So just who was Julia Sand
? I'd never heard of her until I read Candice Millard's Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President
, an amazing account of James A. Garfield's
life and the assassination attempt on him while serving as president.
Garfield, an extraordinary man, was actually nominated for president against his will. However, four months after his inauguration, he was shot in the back by the deranged Charles Guiteau
, who'd sought a political office in Garfield's administration.
It wasn't the would-be assassin's bullet that killed the president, but rather the medical treatment Garfield received. As Garfield suffered for nearly two months, the nation was thrown into turmoil, and during this time, Vice President Chester A. Arthur
( a not so extraordinary man) stayed in seclusion. When Guiteau was apprehended he announced his wish for Arthur to become president. Because of this, there was a brief investigation into whether Guiteau had been hired by Garfield’s enemies.
Although no proof was found to support this, there were threats made on Arthur’s life and he feared making public appearances. Arthur’s past was linked to some scandals involving the New York Customhouse and many thought Arthur as president would mean disaster for the country.
Here's where Julia Sand
fits into the equation. She corresponded with Arthur beginning in late August of 1881, before Garfield's death. Her last surviving letter is dated September 15, 1883. Sand referred to herself as the President’s “little dwarf”, alluding to the idea that in a royal court, the dwarf is the only one with courage enough to tell the truth.
Sand was an educated woman who lived in New York, yet when she began writing Arthur at age 31, she was bedridden due to spinal trouble, lameness and deafness. What I'm posting below is a portion of Sand's first letter to the would-be president:
The day [Garfield] was shot, the thought rose in a thousand minds that you might be the instigator of the foul act. Is not that a humiliation which cuts deeper then any bullet can pierce?
Your kindest opponents say "Arthur will try to do right"– adding gloomily –"He won’t succeed though making a man President cannot change him."
…But making a man President can change him! Great emergencies awaken generous traits which have lain dormant half a life. If there is a spark of true nobility in you, now is the occasion to let it shine. Faith in your better nature forces me to write to you – but not to beg you to resign. Do what is more difficult & brave. Reform!
It is not proof of highest goodness never to have done wrong, but it is proof of it, sometimes in ones career, to pause & ponder, to recognize the evil, to
recognize the evil, to turn resolutely against it…. Once in awhile there comes a
crisis which renders miracles feasible. The great tidal wave of sorrow which has
rolled over the country has swept you loose from your old moorings & set you on
a mountaintop, alone.
Disappoint our fears. Force the nation to have faith in you. Show from the first
that you have none but the purest of aims.
You cannot slink back into obscurity, if you would. A hundred years hence,
school boys will recite you name in the list of Presidents & tell of your
administration. And what shall posterity say? It is for you to choose….
Apparently, her words of encouragement inspired and changed him. At the end of his presidency, Arthur earned praise from his contemporaries for his solid performance in office. In 1886, the New York World wrote: "No duty was neglected in his administration, and no adventurous project alarmed the nation."And according to Mark Twain, "[I]t would be hard indeed to better President Arthur's administration."
Had you ever heard of Julia Sand? Also, can you think of anyone you can encourage today? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!
Originally posted 10/1/12.