TIME White House

The List of Presidential Assassination Attempts Is Shockingly Longer than Anyone Thought

Rutherford B. Hayes
National Archives / Getty Images Rutherford B. Hayes, 19th President of the United States

A new study shows that half a dozen presidents faced the threat of death in cases that were hushed up

History News Network

This post is in partnership with the History News Network, the website that puts the news into historical perspective. The article below was originally published at HNN.

In 2014 my book, Hunting the President, was published. It included previously unknown assassination attempts against American presidents from the time of FDR to President Obama. (HNN ran articles based on my research here and here.) My latest book, Hunting the President II, examines attempts to assassinate U.S. presidents from George Washington to Herbert Hoover.

My research has revealed numerous never-before-told incidents when the president’s life was put in danger, including stories of attempted stabbings, shootings and bombings. Many of the assassination plots and assassination attempts I write about have been well-chronicled. Others, however, have remained largely hidden from the public; some buried in newspaper archives and others in government reports, presidential memoirs, bodyguard memoirs, Secret Service agents’ memoirs, the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and presidential libraries.

Amongst the many stories of assassination attempts I reveal in my book, particularly shocking are the previously unknown attempts to assassinate presidents James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Chester Arthur, Rutherford Hayes, Benjamin Harrison and Theodore Roosevelt.

Although James Buchanan, like all presidents, was subject to threats it has been assumed he passed through his one-term presidency without any attempt to assassinate him. Yet there is compelling evidence to suggest otherwise. When a group of Civil War army veterans held a reunion in 1887 one of them revealed a plot to kill Buchanan. The veteran revealed how Kansas abolitionists, believing that if Buchanan could be assassinated Kansas would fall into their hands, hired an assassin to murder the president. Buchanan’s would-be assassin arrived in the capital determined to shoot him as he strolled through the grounds of the White House. However, the plot was foiled by an informant and the assassin was arrested.

Ulysses S. Grant said there had been a “deliberate attempt” on the life of President Andrew Johnson during a visit to Indianapolis. Johnson and his party, including Grant, were staying at a hotel in the city during the visit. When they gathered in one of the rooms booked for the party a shot was fired from a second-story window on the opposite side of the street from the hotel. The bullet struck a Chinese lantern near where the president was standing and passed within three feet of Grant’s head. Local law enforcement agencies made no arrests.

A would-be assassin stalked President-Elect Rutherford B. Hayes and plotted to kill him during the inauguration ceremonies at the Capitol in March 1877. The plot was investigated by Washington Police Chief Major A.C. Richards. The assassin was eventually tracked to the city’s Imperial Hotel and was immediately arrested with the ‘unofficial assistance’ of two US Secret Service agents who happened to be in the hotel’s vicinity. During police questioning he admitted to his assassination plans. (Author’s Note: The Secret Service did not assume the duties of Presidential protection until the time of President Theodore Roosevelt but the agency did provide ‘unofficial presidential protection’ during the presidencies of Cleveland and McKinley.)

President Chester A. Arthur was the victim of two assassination attempts. The first attempt was made at the Butler Mansion in Washington DC and the second occurred at the White House. When Arthur was staying in the Butler mansion prior to moving into the White House after President Garfield’s assassination, a “shot was fired at a reporter for the Cincinnati Enquirer who was sitting talking to Senator John P. Jones” and, “…the villain took the reporter for Arthur.” The shot came through a window but missed the target. The incident was corroborated in a statement Senator Jones gave to the Philadelphia Times many years later. The second incident which endangered Arthur shortly after he became president occurred on October 31, 1881 when a would-be assassin entered the White House armed with a pistol and attempted to see the president. Following a struggle with the doorkeepers he was subdued and arrested.

Although rumors of assassination attempts were prevalent throughout Benjamin Harrison’s presidency there is compelling evidence that a serious attempt on the president’s life actually occurred in 1890 but was covered up by White House aides.

