The day President Andrew Jackson was almost assassinated
It’s been close to two centuries since the first assassination attempt was aimed at the president of the United States. Andrew Jackson, the seventh U.S. president and a hero of the War of 1812, holds the unenviable record of being the first commander-in-chief to have his life violently threatened by a deranged man.
Below is quick presentation of the events surrounding the assassination attempt on President Andrew Jackson, which went down in history as the first threat to the life of sitting U.S. president.
President Jackson’s deteriorating health
In his late 60s, President Andrew Jackson entered the final few years of his second term looking extremely exhausted. All those years fighting as a general had started taking a huge toll on the man who was known for using highly charged rhetoric to push through with his policies. Unbeknownst to many people by then, the president was most likely feeling the effect of the lead poisoning from the bullet that was permanently lodged in his chest in a duel with Charles Dickinson over a horse-racing bet.
The odds were heavily stacked against a pale-looking Jackson to complete his second term in the White House.
Funeral of Warren Davis, the South Carolina Representative
On January 30, 1835, a thin-looking Jackson is said to have walked into the U.S. House chamber slightly leaning on the arm of Treasury chief Levi Woodbury. Jackson, along with many senior government officials and House members, were there to mourn the death of South Carolina Representative Warren Davis.
Standing among the crowd that had congregated on the east side of the Capitol was a well-dressed man by the name of Richard Lawrence. Lawrence’s demeanor on that day was a perfect mask to the turmoil that had been unfolding in the mind of the unemployed house painter for several years. An Englishman, Lawrence spent the bulk of his adult life deluded that he was a deposed English king of the late 15th century (i.e. Richard III). Lawrence’s mental issues were compounded by the fact that he was unemployed, and he attributed his misfortunes to the economic policies of Andrew Jackson. Lawrence also lived under the delusion that the U.S. federal government owed him a lot of money.
Believing that Andrew Jackson was the number one stumbling block to attaining those deluded goals of his, Lawrence stood in among the onlookers that waited patiently to catch a glimpse of the President. Concealed under his cloak were two pistols.
Richard Lawrence misfired two shots at President Jackson
With the funeral over, the would-be assailant Richard Lawrence managed to come about ten feet away from President Jackson. Lawrence then pulled out his pistol and aimed straight at the President. Luckily for the President, the powder in the gun failed to spark and therefore the shot was a misfire.
Jackson’s years as a soldier was perhaps the reason why he was the quickest to react. He swiftly took a few steps and aimed his walking stick at Lawrence who had by then pulled out his second pistol hoping to shoot Jackson at point blank range. Similar to the first shot, the second pistol misfired as the bullet failed to leave the gun chamber because the powder did not ignite.
President Jackson charged at Lawrence with all his might and began hitting the assailant with his cane. It was said that had it not been for the intervention of Congressman Davy Crockett, President Jackson would most likely have beaten Lawrence to pulp.
Standing nearby was a Navy lieutenant, who quickly rushed to help Davy Crockett disarm the attacker.
Aftermath, conspiracies and accusations
With quite a lot of rumors swelling following the assassination attempt on President Jackson, the White House sought answers. Upon close examination of the two pistols that misfired on that day, it was revealed that the weapons were in perfect conditions. All the times that the investigators tested and retested the pistols, they never misfired. Therefore, the question that begged to be answered was how and why did those pistols misfire.
It was later revealed that the misty weather conditions caused the powder in the pistols to get soggy. As a result, the powder in both weapons failed to ignite on that day. Many experts put the odds of such an event occurring in both pistols at around 120,000-to-1. At such a staggering odd, it explains why many supporters of Jackson stated that the President was saved by Providence. They believed that Jackson’s life was spared by the Almighty God as a way to prevent the young nation from descending into chaos.
However, some hardline opponents of President Jackson were bitterly disappointed that Lawrence’s pistols misfired. Jackson had incurred the wrath of a number of people who felt shortchanged by the President’s vehement refusal to keep the Second Bank of the United States alive. Ever since coming into office in 1828, President Jackson and his allies waged bitter war against the national bank, blaming it for the economic woes of the nation.
There were also some rumors that circled around that the President or his allies masterminded the assassination attempt in order to boost Old Hickory’s credibility among the public. Proponents of this theory believed that Jackson hoped to use the incident to make the public believe that Providence was on his side.
On the contrary, some of Jackson’s supporters accused the president’s political enemies of orchestrating the attack. Jackson himself shared similar views, accusing a top Whig politician, Senator George Poindexter, of masterminding the attack. Those accusations were never proven.
President Jackson stated that he had in his possession sworn affidavits from two people who claimed to have seen Richard Lawrence in the vicinity of Senator George Poindexter’s house. Such was the damaging effect of those accusations that Poindexter lost his re-election bid.
In addition to Senator Poindexter, former U.S. vice president (under Andrew Jackson) John C. Calhoun, an ally-turned-enemy of Jackson, was accused of being in cahoots with Richard Lawrence. Again, the authorities found no evidence to support Jackson’s claim.
Just how insane was President Jackson’s assailant?
Police investigations following the attack on President Jackson revealed the extent of Richard Lawrence’s insanity. According to reports from investigators that spoke to Lawrence’s family, the assailant started losing his mind completely a few years before the attack. He had become aloof, and often times, he would burst into an unending episode of violent behavior towards his family members. On several occasions, Lawrence issued murder threats against his family and friends. The police once intervened after he had hurled a dangerous object at one of his sisters.
Also, the loss of his job dealt him a huge blow, which in turn resulted in his mind becoming even more unhinged. Lawrence was under the delusion that the death of President Jackson would turn around the fortunes of the American economy. He would spew out nonsensical things, including once claiming that “money would be more plenty” were Jackson to die. He believed that he “could not rise until the President fell”.
Interrogation and trial of Richard Lawrence
Richard Lawrence, the deranged man who attacked President Andrew Jackson in 1835, was tried at the District of Columbia city Hall in April that year.
During his interrogation, Lawrence claimed that the president was responsible for the death of his father. At his trial in April 1835, the doctors and psychologists that his defense team brought to the court to testify all confirmed his insanity. It was very much obvious as the defendant on numerous occasions interrupted the court proceedings, blurting out his unfounded and absurd claims of him being a deposed English king.
The court found Richard Lawrence not guilty by reason of insanity. The England-born former house painter was then committed to a psychiatric hospital in Washington, D.C.
Richard Lawrence spent the remainder of his life in numerous other mental facilities until he died in June 13, 1861 at the Government Hospital for the Insane in Washington, D.C.
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