How Many U.S. Presidents Have Been Assassinated?

fact-finder | Student

Four American presidents have been assassinated (killed by a sudden and secret attack) while in office: Abraham Lincoln in 1865; James Garfield in 1881; William McKinley in 1901; and John F. Kennedy in 1963. Additionally, assassination attempts were made on the lives of presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933), Harry S Truman (1950), Gerald R. Ford (two attempts, both in 1975), and Ronald Reagan (1981).

Lincoln (1809–1865) was shot on the evening of April 14, 1865, as he sat in the presidential box at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C., watching a performance of the play Our American Cousin. The assassin was actor John Wilkes Booth (1838–1865). After shooting Lincoln, Booth jumped onto the stage, falling and breaking a leg. Wilkes limped away, calling out, "Sic semper tyrannis" (a Latin phrase meaning "Thus always to tyrants"). Lincoln lived through the night, attended by his family. He died shortly after 7:00 A.M. on April 15. He was succeeded in office by Vice President Andrew Johnson (1808–1875). On April 26, a search party found Booth in a Virginia barn, where he was fatally shot by his apprehenders.

Garfield (1831–1881) was en route to a class reunion at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, on July 2, 1881, when his assailant fired two shots at him in a Washington, D.C., train station. The shooter was Charles J. Guiteau (1841–1882), who was said to have shot Garfield because he had expected the president to give him a diplomatic appointment. Guiteau was arrested at the scene. One of the bullets had only grazed the president; the other was fixed in his back and doctors were unable to locate it. Today Garfield might have survived, but medical technology of the late 1800s could not save him. He lived eighty days, dying at a cottage in New Jersey on September 19. He was succeeded in office by Vice President Chester Arthur (1830–1886). Although Guiteau's trial lawyer claimed his client was insane, Guiteau was convicted and hung in 1882.

On September 6, 1901, McKinley (1843–1901) was attending a reception in Buffalo, New York, where he had delivered a speech the previous day. As he approached a man to shake his hand, the man fired two shots at McKinley. One bullet delivered only a minor flesh wound, but the other lodged in his stomach. Surgeons operated, but gangrene (decay of living tissue) and infection set in, claiming the president's life on September 14. He was succeeded in office by Vice President Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919). The shooter was identified as an avowed anarchist (one who opposes formal government) Leon F. Czolgosz (1873–1901); he was tried, convicted, and put to death in 1901.

Kennedy (1917–1963), accompanied by his wife, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy (1929–1994), traveled in a motorcade through the streets of Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963. He was en route to the Dallas Trade Mart where he was scheduled to make a lunchtime speech. At 12:30 P.M., shots rang out; the president, who was riding in the back seat of a convertible, was hit in the neck and head. He was rushed to a nearby hospital where he died at 1:00 P.M. He had not regained consciousness. The nation's loss was immediately felt, as television and radio stations broadcast the message that Kennedy had been shot and killed. He was succeeded by Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson (1908–1973), who took the oath of office aboard an airplane just after 2:30 P.M. Later that day Lee Harvey Oswald (1939–1963) was arrested as the suspected assassin of Kennedy. On November 24, while in police custody, Oswald was murdered by night club owner Jack Ruby. In 1964 the Warren Commission, a government committee that investigated the Assassination, determined that Oswald acted alone in killing Kennedy. Many critics still question the commissions's conclusions, however, contending that Oswald was part of a larger conspiracy. Nevertheless, historians have found no proof to support their theories.

Further Information: DeGregorio, William A., and Connie Jo Dickerson. The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents: From George Washington to Bill Clinton. Random House Value Publishing, 1997; Lists of U.S. Presidents. [Online] Available, October 26, 2000; Presidential Charts. [Online] Available, October 26, 2000.

Chantelm | Student

4 Presidents have been assassinated that includes:

Abraham Lincoln assassinated by John Wilkes Booth

James Garfield assassinated by Charles J. Guiteau

William McKinley assassinated by Leon Czolgosz

John F. Kennedy assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald

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