Ruling an entire nation is no easy feat. Especially when that nation is relatively recent, from a historical standpoint, and is composed of individuals coming from quite a few other nations, as was the case of the USA at its beginning.
And when the form of government is a democracy, in which everyone is allowed an opinion, without an iron hand to suppress ideas and create an ideological consensus, it’s even harder. Because with every action you take, you’re bound to have at least a few individuals strongly disagree.
But it becomes literally a matter of life and death when such individuals take it into their heads that the official and sanctioned ways of doing things in a democracy, by representation, are not effective and they must take matters into their own hands. This pursuit of an illegal means of solving what they perceive to be the ills of an unaware or “in the wrong” society will of course lead to something that in the end causes instability and leaves the door open for unforeseen consequences, very rarely (if ever) in accord to what they thought would happen…
Such was the case when certain individuals in the history of the US at one time or another thought that the country would be better off without its President and tried or succeeded to assassinate him.
So, how many us presidents have been assassinated? Thankfully, the list of assassinated presidents of US is not long. However, the 4 presidents assassinated so far should serve as a stark reminder that this is, unfortunately, not an impossible scenario.
And as regards the list of all presidents who suffered an assassination attempt, it numbers far more. 16 in total, to be exact, defining an attempt as the intent and some form of material, measurable action taken to further that intent, not necessarily managing to harm the President.
As the number of attempted assassinations is too great to even present here, let alone detail, this article will focus on the 4 assassinated presidents.
And before we go on, it’s worth mentioning that all US presidents assassinated had two things in common: they were all killed by being shot and they are all purported (by some) to be victims of The Curse of Tippecanoe, also known of Tecumseh’s Curse which, supposedly, Ronald Reagan broke by surviving his assassination attempt and not dying in office, despite being elected in a year that ends with zero.
1. Abraham Lincoln
He was the first president to be assassinated.
As to when was President Lincoln assassinated, the date carries an infuriating and tragic symbolism. Because the attack took place on the 14th of April, a Good Friday, as he was watching a play at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC.
The assassin, John Wilkes Booth, was an actor who was also a Confederate sympathizer and believed that by killing Abraham Lincoln, the South could somehow turn back their defeat in the Civil war and have another chance.
He carried out the assassination by shooting Lincoln in the head, from behind, at close range. The President entered into a coma and died 9 hours later on April 15, 1865.
2. James Garfield
On the 2nd of July 1881, President Garfield was barely four months in office when a frustrated Charles J. Guiteau shot him twice as he was walking through the Potomac Railroad Station in Washington, DC. This led to 11 weeks of agony and struggle to stay alive for James Garfield, who ultimately succumbed to the infection spreading through his body and died on September 19, 1881.
Guiteau’s motivation revolved around a speech he had originally wrote for Ulysses S. Grant and then gave to Garfield (changing just the name in the title), as the latter was nominated for president. Guiteau believed that Garfield’s victory and investiture was due to the speech he wrote and hence, he deserved a position as ambassador to France, in Paris.
After he was repeatedly rejected (the last time by the Secretary of State James G. Blaine, in person), Guiteau took the decision to kill the President and followed through on it.
3. William McKinley
If the previous two assassins had an objective in mind, Leon Czolgosz, McKinley’s killer never gave forth an explanation and no subsequent analyses managed to find a specific motivation for his actions, apart from the fact that he was a self-declared anarchist, so maybe he just wanted to cause chaos and destabilize the government.
In any case, by shooting the President twice in the abdomen (of which only the second time succeeded, because the bullet ricocheted the first time from a button), he condemned William McKinley to eight days of pain, from the 6th of September 1901 to the 14th of September of the same year, when the man died due to complications from the injury.
And we can say that in this instance the third time was an unlucky charm. Because it was after this third episode in the series of assassinated presidents, the Secret Service was given mandate by the Congress to protect the President as part of its functions and responsibilities.
4. John Fitzgerald Kennedy
Sadly, despite the Secret Service’s efforts, McKinley would not be the last of the assassinated presidents the US would mourn.
Because on November 22, 1963 President John Fitzgerald Kennedy (J.F.K.), a progressive reformer beloved by many, was shot once in the neck and once in the head, from a distance, by a sniper, as he was greeting crowds in Dallas, Texas, as part of a motorcade. He died instantly.
His is by far the most controversial assassination, with a conspiracy and subsequent cover-up being suggested by many, including officials. For example, even the U.S. House Select Committee on Assassinations (formed especially to investigate J.F.K.’s death and that of Martin Luther King Jr.) stated that Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy.
There are several things that can be used to support the conspiracy theory in this case. Like the fact that Lee Harvey Oswald, the man charged with killing J.F.K., consistently denied it and claimed he was a scapegoat. What makes it suspicious is that he was shot before he could be tried by a man called Jack Ruby (born Jacob Leon Rubenstein), a night club operator from Dallas.
Making things even more complicated, Jack Ruby also got ill quite suddenly and died before the new trial that he had appealed for to counter the death-sentence against him could take place.
Then there’s also the precision with which the President was shot, from a distance, which some claim was beyond Oswald’s skill. And the quick succession of the two hits, along with their precision, would point according to others to the existence of two shooters instead of just one.
Though it appears the Kennedy assassination will never be clear and fully understood, the fact remains that of all the assassinated presidents so far, he was the youngest (only 46) and just as emblematic as Lincoln by the message he was sending to all Americans.