Many people both foreign and native tend to perceive the United States as a country prone to political violence and assassination.
Nine American Presidents - Andrew Jackson in 1835, Abraham Lincoln in 1865, James Garfield in 1881, William McKinley in 1901 Harry S. Truman in 1950, John F. Kennedy in 1963, Richard Nixon in 1974, Gerald Ford twice in 1975, and Ronald Reagan in 1981 - have been the targets of assassination. Attempts have also been made on the lives of one President-elect (Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933) .
Three Presidential candidates (Theodore Roosevelt in 1912, Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, and George Wallace in 1972).
In addition, eight governors, seven U.S. Senators, nine U.S. Congressmen, eleven mayors, 17 state legislators, and eleven judges have been violently attacked. No other country with a population of over 50 million has had as high a number of political assassinations or attempted assassinations.
Political assassination was unknown in colonial America.
Prior to the American Revolution, there was not a single instance in which a major colonial official was assassinated.
There was political violence in early America, but it tended to take the form of mob action. Crowds consisting of land hungry frontiersmen, debtor farmers, unskilled seamen, skilled artisans, and business and professional men, engaged in riotous dissent against British colonial officials, profiteering merchants, or Tories.
The Stamp Act protests, The Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea party were only the most famous instances of crowd outbursts.
The other major form of political violence in early America was the DUEL between politically prominent individuals.
The best-known political duel took place between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr in 1804, but other prominent politicians were also involved in duels, including Benedict Arnold and Andrew Jackson, who participated in dozens of dueling situations and killed one man.
One of the last political duels occurred in 1857, when David S. Terry, Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court, killed U.S. Senator David C. Broderick in a dispute over the issue of slavery.
It was not until Richard Lawrence attempted to murder President Jackson that assassination appeared in the United States.
On January 30, 1835, President Andrew Jackson went to the U.S. Capitol to attend the funeral services of Congressman Warren R. Davis of South Carolina. As the President filed past the casket and descended to the Capitol rotunda, Richard Lawrence, an unemployed English house painter, stepped up, drew a pistol, and fired point blank at the former General. A percussion cap exploded, but a bullet failed to discharge from the gun barrel. Lifting his cane above his head, the 67-year old Jackson lunged at his assailant. But before he could thrash the young man, the attacker drew a second pistol and fired again. A second explosion rang out, but again the gun failed to fire. The odds against both guns misfiring were 125,000 to 1.
The 32-year old would-be assassin claimed that Jackson had killed his father three years earlier. He also claimed to be the rightful heir to the British throne and said that Jackson, in a conspiracy with various steamship companies, had prevented him from getting money which would enable him to claim the English crown. Since Lawrence's father had been dead for twelve years and had never visited America, a jury found Lawrence not guilty on grounds of insanity. Lawrence was hospitalized and died 26 years later at Washington's Government Hospital for the Insane.
Was an American politicians and statesman from Massachusetts. An academic lawyer and a powerful orator, Sumner was the leader of the antislavery forces in Massachusetts and a leader of the Radical Republicans in the US Senate during the American Civil War and Reconstruction.
He devoted his energies to the destruction of what he considered the Slaver Power, that is the scheme of slave owners to take control of the federal government and block the progress of liberty.
He was severely beaten in 1856 by South Carolina Representative Preston Brooks on the floor of the US Senate. Sumner had denounced South Carolina Senator Andrew Butler in a three-hour oration that many viewed as a personal attack against Butlers honor. Preston Brooks, Butlers nephew was furious at Sumner for this personal attack and confronted Sumner as he sat writing at his desk in the almost empty Senate chamber. Brooks was accompanied by Laurence M. Keitt also of South Carolina.
Brooks said, "Mr. Sumner, I have read your speech twice over carefully. It is a libel on South Carolina, and Mr. Butler, who is a relative of mine." As Sumner began to stand up, Brooks began beating Sumner severely on the head with a thick gutta-percha cane with a gold head before he could reach his feet.