A United States Senator had received letters threatening to kill President Harrison. The letters were turned over to US Secret Service Chief John S. Bell who conducted an unofficial investigation as the Secret Service, although used as a detective agency by many government departments during this period, did not have official sanction to investigate threats to the president. The letter writer was tracked down by two of Bell’s detectives to Petersburg, Virginia, and trailed to the capital. On May 23, 1890, the would-be assassin stationed himself on Pennsylvania Avenue at around 9:30 in the morning. He was approximately twenty feet away from Harrison as the president passed by in his coach. As the assassin attempted to draw his revolver he was quickly subdued by the agents. During his interrogation the assassin confessed “boldly” that he had intended to kill the president. Bell confirmed the story to newspaper reporters and “verified it in every particular.” Although the White House denied the assassination attempt, additional credible evidence to corroborate the story is provided in my book.

John Schrank’s shooting of ex-President Theodore Roosevelt in 1912 is widely regarded as the only serious assassination attempt Roosevelt experienced. But there were at least two occasions when armed assassins breached Roosevelt’s security when he was president. In September 1903 Roosevelt came within a hair’s breadth of assassination when Henry Weilbrenner pointed a loaded gun at him. The incident has been reported in a number of journals and books. However, a similar incident occurred a month later after an armed man, Peter Elliott, breached the president’s security armed with a loaded pistol but was subdued by White House doormen and arrested. When Elliot’s pistol was examined it was discovered he had prepared the bullets with poison. The Secret Service concluded that the only purpose for coating the bullets in such a way was to kill the president.

Many assassination plots were hidden from the public because of presidential secrecy and a fear that publicity would inspire others. In 1901 a ‘clerical employee’ at the White House told the Boston Evening Transcript, “Few persons realize how vital a subject at the White House the possibility of presidential assassination always has been. Of course, nothing of this discussion gets out except in the cases where a shot is actually fired or some other overt act committed which startles the country. Of the larger number of seemingly suspicious cases that, whether alarming or not, are nipped in the bud, little is ever known.” White House guard William Crook noted in his memoirs that, “Episodes of [violent behavior] were a frequent occurrence in the White House. We dealt with them quietly and they rarely got into the newspapers.”

In Harrison’s case the president was unaware of the plot to kill him as, according to US Secret Service Chief John S. Bell, the president’s aides and political friends kept the incident from him and were sworn to secrecy. Supportive evidence of the cover-up resides in the discovery by this author that the president’s private secretary, Elijah Halford, had been economical with the truth when he told the press that the assassination story was false.

In October 1903 President Theodore Roosevelt’s private secretary, William Loeb, met with Secret Service Chief John E. Wilkie. They discussed how the agency could effectively carry out its protection duties. Loeb announced his intention to suppress every fact in connection with the arrest of would-be assassins. Loeb also said he would ‘make trouble’ for any police officer or Secret Service agent who failed to observe his orders in this respect. The policy decision was extended to the Washington police force.

Before his death Loeb admitted that “many frustrated attempts upon the life of the president [were] kept secret.”

Mel Ayton is the author of numerous books and articles. His book, Hunting the President, an examination of plots, threats and assassination attempts against American presidents, was published by Regnery in April 2014.

TIME Presidents

Presidents Clinton and Bush to Speak Together in Dallas

Former President Bill Clinton and former President George W. Bush speak during the launch of the Presidential Leadership Scholars Program at the Newseum in Washington on Sept. 8, 2014.
Saul Loeb—AFP/Getty Images Former president Bill Clinton and former president George W. Bush speak during the launch of the Presidential Leadership Scholars Program at the Newseum in Washington on Sept. 8, 2014.

Will address the Presidential Leadership Scholars program they helped launch on Thursday

In a rare moment of public kinship between former Commanders-in-Chief, Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush will appear together in Dallas Thursday to send off the inaugural class of their joint leadership program.

Since the Presidential Leadership Scholars program began in February, the first class of 60 scholars has traveled to four different presidential centers around the country to hear lectures and use case studies to learn core leadership skills. Both Clinton and Bush’s presidential centers participated in the initiative, as well as those of Presidents George H. W. Bush and Lyndon B. Johnson.

Unveiling the program in Washington, D.C. in September 2014, Clinton said he hoped it would inspire the scholars to “have vigorous debate, serious disagreements, knock-down, drag-out fights, and somehow come to ultimately a resolution that enables the country to keep moving forward.”

