How Many US Presidents Have Been Assassinated?
|How Many US Presidents Have Been Assassinated? Photo EMS Sound|
Four sitting Presidents have been assassinated while in office: Abraham Lincoln, James Abram Garfield (1881), William McKinley (1897-1901), and John F. Kennedy (1961-63).
Six other Presidents were luckier and survived their assassination attempts: Andrew Jackson (1829-37), Theodore Roosevelt (1901-09), Franklin Roosevelt (1933-45), Harry Truman (1945-53), Gerald Ford (1974-77), and Ronald Reagan (1981-89).
Abraham Lincoln (Feb. 12, 1809–April 15, 1865)
It was April 15, 1865, and the Civil War had officially ended just five days earlier. President Abraham Lincoln and his wife were attending Ford's Theater that evening to watch the play "Our American Cousin" when John Wilkes Booth shot him in the back of the head. Lincoln, fatally wounded, was taken across the street to Petersen House, where he died at 7:22 the next morning.
Booth, a failed actor and Confederate sympathizer, escaped and managed to elude capture for nearly two weeks. On April 26, after being cornered in a barn outside the hamlet of Port Royal, Virginia, Booth was shot and killed by U.S. Army troops after refusing to surrender.
|Lincoln’s murder was part of a larger plot to decapitate the government |
Booth and his conspirators plotted to not only kill Lincoln, but Grant, Secretary of State William Seward and Vice President Andrew Johnson. Grant’s unexpected departure removed him as a target, and George Atzerodt lost his nerve and failed to follow through on his assignment to slay Johnson at his residence in the Kirkwood House hotel. At the same time Booth shot Lincoln, Lewis Powell stormed Seward’s house and repeatedly stabbed the cabinet member, who was bedridden after a near-fatal carriage accident. Seward somehow survived the savage attack.
Booth initially planned to kidnap Lincoln
After meeting with Confederate spies in the summer of 1864, Booth spearheaded a plot to abduct Lincoln, bring him to the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, and use him as a bargaining chip to secure the release of rebel prisoners. On March 17, 1865, Booth and his fellow conspirators hid along a country road in Washington, D.C., intending to commandeer the presidential carriage that was scheduled to carry Lincoln to a matinee performance of a play at Campbell Hospital to benefit wounded soldiers. Lincoln, however, had a change of plans and never showed. Booth soon had a change of plans as well. After the fall of Richmond and Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, he decided to kill, rather than kidnap, Lincoln.
James Garfield (Nov. 19, 1831–Sept. 19, 1881)
Odds are that President James Garfield would have survived the July 2, 1881 assassination attempt on his life had he lived in today's times. Lacking antibiotics and an understanding of modern hygienic practices, doctors repeatedly probed the entry wound on Garfield's lower back in the days and weeks after the assassination in an unsuccessful attempt to find the two bullets. The president lingered for more than two months before finally dying.
The president's assassin, Charles Guiteau, was a mentally disturbed man who had stalked Garfield for weeks in a deluded attempt to secure federal employment. On July 2, he shot President Garfield on the platform of a Washington D.C. train station as Garfield was preparing to board a train. He was arrested immediately after shooting the president. After a swift trial, Guiteau was executed by hanging on June 30, 1882.
William McKinley (March 4, 1897–Sept. 14, 1901)
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President William McKinley was greeting visitors at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, N.Y., on September 6, 1901, when Leon Czolgosz stepped out of the crowd, drew a gun, and shot McKinley twice in the abdomen at point-blank range. The bullets didn't immediately kill McKinley. He lived another eight days, succumbing to gangrene caused by the wound.
Czolgosz, a self-proclaimed anarchist, was attacked by others in the crowd and may have been killed had he not been rescued by police. He was jailed, tried, and found guilty on September 24. He was executed by electric chair on October 29. His last words, according to reporters who witnessed the event, were, "I am not sorry for my crime. I am sorry I could not see my father."
John F. Kennedy (May 29, 1917–Nov. 22, 1963)
|Photo Texas Monthly|
President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, as he drove past crowds of onlookers that lined the streets of downtown Dallas during his motorcade from the airport. Kennedy was struck once in the neck and once in the back of the head, killing him instantly as he sat beside his wife Jackie. Texas Gov. John Connally, traveling with his wife Nellie in the same convertible, was wounded by another bullet.
