decision that he wanted to kill James Garfield?
ACKERMAN: He made the decision he wanted to kill James Garfield in mid-May. It was the same day -- or, excuse me, it was two days after Roscoe Conkling resigned from the United States Senate because of the outcome of his -- his battle with Garfield over the control of the port of New York, the New York customs house. Guiteau very much recognized his fate as being tied up in the fate of these larger political players.
Guiteau at the time was lobbying very hard to become the consul to Paris for the United States government. He came to Washington after the election and decided he wanted a job in government. He wanted a political appointment. He felt he had worked in the campaign. He gave a couple of speeches. He was close to the Stalwart leaders. He had met Chester Alan Arthur several times during the campaign. He got a few recommendations. And he decided he wanted a job.
He actually got as far as meeting with Garfield. They actually had a face-to-face job interview. It was a very strange one. Guiteau had written a speech for the campaign. He got in to see the president. He gave the president a copy of his speech to look at. Garfield started reading it, and as he was reading it, Guiteau stood up and walked out of the room.
ACKERMAN: He felt it was enough that Garfield was reading his speech, and he didn`t want to press the point.
LAMB: And you say it was only three pages long.
ACKERMAN: It was three pages long, yes.
LAMB: Did you read the speech?
ACKERMAN: Oh, yes.
LAMB: And what was it like?
ACKERMAN: It was -- it was not especially striking, in the sense of being terribly good or terribly bad. It was a -- it had -- it was a typical speech of the time, someone repeating the campaign slogans of the Republicans. It just wasn`t -- it wasn`t a striking speech one way or the other.
LAMB: The other thing that you do around the assassination is you paint a picture of the openness of all these institutions -- the State Department, the War Department, the White House, the president, the first lady. There`s a scene that you -- you have Guiteau sitting in Lafayette Park. For what reason?
ACKERMAN: At this point, Guiteau had decided he wanted to remove the president. He was a very methodical person. He would sit in Lafayette Park, and he would track the president`s comings and goings.
LAMB: Did the president have Secret Service protection?
ACKERMAN: There was no Secret Service protection at the time. That would not start until about 15, 16 years later. The president felt no compunctions at all about walking the streets of Washington himself alone at night.
LAMB: And here you are, only 16 years after Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated.
LAMB: So where did Guiteau live?
ACKERMAN: Guiteau lived in a series of rooming houses around Washington, and mostly in the neighborhood of what we would today call Metro Center, around 13th and 14th Street downtown.
LAMB: And where is that in relationship to the White House?
ACKERMAN: It`s about four or five blocks from the White House, easy walking distance from the White House.
LAMB: And you also talk about James Blaine, who ends up being secretary of state.
LAMB: Where does he live?
ACKERMAN: He lived on 15th Street and H, which is right near Lafayette Park, which is right across the street from the White House.
LAMB: So the scene -- and tell us who John Logan was. The scene when Charles Guiteau goes to John Logan`s room.
ACKERMAN: The first rooming house that he is in -- it`s a house in that neighborhood. John Logan was a very senior senator from the state of Illinois. He had been in the Senate for several years. He was one of the triumvirate of senators who had backed General Grant in the campaign. He was a stalwart senator. Charles Guiteau had a house -- had a room in that house. One day, he walked up to John Logan`s room. John Logan had the top floor of the house, because he was a United States senator and could afford -- afford the nicest room in the house. He wanted to get a recommendation for him to bring to Blaine to help him get his job. He knocked on the door, no one answered, and he -- so he let himself in.
LAMB: Right into John Logan`s room?
ACKERMAN: Right into his room. It was ….room. But it was a front room to this apartment. John Logan came in. This was about 8:00 in the morning, 8:30 in the morning, before breakfast. John Logan was literally just putting his clothes on. He came in. John Logan came to see who came in. Guiteau, not shy at all, started in. So he introduced himself, he showed him the speech that he wrote about that he gave during the campaign, he told him that he was looking for a job, he asked for a recommendation. John Logan was a very experienced politician, and he tried very hard to be very polite and respectable, because not knowing anything about Guiteau, he thought here`s a well meaning volunteer, maybe a little awkward, not very socially adept. But he didn`t want to be rude to him. So he tried to make conversation, but basically told him to go away.