Daniel Anello, a graduating scholar and the CEO of a charter school initiative in Chicago, echoed this sentiment when he described his experience. “A recurring topic throughout the program has been a need and want for differing perspectives to come together where there is common ground to solve complex issues,” he said. “When we met with former leaders from various administrations, they pointed out how this had occurred at key moments in our nation’s history and paved the way for some key events that shaped who we are as a country, and frankly, made us better.”

According to Bush, the first class of scholars was comprised of “people from all walks of life and different political persuasions… [And] people who have shown the capacity to succeed.”

Casey Gerald, another graduate who founded a program that sends people getting MBAs out to work with small businesses and entrepreneurs, says this diversity is part of what made the program a success. He describes meeting Bush at his presidential center in Dallas: “Here I was, a poor kid from inner city Dallas who by some divine conspiracy made it to Yale and Harvard Business School, having a conversation with a former president who shares not only both of my alma maters but also now resides in my hometown. That night, it didn’t matter that I was black and he was white, that I was broke and he was wealthy, that he was a former president and I was a common citizen, that he was a conservative and I was a progressive…There’s no program on the planet aside from PLS that could make that happen.”

Clinton and Bush will speak in a moderated discussion at the graduation ceremony at the George W. Bush Presidential Center Thursday afternoon at 5 pm CDT.

TIME Tourism

Meet the U.S. President Responsible for the Most Tourism

Richard Nixon, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Lyndon B. Johnson and Jimmy Carter.
Stanley Chow Richard Nixon, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Lyndon B. Johnson and Jimmy Carter.

It's not Teddy Roosevelt

Teddy Roosevelt did a lot to help American tourism with his strenuous advocacy for national parks, but other presidents have him beat when it comes to actual tourists.

TIME looked at all the federal land each president established, according to the National Park Service — from national parks to battlefields to national historic sites — as well as each president’s library and monuments to him. (We did not count roadways.)

Totaling the annual visitor statistics for each location, the president who came out on top was Richard Nixon, with more than 31 million tourists visiting his sites in 2014.

Nixon may not have founded any of the gorgeous parks in America’s heartland that we tend to associate with this kind of tourism: Yosemite was Abraham Lincoln, the Grand Canyon was Teddy Roosevelt, and Yellowstone was Ulysses S. Grant, to name a few.

But Nixon has a trump card that launches him to the No. 1 spot: Golden Gate National Recreation Area, an 80,000-acre park in San Francisco with views of the bridge. It attracted more than 15 million visitors in 2014, dwarfing the Grand Canyon’s 4.7 million. (The park with the second-most visitors after Golden Gate is Great Smoky Mountains, established by Calvin Coolidge, which garnered more than 10 million visitors in 2014.)

Here are the leading presidents based on tourism numbers, and their top site:

1. Richard Nixon – 31,597,349/Golden Gate National Recreation Area

2. Franklin Delano Roosevelt – 27,110,229/Lake Mead National Recreation Area

3. Calvin Coolidge – 24,789,380/Great Smoky Mountains National Park

4. Lyndon B. Johnson – 19,997,226/Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area

5. Jimmy Carter – 17,118,803/Vietnam Veterans Memorial

This article was originally published in the July 13 issue of TIME.

TIME foreign affairs

Quiz: What’s the Right Role for America in the World?

US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives for a signing ceremony for a memorandum of understanding with Tunisian Minister of Political Affairs Mohsen Marzouk at Blair House, the presidential guest house, on May 20, 2015 in Washington, DC.
Mandel Ngan—AFP/Getty Images US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives for a signing ceremony for a memorandum of understanding with Tunisian Minister of Political Affairs Mohsen Marzouk at Blair House, the presidential guest house, on May 20, 2015 in Washington, DC.

