November 16, 1880

Extraordinary James Garfield Letter on Assassination: It Can No More Be Guarded Against Than Death By Lightning

Autograph Letter Signed
2 pages
SMC 556
Because assassination was something foreign, and the leader of a free republic someone who ought to be able to walk freely among his fellow citizens, President Garfield had no bodyguards. “Assassination can no more be guarded against than death by lightning,” he thought, and says so here, “and it is not best to worry about either.” He wasn’t worried, then, when he received, through Secretary Sherman, a letter from a Mr. Hudson, in Detroit, voicing fear that Garfield was in serious danger, and giving particulars.
The letter of Mr. Hudson of Detroit… came duly to hand. I do not think there is any serious danger in the direction to which he refers. Though I am receiving, what I suppose to be the usual number of threatening letters on that subject. Assassination can no more be guarded against than death by lightning and it is not best to worry about either…
Garfield wasn’t worried, either, as he walked through the Baltimore and Potomac Railway Depot on the morning of July 2nd, 1881, heading for the train platform, to leave on his summer vacation. He was, however, surprised when, from a yard away, the assassin Charles Guiteau fired, twice, into his back. “My God!” he cried, “What is this?”
When Garfield died of his wounds - and medical malpractice – on September 19, 1881, he became the second President to be assassinated. But it would take a third death, McKinley’s, before presidents were systemically and continuously protected – and even then, there have been four attempts, and one assassination, since.
Autograph Letter Signed (“J.A. Garfield”), as President-Elect, 2 pages, octavo, Mentor, Ohio, November 16, 1880. To Treasury Secretary John Sherman.
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