Assassination!: The Brick Chronicle of Attempts on the Lives of Twelve US Presidents

Assassination!: The Brick Chronicle of Attempts on the Lives of Twelve US Presidents by Brendan Powell Smith

Book: Assassination!: The Brick Chronicle of Attempts on the Lives of Twelve US Presidents by Brendan Powell Smith Read Free Book Online
Authors: Brendan Powell Smith
Chapter 1
January 30, 1835
    A cold, damp January morning in 1835: Andrew Jackson exits the Capitol building where he has just attended a funeral service for a congressman.

    Leaning on his cane and on Treasury Secretary Levi Woodbury for support, the sixty-seven-year-old president approaches the Capitol steps, unaware of the lurking danger just behind the next pillar.

    Suddenly, a flamboyantly dressed man emerges in front of the president with a pistol aimed directly at Jackson’s chest. Standing only six feet away from his target, he pulls the trigger and a loud bang is heard.

    Jackson is momentarily stunned, but unhurt.

    Realizing it was a misfire, the man quickly discards the pistol and produces a second pistol from his coat. He takes aim at the president again and pulls the trigger.

    Another loud bang, but the second pistol also misfires. By this time, Jackson has become outraged and charges at the assassin with his cane.

    Several others assist in subduing the attacker, including Congressman Davy Crockett.

    Richard Lawrence thus stepped into history as the first person to attempt to assassinate a US president.

    Born in England, Lawrence came to the United States with his family at age twelve, and settled in Washington, DC. He was described as a mildmannered, well-behaved boy.

    He worked as a house painter until his early thirties, when those who knew him say his personality underwent a radical transformation.

    Quitting his job, Lawrence grew a mustache and began purchasing extravagant outfits that he would silently model in his doorway for passersby, sometimes changing outfits three or four times a day.

    He would also rent pairs of horses and hire a prostitute to accompany him on regal processions through the streets of Washington.

    Believing himself to be King Richard III of England, he explained to his bewildered sister and her husband that there was no longer any need for him to work, as the US government owed him a vast sum of money.

    Lawrence saw President Jackson’s opposition to the establishment of a national bank as holding up this payment. In the weeks before his attack, Lawrence was overheard talking to himself in his paint shop, saying, “Damn him, he does not know his enemy; I will put a pistol . . . Erect a gallows . . . Damn General Jackson! Who’s General Jackson?”

    At his trial, Lawrence was prone to wild rants and refused to recognize the legitimacy of the proceedings, at one point saying solemnly to the courtroom, “It is for me, gentlemen, to pass upon you, and not you upon me.”

    In the end, the judge, jury, and even his prosecutor, famed composer of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” Francis Scott Key, were convinced that Lawrence could not be held criminally responsible for his crime.

    He was therefore acquitted but confined until the end of his life to the Government Hospital for the Insane in Washington, DC, now known as St. Elizabeth’s Hospital.

    Later testing of the pistols used by Lawrence in the attack found them to be in perfect working order, firing successfully and accurately. It has been said that the odds of both pistols misfiring is 125,000 to 1. It is likely the damp weather contributed to their failure.

    President Jackson was seemingly unperturbed by the attempt on his life and had become accustomed to receiving death threats by mail. One such letter read: “You dam’d old Scoundrel . . . I will cut your throat whilst you are sleeping. I wrote to you repeated Cautions, so look out or damn you I’ll have you burnt at the Stake.”

    It was signed by the acclaimed Shakespearean actor, Junius Brutus Booth, with the postscript: “You know me! Look out!” Though it was dismissed as a forgery at the time, 175 years later, scholars verified that the letter was indeed penned by the father of John Wilkes Booth.

Chapter 2
August 1864
    After three years of civil war and hundreds of thousands of casualties on both sides, the Union was

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