Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Garfield Assassination

Never one to pass on a chance to talk about the Gilded Age, I wanted to link to M.J. Rosenberg's comparison of the assassination of James Garfield by angry Republicans in 1881 to the possibility of angry Republicans assassinating Barack Obama or other leading Democrats today or in the near future.

I'm skeptical. For one thing, while the corrupt wing of the Republicans were pissed that Garfield won the nomination instead of Grant or some other acceptable option, he was a Republican after all. He was a respected member of their party. It wasn't hate they spewed at him, it was contempt. If the Grant people had truly refused to support Garfield, as Rosenberg states, Garfield wouldn't have won the election. It's not as if they went and voted for Winfield Scott Hancock. The election of 1880 was very close, but that had a lot to do with enough disgust for Republican economic policies and corruption that the Republican policy of waving the bloody shirt at the Democrats in post-Civil War America didn't have its usual effect. Moreover, Rosenberg kind of underplays why Charles Guiteau assassinated Garfield. Other than he was crazy, he was a disgruntled office seeker. He expected to get an office under Grant and shot Garfield when that didn't happen, but it's an awful long way to go to blame anger from one faction of Republicans over an anti-Grant candidate defeating them for Garfield's demise.

Of course, he's trying to make a comparison between Republican hate mongering over time. I think this has some value, but I think it's also a fairly significant stretch in this particular case.

I do most especially agree with Rosenberg on this statement:

Thank God Obama has one thing Garfield didn't: the Secret Service.