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Charles J. Guiteau Collection

The Charles J. Guiteau Collection consists of correspondence, affidavits and printed material by and about Guiteau, the notorious attorney who assassinated U.S. President James Abram Garfield on July 2, 1881. The assassination resulted in one of the most celebrated American "insanity trials" of the nineteenth century, which became something of a legal milestone in the judgement of the criminally insane.

Over the decades, most authorities, including medical professionals, have agreed that Guiteau suffered from insanity. Charles E. Rosenberg, author of "The Trial of the Assassin Guiteau - Psychiatry and Law in the Gilded Age" (1968), wrote of the case: "Within a dozen years of Guiteau's execution, few interested pysicians doubted that he had been insane, indeed chronically and obviously so. Those harshest in their judgment did not hesitate to call the trial a miscarriage of justice...

 

Charles Julius Guiteau was born on September 8, 1841, in Freeport, Illinois, the fourth of six children of Luther Wilson Guiteau and Jane Howe. The latter died when Charles was quite young, on September 25, 1848. Luther Guiteau then remarried.

As a youth, Charles Guiteau worked for his father who was a business man, later elected county clerk, and then employed as a cashier in Freeport's Second National Bank. Luther Guiteau was very much against sending his son to college. However, in 1859, an inheritance from his maternal grandfather, provided Charles with the means to attend the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. If Charles had been discontented with life at home, he was even more unhappy at university. For solace and direction, he turned to the religious doctrines of John Humphrey Noyes, founder of the Oneida Community in New York State in the 1840s, who promulgated a kind of "Bible communism." In fact, Luther Guiteau was already a follower of Noyes' teachings.

In 1860, Charles Guiteau joined the Oneida Community in New York. Still unhappy, he then left the community on April 3, 1865, when he conceived of the notion that he had been chosen by God to spread Noyes' self-named "millennial communism" by founding a daily newspaper. Guiteau settled in Hoboken, New Jersey, and attempted to start a paper entitled the "Daily Theocrat." This was apparently short lived, for on July 20, 1865, he applied to reenter the Oneida Community. Then, just over a year later, he again quit, and on November 1, 1866, he departed with some money that he had originally consigned to the community.

By August 1867, Charles had run out of money. He called upon his brother-in-law, George Scoville, who had married his sister Frances. After the death of their mother, Frances had practically raised her younger brother, and was to provide him often with both moral and financial support throughout his life. Scoville offered Charles a job in his law office in Chicago, as well as a place to live. However, after a few months, the latter quit his position and returned to New York, ostensibly to work for Henry Ward Beecher's newspaper, the "Independent." Guiteau was soon disappointed to find that there were no editorial jobs available at the "Independent," and he ended up selling subscriptions and advertisements on commission.

Increasingly despondent over his prospects, Charles Guiteau conceived of the idea to sue the Oneida Community on a trumped up charge of witholding compensation for the work he professed to have performed under its auspices. For a few months, Guiteau sent threatening letters to Noyes that amounted to blackmail. Eventually, he desisted, when Oneida's own lawyers threatened to prosecute him for extortion and to use his letters against him.

In 1868, Guiteau left New York and returned to Chicago. He obtained a job as a clerk in the law offices of General J.S. Reynolds, Sr. and Phelps. He managed to pass the Illinois bar, and set up a small private law office on his own. In 1869, he married Annie Bunn, a librarian at the local Y.M.C.A. that he frequented. Predictably, the union was an unhappy one. Guiteau's business was scanty and disorganized. He was abusive to his wife, reportedly locking her in a closet for whole nights. In 1874 she divorced him, shortly after the couple had moved to New York in the wake of the Chicago fire.

The following year, Guiteau's behavior became not merely erratic but bizarre. After failing to obtain the collatoral for another newspaper venture, this time attempting to buy a newspaper called the "Inter-Ocean," Guiteau again availed himself of his sister's generosity, moving into the Scoville house for some months.

One day, Frances reported that Charles had gone out to chop wood. On passing nearby to him, he suddenly raised the axe at her. Frightened, she ran for the local doctor, who, after examining her brother, declared that she should have him institutionalized.

After this incident, Charles Guiteau fled from his sister's house and disappeared. In 1876, he resurfaced, a regular attendant of Dwight Moody's revivalist meetings. From 1877 to 1880, Guiteau himself became an itinerant preacher, writing and disseminating his own sermons.

In 1880, Luther Guiteau died. That year, his feckless son turned to politics. Since childhood, Charles Guiteau had been enamored of politics; having been an avid reader of Horace Greeley's "New York Tribune," he was an early convert to Republicanism. Later, Guiteau became fired by the Republicans' intraparty conflict between the "Stalwart" faction led by Roscoe Conkling and the "Half-Breeds" led by James G. Blaine who supported then president-elect James Abram Garfield.

