Destiny of the Republic Summary & Study Guide

Candice Millard

Destiny of the Republic

  • 46-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 22 chapter summaries and 4 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a professional writer with a Master's degree in history
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Destiny of the Republic Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 46-page guide for “Destiny of the Republic” by Candice Millard includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 22 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Tradition Should Not Always Be Blindly Followed and Good Can Come from Bad.

Plot Summary

Destiny of the Republic, a nonfiction book written by Candice Millard in 2011, tells the story of President James Garfield’s death in 1881 after being shot by Charles Guiteau. The first section, entitled “Promise,” provides the necessary background of all the individuals who play a role in the story. The first chapter is about the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, introducing Garfield, Alexander Graham Bell, and Joseph Lister–three men whose lives would intersect years later. Garfield and his family attended as visitors, while Bell and Lister presented their innovations and ideas. Bell had invented the telephone, and Lister had devised a method of sterilization to prevent infection during surgery. Chapter 2 tells of Garfield’s childhood, education, and early career as an educator, politician, and Civil War hero. In Chapter 3, Millard relates the events of the Republican National Convention in 1880, which Garfield attended to nominate someone else but which he left as the nominee himself. In Chapter 4, we learn of Charles Guiteau’s early life and career, and the events that led him to be drawn to the presidential election of 1880, while Chapter 5 discusses the election itself, which Garfield won.

The second section of the book, entitled “War,” is about the first months of Garfield’s presidency in 1881; Guiteau’s virtual stalking of him in Washington, DC; and the events of July 2, when Guiteau shoots Garfield. After the election, Guiteau moved to Washington to seek a job with the new administration. He visited the White House often, along with many others, to apply for a position, and hoped to meet the president. He also visited the office of the secretary of state, James Blaine, as his aim was to be appointed consul to Paris. After being rebuffed, he decided to kill Garfield and began planning his attack. Much of Garfield’s time in the first couple of months of his presidency was taken up by meeting with office seekers like Guiteau, which he found draining. The month of May was dominated by the illness of Garfield’s wife, Lucretia (who likely contracted malaria) and political battles over the spoils system. In late June, Garfield accompanied his wife to the New Jersey coast, where she went to try to hasten her recovery, and then he returned to the capital alone to finish up some business. On the morning of July 2, he left for the train station to return to New Jersey and begin a family vacation. Guiteau was waiting for him there and shot him.

The next section is entitled “Fear,” and is about the first couple of weeks after the shooting. After Garfield was brought to the White House, Dr. Bliss assumed command of his care, controlling not only all medical procedures but who is allowed to visit him. Word is sent to Lucretia, who returns from New Jersey on a special train. Alexander Graham Bell, in Boston with his wife, who was expecting a child, is determined to help the president by inventing a device to help pinpoint the location of the bullet in his body. He sends for his assistant, Charles Sumner Tainter, who is in Washington, so they can get to work.

The final section, entitled “Tortured for the Republic,” is the longest, covering the medical care given to Garfield throughout the summer and up to his death in mid-September, along with the subsequent trial of Guiteau. While initially there is hope that Garfield is improving, his conditioned worsens as time goes on. Bell, who had come to Washington to work in his Volta Laboratory, fashions an instrument using induction balancing that emits a noise when it passes over metal. It is still not very effective when the metal is buried in something, but in late July, Garfield’s condition takes a turn for the worse and Dr. Bliss asks Bell to come try his device. He fails to find the bullet since Bliss only allowed the right side of Garfield’s body to be checked, certain that is where the bullet had lodged. A second attempt in early August fails for the same reason, though it is declared a success since Bell heard a faint noise (later determined to be caused by the metal springs of Garfield’s bed).

As the summer goes on, it becomes clear that Garfield is dying. He finally demands to leave Washington and be taken to rest near the sea, which had always been a source of comfort for him. A special train car is built to accommodate him, and he travels to Elberon, New Jersey, where Lucretia had stayed before. He dies there on the night of September 19. The final chapter tells of Guiteau’s trial for murder, which takes place in late 1881 and early 1882. Guiteau pleads not guilty by reason of insanity, but he is convicted and sentenced to die…

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