The Devil in the White City is one of my all-time favorite books, and I’m delighted to announce I’ve found another story equally as enthralling.
Destiny of the Republic A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President, by Candice Millard opens in the summer of 1876, at the United States’ Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia where the first piece of the Statue of Liberty, the sixteen foot hand holding aloft a twenty-nine-foot torch was on display.
Alexander Graham Bell, a dedicated teacher of the deaf, had acquired a patent for the telephone, an invention he’d inherited from his father, three months prior to the opening of the fair. He was hesitant about participating and decided only at the last minute to seek a booth which lead to his assignment in the remote Massachusetts education section rather than the centrally located, more appropriate electrical exhibit. But thanks to his prior friendship with Emperor Dom Pedro II of Brazil, chairman of the judges, Bell was granted permission to demonstrate his “iron box receiver,” and his reputation grew from their resounding response.
A British surgeon, Joseph Lister, presented his theory on antisepsis during the exposition. He reasoned the same microorganisms that caused wine to ferment might also be the cause of infection in wounds and recommended an elaborate system of sterilization based on the use of carbolic acid. Representatives of the American medical community listened politely but dismissed his presentation as being ridiculous and too much trouble.
James Garfield attended the exposition with his wife and family. The author does a commendable job of introducing a lesser known president who by any standards was equal in intelligence, leadership ability and nobility of character to Lincoln.
The Republication Convention of 1880 was held in Chicago, a city in the process of re-building after the great fire of 1871. Although Garfield attended as a senator from Ohio, at no time did he seek the nomination. The leading choices were General Grant who had already served two terms as President, John Sherman, brother of General William Tecumseh Sherman, and James Blaine, a senator from Maine.
Day after stifling hot day drug by with the assemblage unable to settle on one of the leading contenders. One delegate persisted in voting for Garfield. In the ensuing ballots, favor gradually shifted until Garfield was nominated.
Although he would rather have stayed home to farm and raise his family, Garfield accepted the nomination because he felt it was the will of the people. It was not the custom then for the candidates to campaign in person, but Garfield did speak to those who made the effort to visit him at home where he addressed them from his front porch. Some days there were only a few; others, there were thousands. His greatest talent was public speaking.
Destiny of the Republic is the story of Garfield’s all too short term in office. The lives of Bell and Lister are intertwined in the struggle to save the president’s life from the bullet wound he sustained in an assassination attempt.
The story is enthralling on its own, but even more interesting and thought provoking in contrast to today’s politics.
Give yourself a treat. Read Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard.