Tag Archives: Charles Guiteau

Arbitrary Commitment

Elizabeth Packard Being Taken to an Asylum Against Her Will, courtesy National Library of Medicine

Elizabeth Packard Being Taken to an Asylum Against Her Will, courtesy National Library of Medicine

Alienists were notorious for their self-confident belief that they knew what was best for anyone with mental illness. In an essay from the July,1868 issue of the American Journal of Insanity, the (anonymous) author makes a case for doing away with legal procedures for commitment: “. . . other diseases, except those of a highly contagious type, do not call for civil interference nor court publicity.

We do not demand a commission or an inquest to decide whether a man has a fever raging into delirium, or whether he has a general paralysis, or whether a surgeon shall be permitted to amputate his limbs or trepan his skull.”

The writer went on to point out that if anyone saw a person sick or wounded in the street, “we take him forthwith to the nearest hospital, without stopping to canvass our legal right to restrain him of his liberty.”

Charles Guiteau Said He Was Temporarily Insane When He Assassinated President Garfield

Charles Guiteau Said He Was Temporarily Insane When He Assassinated President Garfield

The author lamented that a patient stricken with insanity was sometimes met with a suspicious relative who wasn’t convinced of his illness even though his other relatives were. Because of this suspicion, the patient, “against the wishes and judgment of the rest,” was then liable to the “questioning of the law and its ministers.” This then led to publicity, which might be detrimental to the patient’s recovery.

Though She Had a Trial, Mary Todd Lincoln Was Involuntarily Committed to an Asylum

Though She Had a Trial, Mary Todd Lincoln Was Involuntarily Committed to an Asylum

 

Most people, of course, would not want to be committed involuntarily to an insane asylum, and welcomed legal safeguards to prevent it. It is amazing to consider how differently alienists and laypeople considered the matter–it almost certainly boiled down to who was in control of the situation.

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Alienists Gain Prominence

Print of Assassination Attempt, which appeared in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, July 16, 1881, courtesy Library of Congress

Charles Julius Guiteau shot President James Garfield at the Pennsylvania railroad station in Washington, DC on July 2, 1881. He did not try to escape and was apprehended on the spot; when the president died twelve weeks later, Guiteau went on trial for his murder. The public was fascinated and the trial became something of a media circus, with Guiteau’s behavior as avidly reported as the points made by the attorneys for the prosecution and defense. Continue reading

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Tragedy After the War

President William McKinley, courtesy Library of Congress

President William McKinley, courtesy Library of Congress

Theodore Roosevelt’s public life soared after the Spanish-American War, but the president in office during that war suffered tragedy before his term ended.

An anarchist, Leon Czolgosz, shot President McKinley at the Pan American Exposition on September 6, 1901.

McKinley died of his wounds on the 14th, and Roosevelt took office. Continue reading

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No Exemption From Danger

Dr. John P. Gray

Though attendants and nurses bore the brunt of patient violence (see last post), no one on staff at an insane asylum was truly immune. On March 16, 1882, the superintendent of Utica Insane Asylum, John P. Gray, sat in his office with two staff members and his son. Henry Remshaw, who had made threats against the doctor several weeks before the shooting, walked in and shot Gray through the upper jaw. Continue reading

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