Many presidents have been the victims of assassination attempts, both successful and unsuccessful. The would-be assassins have ranged from disappointed job seekers to the truly mentally ill. Perhaps the most interesting aspiring president-killer was the man who perpetrated the first attempt on a president’s life. The man’s name was Richard Lawrence, and the president he tried to kill was Andrew Jackson.
On January 30, 1835, President Jackson was leaving the Capitol building, where he had attended the funeral of a South Carolina congressman. Jackson had made many political enemies at this point, but no one was expecting him to be attacked by an unemployed painter named Richard Lawrence.
Lawrence pulled a pistol from his pocket and fired at the president. By some stroke of luck, the bullet failed to discharge. Jackson did not run for cover, though. Instead, he charged at Lawrence and beat him with his cane. Lawrence managed to fire his gun one more time while he was being attacked, but the gun misfired again. The multiple misfires were nothing short of miraculous since the gun was tested later and was found to be functioning properly.
As if all this wasn’t strange enough, Richard Lawrence’s mental state was soon to make the whole business really crazy.
Several years before the assassination attempt, Lawrence had begun acting strangely. He started to become paranoid and thought the government was preventing him from returning to England, where he was born. The government, of course, had no interest in the comings and goings of an unimportant house painter.
He also quit his job around the same time. He told his family that he no longer needed to work because he was King Richard III of England. (Side note: King Richard III was killed at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.) He started saying that he owned estates in England and that he was owed money from the government of the United States since they were his colonies. He blamed President Jackson for the government’s failure to pay him because Jackson opposed the establishment of a national bank.
Lawrence then established the fatal belief that he would get his money if President Jackson were eliminated. His vice president, Martin Van Buren supported the establishment of the bank. He also began claiming that Jackson was responsible for the death of his father, though no one is sure on what basis he made this claim.
Unsurprisingly, Lawrence was found not guilty by reason of insanity and spent the rest of his life in the Government Hospital for the Insane.
Andrew Jackson finished out his term, never allowing a national bank to be established during his presidency.