List of United States presidential assassination attempts and plots

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With the four names underlined in grey, this map shows the locations where assassinated presidents had died. (A red 'X' indicates the locations where presidencies were ended due to assassination, illness or resignation. Locations where the oath of office was taken is marked by a green 'O'.)

Assassination attempts and plots on Presidents of the United States have been numerous: more than 20 attempts to kill sitting and former presidents, as well as the Presidents-elect, are known. Four sitting presidents have been killed: Abraham Lincoln (the 16th President), James A. Garfield (the 20th President), William McKinley (the 25th President) and John F. Kennedy (the 35th President). Two presidents were injured in attempted assassinations: Theodore Roosevelt (the 26th President) and Ronald Reagan (the 40th President). With the exception of Lyndon Johnson, every president's life since John F. Kennedy has been threatened with assassination.

Although the historian J.W. Clarke has suggested that most American assassinations were politically motivated actions, carried out by rational men,[1] not all such attacks have been undertaken for political reasons.[2] Some attackers had questionable mental stability, and a few were judged legally insane.[3][4] Since the Vice President of the United States has for more than a century been elected from the same political party as the President, the assassination of the President is unlikely to result in major policy changes. This may explain why political groups typically do not make such attacks.[5]

Presidents assassinated[edit]

Abraham Lincoln[edit]

The assassination of Abraham Lincoln took place Good Friday, April 14, 1865, at approximately 10:15 p.m. Lincoln was shot once in the back of his head with a .44 caliber Derringer pistol by actor and Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth while watching the play Our American Cousin at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C. with his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, and two guests. Major Henry Rathbone tried to stop Booth from escaping, but Booth stabbed him in the chest and slashed his arm to the bone with a dagger that he was also carrying. Soon after being shot, Lincoln's wound was declared to be mortal. The unconscious President was then carried across the street from the theater to the Pattersons Boarding House, where he remained in a coma for nine hours before dying the following morning at 7:22 a.m. on April 15.[6]

Booth was tracked down by Union soldiers and was shot and killed by Sergeant Boston Corbett on April 26, 1865. Booth apparently believed that killing Lincoln would radically change U.S. policy toward the South.

Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William H. Seward were targeted in the same plot. However, Johnson's would-be assassin, George Atzerodt lost his nerve and failed to go through with the attack, while Lewis Powell, who was assigned to kill Seward, was only able to inflict largely superficial injuries due to a combination of his gun misfiring and intervention from Seward's family.

James A. Garfield[edit]

The assassination of James A. Garfield took place in Washington, D.C., at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, July 2, 1881, fewer than four months after Garfield took office. Charles J. Guiteau shot him twice, once in his right arm and the other in his back, with a .442 Webley British Bulldog revolver. Garfield died 11 weeks later, on September 19, 1881, at 10:35 p.m., of complications caused by infections.

Guiteau was immediately arrested on the scene. After a highly publicized trial which lasted from November 14, 1881 to January 25, 1882, he was found guilty and sentenced to death. A subsequent appeal was rejected, and he was executed by hanging on June 30, 1882 in the District of Columbia, two days before the first anniversary of the attempt. Guiteau was assessed during his trial as mentally unbalanced and possibly suffered from some kind of Bipolar disorder or from the effects of syphilis on the brain. He claimed to have shot Garfield out of disappointment for being passed over for appointment as Ambassador to France. He attributed the president's victory in the election to a speech he wrote for Garfield.[7]

William McKinley[edit]

The assassination of William McKinley took place at 4:07 p.m. on Friday, September 6, 1901, at the Temple of Music in Buffalo, New York. McKinley, attending the Pan-American Exposition, was shot twice in the abdomen at close range by Leon Czolgosz, a self-proclaimed anarchist, who was armed with a .32 caliber revolver wrapped up in what seemed to be a bandage. The first bullet ricocheted off either a button or an award medal on McKinley's jacket and lodged in his sleeve but the second shot pierced his stomach. McKinley died eight days later, on September 14, 1901, at 2:15 a.m. after his health took a turn for the worse.

Members of the crowd captured and subdued Czolgosz. Afterward, the 4th Brigade, National Guard Signal Corps, and police intervened, beating Czolgosz so severely it was initially thought he might not live to stand trial. On September 24, after a rushed, two-day trial in federal court, Czoglosz was sentenced to death. He was executed by electric chair in Auburn Prison on October 29, 1901. Czolgosz's actions were politically motivated, although it remains unclear what outcome he believed the shooting would yield.

John F. Kennedy[edit]

The assassination of John F. Kennedy took place on Friday, November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas, at 12:30 p.m. CST (18:30 UTC). Kennedy was fatally wounded by a sniper's bullets in his neck and head while riding with his wife Jacqueline in a presidential motorcade through Dealey Plaza. Although not formally declared dead until a half-hour after the shooting at Parkland Memorial Hospital, he died instantly.

