On the morning of July 2d, the President set out from the Executive Mansion with Secretary Blaine for the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad station, where he was to join several members of the Cabinet for a trip to New York and New England, including visits to Williams College and the White Mountains. The two entered the station arm in arm, and while they were passing through the ladies' waiting-room two pistol-shots were heard in quick succession, one of which took effect in the President's back. He sank to the door, bleeding profusely, and for a moment was unconscious, and then was affected with vomiting. To get him out of the confusion he was carried to the offices of the company, on the second floor. Several physicians were summoned, and, after a superficial examination of the wound, the President was taken back to the Executive Mansion. The result of their first careful examination was the opinion that the bullet had penetrated or grazed the liver, and had lodged in the front wall of the abdomen., They believed that the injury was not necessarily fatal, but concluded that it was not advisable to attempt the removal of the bullet. . . .
The person who had fired the pistol at the railroad station had been promptly seized and taken into custody. He proved to be Charles J. Guiteau, who had been a persistent but unsuccessful applicant for an appointment, first as minister to Austria, and then as consul-general to Paris. He describes himself as a lawyer, a politician, and a theologian, and is reported to have said, on being taken into custody: "All right, I did it, and will go to jail for it. I am a Stalwart, and Arthur will be President." A letter was found on his person in which the death of the President was spoken of as a "sad necessity" that would "unite the Republican party and save the Republic." Guiteau was lodged in the District of Columbia jail, to await the result of the President's wound.
The news of the attempted assassination created intense excitement throughout the country, and it was considered in some quarters as an indirect result of the political system that encouraged unregulated office-seeking and occasioned many disappointments, and to the quarrel between the so-called "Stalwarts" and Administration Republicans, which had originated in the controversy over appointments in the State of New York. There was an almost universal outbreak of sorrow and indignation at the crime, and sympathy for the sufferer and his family, and this found expression in the action of numerous public bodies and political assemblies, of both parties, and in all sections of the country. It extended to foreign lands, and brought forth many official and unofficial expressions of sympathy.
After the first shock had passed, the announcement that the wound was not necessarily fatal, and that there was a chance of recovery, gave rise to a hopeful feeling, which increased with daily reports of favorable progress. As early as the 10th of July Governor Foster, of Ohio, suggested to the Governors of all the States the appointment of a general day of thanksgiving for the President's escape from death, and the prospect of his speedy recovery. In several States this suggestion was acted on. The favorable reports continued for some days, and the President's recovery was confidently predicted by the surgeons in attendance. They concluded that no important organ had been injured, and that the bullet was likely to become encysted and harmless, or might possibly declare its presence in a way that would admit of its successful removal.
The first check in the favorable symptoms was on the 18th of July, and was followed by an apparent resumption of progress. The first serious relapse occurred on the 23d of July, being attended with chills and more or less of fever. The bullet had entered between the eleventh and twelfth ribs, about four inches to the right of the spinal column, the assassin standing about six feet behind and a little to the right of his victim, and the bones had been somewhat splintered. The diagnosis assumed that there had been a deflection which sent the bullet downward and to the right. The probing and treatment of the wound had followed this supposed course, where there was by this time a channel several inches in depth. The unfavorable symptoms were caused by obstruction in the flow of pus, and on the morning of the 24th an incision was made to give a freer passage from the supposed track of the wound. This was followed by relief and a resumption of hopeful reports. On the 28th there was a slight recurrence of fever, and day by day thereafter there was more or less of febrile rise in the temperature and pulse, attended with abnormal respiration.
The heat of the season aggravated the difficulty of dealing with the case, and artificial means of cooling the atmosphere of the Executive Mansion were resorted to. Large quantities of ice were placed in the cellar, over which air was passed and then admitted to the sick-room by means of an apparatus specially devised for the purpose. The case was also believed to be more or less complicated by malarial influences prevailing in and about the White House.
Favorable reports continued during the first days of August, and plans were discust for removing the patient to the Soldiers' Home. On the 6th unfavorable symptoms were reported as the effect of the heat, and on the following day they were declared to be more serious, and attributed to further obstruction of pus in the wound. A new incision was made, this time below the rib, giving another and freer outlet from the assumed track of the wound. Relief and renewed progress were announced as the result, but there seemed to be no satisfactory evidence of healing. On the 10th the President, for the first time since the shooting, signed an official document, presented for the purpose by the Secretary of State, being one of the papers in an extradition case pending with Canada.
About this time there was considerable discussion as to the correctness of the medical treatment, and also as to the propriety of leaving the Executive Department of the Government without an active head, some maintaining that the exigency existed under which the Constitution provided for the devolving of the powers and duties of the presidential office on the Vice-President on account of "inability."
After the 10th of August the reports from the sufferer were less hopeful, and unfavorable symptoms declared themselves on the 13th. On the 15th the patient was admitted to be in a precarious condition. His pulse went to 130, and he was affected with "rigors" and vomiting. Thereafter the stomach was continually troublesome, and much of the time nutriment and stimulants were administered by injection. There was an apparent recovery from the relapse of the 15th, and hope was still cherished. On the 18th inflammation of the right parotid gland was announced, which increased until an incision was made in it on the 24th. The condition of the patient was fluctuating during these days, and he began to express a strong desire to be removed from Washington. On the 25th his condition became critical, and on the day following fears of a fatal ending of all hope were entertained throughout the country. There were, however, slight indications of improvement on the 27th, which increased until by the 30th there was a renewal of hopeful announcements. On the 1st of September the question of removal was taken up again, and the gastric disturbance returning on the 4th, it was decided to take the patient to Long Branch, in accordance with his own earnest desire. The journey to Long Branch was made on the 6th of September. The rate of speed was at times as high as sixty miles an hour; few stops were made, and Long Branch was reached at 1 o'clock3,500 feet of railroad track having been laid specially to convey the train from the regular station to the immediate vicinity of the Francklyn Cottage, at Elberon. . . .
