On this day, 176 years ago, Richard Lawrence tried to kill President Andrew Jackson. It is the first known attempt to assassinate an American President.
Lawrence was unemployed and mentally ill. He had succumbed to the delusion that he was King Richard III of England and believed the American government owed him a large sum of money. He held President Andrew Jackson personally responsible and decided to kill Jackson in anger and frustration.
Jackson was attending the funeral of South Carolina congressman Warren
R. Davis when Lawrence made his attempt. He found a space near a pillar where Jackson would have to pass when he left the funeral, stepped out and fired at Jackson’s back. When his first pistol misfired, Lawrence leveled the second, but by this time he had drawn the attention of the crowd. He was tackled and wrestled to the ground by Congressman Davy Crockett before others – including Jackson himself, who struck Lawrence several times with his cane – assisted in subduing the deluded assassin.
Lawrence was brought to trial on April 11, 1835. The prosecuting attorney was Francis Scott Key. After only five minutes of deliberation, the jury found Lawrence not guilty by reason of insanity. The first would be Presidential assassin like the last, John Hinckley, Jr., was committed to Government Hospital for the Insane (later renamed St. Elizabeths Hospital) where he remained until his death in 1861.
Considering the bitter acrimony between Congress and the last few
Presidents, I can’t help wondering how this story would have played out in our time.