LAMB: What did he do?
ACKERMAN: The next day, Guiteau came back. The same thing happened. He asked him to sign the recommendation; Logan said no. After that, Logan did go to the woman who kept the boarding house and pointed Guiteau out one morning at breakfast and said, you know, you really ought to make - you really ought to kick him out of this house, because -- he told her what had happened, how he had invaded -- had invaded his privacy, including coming to his room, said, you know, he`s really a little off in the head, you should do something about that.
LAMB: Why didn`t Logan lock his door?
ACKERMAN: This was 1880; people didn`t do that. People trusted each other. It was a much more open society. People didn`t lock the doors of their houses, people walked the streets. People trusted each other. It was a very different world.
LAMB: You are going back to the gun you talk about. Do you remember what date he bought the gun?
ACKERMAN: It was about -- about two weeks before the shooting.
LAMB: And the shooting again was on what day?
ACKERMAN: July 2.
LAMB: And if you come back to that, James Garfield became president on what day? J
ACKERMAN: March 4, I believe, of 1881.
LAMB: So he`s president and he is trying to put a cabinet together, and Guiteau keeps wanting a job...
LAMB: ...and he wants to -- I know there are several places he wanted to go, but what was the job he really wanted?
ACKERMAN: The job he really wanted was consul to Paris. Paris, France.
LAMB: So he`s asked the president himself?
ACKERMAN: He got in to see the president himself. He got in several times to see the president, to the White House. He got to see the president just once. Then he walked over to the State Department, he got in to see Blaine. He got in to see Blaine repeatedly, because...
LAMB: The State Department then was a -- the Old Executive Office building?
ACKERMAN: Correct. In fact, Blaine would hold an open meeting several days a week that people could come in and simply see him. You didn`t need an appointment, you could simply walk in and see the secretary of state. And Guiteau went repeatedly to those meetings.
When he would see Blaine, most of the time, Blaine would put him off. He would say, well, I am -- we`re waiting -- at the time, this was when the battle on Capitol Hill was going on between Garfield and Conkling over the collectorship in New York. Blaine would keep saying, well, we`re not going to make a decision about Paris, France until the deadlock in the Senate is cleared up.
And once that did clear up, once there was an outcome, Guiteau went back to Blaine, and Blaine snapped at him. He raised it at a meeting one day and Blaine said, never talk to me about the Paris consulship again.
LAMB: Describe what Guiteau looked like?
ACKERMAN: He was short; he had short dark hair, a beard.
LAMB: You use the word feline.
ACKERMAN: Yes, he had a strange walk. If he walked up to you, you wouldn`t hear him. You would notice him standing next to you, but you wouldn`t have heard him walk up to you. He talked in a what`s described as a confidential nature. He would talk standing right next to you in kind of a whisper. He would -- when you looked at his face, his eyes are a little bit uneven. In fact, when he was on trial for murder, the psychiatrists who claimed that he was insane pointed to the way his eyes lined up as one of -- as a piece of evidence for his insanity.
He was -- he dressed shabbily in the sense that he couldn`t afford new clothes. He didn`t have a job in Washington. He didn`t have a bankroll. So after a while, his clothes had rips that were never fixed. Several people pointed out that he wore rubbers instead of shoes. Sometimes he wore...
ACKERMAN: No, no, like -- rubbers...
LAMB: Like you wear in the rain?
ACKERMAN: Yeah, like you wear in the rainstorm to keep your feet dry, but very thin. And this was -- he came to Washington, and many of these meetings were in March in a year when there was snow on the ground. So he wore very thin clothes. He didn`t keep up his wardrobe very well and that was very much noticed.
LAMB: You say, he met Mrs. Garfield and also was concerned when she got real sick.
ACKERMAN: Yes. He went to a reception at the White House, which were -- receptions were open to everyone. You could just go and get in line and shake hands with the president and the first lady, you didn`t have to go through security, that was not a problem.
