May 11, 1812: British Prime Minister Spencer Perceval is assassinated. Born in 1762, he was the seventh son of the 2nd Earl of Egmont. His father was a political advisor to King George III. Perceval was the second son of the second marriage and had a yearly allowance of just £200 and was faced with the prospect of actually having to earn a living. To do so, he chose the law. By the time he became a lawyer, both his parents were deceased. He and a brother, Charles, rented a house and fell in love with girls from their boyhood days, now also living in the area. Charles was a Lord and the girls’ father approved of the match. Spencer was still just a poor man and made to wait three years time. At that point, he was still too poor to make a suitable husband and was again denied. Instead, the young couple eloped in 1790. They had 12 children.
Spencer entered political life in 1796 when he took a seat in the House of Commons, not being titled himself. He was known soon afterwards as a great debater and rose in political importance. He was elected to Prime Minister and took office on October 4, 1809 serving under King George III. He was said to be a diligent and hard-working man who had to deal with an ineffectual monarch.
John Bellingham was born around 1769 and was apprenticed to a London jeweler when he was 14. He had other jobs in commerce and was eventually working as an export representative. As such, he was in Russia when a claim was made by the owners of a Russian ship, Soleure. It had been insured by Lloyd’s of London and lost in the White Sea. An anonymous letter to Lloyd’s hinted at malfeasance and the insurers refused to pay the claim. The Russians believed Bellingham was the author of the letter. He was accused of substantial debt and imprisoned in 1804 when he couldn’t pay. He was released a year later and went to St. Petersburg where he tried to impeach the Governor-General which landed him back in prison. He was released in October 1808 but without papers. It took him until 1809 to get back to England.
Once there, he attempted to petition the government to pay him for his imprisonment. He was unsuccessful. Outraged by the injustice and having been told by a clerk to do what he thought best, he went out and purchased two .50 caliber pistols. At 5.15 PM on this day, as Perceval was on his way to attend a meeting, Bellingham stepped from the shadows and fired point blank at the Prime Minister, hitting him in the chest. Perceval was dead within a matter of minutes and Bellingham was arrested on the spot. Later found guilty, he was hanged on May 18. Perceval was still a poor man with only £106 in the bank. Parliament voted to grant his widow and children £50,000 and an annuity for his widow and eldest son. A subscription was also raised for the widow and children of Bellingham who were said to be ten times better off financially after his death.
Assassination has never changed the history of the world. – Benjamin Disraeli
Assassination is the extreme form of censorship. – George Bernard Shaw
Assassination’s the fastest way. – Moliere
Recollect, Gentlemen, what was my situation. Recollect that my family was ruined and myself destroyed, merely because it was Mr Perceval’s pleasure that justice should not be granted; sheltering himself behind the imagined security of his station, and trampling upon law and right in the belief that no retribution could reach him. I demand only my right, and not a favour; I demand what is the birthright and privilege of every Englishman. – John Bellingham at his trial
Also on this day: Man Against Machine – In 1997 IBM’s Deep Blue became a chess champion.
Beagle – In 1820, the HMS Beagle was launched.
Pullman – In 1894, a wildcat strike against Pullman Palace Car Co. began.
The Pill – In 1960, the first contraceptive pill was approved by the FDA.
Thailand – In 1949, Siam changed its name.