The first known attempt on a sitting US president's life is a baffling legend of misfiring pistols, historical figures, and an assassin who thought he was king
Over the course of history, four US presidents have been assassinated, while 13 escaped attempts on their lives.This bloody history dates back to a misty winter day 182 years ago.
That's when an English out-of-work house painter named Richard Lawrence approached, brandishing a pistol.The would-be assassin raised the gun at the president and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened.
"Let me alone! Let me alone!" Jackson yelled at Lawrence, according to Smithsonian magazine. "I know where this came from."Lawrence discarded the weapon, produced a second pistol, and aimed the new gun at the 67-year-old Jackson. It also misfired.According to legend, Jackson subsequently flew at the man and thrashed him with his cane. Bystanders, including frontiersman and member of Congress Davy Crockett, also helped subdue the failed assassin.
Lawrence had a history of mental instability and violence, and he believed he was the 15th-century English king Richard III. Later on, he claimed he wanted to kill Jackson because of the president's attacks on the national bank
Smithsonian magazine reported that national anthem lyricist Francis Scott Key prosecuted his trial, where Lawrence was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Lawrence spent the rest of his life institutionalized.The attack made the president paranoid. He accused at least one political opponent of being behind the attack, but law enforcement concluded that Lawrence had acted alone.
For some Americans, the incident also served to bolster Jackson's almost mythical status.
The fact that neither pistol fired is, in many ways, remarkable. As Time reported, the chance that both perfectly functional pistols would misfire was about one in 125,000.Jackson's survival may have depended on the dampness in the air that day.
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