And at this point, most of the ushers at the White House, who acted as guards to the extent that they needed guards, they all knew who Guiteau was. He had been around several times waiting to see if there was any news on his job. He was always trying to get in, to push his application. So they all knew who he was. And it was very common for some -- for a job hunter, in fact, when you think about it, it`s a very logical thing to do, if you`re a job hunter, to go to the White House, to go to a reception, to make a point to meet the first lady, to try to put in a good word about yourself, and this is what he did.
He met the first lady early on in the administration. He walked right up to her, shook her hand, said, "I`m one of the men who made your husband the president." They had a nice talk. She didn`t think twice about it. And then she went on to talk to the next person on line.
The odd -- one of the odd things about Guiteau was that he never had anything personal against the president. He said he liked him as a man, he liked his wife, when he met her. There was one of the early times when he thought of -- when he followed them with a gun thinking about shooting them, was as you mentioned.
Mrs. Garfield had a very bad case of typhoid or pneumonia. No one was quite sure what it was, but a very bad fever during the spring when Garfield was president. And she really came within an inch of losing her life. Afterwards, Garfield took her to the ocean to help her recuperate. Guiteau followed them to the train station that morning with the thought of maybe shooting the president that day. But when he saw them getting on the train and he saw how Mrs. Garfield was clinging to his arm and how she looked very frail and very sick, he basically felt sorry for her and didn`t want to shoot the president that day.
LAMB: By the way, when he left the train station with his wife to go to New Jersey, that`s an important trip, where did they go?
ACKERMAN: They went to...
LAMB: Alborough (ph)?
ACKERMAN: Yes, Alborough (ph), New Jersey, which is basically on the Jersey shore, it`s the northern most point. That was a very stylish resort at the time because it was just an hour-long boat ride from New York City.
LAMB: Who else was there?
ACKERMAN: At the time, General Grant was there as well. And General Grant was in the cottage just across the street.
LAMB: And General Grant wanted to win his third term and he didn`t in this whole process.
LAMB: What did he think of James Garfield?
ACKERMAN: General Grant plays a very interesting role in this. General Grant was not on good terms with Garfield. He very much wanted to win a third term in 1880. He felt that -- and more than he let on. Grant was very known for not sharing his feelings, for having immovable features. Those words are used with him a lot, not being very expressive. But in 1880, he wanted to be president. People close to him noticed how anxious he got around the time of the convention, how he was counting the delegates, how he was following the telegraph, the news coming in on the telegraph.
After the convention was over, and his backers failed to win it for him, after this 36th ballot tug of war, he was very bitter. And he let some friends know it.
He was disappointed in Garfield, because Garfield didn`t pay attention to him when he went to see him and asked for patronage for friends of his, or made recommendations, or said, you should support this person over that person. Grant was very close to Roscoe Conkling. Conkling had been very loyal to Grant over the years, and so when Garfield and Conkling had their falling out, Grant took Conkling`s side. And after that, the feelings between the two of them were very tense.
LAMB: Go back to the New Jersey stop. By the way, did you go to Alborough (ph) to see any of the houses up there?
ACKERMAN: No, I did not. I`ve been to the Jersey shore, but not to that spot.
LAMB: Do they exist still to this day?
ACKERMAN: I think some of those mansions do still exist, but since then, the more stylish New York retreats have moved out to the Hamptons and to Rhode Island.
LAMB: So what are we in, the month of June?
ACKERMAN: We`re in June.
LAMB: We are in June, and he gets assassinated or shot in July.
LAMB: By the way, while we`re on it, once he was shot, how long did he live?
ACKERMAN: He lived 79 days.
LAMB: And where was he during those 79 days?.
ACKERMAN: For most of the time, he was in the White House. They actually turned a room, an upstairs room in the White House into a sick room for him, where the doctors took care of him, or arguably where the doctors killed him, but where they treated him. And then for the last few days, he was in Alborough (ph), New Jersey at the ocean.
LAMB: Why there?
ACKERMAN: It was felt both by the doctors and by Garfield and his family that the atmosphere in Washington during the summer was very unhealthy. It was very hot, it was very uncomfortable. Washington at the time was a very swampy city. It was prone to epidemics during the summer, of malaria and other diseases. There were very bad smells and odors coming off of the Potomac river. And so they felt it was very unhealthy. So the doctors agreed to let Garfield go to the ocean. The feeling at the time was that the salt air, the bracing ocean wind would help at least -- maybe restore his health, at least let him enjoy perhaps the last few days of his life.
