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Failed Presidential Assassinations of the 19th Century


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President Andrew Jackson Survived an Assassination Attempt
Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson

Library of Congress

President Andrew Jackson, perhaps the most combative American president ever, not only survived an assassination attempt, he tried to assault the man who had tried to shoot him.

On January 30, 1835, Andrew Jackson visited the U.S. Capitol to attend the funeral of a member of Congress. While on his way out of the building a man named Richard Lawrence stepped out from behind a pillar and fired a flintlock pistol. The gun misfired, making a loud noise but not firing a projectile.

As shocked spectators looked on, Lawrence pulled out another pistol and again pulled the trigger. The second pistol also misfired, again making a loud, though harmless, noise.

Jackson, who had survived countless violent encounters, one of which left a pistol ball in his body that wasn't removed for decades, flew into a rage. As several people grabbed Lawrence and wrestled him to the ground, Jackson reportedly struck the failed assassin several times with his cane.

Jackson's Attacker Was Put On Trial

Richard Lawrence was rescued from the hands of a very angry President Andrew Jackson, and was immediately arrested. He was put on trial in the spring of 1835. The prosecutor for the government was Francis Scott Key, a prominent attorney remembered today for being the author of the "Star-Spangled Banner."

Newspaper reports from the trial detail that Lawrence was visited by a doctor in prison, and the doctor found him to be suffering from "morbid delusions." He apparently believed that he was the king of the United States and Andrew Jackson had taken his rightful place at the nation's leader. Lawrence also contended that Jackson had plotted against him in various ways.

Lawrence was found not guilty by reason of insanity, and was kept in various mental institutions until his death in 1861.

Andrew Jackson had made many enemies in his life, and his presidency was marked with such controversies as the Nullification Crisis, the Bank War, and the Spoils System.

So there were many who who believed that Lawrence might have been part of some conspiracy. But the most reasonable explanation is that Richard Lawrence was insane and acted alone.

Next: Was President James Buchanan Poisoned?

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