Monday, January 30, 2012

Jackson Thrashes His Would-Be Assassin

Today is President Franklin Roosevelt's birthday. The New Deal and WWII president would have been 130. One hundred years ago today, the young patrician Roosevelt was holding his first elective office, that of state senator from Duchess County, NY.

Today is also the anniversary of an attempt on the life of President Andrew Jackson in 1835, at the U.S. Capitol. It was the first known attempt on the life of a president in office, though not of course the first attempt on Andrew Jackson's life -- the man had been in a few duels and other scrapes, after all. By 1835, he was 67 and still carried a bullet near his heart put there by Charles Dickinson, whom Jackson then killed in the duel.

People experienced their mental illness unmedicated in the 19th century, and so it was with Richard Lawrence, a house painter by profession who was variously reported to believe that Jackson was personally responsible for his unemployment, and that he (Lawrence) was British royalty. Lawrence approached the president and pointed a pistol at him from about six feet away. It misfired. So did a second pistol.

This was also the pre-Secret Service age, so President Jackson (characteristically) was one of those who helped subdue Lawrence, supposedly giving him a sound thrashing with his cane. The president lived on until 1845, finally dying of old age; Lawrence spent the rest of his life in lunatic asylums, dying in 1861.

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