Initially, Guiteau favored the Stalwarts and their attempt to nominate Ulysses S. Grant for a third term. When Garfield was nominated, however, Guiteau changed sides. He soon became a familiar figure stationed outside Republican headquarters on Fifth Avenue in New York City. Here, on August 6, 1880, he delivered his speech, "Garfield vs. Hancock," (see Folder 11, printed copy). After Garfield's election, in 1881, Guiteau moved to Washington, D.C., in the hope of an appointment. He bombarded Secretary of State James G. Blaine with letters. Finally, after receiving either rebuff or no response at all, Guiteau again changed sides to the Stalwarts' cause.

In mid-May 1881, he conceived the idea to "remove" the president. On June 16, 1881, he delivered the first of several "explanations" for his action, an "Address to the American People," (see Folder 7, original manuscript). He also wrote a letter to the White House and a similar one to be sent to General William T. Sherman, stating, "I have just shot the President...His death was a political necessity. I am a lawyer, theologian and politician. I am a Stalwart of the Stalwarts..." (see Folder 3, original to Sherman).

On July 2, 1881, Charles Guiteau shot President Garfield, once in the arm and once, fatally, in the back, as the latter was about to depart for a vacation from the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station. The shooting occurred in the presence of a small entourage of Garfield's aides, including Secretary Blaine.

Guiteau was promptly arrested and remanded to the District of Columbia jail near the Anacostia River. His trial began on November 14, 1881, and did not end until May 22, 1882. A plea of insanity by neurologists, as well as members of the Guiteau family to President Chester A. Arthur, was rejected, and a writ of execution was issued. On June 30, 1882, Charles Guiteau was hanged at the District of Columbia jail.

BULK DATES: 1881 - 1882
SPAN DATES: 1876 - 1882

EXTENT: 0.25 lf, 1 box

Folder List

Box: 1 Fold: 1

Correspondence: Charles Guiteau to Thomas Darlington
Letter date: March 13, 1876
View Document

DESCRIPTION: Contains ALS, 1 sheet, 1 page, w/ cancelled envelope, on stationery letterhead for Charles J. Guiteau, Attorney and Counselor at Law, Chicago.

 

@ "Dear Sir: It is uncertain when I shall be in New York. If you have any suggestions touching a settlement of that English case please notify me by return mail. It was a most unjustifiable arrest, and Mr. English ought to be severely punished for making that fake affidavit. My circumstances are rapidly improving here and I shall follow him to the bitter end if it is not settled. I understand through the treachery of my former attorney the case stands on a default (not a judgement). This can easily be set aside. What will Mr. English give to settle it without further litigation? I have already spent $150- in bail, sheriff's fees, costs, etc. besides my own work on the case. If it is not settled I shall have one of the best lawyers in N.Y take charge of it without delay. Yours truly, Charles Guiteau."

Box: 1 Fold: 2 Correspondence: Charles Guiteau to Richard Merrick
Letter date: January 28, 1882
View Document

DESCRIPTION: Contains ALS from Guiteau to Judge Merrick, on 1 sheet/1 page, from the family scrapbook of Mary Merrick. Addressed from the "U.S. Jail, Washington, D.C." Written to the Honorable Richard Merrick, requesting that he represent Guiteau in his case: "...I will give you a reasonable retainer and an ample fee if you get me off..." Dated January 28, 1882.

Box: 1 Fold: 3 Correspondence: Charles Guiteau to William T. Sherman
July 1881
View Document

DESCRIPTION: Contains ALS from Guiteau to General Sherman, folio, 1 page w/ envelope:

 

@ "To General Sherman: I have just shot the President. I shot him several times as I wished him to go as easily as possible. His death was a political necessity. I am a lawyer, theologian, and politician. I am a stalwart of the Stalwarts. I was with Gen. Grant, and the rest of our men in New York during the canvass. I am going to the Jail. Please order out your troops and take possession of the Jail at once. Very respectfully, Charles Guiteau."

 

@ On same folio, ANS note by Sherman addressed from "Headquarters of the Army, Washington, DC. July 2, 1881," in which he states that "I don't know the writer. Never heard of or saw him to my knowledge..."

Box: 1 Fold: 4 Charles Guiteau Law suits (Misc.)
undated
View Document
View Business Card (front)
View Business Card (back)

DESCRIPTION: Contains autograph note fragments as follows:

 

@ 1. "Private - Able lawyers say your complaint is very weak and it can be dismissed on technical grounds, then, English will blame you. If you are satisfied from all my papers filed, English has no case, you can save your professional reputation by advising him to settle on that ground."

 

@ 2. ANS by Guiteau written on the reverse of his own printed business card, demanding the transfer of all papers pertinent to the case of English versus Guiteau to his new office.