The President showed signs of gratification at the change, but there was no immediate evidence of improvement. For two or three days the reports were hopeful, but bronchial trouble was developing, and threatening the lungs. From the 11th to the 15th the reports were fluctuating and rather dispiriting. The patient was placed for a few hours each day in a reclining-chair where he could gaze from the window of the cottage upon the sea. On the 16th there was a serious relapse, with marked symptoms of blood-poisoning, including severe chills, fever, and inability to retain anything in the stomach. The last day (September 19th), is thus described by Dr. Bliss:
"At 10:10 P.M. I was summoned hastily to the bedside, and found the President in an unconscious and dying condition, pulseless at the wrist, with extreme pallor, the eyes opened and turned upward, and respiration 8 per minute, and gasping. Placing my finger upon the carotid, I could not recognize pulsation; applying my ear over the heart, I detected an indistinct flutter, which continued until 10:35, when he expired. The brave and heroic sufferer, the nation's patient, for whom all had labored so cheerfully and unceasingly, had passed away."
Death was preceded by a severe pain at the heart, and the President's last words were, "O, Swaim!" The announcement of his demise evoked expressions of universal grief, not only throughout this country but from the principal cities of the Old World. Messages of condolence came from representatives of authority abroad as well as at home , and from many private and unofficial sources. An autopsy of the body was made on the afternoon of September 20th, Dr. D. S. Lamb, of the Medical Museum at Washington, handling the knife, and all the physicians who had taken part in the case, as well as Dr. Andrew H. Smith, of Elberon, being present. The result showed that the diagnosis of the wound, so far as it concerned the course of the bullet, had been mistaken from the start. The following is from the official announcement of the result of the autopsy:
"It was found that the ball, after fracturing the right eleventh rib, had passed through the spinal column in front of the spinal canal, fracturing the body of the first lumbar vertebra, driving a number of small fragments of bone into the adjacent soft parts, and lodging below the pancreas, about two inches and a half to the left of the spine, and behind the peritoneum, where it had become completely encysted. The immediate cause of death was secondary hemorrhage from one of the mesenteric arteries adjoining the track of the ball, the blood rupturing the peritoneum, and nearly a pint escaping into the abdominal cavity. This hemorrhage is believed to have been the cause of the severe pain in the lower part of the chest complained of just before death. An abscess cavity, six inches by four in dimensions, was found in the vicinity of the gall-bladder, between the liver and the transverse colon, which were strongly adherent. It did not involve the substance of the liver, and no communication was found between it and the wound. A long, suppurating channel extended from the external wound between the loin-muscles and the right kidney almost to the right groin. This channel, now known to be due to the burrowing of pus from the wound, was supposed during life to have been the track of the ball. On an examination of the organs of the chest evidences of severe bronchitis were found on both sides, with bronchopneumonia of the lower portions of the right lung, and, tho to a much less extent, of the left. The lungs contained no abscesses and the heart no clots. The liver was enlarged and fatty, but free from abscesses. Nor were any found on any other organ, except the left kidney, which contained near its surface a small abscess about one-third of an inch in diameter." . . .
There was considerable lay and professional discussion of the medical treatment, the general conclusion being that, aside from the mistaken diagnosis, the wound was necessarily mortal, and it is doubtful if anything more could have been done to mitigate the sufferings of the patient.
After brief religious ceremonies at 10 o'clock on the 21st, the body was borne by special train from Long Branch, and, passing silent and reverent crowds at every station, reached Washington at about 4:30, where it was received by an imposing funeral escort and taken to the Capitol.
It was laid in state under the great dome, previous to being taken to Cleveland, Ohio, for burial. It was exposed to view during the 22d, and crowds of people passed through the rotunda to look upon the face of the deceased. Meantime, preparations were made in Cleveland for receiving the remains, and there the principal obsequies were to take place. On the afternoon of the 23d, after impressive ceremonies in the rotunda of the Capitol, the coffin was borne to the station of the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad, and the funeral train started a little after 5 o'clock. Official representatives of the various departments of the Government, of most of the States, and many municipal corporations, accompanied or followed the remains. The train, heavily draped with mourning emblems, entered Cleveland at 1:20 o'clock P.M., on the 24th, and the body was placed in state on a catafalque beneath a pavilion erected for the purpose in the center of Monumental Park. The procession included a military and civic pageant of unusual proportions.
The day of the funeral, September 26th, was observed throughout the country as an occasion of general mourning, in response to a proclamation of President Arthur, which had been supplemented in many of the States by the recommendations of their Governors. There was a general suspension of business, a draping of public and private buildings, and religious services in many churches. The day was also extensively observed in Europe, and for the first time mourning was ordered in court circles in behalf of an official of a republic.
1 From Appleton's "Annual Cyclopedia" for 1881. By permission of D. Appleton & Company.