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Crazy Republicans with Guns and Aspirations
July 3, 2011
by William P. Meyers

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The right to own a gun (rifle or handgun) is a perennial favorite talking point of political candidates. The Democratic Party was founded by a gun enthusiast, Andrew Jackson, who began life a child warrior. To the extent that the Republican Party, founded in part by pacifists who wanted to abolish slavery, might have been less gun-happy, that went out the window when the Civil War began.

Of the Republican Presidential candidates, without a doubt the best shot is Sarah Palin, who could doubtless outgun Annie Oakley, were such a match up possible. Michele Bachmann, however, favors the heavy firepower of the fully automatic Uzi, which she learned to strip and reassemble blindfolded as a teen in Israel. Unlike President Jackson, however, neither of these candidates has actually shot anyone, unless it was covered up. The most recent shooting of a human by a near-President was in 2006 when Vice President of the United States Dick Cheney shot Harry Wittington. Cheney favored a shotgun, which is fine for certain types of hunting and which Michele recommends for brushing back juvenile delinquents in the home.

Of course many former U.S. Presidents besides Andrew Jackson had experience in the military or actual wars.

We have to go back a bit in history, however, to find the best example of a crazy Republican with a gun and Presidential aspirations. His name was Charles Guiteau. He receives little attention in standard U.S. history books because his actions cut against the current of U.S. propaganda.

Charles Guiteau Assassination of President Garfield
Assassination of Garfield, with James Blaine and Charles Guiteau

Charles was born in 1841 but apparently managed to avoid serving in the Civil War, in which the Republican Party defeated the slaver masters of the Democratic Party. He pursued religious writing and journalism, then became a lawyer. He was a Republican, and when 1880 rolled around he supported the comeback of former President Ulysses S. Grant. At the time the Republican Party had two factions, the "Half-Breeds" led by James Blaine, and the Stalwarts led by Roscoe Conkling. The Half-Breed favored filling civil service positions based on non-political criteria. The Stalwarts wanted to continue to use civil service positions to reward supporters.

Presidential candidates of political parties were not chosen in primaries back then, but at party conventions dominated by elected officials. The Republican convention of 1880 saw a standoff between supporters of Blaine and of Grant. Finally, a compromise was reached, with James Garfield, a moderate Half-Breed nominated for President and Chester Arthur, a moderate Stalwart, nominated for Vice President.

Given the lack of ideological differences between the factions, you would not think anyone would get too worked up about the compromise. Charles Guiteau supported Garfield, giving speeches in his favor and even handing out copies of the speeches. When Garfield won, Guiteau thought he would be rewarded with a civil service job.

Garfield, however, had no office he wanted to give to Guiteau (who wanted to be an Ambassador, but probably would have been happy to be appointed a Postmaster or Customs official, those being the only major national bureaucracies back then). Thank God for the Second Amendment. Charles went out and bought a handgun, then practiced up. He shot President James Garfield twice on July 2, 1881.

Garfield probably would have lived, the wounds being serious but probably not deadly, but doctors intervened and he died on September 19th.

At his trial Guiteau's defense lawyers argued he was insane. Charles Guiteau considered himself a hero of the Stalwarts and began to plan a campaign to be President. "Guiteau went so far as to ask all those who had benefited politically by the assassination to contribute to his defense fund." His aspirations were cut off by a hangman's noose on June 30, 1882.

So please, no more lefty complaints that the current crop of Republican candidates are crazy. I don't care if Michele Bachmann thinks God created the world in 1776 or that Sarah Palin believes she shot Bigfoot or that Mitt Romney swears he emerged from Massachusetts untainted by liberal ideas. Those thoughts are no more crazy that the Lefty idea that we can all collect disability and be artists if only taxes on CEO pay were higher. Republican Presidential aspirant ideas may not match up to reality very well, but we are talking politics, the art of telling voters what they want to hear, their own crazy ideas. As long as the Republicans don't start shooting at each other, our republic will survive despite whatever the politicians throw at us.

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