January 30, 1835: The first assassination attempt of a US President, Andrew Jackson. He was approached by a house painter named Richard Lawrence. It is thought that the chemicals in the house paint may have led to Lawrence’s delusions. By the 1830s he had convinced himself he was truly Richard III of England. During this same time, he underwent a personality shift, changing from a conservatively dressed man to one donning flamboyant clothing. He also grew a mustache, gave up his job, and demanded the US government pay him large sums of money. He felt the President was keeping him from getting his money. He also blamed Jackson for killing his father in 1832 even though Lawrence senior died nine years earlier. He decided to kill Jackson.
Lawrence bought two flintlock pistols. He watched Jackson’s movements for several weeks. During this time, Lawrence was observed repeatedly in the same paint shop, laughing and talking to himself. On this day, Jackson was attending the funeral of South Carolina congressman Walter R. Davis. Lawrence hoped to kill the President as he entered the service, but was unable to get close enough. Lawrence waited by a pillar and after the service, approached Jackson as he was leaving. Lawrence fired first one pistol from a distance of about 13 feet aiming at Jackson’s back. It misfired. Lawrence got to point blank range and fired again. The second pistol also misfired.
While the guns Lawrence had chosen were noted for problems in wet weather, and it was a very damp day, they still made enough noise to catch the crowd’s attention. Lawrence was wrestled to the ground by those around. Congressman Davy Crockett was one of those subduing the would-be assassin. It is said Jackson also struck the man several times, using his cane. Lawrence was brought to trial on April 11, 1835 with prosecuting attorney Francis Scott Key bringing the state’s case. Lawrence was found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to Government Hospital until his death in 1861.
Four US Presidents have been assassinated. Abraham Lincoln was the first, followed by James A. Garfield, William McKinley, and John F. Kennedy. There have been thirteen attempts or threats to assassinate presidents from Jackson to Barack Obama. Two attempts were made on Gerald Ford’s life. Ronald Reagan was shot on March 31, 1981 and survived. There is speculation that both Zachary Taylor and Warren G. Harding did not die of natural causes, but that their deaths were assassinations. Neither of these cases have been proven.
“An ideal form of government is democracy tempered with assassination.” – Voltaire
“Assassination has never changed the history of the world.” – Benjamin Disraeli
“Assassination is the extreme form of censorship.” – George Bernard Shaw
“The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment.” – Robert M. Hutchins