Box: 1 Fold: 5 Affidavit/Memorandum by Edmond Bailey
Dated December 7, 1881
View Document (Page 1)
View Document (Page 2)
View Document (Page 3 and 4)
View Document (Page 5 and 6)
View Document (Page 7 and 8)
View Document (Page 9 and 10)

DESCRIPTION: Contains 10 sheets of 10 autograph pages written and signed by Edmond Bailey, a legal colleague of George Corkhill, district attorney for the case. Corkhill introduced Guiteau to Bailey, who then proceeded to hold lengthy conversations with Guiteau, and supposedly made copious notes on his life, ideas and motivations. Bailey claimed later to have destroyed the notes. The affidavit concludes -

 

@ "In my conversations with him I did not understand that he claimed to have acted on "inspiration," but that he reasoned out the idea and then became convinced that it was in accordance with God's will and in that manner it was the "act of God."

Box: 1 Fold: 6

Affidavit/"Personal Mention" by Charles Guiteau
1881
View Document (Part 1)
View Document (Part 2)

DESCRIPTION: Contains 3 sheets/3 pages of autograph notes written by Guiteau about himself, used as a courtroom exhibit by Edmond Bailey.

Box: 1 Fold: 7

Affidavit/Address by Guiteau: "To the American People..."
Dated June 16, 1881
View Document (Part 1)
View Document (Part 2)

DESCRIPTION: Contains 3 sheets/3 page autograph manuscript signed by Guiteau, used as a courtroom exhibit by Edmond Bailey -

 

@ "Washington June 16, 1881. To the American People: I conceived the idea of removing the President four weeks ago. Not a soul knew of my purpose. I conceived the idea myself and kept it to myself. I read the newspapers carefully for and against the Administration, and gradually the conviction settled on me that the President's removal was a political necessity, because he proved a traitor to the men that made him, and thereby imperilled the life of the Republic...This is not murder. It is a political necessity..."

Box: 1 Fold: 8 Correspondence: H.B. Amerling to George W. Ogler
Letter date: October 31, 1881
View Document (Part 1)
View Document (Part 2)
View Document (Part 3)

DESCRIPTION: Contains ALS, folio w/ cancelled envelope from H.B. Amerling, attorney and counselor at law, Lycoming County, Pennsylvania, to colleague George W. Ogler:

 

@ "Friend Ogler: I have been subpoenaed in the Guiteau case on the part of the defense. I remember of hearing you tell of the funny and strange actions of the Guiteaus. I shall leave for Washington next week. i think you would be a good witness. I believe that both Charles Guiteau and his father were crasey on religion. I wished you would write to me stating the peculiar transactions of both old man Guiteau and Abraham his brother. I will then mention the facts to (George) Scoville the attorney and if he thinks it necessary he will subpoena you..." Scoville was both Guiteau's brother-in-law and counsel for the case.

Box: 1 Fold: 9 Eye-witness account by Nicholas Jackson
Dated: July 10, 1881
View Document (Part 1)
View Document (Part 2)
View Document (Part 3)
View Document (Part 4)

DESCRIPTION: Contains ALS written by Nicholas Jackson, giving an eye-witness account of the shooting of President Garfield by Guiteau. Submitted to the editor of the "Evening Star." Addressed from Annapolis, Md., 2 sheets + folio/7 autograph pages -

 

@ "Sir: As I was an eye witness of the shooting of President Garfield and being able to explain which shot entered the chief magistrate's body first and the course and present whereabouts of the ball that missed him I deemed it proper to impart to you the information I possess of the tragedy as it will clear away the mystery (of the lost bullet) which the newspaper men are trying to solve..."

Box: 1 Fold: 10

Frederick Snyder - A political protest
undated
View Document (Part 1)
View Document (Part 2)
View Document (Part 3)

DESCRIPTION: Contains AMsS by Frederick Snyder, protesting the conduct of a political rival. 5 sheets/5 pages w/ envelope.

Box: 1 Fold: 11 Speech by Charles Guiteau
August 6, 1880
View Document (Part 1)
View Document (Part 2)
View Document (Part 3)

DESCRIPTION: Contains printed speech by Guiteau delivered August 6, 1880, on the subject of the electoral race between James Abram Garfield and General Winfield Scott Hancock in 1880. Entitled, "The Past Reviewed."

Box: 1 Fold: 12 Newspaper clipping about Charles J. Guiteau
undated
View Document

DESCRIPTION: Contains newspaper clipping entitled, "Guiteau Hated Catholics." Concerns Guiteau's hatred of Catholicism.

Box: 1 Fold: 13 "The Death of James A. Garfield" Poem by James Slattery
undated
View Document

DESCRIPTION: Contains printed poem on the death of James A. Garfield by James Slattery.