Little Bits of History

That’s Crazy

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 30, 2013
Richard Lawrence and Andrew Jackson

Richard Lawrence and Andrew Jackson

January 30, 1835: Richard Lawrence pulls two pistols and shoots at President Andrew Jackson, the first known US Presidential assassination attempt. Lawrence was born in England in either 1800 or 1801. He was clearly insane by age 30, possibly due to the chemicals found in the paint he used in his work. He thought he was King Richard III and he blamed Jackson for his father’s death as well as keeping him from the throne. He moved to the US in order to rectify these miscarriages of justice. Fortunately, during the assassination attempt, both pistols misfired. Lawrence was found not guilty by reason of insanity and spent the rest of his life in insane asylums.

Four US Presidents have been assassinated while in office. Abraham Lincoln was shot in the head while attending Ford’s Theater and died the next day. James A. Garfield was shot in the back while at a train station in Washington, DC and died nearly three months later due to the poor medical care he received. William McKinley was shot in the chest at the Pan-American Exposition and died eight days later. John F. Kennedy was shot in the head while riding in a cavalcade in Dallas, Texas and died later in the day. Nine other Presidents have had unsuccessful attempts made on their lives.

Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huang reigned in 210 BC when Jing Ke made an unsuccessful attempt on his life, the earliest documented attempt. In 44 BC Julius Caesar was stabbed 23 times by a group of senators at the Forum in Rome. Assassinations have brought about the fall of nations, as in the Roman Republic. The assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand is often cited as the start of World War I. Not all assassinations are political.

One definition of the crime is “… to murder a prominent person by surprise attack.” The assassin commits 1. a terrible violence, 2. in public view, and 3. for a political, moral, or ideological reason. Religious icons have also been attacked, for instance – Pope John Paul II. More layers of security were added with devices such as the Popemobile. Bodyguards increased and sometimes body doubles were used. Access to the powerful and famous is becoming more restricted. Alas, this does not entirely stop the assassins.

“I’m scared to death. I know the assassin mentality he has. He’s always on attack. He’s always probing the defense. I liked it better when we didn’t know what was there.” – Jay Wright

“I know you are here to kill me. Shoot, coward, you are only going to kill a man.’ – Ernesto “Che” Guevara, facing his assassin

“Rome had Caesar, a man of remarkable governing talents, although it must be said that a ruler who arouses opponents to resort to assassination is probably not as smart as he ought to be.” – Barbara W. Tuchman

“The slanderer and the assassin differ only in the weapon they use; with the one it is the dagger, with the other the tongue. The former is worse that the latter, for the last only kills the body, while the other murders the reputation.” – Tyron Edwards

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: Andrew Jackson was nicknamed Old Hickory because of his toughness and his aggressive nature. He was the seventh US President following John Quincy Adams and having Martin Van Buren assuming the office after Jackson’s second term. Van Buren had been the Vice President during that second term. Jackson was born in the frontier region around the Carolinas in 1767 just three weeks after his father was killed in an accident while his mother was returning home after burying her husband. His education was erratic at best. At the age of 13, he joined the militia and helped fight in the Revolutionary War. His family was decimated by the fighting and Jackson always blamed the British.

Also on this day: “Look that up in your Funk and Wagnall’s” – In 1922, Dick Martin was born.
Assassination attempt – In 1835, the first US Presidential assassination attempt takes place.
Mr. Music – In 1858, the Halle Orchestra performed.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 30, 2012

Illustration of the duel

May 30, 1806: Charles Dickinson dies. Dickinson was born in Caroline County, Maryland in 1780. He came from a prominent family and studied law under US Chief Justice John Marshall. He moved to Tennessee where he practiced law, bred horses, and fought duels. The Tennessee plantation owner married the beautiful daughter of Captain Joseph Erwin. He also became known as an expert marksman and killed 26 men in duels. His luck came to an end when he met up against a Major General from the Revolutionary War.

Andrew Jackson met his future wife when he was a boarder at the home of Rachel Stockley Donelson, the widow of John Donelson, one of the founding fathers of Nashville, Tennessee. Jackson fell in love with their already married daughter. She was separated from Captain Lewis Robards, a mean and disreputable man. Also named Rachel, she and her husband were supposedly divorced, but Captain Robards did not file the final papers. Rachel and Andrew married only to find out later about the problem. Finally legally divorced from her first husband, the couple were married again. Jackson was always sensitive to this issue.