Sumner was knocked down and trapped under the heavy desk (which was bolted to the floor), but Brooks continued to bash Sumner until he ripped the desk from the floor. By this time, Sumner was blinded by his own blood, and he staggered up the aisle and collapsed, lapsing into unconsciousness. Brooks continued to beat the motionless Sumner until he broke his cane, then quietly left the chamber. Several other senators attempted to help Sumner, but were blocked by Keitt who was brandishing a pistol and shouting, "Let them be!" (Brooks died in 1857; Keitt was censured for his actions and was later killed in 1864 during the Civil War while fighting as a Confederate officer
This severe beating helped escalate the tensions that led to war. After years of therapy Sumner returned to the Senate to help lead the Civil War. Sumner was a leading proponent of abolishing slavery to weaken the Confederacy.
The First Successful Presidential Assassination
A new wave of political violence and murder swept the nation during the decade and a half following Abraham Lincoln's assassination on Good Friday of 1865.
The Abraham Lincoln assassination, one of the last major events in the American Civil War, took place on April 14, 1865. President Abraham Lincoln was shot while attending a performance of Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theater with his wife and two friends. Lincoln died the following day in the home of William Petersen.
Secretary of State, William H. Seward was attacked on the same day as Lincoln. His assailant, Lewis Powel, also attacked several other members of Seward's household. However, all of Powell's victims survived.
Lincoln’s assassin, actor and Confederate sympathizer john Wilkes Booth, had also planned an attack on Seward. Booth hoped to overthrow the Federal Government by assassinating Lincoln, Seward, and Vice President, Andrew Johnson. Though Booth succeeded in killing Lincoln, the larger plot failed. Seward would recover from his wounds, and Johnson was never attacked.
Between 1865 and 1877, 34 political officials were attacked, 24 of them fatally. Among those attacked included a U.S. Senator, two congressional representatives, three state governors, ten state legislators, eight judges, and ten other officeholders.
Much of the violence was concentrated in the South (2,000 persons were killed or wounded in Louisiana in the weeks before the 1868 election, 150 were murdered in one Florida county, and in Texas, an army commander reported "Murders of Negroes are so common as to render it impossible to keep accurate accounts of them").
This wave of political violence ended in 1881, when President James A. Garfield was assassinated by Charles A. Guiteau, a frustrated office seeker, four months after his inauguration.
President Theodore Roosevelt: Escaped assassination (though shot) Oct. 14, 1912, in Milwaukee while campaigning for president.
He was shot by Richard Lawrence and John Schrank, both mentally deranged
Schrank claimed the shooting was ordered by President William McKinley's ghost as punishment for Roosevelt's attempt to establish a dictatorship.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt: Escaped assassination unhurt Feb. 15, 1933, in Miami.
Giuseppe Zangara, a 32-year old Italian bricklayer believed that the U.S. government was hostile to immigrant radicals. He originally planned to shoot Herbert Hoover before he read in a Miami newspaper that President-elect Franklin Roosevelt would be in town the next day. He also shot and killed Anton Cermak, the Mayor of Chicago on Feb 15, 1933.
Political violence reached a new peak during the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s.
Attacks were made on four of six Presidents (one successfully, one nearly so).
Among those murdered were three U.S. ambassadors, a Presidential aspirant (Robert Kennedy in l968), a neo-Nazi (George Lincoln Rockwell), a rock star (John Lennon), and three black leaders (Malcolm X, Medgar Evars, and Martin Luther King).
Was a Navy Reserve Commander and founder of the American Nazi Party. Rockwell was a major figure of the Neo-Nazi movement in post-war United States, and his beliefs and writings have continued to be influential among white-supremacists and neo-Nazis.
In 1938, Rockwell entered Brown University in Providence, RI, where he majored in philosophy. In his sociology courses at Brown, Rockwell rejected equality and the idea that man was made by his environment, and that all human beings had the same potential in life. He debated with fellow students over topics such as social themes in popular novels.
Assisted in the KKK against the civil rights movement, protested Martin Luther King Jr.. Called for “White Power,” as an attack against Stockey Carmichael and the “Black Power” movement. He also was a stong denier of the Holocaust, maintaining that it was all propaganda. He supported the Vietnam War.
