Today in History

Today in History: December 31

Letters Home

image of letter

You write that you are sick and have been for a fortnight and did not inform me before. Is this right? I should have informed you if I were sick…I have been meditating what I should do…I ought to be with you to take care of you for I am sure we can take care of each other better than any body else can.

Illustrated Letter, Amasa J. Parker to Harriet Parker, December 31, 1837.
Words and Deeds in American History: Selected Documents Celebrating the Manuscript Division’s First 100 Years

On December 31, 1837, Democrat Amasa J. Parker, congressman from New York, sat down at his quarters in Mrs. Pittman's boarding house in Washington, D.C., to write a letter to his wife, miles away at their Catskills home in Delhi, New York.

Delhi, N.Y.
Delhi, N.Y. 1887. Drawn and published by L. R. Burleigh.
Panoramic Maps, 1847-1929,
From Map Collections

Image of Seating Chart
Illustrated Letter, Amasa J. Parker to Harriet Parker, [detail] December 31, 1837.
Words and Deeds in American History: Selected Documents Celebrating the Manuscript Division’s First 100 Years

Parker's letter of December 31 includes a seating chart indicating Mrs. Pittman's regular diners, a group that included future presidents Millard Fillmore of New York and James Buchanan of Pennsylvania.

The Amasa J. Parker Papers contain more than sixty letters written by Parker to his wife during his term of 1837-39. Perhaps Parker's frustration at being far from his wife during her illness was a factor in his decision not to run for reelection. At the end of his term, he returned home to Delhi to private life.

Parker resumed the practice of law and continued his political service, but confined his activities to the state of New York. Parker went on to become a circuit judge in Albany and one of the founders of Albany Law School.

Letter to a Jailer

Image of New Year's Greeting, first page
New Year's Greeting from Presidential Assassin Charles Julius Guiteau to his Jailer,
December 31, 1881.
Words and Deeds in American History: Selected Documents Celebrating the Manuscript Division's First 100 Years

On December 31, 1881, Charles J. Guiteau, the assassin of President James Garfield, wrote a New Year's greeting to his jailer.

Guiteau shot newly elected President James A. Garfield in the back on July 2, 1881. He was quickly captured at the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Depot in Washington, D.C., the scene of the assassination attempt. President Garfield died seventy-nine days later of infections resulting from his wound.

Guiteau's trial was not only a national sensation but, as one of the first insanity pleas entered in a court of law, an important legal case. Guiteau's attorney argued that his client was insane at the time that he shot the president and dozens of psychiatrists testified as expert witnesses. Nevertheless, the jury rendered a verdict of guilty in late January 1882, and Guiteau was executed the following June.

Guiteau's march to Hades
Guiteau's March to Hades,
By W. H. Stratton,
Boston: L. E. Whipple, 1881.
Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music, 1820-1860 & 1870-1885