Miller Center

Riding The Tiger

“I discovered that being a President is like riding a tiger. A man has to keep on riding or be swallowed.” Harry S. Truman

Friday Feature: Andrew Jackson Riding the Tiger

An etching of the Jackson assassination attempt.

Pictured: an etching of the Jackson assassination attempt.

This week, January 30, is the 178th anniversary of the first recorded attempted presidential assassination.

On January 30, 1835, Andrew Jackson was attending a congressional funeral held in the House chamber of the Capitol. As he exited, Richard Lawrence, an unemployed house painter, approached Jackson and shot at him. Incredibly, his gun misfired. Lawrence pulled out a second pistol and, again, a misfire. By this time Jackson was actively fighting back, reportedly clubbing Lawrence with his walking cane. Bystanders joined in, one of whom was Rep. Davy Crockett of Tennessee, and Lawrence was wrestled to the ground and disarmed.

It's generally accepted that Richard Lawrence was a deeply mentally unstable person, believing that Andrew Jackson was withholding funds that would allow Lawrence to take his rightful place as King Richard III of England (who died in 1485). At his trial, the jury deliberated for five minutes before finding him not guilty by reason of insanity. He spent the rest of his life in mental hospitals, and died in the Government Hospital (later renamed St. Elizabeths Hospital) in 1861.

In the 1930s, the Smithsonian Institution reportedly test fired Lawrence's derringer pistols… both of them fired normally on the first try.

Stay tuned! Every Friday we'll highlight an interesting item from presidential history.