The accused assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, had staged his assault from the sixth floor of the Texas State Book Depository building, which overlooked the motorcade route. After the shooting, Oswald fled. He was apprehended later that day, shortly after fatally shooting Dallas police officer J.D. Tippit.
Kennedy's assassination was the first in the era of modern communications. News of his shooting dominated TV and radio for weeks after he was shot. Just two days after Kennedy was killed, Oswald himself was shot to death on live television as he was in police custody. Oswald's killer Jack Ruby died in prison on January 3, 1967.
|Other Presidents have died while in office: |
• William Henry Harrison (1841), the ninth President, died of pneumonia one month to the day after making—in the snow—the longest U.S. presidential inauguration speech on record.
• Zachary Taylor (1849-50), the 12th President, died in 1850 of an inflamed stomach and intestines just 16 months after he took office.
• Warren Harding (1921-23), who presided over a scandal-plagued administration, died suddenly on August 2, 1923. Medical records suggest Harding battled high blood pressure and died of a heart attack. But rumors at the time claimed Harding either took his own life or was poisoned by his wife, who sought to end Harding's notorious philandering.
• John Adams (1797-1801), the second President, and Thomas Jefferson (1801-09), the third President, both died on July 4, 1826. Calvin Coolidge (1923-29), the 30th President, was born on July 4, 1872.
Escaping assassination attemps
There were 13 US presidents who escaped attempts on their lives. Here are some of their stories:
President Theodore Roosevelt was saved by the length of his speech after an assassin shot him in the chest with a .38-caliber revolver in 1912.
At the time, Roosevelt was running for the presidency on the Bull and Moose ticket. Saloon-owner John Schrank had begun stalking the former president after having an unusual dream.
According to "Killing the President: Assassinations, Attempts, and Rumored Attempts on U.S. Commanders-in-Chief," Schrank wrote: "In a dream I saw President McKinley sit up in his coffin pointing at a man in a monk’s attire in whom I recognized Theodore Roosevelt. The dead President said, 'This is my murderer — avenge my death.'"
Fortunately, Roosevelt had his notes with him when he was shot on October 14 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin — 50 pages of them, folded in his breast pocket next to his metal glasses case. These objects slowed the bullet and saved Roosevelt's life.
The ex-president continued to speak after letting his audience know he'd been shot, according to the Theodore Roosevelt Association:
"Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don't know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose. But fortunately I had my manuscript, so you see I was going to make a long speech, and there is a bullet — there is where the bullet went through — and it probably saved me from it going into my heart. The bullet is in me now, so that I cannot make a very long speech, but I will try my best."
He finished the rest of his speech with a bullet in his ribs, where it remained until his death in 1919.
Harry S. Truman
According to the New York Times, Harry Truman's daughter Margaret Truman Daniel alleged in her father's biography that a Zionist gang had sent him and several other White House officials mail bombs in 1947. The alleged incident was never publicized and apparently ended with the Secret Service defusing the explosives.
The more famous attempt on Truman's life came about on November 1, 1950. Puerto Rican nationalists Oscar Collazo and Griselio Torresola attempted to storm the Blair House, where Truman lived while the White House was being renovated, according to the Harry S. Truman Library.
Torresola and White House police officer Leslie Coffelt died in the attack. Truman commuted Collazo's death sentence to life, which was then commuted to time served by Jimmy Carter in 1979.
Arthur Bremer, who ultimately shot and paralyzed Alabama governor George Wallace, first considered targeting President Richard Nixon, according to the Washington Post.
A more high-profile Nixon assassination attempt came about on February 22, 1974. According to the LA Weekly, Samuel Byck shot and killed a police officer at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport, raced through the security checkpoint, and broke onto a Delta flight to Atlanta. Hours earlier, he had mailed a tape to the Washington Post detailing his plan to hijack an airliner and crash it into the White House, in order to kill Nixon.
Once onboard the aircraft, he shot both pilots, killing one, after he was told that they could not take off. Police shot Byck through the plane's window, and he killed himself before he could be arrested.
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