President Garfield’s Condition: August 5, 1881, 8:30 AM

Portraits of Garfield's six doctors surround an illustration of the President on his sickbedEXECUTIVE MANSION,
August 5, 1881.

8.30 A. M.
The President slept naturally the greater part of the night, although he has taken no morphia during the last twenty-four hours.  His improved condition warranted, several days ago, a diminution in quantity of morphia administered hypodermically at bed time, and it was reduced at first to 1/12 and afterwards to 1/16 of a grain in the twenty four hours, without any consequent unpleasant result, and finally has been altogether dispensed with.  His condition this morning exhibits continued improvement, and another good day is anticipated.
At present his pulse is 88; temperature, 98.4°; respiration, 18.


This post is one of a series reenacting the official bulletins released to the public by the physicians to President Garfield during his illness after the shooting on July 2, 1881.


  1. It is interesting that until this post, no mention of morphine was ever made – not that I recall. Newspaper readers in 1881 would have thought that the President’s slumbers were natural and a sign of recovery. His vital signs as described, from what I know, appear to within normal range, except for the rise and lowering of his temperature. Were his doctors unaware of the signs of infection? Apparently so. It’s amazing that they never allowed him to be up and walking (apparently) up to this point. His muscles must have been weakening.

    1. It’s quite clear his doctors were unaware of signs of infection. They regard discharge from a wound as a positive thing.

      I wonder how much doctors were aware of the effects of addiction to morphine in 1881.

      The doctors as viewed through 21st Century eyes were quacks. But I find it amazing with all the work Louis Pasteur was doing in the previous 20 years that these men could be so oblivious to mounting evidence that their patient was slowly dying in front of their eyes.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.