Rockwell's principal message was racial separation and attempted to form friendly associations with the Nation of Islam. He praised Elijah Muhammad as the "Black people's Hitler," and for doing the best job in promoting integrity and pride among his people. Rockwell also admired Malcolm X, seeing him as the next true leader for Black America. However, in 1965, after Malcolm X left the Nation of Islam, he sent Rockwell a telegram while he was on his "Hate Bus" tour of the South, threatening Rockwell with "maximum physical retaliation from those of us who are not hand-cuffed by the disarming philosophy of nonviolence" should Martin Luther King, Jr. or "any other black Americans who are only attempting to enjoy their rights as free human beings" be harmed,
On August 25, 1967, Rockwell was killed by gunshots while leaving the Econowash Laundromat at the Dominion Hills Shopping Center in the 6000 block of Wilson Boulevard in Arlington, Virginia. Two bullets crashed through his 1958 Chevrolet’s windshield, and it slowly rolled backwards to a stop. Rockwell staggered out of the front passenger side door of the car, pointed towards the shopping center roof, and then collapsed face up on the pavement.
A Half hour later, at a bus stop several miles away, John Patler – a former member of Rockwell's group – was arrested as the suspected murderer by a passing patrolman familiar with the Arlington Nazis. Later that day, after hearing of his son’s death, Rockwell’s 78-year-old father commended laconically, “I am not surprised at all. I’ve expected it for quite some time.”
Assassination of 35 th President J. F. Kennedy
The Assassination of John F. Kennedy, the thirty-fifth President of the United States of America, took place on Friday, November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas at 12:30 p.m. Kennedy was fatally wounded by gunshots while riding with his wife Jacqueline in a presidential motorcade through Delay Plaza.
The official investigation by the Warren Commission was conducted over a ten-month period, and its report was published in September 1964. The Commission concluded that the assassination was carried out solely by Lee Harvey Oswald, an employee of the Texas School Book Depository in Dealey Plaza. This conclusion initially met with widespread support among the American public, but polls, since the original 1966 Gallup Poll, show a majority of the public hold beliefs contrary to the Commission's findings.
The United States House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) concluded in 1979 that Kennedy was assassinated by Oswald probably as a result of a conspiracy. This conclusion was based on taped acoustic evidence which has since been called into question. This evidence has since been proved incorrect by private investigators.
The assassination is still the subject of widespread speculation, and has spawned a number of theories. The concept of the conspiracy fascinates America, but to this point no one has successfully proven that anyone, other than Oswald shot and killed the 35 th President.
Was an African American civil rights activist from Mississippi.
On June 12, 1963 , Evers pulled into his driveway after just returning from a meeting with NAACP lawyers. Emerging from his car and carrying NAACP T-shirts that read “Jim Crow Must Go," Evers was struck in the back with a bullet fired from an Enfield 1917 .303 rifle that ricocheted into his Jackson, Mississippi home. He staggered 30 feet before collapsing. He died at a local hospital 50 minutes later, just hours after President John F. Kennedy’s speech on national television in support of civil rights.
On June 23, 1964, Bryon De La Beckwith, a fertilizer salesman and member of the Klu Klux Klan was attested for Evers Murder.
In 1994, 30 years after the two previous trials had failed to reach a verdict, De La Beckwith was again brought to trial based on new evidence, De La Beckwith was convicted of murder on February 5, 1994, after having lived as a free man for the three decades following the killing. De La Beckwith appealed unsuccessfully, and died in prison in January 2001.
On February 21, 1965 in Manhattan's Audubon Ballroom, Malcolm had just begun delivering a speech when a disturbance broke out in the crowd of 400. A man yelled, "Get your hand outta my pocket! Don't be messin' with my pockets!" As Malcolm's bodyguards moved to quiet the disturbance and Malcolm appealed for peace, a man rushed forward and shot Malcolm in the chest with a sawed-off shotgun. Two other men charged the stage and fired handguns at Malcolm, who was shot 16 times. Angry onlookers in the crowd caught and beat the assassins as they attempted to flee the ballroom. The 39-year-old Malcolm was pronounced dead on arrival at New York's Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. He was killed by the shotgun blast, the other bullets having been directed to his legs.
Although a police report once existed stating that two men were detained in connection with the shooting, that report disappeared, and the investigation was inconclusive. Two suspects were named by witnesses — Norman Butler and Thomas Johnson.