Jackson also was a horse breeder. His horse, Truxton, was set to race again Ploughboy, owned by Joseph Erwin – Dickinson’s father-in-law. Ploughboy went lame and there was some confrontation about forfeit to be paid. Eventually the horses raced with Truxton winning. Dickinson had been drinking and was irate over the loss. The two men had already been quarreling about Dickinson’s slandering Mrs. Jackson, calling her a bigamist. He again brought up the questionable morals of Jackson’s wife along with the dissatisfaction of the race. Jackson challenged Dickinson to a duel.

The two men had to cross over to Kentucky since dueling was illegal in Tennessee. They met at Harrison’s Mill on Red River in Logan County, Kentucky. Dickinson was the better shot, but Jackson was better prepared. He wore loose fitting clothing, hiding his slight frame. He also stood sideways. The two men bowed to each other and as the command to fire was given, Dickinson immediately fired his gun. Jackson held his fire, took careful aim, and shot only to find his pistol locked at half cock. Given permission to  fix his weapon, he again took aim, fired, and struck his target, causing a fatal wound. Only later did his second notice the blood pooling in Jackson’s shoe. He has been hit, but his ribs deflected the bullet, a souvenir he carried until his death in 1845. He went on to become the seventh President of the US.

Why, gentlemen, General Jackson has done a most daring exploit. He has captured another man’s wife. – Charles Dickinson

Great God! Have I missed him? – Charles Dickinson

I should have hit him if he had shot me through the brain. – Andrew Jackson, commenting on his wound

I think the verdict of history is that Mr. Dickinson was a young man of promising abilities, but in keeping with the life of the day was high strung, impetuous, and probably imprudent. – Secretary of the Tennessee Historical Society

Also on this day:

Start Your Engines – In 1911 the first Indianapolis 500 is held.
Chinese Democracy – In 1989, the Goddess of Democracy was unveiled
Fan Club – In 1933, Sally Rand danced in Chicago.

No President Elect

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 1, 2011

December 1, 1824: No candidate for the position of President of the United States is elected by a majority of the voters. In the previous election, a one-party system had been in place. The Federalist Party had dissolved and only the Democratic-Republican Party remained. For this election, that party split into four distinct factions with each offering a candidate for the Presidency. The candidates running for the office were John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, William H. Crawford, and Andrew Jackson.

Jackson won 99 electoral votes by carrying 12 states. He had 151,271 votes or 41.3%. Adams garnered 84 electoral votes, carried 7 states, had 113,122 votes or 30.9%. Crawford managed 41 electoral votes from 2 states and 40,856 votes or 11.2%. Clay brought home 37 electoral votes from 3 states and 47,531 votes or 13%. Since no one had a clear majority of votes by any measure, the Twelfth Amendment to the US Constitution was brought into play. A candidate needed 131 electoral votes to win the election.

Elections in 1796 and 1800 led to some issues with Article II, Section 1, Clause 3 of the Constitution. So on December 9, 1803 a new Amendment was proposed to clarify election proceedings using the Electoral College. It was ratified on June 15, 1804 and this was the first time it was enacted. The Amendment did not change the composition of the College, but simply rectified issues within in the proceedings. It has been used for every presidential election in the US since 1804.

Since there was no clear winner for the office of President, the election’s outcome was given to the US House of Representatives. They were to choose from only the top three candidates so were to choose between Adams, Crawford, and Jackson. Henry Clay was Speaker of the House and was not included. Henry Clay despised Jackson and spoke openly about the candidate’s lack of credentials. When the vote came in on February 9, 1825, John Quincy Adams was elected taking 13 states on the first ballot. Jackson had 7 states and Crawford took the remaining four. This was shocking to Jackson who, as the numbers above show, had taken more popular votes and more electoral college votes in the general election. There were accusations from the Jackson camp of collusion between Adams and Clay, but an investigation could neither prove nor disprove the allegations.

“All men profess honesty as long as they can. To believe all men honest would be folly. To believe none so is something worse.” – John Quincy Adams

“All the rights secured to the citizens under the Constitution are worth nothing, and a mere bubble, except guaranteed to them by an independent and virtuous Judiciary.” – Andrew Jackson

“Weariness goes more to keep the peace than any other disposition in either party.” – William H. Crawford

“I would rather be right than President.” – Henry Clay

Also on this day:

Not a Hot Line – In 1878, a telephone was first installed in the White House.
Beauty, Wit, Charm – In 1919, Lady Astor became the first woman in the British House of Commons.

Assassination attempt

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 30, 2011

1835 etching made of the assassination attempt

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

Also on this day:
“Look that up in your Funk and Wagnall’s” – In 1922, Dick Martin was born.
Andrew Jackson – In 1835, the first Presidential assassination attempt was made. (A different article)