James Abram Garfield (November 19, 1831 – September 19, 1881) was the 20th President of the United States. His death, two months after being shot and six months after his inauguration, made his tenure the second shortest (after William Henry Harrison) in United States history.
He was shot by Charles J. Guiteau, disgruntled by failed efforts to secure a federal post, on July 2, 1881, at 9:30 a.m. The President had been walking through the Sixth Street Station of the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad (a predecessor of the Pennsylvania Railroad) Washington, D.C., on his way to his alma mater, Williams College, where he was scheduled to deliver a speech, accompanied by Secretary of State James G. Blaine, Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln (son of Abraham Lincoln) and two of his sons, James and Harry. The station was located on the southwest corner of present day Sixth Street Northwest and Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C., a site that is now occupied by the National Gallery of Art. As he was being arrested after the shooting, Guiteau repeatedly said, "I am a Stalwart of the Stalwarts! I did it and I want to be arrested! Arthur is President now!" which briefly led to unfounded suspicions that Arthur or his supporters had put Guiteau up to the crime.
One bullet grazed Garfield's arm; the second bullet lodged in his spine and could not be found, although scientists today think that the bullet was near his lung. Alexander Graham Bell devised a metal detector specifically for the purpose of finding the bullet, but the metal bed frame Garfield was lying on made the instrument malfunction. Because metal bed frames were relatively rare, the cause of the instrument's deviation was unknown at the time. Garfield became increasingly ill over a period of several weeks due to infection, which caused his heart to weaken. He remained bedridden in the White House with fevers and extreme pains. In early September, the ailing President was moved to the Jersey Shore in the vain hope that the fresh air and quiet there might aid his recovery. In a matter of hours, local residents put down a special rail spur for Garfield's train; some of the ties are now part of the Garfield Tea House. The beach cottage Garfield was taken to has been demolished.
Most historians and medical experts now believe that Garfield probably would have survived his wound had the doctors attending him been more capable. Several inserted their unsterilized fingers into the wound to probe for the bullet, and one doctor punctured Garfield's liver in doing so. This alone would not have brought about death as the liver is one of the few organs in the human body that can regenerate itself. However, this physician probably introduced Streptococcus bacteria into the President's body and that caused blood poisoning for which at that time there were no antibiotics.