Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard

Destiny of the Republic by Candice MillardJames Abram Garfield, the 20th president of these United States of America, was a remarkable man. His father died when he was 18 months old, and Garfield was raised in almost absolute poverty by a single mother. The family lived in a small log cabin in Ohio, but there was nothing small about the mother’s mind. She realized that education was the path to a brighter future, and made sure that her children became interested in learning early on.

As the mental horizons of the children broadened, Garfield became interested in the sea, and decided to become a sailor. Eventually, he found work as a canal driver near Cleveland, but after only six weeks, illness forced him to return home. While recuperating, he became interested in academics, and this led him to Geauga Seminary, in Chester, Ohio. Initially, Garfield supported himself as a janitor, bell ringer, and carpenter, but soon enough the educators at the seminary realized that they had a supreme mind in their midst. Garfield was offered a teaching position, and this was where his career as a hands-on intellectual began. It led him to fight slavery in this country and to a long and distinguished Congressional career.

When the 1880 Republican National Convention began, Garfield had no presidential ambitions – he was simply there to endorse John Sherman. In his improvised speech, Garfield listed qualities that a president should possess and emphasized the importance of party unity before he got around to mentioning Sherman by name. His speech deeply impressed many delegates, and people began asking him to become a nominee. “No, no, gentlemen,” he said sternly. “This is no theatrical performance.” However, before long, delegates sent a stunned Garfield to the presidential race, and a reporter mentioned that the reluctant presidential candidate looked “pale as death, and seemed to be half-unconsciously to receive the congratulations of his friends.”

Garfield accepted the task his colleagues had given him, led a front porch campaign, and ended up in the White House. It is quite possible that this capable, generous, humble, and intellectual man could have made a great president. But after just a few months in office, James Garfield was shot by a gun carrying egomaniac, Charles Guiteau, and in the incapable hands of present doctors, the gunshot wound grew worse over time.

In Destiny of the Republic, Candice Millard has written a well-researched and deeply moving account of the collision between two men: one asking for nothing, the other feeling entitled to everything.

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