Lee Harvey Oswald, an employee of the Texas School Book Depository in Dealey Plaza, was arrested shortly after at the Texas Theater. At 11:21 a.m. Sunday, November 24, 1963, while he was handcuffed to Detective Jim Leavelle and as he was about to be taken to the Dallas County Jail, Oswald was shot and fatally wounded in the basement of Dallas Police Headquarters by Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub operator who said that he had been distraught over the Kennedy assassination. The shooting by Ruby was televised, as Oswald's transfer was being covered by the media. Oswald was taken unconscious by ambulance to Parkland Memorial Hospital where he died at 1:07 p.m..

The ten-month investigation of the Warren Commission of 1963–1964 concluded that President Kennedy was assassinated by Oswald and that Oswald had acted entirely alone. This decision has been subject to much dispute, and doubts and conspiracy theories persist.

Assassination attempts[edit]

Andrew Jackson[edit]

Illustration of Jackson's attempted assassination

Abraham Lincoln[edit]

Main article: Baltimore Plot

William Howard Taft[edit]

Theodore Roosevelt[edit]

Main article: John Flammang Schrank
Correctly determining that he was not mortally wounded, Roosevelt went on with his scheduled speech despite the protests of his staff. He spoke for about 90 minutes, at one point showing his bloodied shirt to the crowd and remarking that "It takes more than that to kill a bull moose."[21] After the speech, he finally went to the hospital, where it was discovered that the bullet had lodged between his ribs. Doctors determined that it would be too risky to try to remove it, so it remained in Roosevelt's body for the rest of his life. He spent about two weeks recuperating before heading back out on the campaign trail.[22]
At Schrank's trial, the would-be assassin claimed that William McKinley had visited him in a dream and told him to avenge his assassination by killing Roosevelt. He was found legally insane and was institutionalized until his death in 1943.[23]

Herbert Hoover[edit]

Franklin D. Roosevelt[edit]

Harry S. Truman[edit]

John F. Kennedy[edit]

Richard Nixon[edit]

Gerald Ford[edit]

Jimmy Carter[edit]

Main article: Raymond Lee Harvey
Harvey had a history of mental illness,[34] but police had to investigate his claim that he was part of a four-man operation to assassinate the president.[35] According to Harvey, he fired seven blank rounds from the starter pistol on the hotel roof on the night of May 4, to test how much noise it would make. He claimed to have been with one of the plotters that night, whom he knew as "Julio." (This man was later identified as a 21-year-old illegal immigrant from Mexico, who gave the name Osvaldo Espinoza Ortiz.)[34] At the time of his arrest, Harvey had eight spent rounds in his pocket, as well as 70 unspent blank rounds for the gun.[36]
Harvey was jailed on a $50,000 bond, given his transient status, and Ortiz was alternately reported as being held on a $100,000 bond as a material witness[34] or held on a $50,000 bond being charged with burglary from a car.[36] Charges against the pair were ultimately dismissed for a lack of evidence.[37]

Ronald Reagan[edit]

Hinckley was immediately subdued and arrested at the scene. Later, he claimed to have wanted to kill the president to impress the teen actress Jodie Foster. He was deemed mentally ill and was confined to an institution. Besides Reagan, White House Press Secretary James Brady, Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy, and D.C. police officer Thomas Delahanty were also wounded in the attack. All three survived, but Brady suffered brain damage and was permanently disabled, and passed away in August of 2014. His death was determined to be homicide because it was ultimately caused by the injury received in 1981. Although Hinckley remains in a mental institution today he frequently is allowed weekly trips to his family home. His family is trying to get him released. It has not been determined if formal murder charges will be filed against Hinckley as of August 17, 2014.

George H. W. Bush[edit]

Bill Clinton[edit]

George W. Bush[edit]

Barack Obama[edit]

There have been no close attempts to kill the current President of the US. In fact, none of the plots on his life made it to his actual location.

Presidential deaths rumored to be assassinations[edit]

Zachary Taylor[edit]

On July 4, 1850, President Zachary Taylor fell ill and was diagnosed by his physicians with cholera morbus, a term that included diarrhea and dysentery but not true cholera. Cholera, typhoid fever and food poisoning have all been indicated as the source of the president's ultimately fatal gastroenteritis. More specifically, a hasty snack of iced milk, cold cherries and pickled cucumbers (pickles) consumed at an Independence Day celebration might have been the culprit.[63] Taylor died five days later at 10:35 p.m. in the White House on July 9.

