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January 5, 1990

The Trial of the Assassin Guiteau: Psychiatry and Law in the Gilded Age

Author Affiliations

George Washington University Washington, DC

George Washington University Washington, DC

JAMA. 1990;263(1):121-122. doi:10.1001/jama.1990.03440010119044

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On July 2, 1881, as President James A. Garfield entered the almost deserted Baltimore & Potomac railway station in Washington, DC, embarking on a vacation, he was set upon by one Charles Julius Guiteau, who fired two bullets into the President's back. Guiteau's professed motive was a divinely inspired mission to save the country from great political turmoil and possible civil war. Mortally wounded, Garfield lingered until September 17. The trial of the assassin followed, and its ramifications in mid-19th-century society are the subject of Charles E. Rosenberg's vivid, informative, and interesting book.

The trial began on November 14, 1881. It fascinated the American public—both the spectators who crowded the courtroom and those throughout the country who read about it in newspaper accounts, pamphlets, and Guiteau's own broadsides. The only defense and the only issue was the relationship of Guiteau's mental state to the crime he had committed, and in