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This is an engraving depicting the assassination of President Garfield
Scene of the assassination of Gen. James A. Garfield, President of the United States. 1881. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Congressional Reactions to the Assassination of President Garfield in the Bound Congressional Record

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The Bound Congressional Record on now provides coverage back to 1881, so I decided to see if I could find Congressional reactions to the shooting of President Garfield on July 2, 1881, at the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station by Charles Guiteau, and the President’s subsequent death on September 19, 1881.

The assassin, Charles Guiteau, believed he had provided invaluable support for the election of the president and therefore decided he deserved an appointment as a consul. Despite his very persistent requests, he did not receive an appointment, and he decided to seek revenge on the president by shooting him at the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station and elevating Vice President Arthur to the presidency, who he believed might provide him with an appointment.

A profile drawing of Charles Guiteau that purports to explain his behavior using phrenology.
Many attempts were made to explain Charles Guiteau’s behavior, including phrenology. A.E. Frew Mulley & Chas. Whyatt, Charles Julius Guiteau, The Assassin. Being a Copious and Correct Phrenological Delineation of his Character. (1881).

Congress was not in session when the president was shot in July or when he died in September, so I turned to when they reconvened in December of 1881 to see if I could find any Congressional reactions. The most interesting reaction I found was incorporated into a speech advocating for civil service reform. On December 13, 1881, Senator Pendleton, from Ohio, provided a speech that blamed the spoils system for motivating Charles Guiteau’s expectation that he deserved to benefit from the election of the president through an appointment. You can read the full speech here on page 79.

An excerpt of a speech by Senator Pendleton on December 13, 1881 as recorded in the Bound Congressional Record.
An excerpt of a speech by Senator Pendleton on December 13, 1881, as recorded in the Bound Congressional Record.

In order to locate Congressional reactions to historic events in American history in the Bound Congressional Record, you can choose to search or browse the content. To search the Bound Congressional Record, select the “Congressional Record” in the dropdown menu, enter your search terms, and, on the results screen, click “show keywords in context.” Show keywords in context displays a snippet of the text where your result appears so you can quickly decide whether or not it is relevant to you. If you are looking for a reaction to an event that occurred on a particular date, you could also browse the Congressional Record by date.

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Comments (2)

  1. Thank you so much for provided this historical light on the assassination of President Garfield, aiding my knowledge of American history. I like the resources in this post. Must look up the marc record since i am a cataloger.

  2. Very interesting!

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