That Was Close: TR, Jackson, & Would-Be Assassins

By Kaleena Fraga

A handful of American presidents have been assassinated while in office–Garfield, Lincoln, McKinley, and Kennedy. More, however, have survived attempts on their life–often in stunning ways.

Andrew Jackson, known today perhaps because of the controversy surrounding his place in history (and on the twenty dollar bill), was no less polarizing as president. He holds the dubious honor of being the first president to experience an attempt on his life. Jackson was leaving a funeral at the Capitol building when his would-be assassin, Richard Lawrence, ran up to him and shot his gun–but the gun misfired. Jackson, never one to back down from a fight (it was Jackson who said, “I was born for the storm; calm does not suit me”) began to beat Lawrence with his walking cane. Lawrence pulled out a second pistol but–incredibly–this gun also misfired. Experts later claimed that the odds of both guns misfiring were 1 in 125,000.

Approximately 105 years ago, on October 14, 1912, Teddy Roosevelt also survived an assassin’s bullet. Roosevelt was campaigning for president, having decided to run for a non-consecutive third term against his former friend and the incumbent Republican president, William Howard Taft. Arriving at a campaign event, Roosevelt was making his way through the crowd when John Schrank fired. Roosevelt was knocked down, but he struggled back to his feet and asked that the man–apprehended by his stenographer–be brought over. Roosevelt looked his would-be killer in the eyes and asked, “What’d you do it for?” When he got no response, he said,”Oh what’s the use. Take him away.”

teddy's papers
TR’s speech

Although his staff wanted him to go immediately to the hospital, Roosevelt insisted on giving his planned speech, since he could breathe fine and he wasn’t coughing up any blood. To the audience, Roosevelt announced that he’d just survived an assassination attempt but that “it takes more than that to kill a bull moose!” He withdrew his speech–fifty pages of thick paper, folded in half, from his breast pocket. Although Roosevelt had escaped the incident (mostly) unscathed, the speech had not. It, and an eyeglass holder, had deflected the bullet from hitting Roosevelt in the heart.

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