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The etching of the assassination attempt.

Richard Lawrence (1800? – June 13, 1861) is the first known person to attempt to assassinate an American President. Lawrence was born in England in 1800 or 1801. By the time he reached adulthood he was considered mentally ill.

Lawrence worked as a painter and there is speculation that exposure to the chemicals in his paints may have contributed to his derangements. 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. He was previously conservatively dressed, but now he dressed flamboyantly, and grew a moustache. 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.

Lawrence also blamed Jackson for killing his father in 1832, despite the fact that Lawrence's father had died nine years earlier and had never been to the United States.

Lawrence decided he should kill Jackson. He purchased two pistols and began observing Jackson's movements. For several weeks before the assassination attempt, he was seen on most days in the same paint shop, repeatedly talking and laughing to himself. On January 30, 1835, Jackson was attending the funeral of South Carolina congressman Warren R. Davis. Lawrence originally planned to shoot Jackson as he entered the service but was unable to get close enough to the President. However when Jackson left the funeral, Lawrence had found a space near a pillar where Jackson would pass. As Jackson walked, Lawrence stepped out and fired his first pistol at Jackson's back; it misfired. Lawrence quickly made another attempt with his second pistol but that also misfired. It was later determined that the weapons he had chosen were noted for being vulnerable to moisture and the weather on that date was extremely humid.

Lawrence's unsuccessful attempts had drawn the attention of the crowd and he was quickly wrestled into submission by those present (including Congressman Davy Crockett). It is reported that Jackson assisted in subduing his attempted assassin, striking him several times with his cane.

Lawrence was brought to trial on April 11, 1835. The prosecuting attorney was Francis Scott Key. After only five minutes of deliberation, the jury found Lawrence not guilty by reason of insanity. In the years following his conviction, Lawrence was held by several institutions and hospitals. In 1855, he was committed to the newly-opened Government Hospital for the Insane (later renamed St. Elizabeths Hospital) in Washington, D.C. where he remained until his death in 1861.

As with later assassinations, there would be speculation that Lawrence was part of a conspiracy. While nobody denied Lawrence's involvement, many people, including Jackson, believed that he may have been supported or put up to carrying out the assassination attempt by the President's political enemies. Senator John C. Calhoun made a statement on the U.S. Senate floor that he was not connected to the attack. Jackson believed Calhoun, an old enemy of his, was at the bottom of the attempt. Jackson also suspected a former friend and supporter, Senator George Poindexter of Mississippi, who had used Lawrence to do some house painting a few months earlier. Poindexter was unable to convince his supporters in Mississippi that he was not involved in a plot against the President, and was defeated for reelection. All subsequent evidence indicates that Lawrence was a deranged man acting alone most likley due to paranoid schizophrenic delusions.[1]


  1. ^ James W. Clarke (1990). American Assassins

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