The United States' First Ever Presidential Assassination Attempt (Andrew Jackson, 1835)

By Jacob Shelton


The etching of the assassination attempt. (Unknown author/Wikimedia Commons)

In 1835, Andrew Jackson almost became the first American president to be killed in office. At the time, there was no Secret Service and no one really keeping tabs on threats to the president, which makes Jackson's survival all the more miraculous. If it weren't for two misfiring guns and Jackson's predilection for hand-to-hand combat, history could have turned out very differently.

Richard Lawrence

Jackson's would-be assassin, Richard Lawrence, wasn't a Whig pawn or even all that political. After moving to the States from England when he was 12 years old, he worked as a house painter for most of his life and never caused any trouble until he succumbed to a mysterious mental illness. Historians believe toxic chemicals in the paint Lawrence used radically altered his personality in his thirties, when the once mild-mannered and conservatively presented young man began dressing flamboyantly, picking fights, and ordering people to refer to him as Richard III.

Not long before he attempted to assassinate President Jackson, Lawrence quit his job and announced that he was moving back to England but then declared evasively that it wasn't safe to travel. Over the next few weeks, he grew increasingly paranoid and unstable, following Jackson's movements while muttering aloud that Jackson was keeping him from acquiring a large sum of money. On the day that he decided to do something about it, witnesses saw him in his paint shop, holding a book and laughing, when he suddenly stood and declared "I'll be damned if I don't do it."