Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard


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Rate: 3/5


Medium: AudioBook

Overview (No Spoilers): Well I can’t say that this work of nonfiction has been my most exciting read, however the merging of modern scientific concepts along side the political atmosphere of the time turned out to be quite interesting. Millard’s story follows the attempted assassination of James Garfield and the subsequent medical attention he received at the hands of doctors, yet to embrace the sterilization concepts perpetrated by Joseph Lister, which have become fundamentals of modern medicine. It was painful to read about doctors sticking unwashed hands, multiple times, in Garfield’s bullet wound. I struggled to empathize with the time period, however the main doctor, Doctor Williard Bliss, was aggravating beyond measure, being truly only interested in his self-promotion by saving the president. Yes, his first name was actually Doctor. Doctor kept Garfield isolated, refusing to let anyone talk to him, thereby making Garfield quite miserable. Garfield’s injuries would have likely been nonthreatening 5 years after his murder, and even today he would have been out of the hospital within days.

Alexander Graham Bell played a surprising role by creating a rudimentary metal detector, with the goal of finding the bullet still lodged in the President’s back. He created a successful instrument, however Bliss again showed his incompetence by only allowing Bell to search a specific area in the President’s back that he was convinced contained the bullet. Had Bell been allowed to search all of the suspected area, his device would probably have been most successful. Garfield, while only holding office for approximately 6 months, was another intriguing character. At the Republican convention he was nominated for President against his will, and much to his horror was eventually voted as their representative. The scene at the Democratic Convention in one of my favorite TV shows, House of Cards, had a very similar run of events with Claire Underwood ‘randomly’ getting one vote for VP and as each round of voting concludes she gains vote after vote till she becomes the nominee. Garfield also, as was normal with the times, did not campaign for the Presidency. In the short time he was in office he managed to heal a fractured Republican party. What could he have done with four years and not 6 months?

The last interesting thought was that there was no Secret Service protecting the President. The people had free access to the President and Garfield officially met with random people that came to the White House several hours a day. The Secret Service existed at this time period, but they were concerned with tracking down counterfeiters.  It wasn’t till McKinley was killed that the Secret Service took the role we are now familiar with.

Random trivia fact: What person has been present for three of the four presidential assassinations? Robert Lincoln! He was there when his father died and was meeting Garfield in the train station as a part of his Cabinet when the President was shot. He was also at the Exposition, in New York with McKinley when he was shot and killed.


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