Take an interactive quiz to discover what you think America's role in the world should be

In his new book Superpower: Three Choices for America’s Role in the World, TIME foreign affairs columnist Ian Bremmer diagnoses the drift in U.S. foreign policy—and offers a few alternatives for the next President. But where do you want to see the U.S. go? Take this quiz and find out:

 

TIME Software

See How Presidents Age in the White House, According to Microsoft

Perhaps no job can add gray hairs and wrinkles like serving as President of the United States. While Presidents do live longer than their fellow citizens (“Even in the 19th century, when the average man died at age 47, U.S. Presidents lived an average of 69 years,” according to Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy), their looks show the weight of the office famously quickly. But how fast? By using Microsoft’s new age-guessing tool how-old.net, released Thursday, we might be able to get an idea. While Barack Obama’s only been in office six years, judging by a photograph from 2009 and 2015, the wizards at Microsoft claim Obama’s looks have aged 13 years. George W. Bush, according to these two images, added nine years to his face during his eight years working in the Oval Office. Bush’s father, George H.W. Bush worked in the White House for four years–and his face grew four years older too. Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan both served for 8 years. Clinton’s features clocked 15 years while Reagan added a mere 2 years onto his looks during the same stretch.

 

 

TIME movies

How a Photo Reveals an Early Encounter Between Abraham Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth

See a clip from the HBO documentary 'Living With Lincoln'

It was 150 years ago this week, on April 14, 1865, mere days after the Confederate surrender at Appomattox, that President Abraham Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth. The act put an end to the life of one of history’s most revered men.

As shown in the exclusive clip above, a photograph from the time provides evidence for a claim that circulated in the days following the crime: that Booth was actually within firing range of the president during Lincoln’s second inauguration, about a month before the assassination actually took place.

That proof of a near-miss is just one of the ways that photographs have illuminated Lincoln’s story. In the HBO documentary Living With Lincoln, from which this exclusive clip is taken, Peter Kunhardt explores his family’s history collecting Lincoln artifacts and photographs like this one—a hobby, obsession and calling that has come down through the generations for a century and a half. The Kunhardt family’s collection has contributed to the ways the world remembers Lincoln—their pictures include the portraits used to design the penny and the five-dollar bill—and also links the 16th President to, oddly enough, LIFE Magazine and the children’s book Pat the Bunny.

Living With Lincoln premieres on HBO on April 13.

TIME Food

Here’s How Many Jelly Bellys Ronald Reagan Ate Each Month

With news of the company's warehouse relocating, a look back at of one of the candy's biggest fans

Ronald Reagan eating jelly beans during a meeting
NBC/NBCU Photo Bank—Getty Images Ronald Reagan eating jelly beans during a meeting.

Residents of Pleasant Prairie, Wisc., were sounding a dirge Wednesday for the Jelly Belly Candy Co. warehouse, which company officials announced will be sold as operations relocate to Tennessee. By now the news of changes to the company have probably reached the candy’s number one fan somewhere in the great beyond.

Ronald Reagan loved jelly beans like pre-vegan Bill Clinton loved jalapeño cheeseburgers and FDR loved acronyms. And the 4oth president’s fondness for the bite-sized sugar capsules rubbed off on the American public. As TIME reported in 1981: “Now, with Ronald Reagan in the White House, they seem fated to achieve the luster that the praline of sugar and nuts enjoyed in the court of France’s Louis XIV.”

Reagan was not down with any old generic brand beans, however. As TIME explained:

The type most esteemed by the President is brand-named Jelly Belly, which—addicts vow—is to the ordinary jelly bean what foie gras is to liverwurst. About one-fourth the size of the Easter-basket staple and three times as expensive (up to $4 per lb.), Bellys come in an array of 36 flavors. Their manufacturer, Herman Goelitz Co. of Oakland, maintains that the flavors are so delicate that the beans should be eaten one at a time, not by the vulgar handful. How else to appreciate the richness of the coffee mocha, the tang of the piña colada, the bouquet of the strawberry daiquiri?

Goelitz began supplying Reagan when he was governor of California, during which time he and his visitors plowed through two dozen 1-lb bags monthly, amounting to approximately 10,200 beans. As president, Reagan placed a standing order of 720 bags per month (306,070 beans), to be distributed among the White House, Capitol Hill and other federal buildings.

It’s probably time for the Jelly Belly Candy Co. to start lobbying presidential hopefuls to get their product back in the Oval Office.