LAMB: Go back to Guiteau again. You told us about how he bought the pistol for $10 or something like that.
LAMB: And then you paint the picture again, for those who have been in Washington can see this, he would walk down 17th Street, alongside the White House area, to the river. For what reason?
ACKERMAN: Well, he had never owned a gun before, and did not quite know what to do with it. So he would walk down 17th Street to the river, which at the time there was nothing at the river. It was just a deserted stretch of waterfront. He would take out his gun and practice shooting. He would literally take out this English bulldog gun and put the bullets in and practice shooting, either at a twig or at a bird or at just the water, just to see what it felt like to have a gun in his hand. To get used to the feeling of the discharge, the smell of the gunpowder, the way the gun would jolt back at him. So that he would get used to having it. So he would be comfortable with it.
For the two or three weeks that he was actually stalking the president, which is a frightening thing to think about in itself, he was walking around with a gun in his pocket most of the time.
LAMB: Where else would he have seen the president with the gun? I know you`ve said -- did he go over to the train station? Yes, he did that morning that...
ACKERMAN: He went to the train station a couple of times. When Garfield came back from the Jersey shore, he met him at the train -- he was there at the train station with his gun again.
LAMB: Well, so people won`t be confused. President and his wife went to New Jersey. She stayed there, and the president came back. And so when he came back...
ACKERMAN: He was alone.
LAMB: He was alone.
ACKERMAN: Alone with two of his sons.
LAMB: And Guiteau was there again?
ACKERMAN: Guiteau was there again watching.
LAMB: How would he have known, by the way, all of these movements back then?
ACKERMAN: All of this was in the newspapers. All you had to do was to read the "New York Herald" or "The Washington Star," and you would know where the president was going.
LAMB: One other factor in this thing, is you say he would stay at a place called Rigg`s (ph) and Mrs. -- what was her name?
ACKERMAN: There was a Mrs. Grant (ph). There was -- there were a couple of different boarding houses where he stayed. But the most prominent one was the Rigg`s (ph) house, which he went to at the end, which is the one you mention. That was actually a very stylish place in 1880.
LAMB: But you say he didn`t have any money. He was shabbily dressed, worn clothes, didn`t look well, didn`t have any money -- how did he pay for these different places? Because he kept moving in this -- during that time period to these different houses.
ACKERMAN: Actually, he didn`t. What he would do is he would stay there for a while. The bills would come and he would -- he would leave in the middle of the night. He literally did that two or three times. When he went to the Rigg`s (ph) house, which was the most expensive one, he did it literally a night or two before he shot the president, because he knew that this would be his last chance to shoot the president. He knew that the president was going to be leaving Washington for a long extended trip in a few days, and he figured before the bill came, he`d be in jail.
LAMB: And no one ever suspected him along the way of...
ACKERMAN: No one ever did.
LAMB: When you did -- did your research, how much is available on this story? And where did you get your most valuable information?
ACKERMAN: There`s a lot available on this story. And I got the most valuable information at the Library of Congress. That`s where I did most of the work on this. They have a couple of very good paper collections, they have the Garfield papers, the John Sherman (ph) papers, the Arthur papers. A lot of it was through newspapers.
This was a great period for newspapers. Every city had a dozen of them. They were -- the writing was excellent. This story was very heavily covered. For Guiteau specifically, he does -- there is a small collection of his papers at Georgetown University, that`s where I got the copy of his speech, and some of his letters. But mostly, his criminal trial for murder went on for three months. And during it, he testified for four days. And he talked about everything.
Once he was arrested, he felt no embarrassment, no shame at any of it. He felt that he would be a hero. And so he very outwardly talked about everything he did. He dictated a long autobiography of himself to "The New York Harold" that was published. He wrote several long letters, and then he testified for several days. So that was where the most valuable information on him came from. What I tried to do with Guiteau, which I think it`s a little bit different than what other historians have done, is to take him at his word. To not start with the assumption that he was insane, but just take him at his word and see how he fit into context.
