Executions · Famous Last Words · Political · Washington DC

Man executed for the assassination of President Garfield

June 30, 1882
Washington, DC
Charles Julius Guiteau is hanged for the assassination of President James A. Garfield

Guiteau had previously applied for many government positions, including ambassador to Paris, but had been rejected for them all, angering Guiteau. He took a .442 Webley caliber British Bulldog revolver — choosing one with ivory grips rather than wood because the ivory one would look better in a museum exhibit chronicling the assassination — and began practicing to perfect his aim and adjust to the gun’s recoil.

Guiteau delayed his assassination attempt as First Lady Lucretia Garfield was ill and Guiteau did not want to upset her while in frail health. On July 2, 1881, he had his shoes shined and hired a cab to bring him to jail once he had shot the president. He approached President Garfield and fired twice at his back, one shot hitting L1 vertebra (the first vertebra below the rib cage, the first of 5 between the ribs and pelvis), but did not damage the spinal column. President Garfield lingered between life and death for two months until succumbing to infections (likely brought on by the doctors trying to save him, as sterilizing equipment and hands was not a practice at the time) on September 19.

Guiteau’s trial became somewhat of a circus, with Guiteau attempting to use the insanity defense, which he attempted to prove during trial by spontaneously making loud outbursts, earning him the nickname of “Hyena.” When found guilty, he addressed the jury and yelled “You are all low, consummate jackasses!” His spirits were not dampened too much as he reportedly danced to the gallows while wearing a grin. His final statement included a poem he wrote while incarcerated:

I am going to the Lordy,
I am so glad
I am going to the Lordy,
I am so glad
I am going to the Lordy,
Glory, hallelujah! Glory, hallelujah!
I am going to the Lordy.
I saved my party and my land, Glory, hallelujah,
But they have murdered me for it,
And that is the reason I am going to the Lordy,
Glory, hallelujah! Glory, hallelujah!
I am going to the Lordy.
Glory, hallelujah! I am with the Lordy.

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