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Number of assassinations and attempts to assassinate U.S. presidents 1835-2005

Throughout U.S. history, there have been countless plots and attempts to assassinate U.S. presidents. The first known case was a failed attempt on Andrew Jackson's life in 1835, where both the assassin's guns misfired due to moisture in the air, and Jackson then beat the culprit into submission with his cane. More recent attempts include separate, high-profile cases in October 2018, where sixteen bombs were sent via mail to prominent Democrats (including presidents Obama and Clinton), Trump critics and news outlets; while another culprit sent letters laced with ricin to President Trump and senior U.S. military figures. In the two centuries since the first attempt, the majority of plots have been uncovered or prevented, however several have come close to achieving their aims, and four have resulted in the successful assassination of a sitting president.

Successful attempts

The first successful assassination attempt occurred in 1865, when Confederate sympathizers and spies plotted to kill the three highest-ranking figures in the Union, in an effort to re-ignite the American Civil War. Of the three targets only Lincoln was assassinated, after being shot in the head by John Wilkes Booth. Lincoln died within twelve hours of being shot; this was much sooner than the second presidential assassination, where James Garfield took almost four months to eventually die from his wounds, after being shot in a train station in 1881. The third U.S. president to be assassinated was William McKinley, who was shot twice while meeting members of the public, just six months into his second term. The attempt was not immediately fatal, and McKinley was even able to stop bystanders from killing his attacker; however one of the bullets was never found and McKinley passed away one week after the attack. The most recent U.S. president to have been assassinated was John F. Kennedy, who was shot by former marine and defector to the Soviet Union, Lee Harvey Oswald. Oswald shot Kennedy from the sixth floor of a nearby warehouse during a public motorcade in Dallas, Texas in 1963, and Kennedy died almost immediately. Although official investigations, forensic tests and eyewitness accounts corroborate the official story that Oswald acted alone, a high number of conspiracy theories surround the event, and a large share of the US population believes that the assassination is part of a larger plot or cover-up, orchestrated by either the CIA, mafia or foreign entities (among other theories).

Close calls

While on the 1912 campaign trail, former president Theodore Roosevelt was shot in the chest before giving a speech; Roosevelt knew that the injury was not fatal, and then proceeded to deliver an 84 minute speech before seeking medical attention. In 1981, a gunman shot six bullets at Ronald Reagan as he was meeting a crowd outside a Washington hotel, injuring the president and three others in the attack. One bullet had ricocheted off the side of a car, punctured the president's lung and caused severe internal bleeding. The president almost died en route to the hospital, but doctors were able to stabilize him and remove the bullet; Reagan returned to the White House less than two weeks later. Another close call was where a gunman fired shots at President-Elect Franklin D. Roosevelt's car in 1933, missing the President but killing the Mayor of Chicago, Anton Cermak, in the attack.

Coincidentally, the only female culprits in these attempts both tried to assassinate President Gerald Ford, in two unrelated attacks in California in September, 1975. The first (who was a member of the Manson Family) was stopped before she could get a shot off at the president, while the second was restrained after shooting twice and injuring one bystander; Ford was unharmed in both attacks. Another near miss was an unsuccessful attempt on Abraham Lincoln's life, nine months before his successful assassination; the bullet went through his distinctive, stovepipe hat as he was riding to his summer cottage one evening. The only attempt included here that did not involve a firearm and did not take place in the United States was when a grenade was thrown on stage in Tbilisi, Georgia, as George W. Bush was making a speech there in 2005. Although the pin had been removed, the handkerchief used to conceal the grenade was wrapped too tightly around it for the lever for it to detach; nobody was injured in this attempt, however the culprit did kill one agent as he was being arrested two months later.

Number of assassinations and assassination attempts on U.S. presidents from 1835 to 2005, by outcome

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Source

Release date

2020

Region

United States

Survey time period

1835 to 2005

Supplementary notes

This data does not reflect every plot or attempt to assassinate a U.S. president, but only the cases where the act was carried out or attempted, and the president was in the immediate vicinity of the perpetrator.

The list of attempts are as follows:
President assassinated: Lincoln (1865), Garfield (1881), McKinley (1901), Kennedy (1963)
President shot, but survived: T. Roosevelt (1912), Reagan (1881)
President unharmed, but others killed/injured: F. D. Roosevelt (1933), Truman (1950), Ford (second attempt) (1975)
Nobody harmed (except culprit): Jackson (1835), Lincoln (1864), Ford (first attempt)(1975), G. W. Bush (2005)

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