Three men were eventually charged in the case. Talmadge Haver, confessed to having fired shots into Malcolm's body, but he testified that Butler and Johnson were not present and were not involved in the shooting. All three were convicted.
End of the Dream: Death of Martin Luther King Jr.
In late March, 1968 Dr. King went to Memphis, Tennessee in support of the black sanitary public works employees, represented by AFSCME Local 1733, who had been on strike since March 12 for higher wages and better treatment: for example, African American workers, paid $1.70 per hour, were not paid when sent home because of inclement weather (unlike white workers).
On April 3, Dr. King returned to Memphis and addressed a rally, delivering his "I've been to the Mountaintop" address. King was assassinated at 6:01 p.m. April 4, 1968 on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.
Two months after King's death, escaped convict James Earl Ray was captured at London Heathrow Airport while trying to leave the United Kingdom on a false Canadian passport in the name of Ramon George Sneyd. Ray was quickly extradited to Tennessee and charged with King's murder, confessing to the assassination on March 10, 1969 (though he recanted this confession three days later). Later, Ray would be sentenced to a 99-year prison term.
According to biographer Taylor Branch, King's autopsy revealed that though he was only 39 years old he had the heart of a 60 year old man, evidencing the stress the 13 years in the civil rights movement had on him. It implies that in the 13 years prior to his death he had aged 34 years or 2 1/2 times as much as a person living a normal life.
On June 4, 1968, Kennedy scored a major victory when he won the California primary. He addressed his supporters in the early morning hours of June 5 in a ballroom at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. He left the ballroom through a service area to greet supporters working in the hotel's kitchen. In a crowded kitchen passageway, Sirhan B. Sirhan, a 24-year-old Palestinian, opened fire with a .22 caliber revolver and shot Kennedy in the head at close range (although some have questioned this account). Following the shooting, Kennedy was rushed to The Good Samaritan Hospital where he died the next day.
His body was returned to New York City, where he lay in state at St. Patrick’s Cathedral for several days before the funeral mass held there. His brother, Senator Edward M. Kennedy eulogized him with the words, "My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life, to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.“
Kennedy was buried near his brother, John, in Arlington National Cemetery. He had always maintained that he wished to be buried in Massachusetts, but his family believed that, since the brothers had been so close in life, they should be near each other in death. In accordance with his wishes, Kennedy was buried with the bare minimum military escort and ceremony. Robert Kennedy's burial at Arlington National Cemetery was the only one to ever take place at night.
Assassins do not only kill political leaders. At 10:50 p.m. on December 8 1980, Mark David Chapman shot Lennon in front of the Dokota Building.
Around 5 p.m., Lennon and Ono left the Dakota to supervise the transfer of some of the Double Fantasy album numbers to singles. David Geffen said that more than 700,000 album copies had already been sold up to that time. As they were leaving the Dakota, they were approached by several people seeking autographs. Among them was Chapman, and Lennon signed an autograph on the Double Fantasy album cover for him. A picture was taken by another fan while he was signing Chapman's album, capturing killer and victim on film only a few hours before his murder.
The Lennons spent several hours at the studio on West 44th Street before returning to the Dakota at about 10:50 p.m. They exited their limousine on 72nd Street, even though the car could have been driven into the courtyard. Jose Perdomo (who was the doorman at the entrance), an elevator operator, and a cab driver all saw Chapman standing in the shadows by the archway. The Lennons walked past, and Ono opened the inner door — leaving Lennon alone inside the entrance. Chapman called out, "Mr. Lennon!", dropped into a "combat stance“ and shot Lennon four times with hollow point bullets from a Charter Arms .38 revolver. Two shots struck Lennon in the left side of his back and two in his left shoulder. All four caused serious internal damage and one pierced Lennon's aorta.
Lennon staggered up six steps to the room at the end of the entrance used by the concierge, said, "I'm shot," and collapsed. Chapman calmly sat down on the sidewalk and waited. The doorman walked to Chapman and reportedly said, "Do you know what you've just done?" Chapman calmly replied, "I just shot John Lennon."