In the late 1980s, author Clara Rising theorized that Taylor was murdered by poison and was able to convince Taylor's closest living relative, as well as the coroner of Jefferson County, Kentucky, Dr. Richard Greathouse, to order an exhumation. On June 17, 1991, Taylor's remains were exhumed from the vault at the Zachary Taylor National Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky. The remains were then transported to the Office of the Kentucky Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. George Nichols. Nichols, joined by Dr. William Maples, a forensic anthropologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida, removed the top of the lead coffin liner to reveal remarkably well preserved remains which were immediately recognizable as those of President Taylor. Radiological studies were conducted of the remains before small samples of hair, fingernail and other tissues were removed. Thomas Secoy of the Department of Veterans Affairs (and a direct descendant of Taylor's Democratic presidential opponent Lewis Cass), ensured that only those samples required for testing were removed and that the coffin was resealed. The remains were then returned to the cemetery and received appropriate honors at reinterment. The samples were sent to Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where neutron activation analysis revealed traces of arsenic at levels less than one percent of the level expected in a death by poisoning.[64]

Warren G. Harding[edit]

In June 1923, President Warren G. Harding set out on a cross-country "Voyage of Understanding," planning to meet ordinary people and explain his policies. During this trip, he became the first president to visit Alaska.[65] Rumors of corruption in his administration were beginning to circulate in Washington by this time, and Harding was profoundly shocked by a long message he received while in Alaska, apparently detailing illegal activities by his own cabinet which was apparently unknown to him. At the end of July, while traveling south from Alaska through British Columbia, he developed what was thought to be a severe case of food poisoning. He gave the final speech of his life to a large crowd at the University of Washington Stadium (now Husky Stadium) at the University of Washington campus in Seattle, Washington. A scheduled speech in Portland, Oregon, was canceled. The President's train proceeded south to San Francisco. Upon arriving at the Palace Hotel, he developed pneumonia. Harding died in his hotel room of either a heart attack or a stroke at 7:35 p.m. on August 2, 1923. The formal announcement, printed in the New York Times of that day, stated that "A stroke of apoplexy was the cause of death." He had been ill exactly one week.[66]

Naval physicians surmised that he had suffered a heart attack. The Hardings' personal medical advisor, homeopath and Surgeon General Charles E. Sawyer, disagreed with the diagnosis. Mrs. Harding refused permission for an autopsy which soon led to speculation that the President had been the victim of a plot, possibly carried out by his wife, as Harding apparently had been unfaithful to the First Lady. Gaston B. Means, an amateur historian and gadfly, noted in his book The Strange Death of President Harding (1930) that the circumstances surrounding his death lent themselves to some suspecting he had been poisoned. Several individuals attached to him, personally and politically, would have welcomed Harding's death, as they would have been disgraced in association by Means' assertion of Harding's "imminent impeachment." Means was later discredited for publicly accusing Mrs. Harding of the purported murder.

See also[edit]


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  2. ^ E.g., Assassinations, presidential. Retrieved 2010-02-23.
  3. ^ E.g., Ben Dennison, "The 6 Most Utterly Insane Attempts to Kill a US President", Cracked, October 21, 2008. Retrieved 2010-02-23.
  4. ^ "Praying for God to Kill the President", TFN Insider, Texas Freedom Network, Retrieved 2010-02-23.
  5. ^ Lawrence Zelic Freedman (March 1983), "The Politics of Insanity: Law, Crime, and Human Responsibility", Political Psychology 4 (1): 171–178, JSTOR 3791182 
  6. ^ "Lincoln Papers: Lincoln Assassination: Introduction". Retrieved 2013-10-14. 
  7. ^ Peskin, Allan (1978). Garfield. Kent State University Press. p. 587. ISBN 0-87338-210-2. 
  8. ^ "Trying to Assassinate President Jackson". American Heritage. Jan 30, 2007. Retrieved 2007-05-06. 
  9. ^ Flood, Charles Bracelen (2010). 1864: Lincoln at the Gates of History, pp 266-267. Simon & Schuster Lincoln Library ISBN 1416552286
  10. ^ Sandburg, Carl (1954). Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and the War Years One-Volume Edition. pp 599-600. Harcourt ISBN 0-15-602611-2
  11. ^ Harris 2009, p. 1.
  12. ^ Harris 2009, p. 2.
  13. ^ Harris 2009, p. 14.
  14. ^ Harris 2009, p. 15.
  15. ^ Hampton 1910
  16. ^ van Wyk 2003, pp. 440–446.
  17. ^ "Mr. Taft's Peril; Reported Plot to Kill Two Presidents". Daily Mail (London). October 16, 1909. ISSN 0307-7578. 
  18. ^ Hammond 1935, pp. 565-66.
  19. ^ Harris 2009, p. 213.
  20. ^ Archived March 8, 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  21. ^ "Home - Theodore Roosevelt Association". 2013-02-01. Retrieved 2013-10-14. 
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  23. ^ "John Schrank". Classic Wisconsin. Retrieved 2007-05-06. 
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  63. ^ Magazine Publisher: Picture of the Day
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  65. ^ President Harding's 1923 Visit to Utah by W. Paul Reeve History Blazer July 1995
  66. ^ "Harding a Farm Boy Who Rose by Work". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-07-21. Nominated for the Presidency as a compromise candidate and elected by a tremendous majority because of a reaction against the policies of his predecessor, Warren Gamaliel Harding, twenty-ninth President of the United States, owed his political elevation largely to his engaging personal traits, his ability to work in harmony with the leaders of his party and the fact that he typified in himself the average prosperous American citizen.