Today, September 19, 1881: President Garfield Succumbs 80 Days Later From Assassination Wounds [VIDEO]

If I were to ask you how many presidents have been assassinated, how many shot but didn’t die and how many had known assassination attempts made against them but failed, what would your answers be?

Presidents assassinated – 4 – Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley and Kennedy.

Presidents shot but survived – 2 – Teddy Roosevelt, Reagan

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Presidents with failed assassination attempts – 9 – Jackson, Jackson, Franklin Roosevelt, Truman, Nixon, Ford, GWH Bush, Clinton, GW Bush, Obama

James A. Garfield served the second shortest term as President in history with only 199 days in office.

On March 4, 1881, James Abram Garfield was sworn in as the 20th President of the United States. He was a Republican and worked hard on forming a Cabinet to cement the prevailing views of the Republican Party at the time.

On July 2, 1881, Garfield was at the railroad station in Washington DC when Charles J. Guiteau came up behind the president and fired two shots, hitting Garfield in the back and arm. Guiteau was immediately arrested and jailed. Guiteau was upset mainly because he wanted to be appointed to a post in the federal government as part of the diplomatic corps in Paris but that wasn’t to be. He was later found guilty of assassinating the President of the United States and was subsequently hung in prison.

Garfield initially survived his wounds but was in a great deal of pain. The first doctor on the scene treated Garfield with spirits of ammonia and brandy, causing him to vomit. The attending doctors told him that the wounds were not that serious and that he would survive. Garfield responded by telling the doctor that he believed himself to be a dead man. The top doctor in Washington DC at the time, was D. W. Bliss and he was brought to the scene. He tried to insert a probe into the wound in Garfield’s back to locate the bullet, but the probe became stuck amongst the pieces of the President’s shattered 11th rib. It took a great deal of effort to remove the probe, leaving Garfield in considerable pain. Then Bliss tried inserting his finger to widen the wound and feel for the bullet but that too was unsuccessful and extremely painful. It was then decided to move Garfield to the White House.

At least 16 of the top doctors came to the White House to try to help treat Garfield. Even though Garfield complained of numbness in his legs and feet indicating the bullet was near his spinal cord, most of the doctors probed the bullet hole with their fingers or non-sterile instruments believing the bullet was lodged somewhere in his abdomen. In the course of their examinations, the bullet wound was turned from a three-inch-deep hole into a twenty-inch-long gash running from his ribs to his groin. The gash became infected due to the non-sterile medical instruments and dirty fingers and each day oozed more and more pus.

It was extremely hot and humid in Washington DC at the time and this was before the days of air conditioning, so it was decided to move him to a cottage along the coast at Elberon, New Jersey to recuperate from his wounds. However, he remained bedridden for the next 80 days, going from 210 pounds down to only 130 pounds.

During this time, Vice President Chester A. Arthur assumed the majority of the duties of President even though no one was sure that the Constitution legally allowed him to do so. Eventually, he contracted blood poisoning from the bullet.

On this day, September 19, 1881, President James A. Garfield succumbed to the blood poisoning in his body and died.

On September 20, 1881, Vice President Chester A. Arthur was sworn in as the 21st President of the United States.


Sources for the above includes: U.S. Presidential Assassinations and Attempts; Life and Death in the White House; The Death Of President Garfield, 1881; President Garfield Succumbs to Shooting Wounds; James A. Garfield; Charles Guiteau (Garfield Assassination) Trial1881-82; James Garfield;



Dave Jolly

R.L. David Jolly holds a B.S. in Wildlife Biology and an M.S. in Biology – Population Genetics. He has worked in a number of fields, giving him a broad perspective on life, business, economics and politics. He is a very conservative Christian, husband, father and grandfather who cares deeply for his Savior, family and the future of our troubled nation.

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