“A Caesar who ought to have a Brutus.” - Richard Lawrence and the first attempt on the life of a U.S. president

30 January 1835 in Washington D.C., Richard Lawrence became the first known person to attempt to assassinate the President of the United States.
“A Caesar who ought to have a Brutus.” (former Vice President John C. Calhoun about Andrew Jackson in speech made on February 28th, 1835)

Contemporary newspaper illustration of Lawrence's attempt on President Jackson

Bloody Sunday in Derry, Gandhi murdered, Machtergreifung of the Nazis in Germany, more than 9,000 refugees drowning with the torpedoed Wilhelm Gustloff in the icy waters of the Baltic Sea... January 30th has a certain something, bad cess-wise, including the curiosity of the first, luckily, failed attempt to murder an U.S. president. Andrew Jackson was 68 old in 1835, President of the young United States since 1829, a war hero, Old Hickory, who fought, killed and was wounded in several duels. His would-be assassin Lawrence worked as a painter and there is speculation that exposure to the chemicals in his paints may have contributed to his derangement. By the early 1830s he was unemployed and had succumbed to the delusion that he was King Richard III of England. His personality changed dramatically around this point. Conservatively clothed previously, Lawrence now grew a moustache and dressed quite flamboyantly. He gave up his job, saying that he had no need to work as the American government owed him a large sum of money but that President Andrew Jackson was keeping him from receiving it. He also said that when he received the money, he could take up his rightful place as King of England.

A contemporary broadsheet advertising Lawrence’s trial

And while “Old Hickory” left the rotunda of the old Capitol building, his majesty tried to ambush the President, firing his first pistol and the thing misfired, he drew his second one, aimed, shot and the thing misfired as well. “Old Hickory” charged and was about to beat the wretch to death with his cane but was finally held back by his attendants and bystanders, including congressman Davy Crockett, and held down Lawrence as well. He went to his trial three months later, was declared insane after five minutes and hospitalised for the rest of his life. He died in St Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington D.C. in June 1861, more than 25 years after his attempt upon Old Hickory's life. The next unsuccessful attempt on a president’s life was made just a couple of weeks before, this time Abraham Lincoln was the target, in February 1861 in Baltimore.

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