Read the full article, here in the TIME Vault: Living: Hill of Beans

TIME photography

Meet the Man who has Photographed Mount Rushmore for Eight Decades

The monument turns 90 years old on March 3. 'People change...but the mountain stays the same,' says Bill Groethe

Bill Groethe was only a baby when Congress first passed legislation authorizing the establishment of a monument to “America’s founders and builders” at Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota, on Mar. 3, 1925. When the work of carving began — an event celebrated by President Coolidge, who wore a cowboy outfit to the ceremony in 1927 — Groethe was too young to care very much.

But that didn’t last long. Groethe, who is now 91, grew up and still lives and works in Rapid City, S.D.. He has seen the monument evolve over the years, and not just with his eyes: Groethe has been photographing Mount Rushmore since 1936.

“The first time I went up to the mountain as an assistant was in 1936 when Franklin Roosevelt was here to dedicate the Jefferson figure,” Groethe tells TIME. “I carried the film bag for my boss. I was 13 years old and I have pictures of me standing by the [president’s] limousine.”

Groethe, who grew up next door to the man who owned what was then his town’s only camera shop, got his first camera at age 10 and ended up working for the photographer Bert Bell by trading his labor for photo supplies. Bell had been sent to photograph South Dakota by the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad in order to drum up interest in tourism and ended up settling in Rapid City.

Courtesy of Bill GroetheBill Groethe holds a camera during his time as a photographer for the Army Air Corps in WWII.

Groethe apprenticed for Bell beginning in 1935 and began to take his own photos with a folding Kodak in 1937. Groethe worked for Bell for another two decades (with the exception of three years during World War II when he was photographer for the Army Air Corps). In 1957, he opened up his own photography business. Groethe also ended up inheriting files from before his own time, of early Mount Rushmore construction; he has thousands of those negatives, from which he still makes prints.

All these years later, Roosevelt’s visit to Rapid City — the occasion for Groethe’s first trip up Mount Rushmore — ranks among his favorite memories of monument. He remembers that people came from several states nearby to attend. TIME noted the following week that the crowd nearly doubled the town’s population. “At a signal from Sculptor Borglum’s daughter, his son, across the valley, dropped the flag, revealing an heroic head of Jefferson, 60 feet from crown to chin,” the magazine reported. “Simultaneously five dynamite blasts sent rock clattering down from the space where Lincoln’s face is to be carved.”

Courtesy of Bill GroetheBill Groethe with his 8×10 camera in front of Mount Rushmore, c. 1990s.

What Groethe remembers of that day is a little different, though no less exciting. “When you’re 13 years old you’re thinking mostly of being lucky to have a job and get to go along and go up in the cable car,” Groethe says. “I continue to have that interest in the mountain, of course. It means a lot to me. I still get a good thrill out of seeing the mountain. It hasn’t changed much. People change and facilities change, but the mountain stays the same.”

Mount Rushmore has not been without its detractors. The mountain is considered defaced by some, for reasons relating to the environment or Native American traditions. But Goethe says that, in his experience, the arguments against the monument don’t take away from its grandeur.

“I can attest to the fact that when I sit at a table [at Mount Rushmore], as I have for the last almost 20 years every week for a day or two in the summer, I have people from Europe and all over Asia come and tell me that all their lives they’ve wanted to come and see Mount Rushmore,” he says. “It’s an international symbol of freedom.”

Read TIME’s original story about FDR’s trip to Rapid City, here in the TIME Vault: Roosevelt & Rain

TIME architecture

Why the Washington Monument Has ‘Shrunk’ By 10 Inches

US-WEATHER-STORM
Karen Bleier—AFP/Getty Images A jogger passes the Washington Monument on a cold blustery morning January 27, 2015 in Washington, DC.

Symbol of the nation's capital loses a little of its stature

The Washington Monument now stands 10 inches shorter than when it was completed in 1884, or at least that’s what a new government measurement announced Monday suggests.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) used new technology to calculate the monument’s height at 554 feet 7 and 11/32 inches. But in 1884, the towering obelisk was measured at 555 feet 5⅛ inches.

