The world’s history is a divine poem of which the history of every nation is a canto and every man a word. Its strains have been pealing along down the centuries, and though there have been mingled the discords of warring cannon and dying men, yet to the Christian philosopher and historian—the humble listener—there has been a divine melody running through the song which speaks of hope and halcyon days to come.
James A. Garfield
On this fourth of July I would like to share an extraordinary book with you: The Destiny of the Republic, by
Candice Millard. The whole subtle power of this book lies in what the author points to in its title: it makes visible the invisible power of destiny, in all its intricate genius.
The subtitle of the book reveals the details of the story she weaves: “A tale of madness, medicine and the murder of a president”.
Garfield was nominated by Lincoln’s Republican party at the 1880 convention even though he wasn’t even
running, but stumping for someone else! The story of how that raucus, incredible convention came to nominate someone who wasn’t even running is alone worth the read. And so is hearing about Garfield, the human being, his incredible path from abject poverty with his widowed mother in the woods of Ohio through graduation from Williams college in Massachusetts, eventually becoming a general in the Northern army in the civil war and State Senator.
Just a few months into his presidency Garfield was shot by a man named Charles Guiteau who claimed to be following an order directly from God. (Guiteau’s whole story and everything that led him to that moment is also told with incredible sensitivity and detail). Garfield died, however, not from the shot, but from the doctors who tried to treat him, leading American doctors still rejecting the whole theory of antisepsis in 1881. And his life was nearly saved by one of the most famous inventors of the age: Alexander Graham Bell. The effect of his death would become, through the mourning and grief that struck the whole country, North and South, perhaps the most powerful step towards a new union, a new sense of identity in Post Civil War America. His death would become the catalyst of transformation also in the life of his successor, Chester A. Arthur, the most despised president-to-be in our history, who would end his one and only term as one of its most universally respected.
Through all of these individual stories Ms. Millard uses her unbelievably detailed, careful research and masterful story telling to allow the invisible workings of destiny – in a crucial moment of this nations development – to become visible. She never goes on to tell us just how all of these things speak of the “destiny of the republic”. Instead, she presents the facts and draws together the strands and threads, showing the intersections and extraordinary “coincidences” in such a way that outlines of this hidden power at work in our lives appears, to the one who is sensitive to such realities, between the lines. She works to let this power reveal itself through simply telling the story. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.
To give you a sense of the very special nature of this soul who lived as James A. Garfield and how his death could have transformed and united our country, I will end with a few quotes from our 20th president:
On the divine source of poetry
When the Divine Artist would produce a poem, He plants a germ of it in a human soul, and out of that soul the poem springs and grows as from the rose-tree the rose.
James A Garfield
On our need for a connection with those who have died:
We hold reunions, not for the dead, for there is nothing in all the earth that you and I can do for the dead. They are past our help and past our praise. We can add to them no glory, we can give to them no immortality. They do not need us, but forever and forever more we need them.
James A. Garfield
On being near the threshold to the spiritual world:
There are times in the history of men and nations, when they stand so near the vale that separates mortals from the immortals, time from eternity, and men from their God, that they can almost hear the beatings, and feel the pulsations of the heart of the Infinite.
James A. Garfield
“Good Reads” is a section of the blog that will appear periodically recommending books that lead to a new awareness and deeper understanding of the human being, of the working of the Spirit, and of the presence of Christ in our lives and world.