Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President


Millard, Candice.  Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President.   

New York:  Anchor Books, A Division of Random House, Inc. 2012.

Elizabeth Shown Mills reminds us that as genealogists we must understand the patterns of the time in which events took place.[1] 

Patterns of History

If you are studying ancestors in the period immediately following the Civil War, this non-fiction account of a little known event in American History may increase your understanding of the societal norms of the time.  

Death of General James A. Garfield. Lithograph by Currier & Ives. From the Library of Congress

President James A. Garfield was shot by Charles J. Guiteau on July 2, 1881.  

Ignoring Evidence

This is a story of how one man’s stubborn refusal to let scientific medical evidence change a firmly held belief may have changed the outcome of the assassination attempt.  

Rebound from Tragedy

The event unified the country which was still divided after the Civil War.  It destroyed the spoils system and resulted in the Civil Service System.  It changed medical practice in the United States and saved countless lives by the acceptance of antiseptic practices in medicine.  It also changed Chester A. Arthur from an ineffective political hack to a moderately successful President.  

In addition to the account of the assassination, the narrative contains much information about the accomplishments of Alexander Graham Bell and his frantic efforts to develop a machine that he believed would save the President’s life.  

This is a compelling story of President James A Garfield and the people surrounding him.


Editor's note: This week's blog started out to be a Then/Now comparison of something from SKCGS' past publications and our new, ambiguous normal of virtual meetings and communications. This book review, by Barbara Mattoon, was originally published in SoKing News, Vol. 33, No. 2, Autumn, 2017. Thank you, Barbara, for allowing us to revisit this.

Elizabeth Shown Mills' reminder to "understand the patterns of the time in which events took place," could not be more true; whether those events were 140 years ago or today.



1. Mills, Elizabeth Shown. “ The Successful Genealogist: It’s All About Our Mindset!” Lecture S417, National Genealogical Society 2017 Family History Conference: Raleigh 2017.

Barbara Mattoon


Popular posts from this blog

How Do You Use DNA Results From Multiple Sites?

Where We Have Been and Where We Are Going

X, Y and Mitchondrial DNA