The Reagan assassination attempt occurred on March 30, 1981, just 70 days into the United States Presidency of Ronald Reagan. While leaving a speaking engagement at the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington D.C., President Reagan and three others were shot and wounded by John Hinckley, Jr., who had previously stalked President Jimmy Carter and had a history of mental illness.
The motivation behind Hinckley's attack was an obsession with actress Jodie Foster. While living in Hollywood in the late 1970s, he saw the film Taxi Driver 15 times, apparently identifying strongly with Travis Bickle, the lead character played by Robert DeNiro. Near the end of the film, Bickle becomes fixated on the protection of a 12-year-old prostitute. played by Foster. Over the following years, Hinckley trailed Foster around the country, going so far as to enroll in a writing course at Yale University in 1980 when he learned that she was a student there. Convinced that a grand, sweeping gesture would be needed to gain her attention, Hinckley began to stalk then-President Jimmy Carter — his decision to target Presidents also likely inspired by Taxi Driver He wrote three or four more notes to her in early March 1981. Foster gave these notes to the Yale police department, which sought to track him down but failed.
James Brady would be paralyzed in the assassination attempted. He would later become a strong gun control supporter and part author of the Brady Bill signed in 1994.
Assassins' motives have ranged across a wide spectrum.
Some are mentally deranged
Other assassins had clear political or ideological motives for their crimes but suffered from a paranoid or schizophrenic style of thinking and chose their victim almost at random.
Only a small number of assassination attempts have been motivated by political ideology – Booth and Czolgosz.
In only two cases was the assassin a member of an organized conspiracy.
Even in these instances, however, there was no plan to seize control of the government or alter government policies - the traditional goals of a political conspiracy.
Have assassinations altered the course of American history?
Yes, but not in the way that the assassins desired. Rarely has the assassin's political goal been realized.
Sirhan Sirhan murdered Robert Kennedy to protest the Democrat's support for Israel, but the man who was elected to office, Richard Nixon, was himself a staunch supporter of the Jewish state and provided indispensable aid to Israel during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. The 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King failed to derail the civil rights movement.
The very heinousness of the crime has often led to a reaction against the assassin's objectives.
Still many Times we are left to wonder what could have been, if only those individuals would have survived.
Do not Forget: Assassinations do not just occur in America…
March 15, 44 B.C.E. when members of the Roman aristocracy (led by Gaius Cassius and Marcus Brutus), fearing the power of Julius Caesar, stabbed him to death in the Senate house. Caesar had failed to heed warnings to "Beware the Ides of March," and paid the ultimate price.
Jean-Paul Marat and Spencer Perceval were both killed for their role in the French Revolution. Marat was assassinated in his residence with a knife wielded by Charlotte Corday, a twenty-four-year-old French woman, on July 13, 1793. It is uncertain whether she committed the act for patriotic reasons of her own or whether she was acting on orders. On May 11, 1812, John Bellingham entered the lobby of the House of Commons and assassinated the British prime minister, Spencer Perceval, because he refused to heed Bellingham's demand for redress against tsarist Russia.
Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire of the Hapsburgs, was slain during a parade in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. The assassination helped trigger World War I.
Czar Nicolas and his family were killed in a Democratic overthrow in Russia during World War I. That party would eventually be overthrown as well with Lenin and the Bolshevik Revolution in 1918 and the creation of a Communist state in Soviet Russia.
The world was shocked once again on October 9, 1934, when King Alexander I, who had assumed a dictatorial role in Yugoslavia in the 1920s in an effort to end quarreling between the Serbs and Croats, was murdered by a professional assassin hired by Croat conspirators led by Ante Pavelich.
On January 30, 1948, India suffered the loss of Mahatma Gandhi, murdered by Nathuram Godse, a religious fanatic who feared the consequences of the partition that created Pakistan in 1947.
The South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem was killed on November 2, 1963, by a Vietnamese tank corps major (whose name was never released) because of his submission to the tyrannical rule of his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu.
Agathe Uwilingiyimana, Prime Minister of Rwanda killed one day after genocide began in 1994. and Juvenal Habvarimana, (1994 April 6), his plane was shot out of the sky as it approached Kigali airport, and signaled the start of the Genocide.