LAMB: Why did you do that?
ACKERMAN: Because it struck me that when you take him and put him into context, he oddly makes sense. I say oddly, because where his logic led him is a very scary place. He decided in the end that he had to remove the president of the United States. He decided in the end that God was telling him to remove the president of the United States.
However, even given his personal insanity, whether it`s medical or not, it very much fit in the context of the largest public debate going on in the country at the time. It was a time when the level of partisanship, of bad feelings, of personal attacks had reached such a level that he simply took it one step further.
LAMB: Did his trial go on while President Garfield was still alive?
ACKERMAN: No. They waited until Garfield had died, because for one thing, they needed to know whether it would be a murder charge or an attempted murder charge. The trial started about a month after he died.
LAMB: While we are on it, what was the reason why -- I mean, in the end, what killed President Garfield?
ACKERMAN: Interesting question. In fact, it was part of Garfield`s -- part of Guiteau`s defense. Guiteau claimed, and he had very good evidence behind him, that it was really the doctors who killed him. Guiteau shot him, but then the doctors examined him without washing their hands. And in the end, Garfield directly died from infections, a combination of infections and blood poisoning.
LAMB: You say that he was shot twice?
ACKERMAN: He was shot twice.
ACKERMAN: One bullet hit him in the arm and grazed him. The other one hit him flat in the back.
LAMB: And what about the bullets?
ACKERMAN: They -- one of them was never found, the one that grazed him in the arm. The one that hit him in the back -- this was a question of some debate. They did ultimately find the bullet. It had formed -- the body had formed a cyst around the bullet, which ultimately formed an aneurysm later on. During the time, those 79 days when Garfield was being treated by the doctors, they had no idea where the bullet was. They kept trying to figure it out. At one point, they even brought in Alexander Graham Bell, the man who invented the telephone. He had invented a very crude form of metal detector, and they tried to use it to find the bullet. But the doctors were so far off, it turned out, in where they thought it was that the machine never worked.
LAMB: You say that in the end, this may have been the most successful assassination in history. For what reason?
ACKERMAN: Well, what Guiteau tried to do was different than what any other presidential assassinate had tried to do. What he tried to perform was a regime change. It wasn`t simply to kill a person. It wasn`t simply to destroy the president. He wanted to replace one ruling group, the Republican Half Breeds led by Garfield and Blaine, with a different ruling group, the Republican Stalwarts, led by Arthur and Conkling and Grant. That`s what he was trying to do.
He was able to do it because at the convention, a compromise had been reached. Garfield won the presidential nomination, but as a payback to the Stalwarts, to give them something because they lost, they made Chester Alan Arthur, the Stalwart, vice president. So what Guiteau was trying to do was to put Arthur, who had befriended him personally during the campaign, to put him in the White House. And that`s very different from any other presidential assassination.
And it`s a very frightening thing. It`s very different than the way the assassination is remembered in most history books.
LAMB: There are also three episodes of an affair. But the one I want you to tell the story before we run out of time...
ACKERMAN: ... OK
LAMB: ...is the Tom Platt story. And you have to give the context what this is about.
ACKERMAN: OK. Tom Platt. Tom Platt is a very interesting person for a lot of reasons. He becomes famous later on. He replaces Conkling later on as the boss of New York. And he is the one who nominates Theodore Roosevelt to be vice president on the McKinley ticket in 1900. But back in 1881, he was a minor player compared to Roscoe Conkling. And at the end of this long fight that Conkling has with Garfield over who will be the collector of the port of New York, Conkling and Platt both resign from office on what they consider a point of principle. They know they don`t have the votes, and so they resign in a very visible way, and they go back to Albany, New York, which is where the state legislature meets, and they insist that the legislature reinstate them. So that way their honor will be vindicated, and they could go and fight another day.
LAMB: And by the way, that turns the Senate cockeyed because of a 37-37 tie.
ACKERMAN: Yes, the Democrats take control again, the Senate shifts again in the power structure.
