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Tag: assassination

The Plot to Kill President Truman

Today’s post comes from Eric Rhodes, an intern in the National Archives History Office in Washington, DC.

Harry S. Truman, 1945. (National Archives Identifier 7865606)

Harry S. Truman, 1945. (National Archives Identifier 7865606)

Assassins’ bullets have claimed the lives of four United States Presidents, and several other Presidents survived attempts on their lives.

It is not widely known, but Harry Truman was the target of such a conspiracy.

Thirteen years before the Kennedy assassination, on November 1, 1950, two Puerto Rican nationalists attempted to take the President’s life. And President Truman’s Missouri-bred “Show Me” instinct might have gotten him killed. The buck certainly would have stopped there.

The day before the attempt, Oscar Collazo and Griselio Torresola boarded a train to Washington from the Bronx in New York. They carried with them two pistols and the goal of bringing national attention to the cause of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party (PRNP).

Founded in 1922, the PRNP had lobbied for Puerto Rican independence from the United States with both the pen and the sword. By 1950, the party’s charismatic president, the Harvard-educated Pedro Albizu Campos, had come to favor the latter. Campos orchestrated a series of armed uprisings against U.S. military attachés on October 30, 1950, in six Puerto Rican towns.

The nationalist assault culminated with the attempted assassination of Harry Truman by Collazo and Torresola, both activists in the New York chapter of … [ Read all ]

Paging Dr. Bell to the President’s deathbed

President Garfield is shot by Charles Guiteau. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

Today in 1881, President Garfield died as the result of being shot at close range by an assassin. It took him nearly three months to die.

On July 2, after months of increasing agitation and several aborted attempts to shoot the President with a pearl-handled pistol, Charles Guiteau finally mortally wounded the President as he waited for a train in a mostly deserted waiting room. Guiteau was taken into custody as he left the station.

The bullet hit Garfield in his right side just above his waist, four inches from his spine. Although he could still move, he complained of pain in his legs and feet. After having his wound prodded by three doctors in less than an hour, Garfield was taken back to the White House in an ambulance. A group of policeman accompanied the carriage and lifted the wheels when they came to potholes in the room.

But Garfield’s ordeal was only just beginning. He was seen by Dr. D. W. Bliss, who also retained two surgeons who had been at Lincoln’s death, Surgeon General J. K. Barnes and Dr. Woodward, neither of whom had spent any recent time as physicians. Woodward even admitted at an early meeting that he knew nothing about gunshot wounds.

The most pressing problem was the … [ Read all ]

A Shaky, but Official, Signature

The legislation that President Reagan signed the day after he was shot. (Reagan Library)

The legislation that President Reagan signed the day after he was shot. (Reagan Library)

It had not yet been 24 hours since President Ronald Reagan was wounded in an assassination attempt—wounds far more serious than the public was told at the time.

But on the morning of March 31, 1981, the three men he relied on most in these early days of his administration came to see him in his room at George Washington University Hospital, about six blocks from the White House.

Chief of Staff James A. Baker, Deputy Chief Michael Deaver, and Counselor Edwin Meese brought with them some urgent business—a piece of legislation that had to be signed. And it had to be signed that day.

It had passed both houses of Congress and, like all bills sent from Congress to the President, bore the signatures of the Speaker of the House, then Democrat Thomas P. O’Neill, Jr., and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, then Republican Strom Thurmond.

The legislation would block an increase in dairy price supports that, without Reagan’s signature on this legislation, would go into effect the next day, April 1, 1981, boosting price supports and costing the government hundreds of millions of dollars. Reagan’s budget makers argued that the mounting costs of the dairy program could run into the billions of dollars.

The President needed to … [ Read all ]

Reverse the (Zero) Curse

President Reagan looking at "Get Well Soon Mr. President" photo while at George Washington Hospital. 4/8/81. (Reagan Library)

President Reagan looking at "Get Well Soon Mr. President" photo while at George Washington Hospital. 4/8/81. (Reagan Library)

When Ronald Reagan survived the attempt on his life on March 30, 1981, and went on to serve two full four-year terms, he broke what some people call “the year-ending-in-zero” curse.

It goes like this: Every President elected in a year ending in zero since 1840 had died in office.

William Henry Harrison, elected in 1840, died after one month in office of pneumonia; he also was our shortest serving President. On his inauguration day, then on March 4, he gave a two-hour speech without hat or topcoat, then rode through the streets of Washington. He was succeeded by John Tyler. (Remember Tippecanoe and Tyler too!)

Abraham Lincoln, elected in 1860, was assassinated a month into his second term, on April 12, 1865, by John Wilkes Booth. He was succeeded by Andrew Johnson.

President Harrison was the first President to be stricken by the Zero-Year Curse (111-SC-92615; ARC 530961).

President Harrison was the first President to be stricken by the Zero-Year Curse (111-SC-92615; ARC 530961).

James A. Garfield, elected in 1880, was assassinated in 1881 after only 199 days in office, succeeded by Chester A. Arthur. William McKinley, elected in 1896 and reelected in 1900, was mortally wounded in September 1901 and died eight days later, succeeded by Theodore Roosevelt.

Warren G. Harding, elected in 1920, died in 1923 of a heart attack … [ Read all ]