Direct Assaults Against Presidents, Presidents-Elect, and Candidates

Direct Assaults Against Presidents,
Presidents-Elect, and Candidates
Frederick M. Kaiser
Specialist in American National Government
Government and Finance Division
Direct assaults against Presidents, Presidents-elect, and candidates have occurred
on 15 separate occasions, with five resulting in death. Ten incumbents (about 24% of
the 42 individuals to serve in the office), including four of the past six Presidents, have
been victims or targets. Four of the ten (and one candidate) died as a result of the
attacks. This report identifies these incidents and provides information about what
happened, when, where, and, if known, why. The report will be updated and revised if
developments require.
Concerns about the safety of Presidents have existed throughout the history of the
Republic, beginning with George Washington in 1794, when he led troops against the
Whiskey Rebellion in Pennsylvania.1 The intervening years have witnessed a variety of

1 For background information and citations, see U.S. Congress, House Select Committee on
Assassinations, Report: Findings and Recommendations, H.Rept. 95-1828, Part 2, 95th Cong., 2nd
sess. (Washington: GPO, 1979); U.S. Department of the Treasury, Background Information on
the White House Security Review (Washington: Department of the Treasury, 1995), pp. 51-101;
U.S. National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, Final Report (Washington:
GPO, 1969), pp. 122-124; James E. Kirkham, et al., Assassination and Political Violence: A
Report to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence (Washington:
GPO, 1969), p. 22; U.S. President’s Commission on the Assassination of President John F.
Kennedy, Report (Washington; GPO, 1964), pp. 504-515; James W. Clarke, American Assassins:
The Darker Side of Politics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982); Frederick M. Kaiser,
“Presidential Assassinations and Assaults: Characteristics and Impact on Protective Procedures,”
Presidential Studies Quarterly, vol. 11, Fall 1981, pp. 545-558, and “Origins of Secret Service
Protection of the President: Personal, Interagency, and Institutional Conflict,” Presidential
Studies Quarterly, vol. 18, Winter 1988, pp. 101-128; Philip H. Melanson, The Secret Service
(New York: Carroll and Graf, 2002); Facts on File Yearbook, 1994, p. 877, and 1995, p. 361;
“Police Shoot Man Near White House,” Washington Post, February 8, 2001, pp. A1, A10;
extensive press coverage of the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, along
with the possible targeting of the White House or Capitol, on September 11, 2001, including U.S.
News and World Report, Special Report, September 14, 2001, pp. 17-27, and Newsweek, Extra

incidents of actual and potential harm to Presidents (as well as immediate family members
and other high-ranking officials). These situations have included illegal entries onto the
White House grounds; incidents of violence and conflict near the President’s residence
or where he was visiting; unauthorized aircraft flying near the White House and, in one
instance, a plane crashing into the building; schemes to use airplanes to attack the White
House; other threats of attack, including bombings and armed assaults; feared kidnaping
and hostage-taking; assassination plots; as well as immediate, direct assaults against
Presidents.2 In addition to incumbents, Presidents-elect and candidates for the office have
been subject to assaults or threats.3
This report identifies assassinations of and other direct assaults against Presidents,
Presidents-elect, and candidates for the office of President.4 There have been 15 such
attacks (against 14 individuals), with five resulting in death. The first incident occurred
in 1835, when an attacker’s pistol misfired; the most recent occurred in 2005, when a

