Guiteau's Malice

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Guiteau's "Malice"

[ Lysander Spooner ]

When one man kills another, he is not a murderer, unless he kills him from some motive, which the law calls "malice." And this malice must be such as a sane man can entertain, and snch as is naturally sufficient to induce a sane man to commit a murder. The violent passions, impulses, or delusions of an insane man are not " malice" as the law requires to convert a homicide into a murder.

Now, what sane malice -- such malice as could reasonably be expected to induce a sane man to commit a murder -- has Guiteau ever exhibited, towards Garfield, either at the time of the homicide, or before, or since? None at all, unless it be this: Corkhill shows, or attempts to show, that Guiteau was a persistent and disappointed office-seeker; and he wishes it to be inferred that he (Guiteau) was indignant at his disappointment; and that this indignation amounted to malice; to such malice as might reasonably be expected to induce a sane man to commit murder. His whole case hangs upon this fact.

But Guiteau had little or no occasion to be indignant at Garfield personally, on account of his disappointment. If he was indignant at any body, on this account, be had much more reason to be indignant at Blaine, than at Garfield; for he evidently understood that Blaine, rather than Garfield, was the one who stood in the way of his success.

But admit that Guiteau acted from malice -- from such malice as a persistent, disappointed, indignant, and sane officeseeker might reasonably be expected to entertain, and act upon -- what is the inference? Why, that all persistent, disappointed, indignant, and sane officeseekers are dangerous persons; that they go about with murder in their hearts, and pistols in their pockets; and my reasonably be expected to commit murder.

This being the case, who can tell the number of dangerous persons there are abroad in the community? What census could enumerate them? It is frightful to think of their number. And they are of all grades, from those who aspire to the presidency, down to those who aspire only to the humblest offices in the nation, or the States.

We are far from that this class of persons are dangerous. On the contrary, we have no doubt that all officeseekers, the successful ones, as well as the disappointed ones, are dangerous. In face, we think that the successful ones are by far the more dangerous. They kill men by the hundreds of thousands, when it is necessary to maintain their power. But we are now considering only the cases of the disappointed ones.

And here an important query forces itself upon us, viz.: If all persistent, disappointed, indignant and sane officeseekers are to be supposed capable of such legal malice as prompts men to commit murder, what shall we say of Blaine, of John Sherman, and Grant? They were publicly known to be persistent, disappointed, and indignant aspirants for the presidency, at the last election. And it is not likely that either of them has recovered, or ever will recover, from either his disappointment, or his indignation. They are, therefore, dangerous persons. Yet they are still at large; and who of us are safe from their malice?

But that is not all. The number of like characters -- only of lower grades -- is such that, on the principle laid down in Guiteau's case, they constitute a great public danger; a danger everywhere present, and that no one can guard against. The only remedy would seem to be, to abolish the government itself, on the principle that "the public safety is the supreme law"

If, therefore, Guiteau shall be convicted, we shall expect to see the people rise en masse, and abolish the government, as their only means of saving themselves from the pistols of persistent, disappointed, indignant, and sane officeseekers.

And here we wish to protest against the examination of medical experts, as to Guiteau's insanity. The question is not, what will an insane man do? but what will a sane man do? a sane; officeseeker? a persistent, disappointed, indignant, but still sane officeseeker? That is the question. What do the superintendents of lunatic asylums know about such a case as that? They never had such a case on their hands. Or who do now anything about it, except officeseekers themselves, and their initiates? They are evidently the only ones who can tell us what crimes a persistent, disappointed, indignant, and sane officeseeker is capable of. These, then, are the only ones whom the government should summon.

We think those political editors, who are so anxious to have Guiteau hanged, should be first put upon the stand, and be required to tell what they know about themselves, and their officeseeking associates. We wish, for example, that Horace Greeley were still alive, and capable of testifying. He was himself a lifelong, persistent, disappointed, and indignant officeseeker. Whether he was sane may be questioned. He was subject to violent paroxysms of rage and profanity. We should like to know whether he ever wished to kill any body, except Seward and Thurlow Weed.

There there were Seward, and Chase, and Cass, and Webster, and Calhoun, and Clay, who were persistent, disappointed, and indignant officeseekers; seekers of the presidency. We wish they could be put upon the stand, and required to tell what they know about officeseekers, high and low; and whether they themselves, in their disappointments, ever wished to kill anybody.

What revelations we might have, if all these political experts could be put upon the stand, and made to tell us all they knew about officeseekers!

But it is not necessary to call up these old and famous officeseekers. Let them rest, although they never suffered anybody else to rest. Without their oral testimony, we know enough of the nature of officeseeker, successful and unsuccessful, to know that, as such, they are all utterly dangerous, and thoroughly bad. We know that the successful ones will murder mankind by the wholesale, to maintain their power; and we know that the unsuccessful one would do the same, if they could but get into power. But if, not getting into power, they feel indignant, and now and then kill a man, that is a small matter, compared with what they would have done, if they had been successful in their ambitions.

But whether these disappointed ones are sane or insane, it is time to have done with a system that breeds, in such numbers, these dangerous creatures.

  • Lysander Spooner, “Guiteau’s ‘Malice’,” Liberty 1, no. 10 (December 10, 1881): 2.

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