Down to Your Last Nerve

Linda Lou Burton posting from Little Rock, Arkansas – The weather is hot and the political atmosphere is even hotter as the national holiday celebrating “American Independence” approaches. COVID-19 cases are going UP and not DOWN in many parts of the country, as people clamor for businesses to re-open and defiantly refuse to “mask up” in public places. Jennifer Anniston took to social media yesterday to state: “Just Wear The Damn Mask!”

Chafing at the Bit describes a lot of feelings after four months of quarantine; a restricted way of life is wearing thin. As my dear friend Betty used to say when she just couldn’t take it anymore: I am down to my last nerve.

Politics are even hotter than the weather, raw nerves abound. Yesterday in Jackson the Mississippi state flag came down, permanently. A new design has been commissioned, and will be voted on by state residents in November. Mississippi was the last state to have a Confederate emblem on its flag.In Richmond, Virginia’s state capital (which was once capital of the Confederacy), a statue of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson came down yesterday as a cheering crowd watched in the rain. In Seattle, CHOP camps (Capitol Hill Organized Protests) were cleared out yesterday after two weeks of standoffs and shootings that were part of the nation’s unrest after the police custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Add to that – it’s an election year, and voters are questioning the mental and physical fitness of both our sitting president, and the expected Democratic nominee. Both guys are in their 70s, and both have been criticized for their rambling speeches, and frequent gaffes. “We’re not electing a president this year,” the chatter is, “we’re electing a vice president, that’s who will wind up running the country!”

So dear reader, if you feel that you are “down to your last nerve” about how things are going in 2020 in our “land of the free and home of the brave” let me remind you of something terrible and tumultuous that happened 139 years ago on this date in our nation’s capital.

On July 2, 1881, Charles J Guiteau shot and fatally wounded the newly inaugurated US President James A Garfield in the lobby of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Depot in Washington, DC as he yelled, “I am a stalwart and Arthur is now President of the United States!” Guiteau blamed the president for not selecting him for a job at the US Consulate in Paris.

Mr Garfield’s presidency was cut so short there isn’t enough of a legacy to rank him among the worst and best – he was only in office four months. He was the last president to be born in a log cabin, and grew up poor and fatherless. He was bullied as a child, so took up wrestling. He was our only ambidextrous president, and a great multi-tasker. He was also one of the most well-read of our presidents and his background included being a soldier (he was a major general in the Civil War), a lawyer, a politician, and a math and science expert. Maybe his childhood toughened him up against bullying; as soon as he took office he pioneered the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act, making it a law that all government jobs be granted on the basis of merit and merit alone.

And then was killed by a man wanting a job. At least, that’s part of the story.

President Garfield did not die immediately, but lingered for eleven weeks, during which time surgeons repeatedly attempted to find the bullet that had lodged in his back. In spite of Joseph Lister’s discoveries regarding the use of antiseptics in surgery, the practice of sterilization had not caught on, and Garfield’s wound was probed by many unwashed fingers. The resulting infection, not the bullet, caused Garfield’s eventual death on September 19, 1881. Vice president Chester A Arthur became president of the United States on September 20.

Garfield’s incapacitation sparked a constitutional crisis, as the Cabinet was divided over whether the vice president should assume the office of the incapacitated president or merely act in his stead. It was not until 1967, with the passage of the Twenty-fifth Amendment to the Constitution, that the question of the succession of power was fully addressed. Today, the vice president assumes the office of president in the event that a sitting president is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”

In spite of Guiteau’s manifest insanity at his trial, his attorneys were unable to gain an acquittal on that basis—it was, however, one of the first uses of the modern insanity defense in a criminal court. After a six-month trial that sparked great public interest, Guiteau was found guilty and hanged on June 30, 1882.

Note: James Abram Garfield was our 20th president and was 50 years old when assassinated.

Reference: Library of Congress National Archives

Yes, things are definitely nerve-wracking right now. But July 2 was one heck of a bad day for Mr Garfield and Mr Guiteau, if you want to compare. My suggestions for tackling the heat if you have your own lemons to deal with:

  • Make yourself a nice tall glass of lemonade.
  • Cool down and mask up!