THE TRIAL OF THE ASSASSIN GUITEAU by Charles E. Rosenberg

THE TRIAL OF THE ASSASSIN GUITEAU

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The trial of Charles Julius Guiteau for the murder of President Garfield in 1881 is today almost forgotten. In this carefully documented book, subtitled Psychiatry and Law in the Gilded Age, a medical historian writes of crime and trial, and contrasts American psychiatry of the time with today's ideas. The murder stemmed from a split in the Republican party which the president, Garfield, a stout, bearded nonentity of ""average probity"" was unable to heal. Guiteau, his assassin, a fanatical Republican, believed that God wanted him to reunite the Republicans by killing Garfield, which he did on July 2, 1881, shooting the president in the back in a Washington railway station: surrendering at once, he declared he had committed no crime as his action was dictated by God. On September 19 Garfield died. Guiteau, termed a monster of vice, would today be considered a paranoid schizophrenic and never brought to trial, but in 1881 the country demanded that he hang and the Washington district attorney was happy to oblige. The trial turned into a tourist attraction. Witnesses for the prosecution, insane asylum super-intendents, quoted the ""McNaughten Rule"" as proof of Guiteau's sanity and guilt; doctors of a new school called ""neurologists"" testified that as a victim of heredity insanity Guiteau was insane and without ""criminal responsibility."" With this statement Guiteau, his own assistant counsel, disagreed violently, contending that he was sane and guided only by God, lecturing everyone and disrupting the proceedings.... A solid, factual book, primarily for doctors, medical and legal historians, rather than the average reader and fully substantiated with notes and index.

Pub Date: May 21st, 1968
Publisher: University of Chicago Press