1 (...continued)
Edition [September 12, 2001], p. 32; and press coverage in 2005 and 2006 of an incident
involving President George W. Bush in Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia.
2 Illustrative of these are: apprehension about President Madison (and his wife) being taken
hostage, when British troops invaded Washington, DC, in 1814; rocks thrown at President Tyler
by an intoxicated painter; fears of kidnaping and assassination of Abraham Lincoln, beginning
with his journey to Washington, DC for the inauguration in 1861; shots fired at President Lincoln
by Confederate troops, when he was observing a battle between them and Union forces stationed
at Fort Stevens, July 11-12, 1864; allegations of a possible kidnaping of President Cleveland’s
children, along with unknown intruders at his summer vacation property, in 1894, while at the
same time he was threatened by Colorado gamblers who had traveled to Washington, and
separately, by sympathizers of Coxey’s Army, who wanted to “remove” Cleveland from office;
stalking of President Nixon, by the same person who later, in 1972, shot presidential candidate
George Wallace; a planned airplane attack on the White House, which literally never got off the
ground, because the pilot (and would-be assassin) was killed before the craft was airborne, in
1974; a car, driven by a man wired with explosives, crashing through the White House gates, also
in 1974; discovery of a truck containing explosives outside a building that was being used as the
“mobile White House,” when President Clinton was visiting Belfast, Northern Ireland’s capital;
a shooting incident outside the White House fence on February 7, 2001, in which the assailant,
who was wounded, was charged with assaulting a federal officer; and on September 11, 2001,
an aborted attempt to use a hijacked commercial airliner possibly to crash into the White House
or the Capitol, as three other airplanes had been used to attack the Pentagon and the World Trade
Center in New York; along with hundreds of threats yearly against the President, his family
members, and high-ranking officials.
3 Protection of these individuals, along with others, falls to the US Secret Service (18 U.S.C.
3056). It began the duty in 1894 with President Cleveland and his family; other specific
assignments have been added since then to include vice presidents, immediate family members,
former presidents, and persons serving as representatives of the president abroad.
4 Speculation had long existed that President Zachary Taylor, who was a foe of extending slavery,
was poisoned by pro-slavery conspirators in 1850, a suspicion arising in part because his
symptoms at the time of his death resembled those of arsenic poisoning. A 1991 laboratory
analysis of Taylor’s remains, however, found only minuscule levels of arsenic, which could not
have caused illness, let alone death. A forensic anthropologist concluded that President Taylor
died of natural causes, perhaps from contaminated food he had eaten or possibly from the
treatments — cathartics and laxatives — for gastroenteritis and acute diarrhea. William R.
Maples and Michael Browning, Dead Men Do Tell Tales (New York: Doubleday, 1994).

would-be assassin in Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia, tossed a grenade (which did not
explode) at the platform where President George W. Bush and the Georgian President
were speaking. The tally of victims reveals the following:
!Of the 42 individuals serving as President, ten (or about 24%) have been
subject to actual or attempted assassinations. Four of these ten
incumbents — Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield, William McKinley,
and John F. Kennedy — were killed.
!Four of the past six Presidents have been targets of assaults: Gerald R.
Ford (twice in 1975), Ronald W. Reagan (in a near-fatal shooting in
1981), William J. Clinton (when the White House was fired upon in
1994), and George W. Bush (when an attacker tossed a grenade, which
did not explode, towards him and the President of Georgia at a public
gathering in Tbilisi, in 2005).
!Two others who served as President were attacked, either as a President-
elect (Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933) or as a presidential candidate
(Theodore Roosevelt in 1912, when he was seeking the presidency after
being out of office for nearly four years).
!Two other presidential candidates — Robert F. Kennedy, who was killed
in 1968, and George C. Wallace, who was seriously wounded in 1972 —
were also victims, during the primaries.
!In only one of these 15 incidents (the Lincoln assassination) was a broad
conspiracy proven, although such contentions have arisen on other
occasions.5 Only one other incident involved more than one participant
(the 1950 assault on Blair House, the temporary residence of President
Harry S Truman); but no evidence of other conspirators emerged from
the subsequent investigation or prosecution.
!Of the 15 direct assaults, 11 relied upon pistols, two on automatic
weapons, one on a rifle, and one on a grenade. All but two of the attacks
(both against Gerald Ford) were committed by men.
!All but one of the 15 assaults occurred within the United States.
The following table identifies the direct assaults on Presidents, Presidents-elect, and
candidates for the office of President. It specifies the date when the assault occurred, the
victim, his political party affiliation, the length of his administration at the time of the
attack or whether he was then a candidate or President-elect, the location of the attack, its
method and result, and the name of the assailant, along with the professed or alleged
reason for the attack.

5 Regarding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the 1964 Warren Commission
inquiry concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. U.S. President’s Commission, Report,
p. 22. A 1979 congressional investigation determined, however, that the President “was probably
assassinated as a result of a conspiracy. The Committee is unable to identify the other gunman
or the extent of the conspiracy.” House Select Committee on Assassinations, Report, p. 1. In
addition, a conspiracy was initially suspected in President McKinley’s murder, in 1901, because
his assailant was a self-described “anarchist,” a designation applied to assassins of European
leaders in the same time period. Extensive investigations by the U.S. Secret Service, as well as
Buffalo and New York State law enforcement agencies and prosecutors, however, found no
evidence that McKinley’s assailant was aided by anyone else.

