Throughout the history of the United States, there have been several assassination attempts on the president. In four cases, these attempts were successful. However, there are failed attempts that may not be as well-known. In total, six US presidents were shot, sending the nation into upheaval during these traumatic times.
One of the two the best known incidences of a presidential assassination by shooting was the case of Abraham Lincoln, sixteenth president of the United States. At the close of the Civil War, the nation was still in great turmoil, yet to heal from the ravages of war.
John Wilkes Booth, who was a Confederate sympathizer, went to the Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. on Good Friday, April 14, 1865 with the help of several conspirators. Booth fired a single shot the president in the back of the head before fleeing the theatre. President Abraham Lincoln died a day later. Several days later, Booth was shot and killed by Union soldiers at a farm in Virginia. His conspirators, who had given themselves up, were convicted of their crimes and hanged.
James A. Garfield
President Garfield had only been in office for less than four months when he was shot in the arm and back at the Baltimore & Potomac Railroad station in Washington, D.C. on July 2, 1881 by Charles J. Giteau.
While one bullet only grazed President Garfield, the other became lodged within him, nearly missing his spinal cord. While modern medicine techniques would have likely saved his life, the president lay ill for eleven weeks before finally succumbing to infection. Giteau, who put up no resistance when apprehended, was tried for murder after Garfield’s death, found guilty, and hanged for his crime. Part of Giteau’s remains have been preserved; part of his brain can be observed at the Mütter Museum, while another part of his brain and bones are at the National Museum of Health and Medicine.
President McKinley was greeting the public at the Temple of Music in Buffalo, New York on September 6, 1901 when Leon Czolgosz entered the receiving line. When he got to the front, instead of shaking hands, he fired two shots, one that ricocheted and once in the abdomen.
The crowd immediately began to mob Czolgosz, punching and beating him. Had fleeing had been his intention, it became impossible and the crowd had chained him before the police intervened. Eight days later, President McKinley died from infection. Czolgosz was tried, convicted, and executed in the electric chair.
On October 14, 1912, John F. Schrank shot former President Roosevelt in the chest while in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to deliver a speech. The president had his 50 page campaign speech and steel case for his eyeglasses in his jacket, creating a barrier that saved his life.
After the shooting, Roosevelt continued to Milwaukee Auditorium and delivered his speech as planned with the bullet lodged between his ribs, where it remained for the rest of his days. His assailant was tried and found insane, having delusions of grandeur stating that William McKinley had called him to these actions in a dream. Schrank was sent to an institution until his death in September of 1943.
John F. Kennedy
One of the most famous shootings happened when the images of President Kennedy’s assassination were captured on film, preserving them indefinitely and keeping their memory strong in American History. On November 22, 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald shot the president in the head and neck while the First Lady sat beside her husband in a motorcade during a parade in Dallas, Texas. Oswald was taken into custody and shot by Jack Ruby. Since then, many conspiracy theories have been launched as to whether Oswald acted alone and even if he was involved.
President Reagan was in Washington, D.C. on March 30, 1981 when a bullet ricocheted off the presidential limousine and hit him in the chest. Reagan recovered from his wounds after surgery and a lengthy hospital stay. Three other men were wounded on the day of the attack as well. All survived, although White House Press Secretary Jim Brady became disabled for the rest of his life.
The man who fired the gun was John Hinckley, Jr. Hinckley was tried, and found insane. He’d had a history of depression and he also developed an unhealthy fascination with the then teenage actress Jodie Foster, to a point where he became a stalker. He had committed the shooting as an attempt to win her love and admiration. Hinckley was sent to an institution and has spent the rest of his life there, with limited off-grounds visitation rights.
In addition to the six shootings of US presidents, there were many attempts and plots against other presidents throughout history. With positions of great power come great risks; each individual who accepts the duty must bear the weight of office as well. It is fortunate that we now have greater security measures, as well as technological advances to help keep our commander-in-chief safe.
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Daniel Frye is a former agent from the secret service and currently works as a personal bodyguard. Daniel has a military background and enjoys writing about many different topics from government officials to advances in military weaponry. He’s also contributed to educational material, such as, “How Do I Become A Secret Service Agent?“.