I think many, if not most, high school American History courses sort of gloss over James Garfield. He was only president for 200 days, and a good part of that he spent in decline after taking a bullet in the back as he entered the train station in Washington DC on his way to visit his wife. I'd venture a guess that most Americans aren't even aware that we have had four assassinated presidents (although most are aware of Lincoln and Kennedy and perhaps are even aware of the attempt on President Regan's life)
But for anyone studying the late 19th century, post-civil war era, I would highly recommend taking the time to view this documentary on the life and death of our 20th president.
Thoroughly researched, presented by knowledgeable historians and re-enacted by actors and actresses who could be doppelgangers for their historic counterparts, this presentation grabs the attention of the viewer in the first moments and holds it for the entire 120-minute running time.
Garfield truly embodied the American notion that a person can literally start with nothing and rise to great heights in this country; Garfield must surely qualify as the poorest of all our chief executives. Yet with his burning desire to better himself and with his mother's life savings (of $17) he worked his way through college, became a professor, showed bravery and a gift for strategy in the civil war, and found himself in demand as a representative in congress. Those great achievements would be enough to call anyone accomplished, but Garfield's rise to the presidency was truly a culmination of his hard work and abilities, albeit with a sprinkle of luck! (oh that something similar could happen in modern times!
Garfield's assassination is the focus of the second half of the film and further demonstrates the great character of the man, overshadowed by the arrogance and incompetence of a physician friend, which eventually lead to his demise.
Murder of a President does something that dry history texts just can't - it engrosses us in the story of a great man, the devoted wife, surrounded by foes on the political and medical front, and the deranged murderer that no one could have predicted. Although we know the story must end in tragedy, the redemption of the joker and Vice President via ascension to the presidency gives some satisfaction that maybe it was not all in vain.
I watched this with my teen children and my 11 year old and it held all of their attention. I would highly recommend this program to any American History curriculum for enrichment.