Direct Assaults on Presidents, Presidents-Elect,
and Presidential Candidates
Length of
Administration atMethod of Attack andAssailant and Professed or
DateVictimPolitical PartyTime of Attack, orLocationResultAlleged Reason
Candidate or
30/1835Andrew JacksonDemocrat5 years, 11 monthsWashington, DCPistol, misfiredRichard Lawrence, declared
insane; said Jackson was
preventing him from obtaining
large sums of money and was
ruining the country
iki/CRS-RS20821Abraham LincolnRepublican4 years, 1 monthWashington, DCPistol, killedJohn Wilkes Booth, killed
g/wbefore being captured; loyalty to
s.orthe Confederacy; revenge for its
leakdefeat; pro-slavery stand
://wikiJames A. GarfieldRepublican6 monthsWashington, DCPistol, killedCharles Guiteau, convicted;
httpdisgruntled office-seeker andsupporter of opposition faction
in Republican Party
William McKinleyRepublican4 years, 6 monthsBuffalo, NYPistol, killedLeon F. Czolgosz, convicted;
anarchist ideology and class
a nt a go ni sm
14/1912Theodore RooseveltProgressiveCandidate (had beenMilwaukee, WIPistol, woundedJohn Schrank, declared insane;
(Bull Moose)President from 1901-had vision that McKinley
1909)wanted him to avenge his death

Length of
Administration atMethod of Attack andAssailant and Professed or
DateVictimPolitical PartyTime of Attack, orLocationResultAlleged Reason
Candidate or
15/1933Franklin D. RooseveltDemocratPresident-elect, Miami, FLPistol, bullets missed theGiuseppe Zangara, convicted of
3 weeks prior toPresident-elect (butmurdering Cermak; hated rulers
inaugurationfatally woundedand capitalists
Chicago mayor Anton
Cermak standing
01/1950Harry S TrumanDemocrat5 years, monthsWashington, DCAutomatic weapons,Oscar Collazo, convicted of the
shots fired at Blairmurder of the police officer and
iki/CRS-RS20821House, then thetemporary residence ofattempted murder of thePresident and the two wounded
g/wthe President, who waspolicemen, and Griselio
s.orinside and unharmedTorresola, killed at the scene;
leak(but a White Houseboth espoused Puerto Rican
police officer was killedindependence
://wikiand two others
http wo und e d )
John F. KennedyDemocrat2 years, 10 monthsDallas, TXRifle, killedLee Harvey Oswald, killed
before trial; motive unknown
05/1968Robert F. KennedyDemocratCandidate and Los Angeles, CAPistol, killedSirhan Sirhan, convicted;
U.S. Senatoropposed candidates stand on
Israeli-Arab conflict
15/1972George C. WallaceDemocratCandidate andLaurel, MDPistol, woundedArthur Bremer, convicted and
Governor of Alabama candidate along withimprisoned in Maryland
three others(maximum sentence to 2025);
motive not clearly established;
released from prison on Nov. 9,
2007, to remain under
supervision until 2025

Length of
Administration atMethod of Attack andAssailant and Professed or
DateVictimPolitical PartyTime of Attack, orLocationResultAlleged Reason
Candidate or
05/1975Gerald R. FordRepublican1 year, 1 monthSacramento, CAPistol, misfiredLynette Alice Fromme,
convicted and imprisoned;
member of extremist “Manson
fa mily
22/1975Gerald R. FordRepublican1 year, 1½ monthsSan Francisco, CAPistol, missed targetSara Jane Moore, convict,
asserted goal of bringing about
the upheaval of needed
change, revolutionary
iki/CRS-RS20821ideology; imprisoned; releasedon Dec. 31, 2007
s.or30/1981Ronald W. ReaganRepublican monthsWashington, DCPistol, woundedJohn W. Hinkley, Jr., found not
leakguilty by reason of insanity;
committed to a mental
://wiki institutio n
httpWilliam J. ClintonDemocrat1 year, 9 monthsWashington, DCSemi-automatic assaultFrancisco M. Duran, convicted
rifle, shot at Whiteof attempted assassination on
House while PresidentApril 4, 1995; imprisoned
was inside
George W. BushRepublican4 years, 4 monthsTbilisi, Republic ofGrenade, which did notAttacker convicted of attempted
Georgiaexplode, thrown atassassination and of killing a
President Bush andpolice officer when the attacker
Republic of Georgiawas arrested later; motive
President at a publicunknown
ga ther ing
: Kirkham, et al., Assassination and Political Violence, p. 22; Kaiser, “Presidential Assassinations and Assaults,” p. 547; Facts on File Yearbook, 1994, p. 877, and 1995, p.
and 2005-2006 press coverage of the incident in Tblisi.