What’s behind the incredible shrinking monument? A difference in the way the measurement was conducted likely accounts for most of the difference, according to NOAA. Engineers today used international standards to measure from the “lowest, significant, open-air, pedestrian entrance” to the structure’s peak. It’s unclear what standard engineers used when the monument was first built.

“We have to be cautious in comparing this new height to the historic one, since we do not know precisely the actual starting point that U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Lt. Col. Thomas Casey used in 1884,” said Dru Smith, a NOAA scientist. “Today’s elevation reflects the international standards for measurement of a building’s height as well as considerable technological improvements.”

The change in height not due to the difference in measurement standards is likely three-eighths of an inch, according to a report in the Washington Post. That change is likely due to wear and tear to the monument’s cap.

MONEY Holidays

Money Lessons From the Presidents

Lincoln on penny and Washington on Quarter facing one another on black background
Getty Images

Not only are these men on the money, they were pretty good with it too.

Presidents’ Day is a great holiday for learning about American history, but it could be a good day for financial lessons as well. That’s because Washington and Lincoln—the two presidents most closely associated with the holiday—weren’t just great figures. They’re also members of a select group of foundational leaders who were notably savvy money managers.

While Jefferson and Hamilton died deeply in debt, Hamilton so much so that his funeral doubled as a burial fundraiser, Washington and Lincoln are veritable financial role models. Here’s how America’s first president out-invested his political peers, and how the Great Emancipator saved his way to wealth.

Diversify like George

If there was one investing trick Washington mastered, it was diversification.

During the 18th century, Virginia’s landed gentry got rich shipping fine tobacco to European buyers. So rich, in fact, that when the bottom fell out of the market in the 1760s, few plantation owners thought to change their strategy. Thomas Jefferson, a fellow Virginian, famously refused to move away from his longtime investment and went deeper and deeper into debt as tobacco prices plummeted.

George W. wasn’t so foolish. He knew which way the wind was blowing, and decided an overdependence on a single failing asset wasn’t the best business strategy. “Washington was the first to figure out that you had to diversify,” explains Willard Sterne Randall, biographer of multiple founding fathers. “Only Washington figured out that you couldn’t rely on a single crop.”

After determining tobacco to be a poor investment, Washington switched to wheat. He shipped his finest grain overseas and sold the lower quality product to his Virginia neighbors (who, historians believe, used it to feed their slaves). As land lost its value, Washington stopped acquiring new property and started renting out what he owned. He also fished on the Chesapeake and charged local businessmen for the use of his docks.

The president was so focussed on revenues that at times he could even be heartless: When a group of Revolutionary War veterans became delinquent on rent, they found themselves evicted from the Washington estate by their former commander.

Save like Abe

It’s no surprise that someone with Abraham Lincoln’s upbringing would know the value of a dollar. Harold Holzer, an acclaimed Lincoln historian, describes the future president’s poverty as so severe that “until his stepmother arrived on the scene when he was six years old, he didn’t even have a wooden floor.”

From these humble origins, Lincoln emerged as a frugal man who lived on relatively modest means until his entrance into politics. According to Holzer, young Lincoln spent time as a shopkeeper, postmaster, and even considered applying his considerable strength to blacksmithing before finding success in law and politics.

As Lincoln’s fame increased, so did his income. Holzer puts his attorney’s fee at as much as $5,000 per case, and he earned $25,000 per year as president. But despite his newfound wealth, the president was never tempted to overspend. On the contrary, he appears to have become an obsessive saver . “When he died he had several uncashed salary warrants in his desk drawer, and he saved $90,000 in four years, so he didn’t spend a lot,” Holzer says, “and that included sending a child to Harvard and Harvard Law School.”

Unlike many politicians, Lincoln’s frugality extended even to public money. He became furious upon learning that his wife, Mary Todd, had blown her budget on upgrades to the White House, and as David Herbert Donald records in his biography of the president, all but exploded when asked to seek additional funds from Congress. No more money would be approved for “flub dubs for that damned house!” Lincoln roared. “It would would stink in the land,” he explained, to have spent $20,000 on furnishings “when the poor freezing soldiers could not have blankets.”

Read next: Financial Lessons of America’s Founding Fathers

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