So they go to Albany. The state legislature elects senators. There are now two vacant seats. Platt and Conkling are both running for reelection. This becomes a very high profile battle in Albany. Every day, the Albany legislature, the Senate and the Assembly meeting jointly, every day they meet and they vote on the two seats.
About two or three weeks into this, it becomes stalemated. It becomes very, very mixed up in bad blood, with accusations and allegations. One night, a strange woman walks into the Delavan (ph) house hotel, takes a room. No one knows who she is. Late that night, some kid who is working there, one of the bag boys, notices Tom Platt going into her room. He immediately tells one of the -- one of Platt`s political enemies about it, the Half Breeds. They walk over to this room, and one of them pulls over a stepladder. And about half a dozen of them, one by one, climb up the stepladder, look over the door through a window where they see Tom Platt basically in a compromising position with this strange woman. They all look. They all immediately go running off to tell their friends. Within an hour, about 20 people come over, each one by one climbing up the stepladder, looking in the window to see Tom Platt and this woman having their affair.
Finally, after a couple of hours of this, they`re having their fun, the light goes out, they pass a note under the door saying "Tom Platt, we give you 10 minutes to walk out and show yourself." He comes out. Sees the hallway darkened. Starts walking down the hallway, and at the first door there`s several of his political enemies looking at him laughing.
He ends up that night walking out of the hotel. He instantly becomes a laughing stock. All of the newspapers the next morning rearrange their front pages to have this shocking scandal on the front page. When they have a vote the next day, the ballot for the Senate, when Platt`s name comes up, there are hales of laughter in the New York State Assembly room. Platt drops out of the race the next day, or that day. This is the day before the Garfield assassination.
LAMB: Kate Chase Sprague?
ACKERMAN: The daughter of Chase, who was President Lincoln`s secretary of the treasury, and later the Supreme Court justice. During the Civil War, she was very much the belle of Washington, a very, very attractive woman. Very smart and ambitious. She led her father`s presidential campaigns on two or three occasions. So she was very politically adept.
She got into a very bad marriage with a Senator Sprague of Rhode Island. At the time they were married during the Civil War, he was considered a catch, very handsome, very rich. It turns out that he had a drinking problem and he abused her very badly, and it was a very bad marriage.
She ends up having an affair with Roscoe Conkling. This was one of the very famous affairs in Washington. She would go to the Senate Gallery, watch Conkling give his speeches, and the two of them were very widely noticed. Conkling was married. He left his wife in Utica, New York, and their marriage was very tense.
At one point, Senator Sprague, by then he was governor, left town for a few days. Conkling went up to Rhode Island to visit Mrs. Sprague at their home. He came back while Conkling was there and chased him off with a shotgun. Several newspapers picked up the story, and this became the scandal of the summer of `77.
LAMB: And the final affair was James Garfield himself?
ACKERMAN: James Garfield himself. Garfield was very lucky in life in a lot of ways. He had a very good marriage. But early on, it was a very shaky marriage. During his first five years of marriage to Lucretia Rudolph, that was her maiden name, he was off fighting the Civil War and then he was off on the political stomp. In their first five years of marriage, I believe they lived together about 20 weeks. The rest of the time, he was off being James Garfield.
He did have an affair that she found out about. It was with a Mrs. Calhoun (ph) in New York City. And it almost ended their marriage early on. To their credit, James and Lucretia Garfield stuck it out, they weathered the storm, and within a few years their marriage was a very solid one, it was very -- it was one of the blessings of his life
LAMB: She lived how long after the assassination?
ACKERMAN: She lived about 35, 36 years after the assassination. She died in Southern California.
LAMB: So for people who are listening to this, we have not talked much about the convention in 1880, the election itself, the campaign. And there is just a lot that we missed in this. How long did it take you to write this?
ACKERMAN: The actual churning out of the first draft took about eight months, not counting the research and the revisions.
LAMB: And how long would it have been if you did put the research in there?
ACKERMAN: About a year and a half.
LAMB: And your next book?
ACKERMAN: I`m working now on a book about Boss Tweed of New York City.
LAMB: Our guest has been Kenneth Ackerman. And here is what the book looks like, it`s called "Dark Horse," it`s all about President James Garfield and his assassination
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