Saturday, October 29, 2016

Comparing and Contrasting Presidential Assassinations (Part I)

Four Presidents were assassinated, and six others had assassination attempts on their lives (Andrew Jackson, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Gerald Ford, and Ronald Reagan. The two most widely known assassinations in American history were of John F. Kennedy (November 22, 1963 – Dallas Texas – 46 years old, by Lee Harvey Oswald) and Abraham Lincoln (April 15, 1865 – Washington DC – 56 years old – by John Wilkes Booth). The two lesser known assassinations were of James Garfield (September 19, 1881 – Washington DC – 49 years old – by Charles Guiteau) and William McKinley (September 14, 1901 – Buffalo New York – 58 years old – by Leon Czolgosz).

Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley were Republicans. Garfield was a Union General and McKinley was a Union Major both serving under Lincoln in the Civil War. Kennedy was a Democrat and served in WWII in the Navy as Lieutenant and commanded a Patrol Torpedo boat.

McKinley died 6 months into his second term, Lincoln died one month into his second term, Kennedy died two months short of 3 years in his first term and Garfield died only 6 months into his first term and over two of those months he was in excruciating pain fighting his gunshot injuries.

McKinley and Lincoln were the most successful of the presidents assassinated partly because of the time they served in office (historians would argue this point). Lincoln won the Civil War and restored the Union and emancipated all slaves (probably the most difficult task endured by any president). McKinley won the Spanish-American war creating the United States as a global power while he oversaw a booming economy. Kennedy handled the Cuban missile crisis and started the space program. Garfield was in office only long enough to get a Cabinet in place and defeat Roscoe Conkling in a battle between Republican factions: Stalwarts (Conkling) and Half-breeds (Garfield).

Lincoln and Kennedy were shot in the head and succumbed to their wounds within hours. McKinley was shot in the stomach and lived for 8 days before dying of an infection. Garfield was shot in the back and lived for 79 days before dying in Elberon NJ. Two weeks prior to dying, Garfield was moved from the White House to the beach front in NJ as his last wish. Both McKinley and Garfield endured massive amounts of pain fighting their wounds. Garfield’s autopsy revealed his wound was not life threatening but the infection(s) introduced by un-sanitized fingers and probes inserted in his body to find the bullet (which was not found until the autopsy) ultimately led to his death (malpractice). Garfield lost half his body weight by the time he died and his body was riddled with nasty pus infections.

Lincoln (16th President), Garfield (20th President), and McKinley (25th President) were shot at point blank range with revolvers. Finally, after the McKinley assassination (3 assassinations in just over 36 years) the Secret Service was given the task to protect presidents (their original objective was solely to investigate counterfeiting). Up to McKinley, presidents routinely walked unprotected in crowds of people and just about anyone was allowed to enter the White House grounds. Kennedy (35th President) was killed by a rifle used by a former marine with sniper and marksmanship skills.

Each assassination was thought to be a conspiracy with others involved in the crimes. However, it was determined through investigations that only the Lincoln assassination was a conspiracy and Oswald, Guiteau, and Czolgosz acted alone. Of course, we are all familiar with the conspiracy theories around the Oswald assassination of Kennedy. Some theorized that Guiteau was hired by vice president Chester Arthur and New York Senator Roscoe Conking to kill Garfield (obviously unfounded). Several anarchists associated with Czolgosz were arrested but later released because of a lack of evidence. After Booth was captured and killed his diary led authorities to arrest, convict, and execute eight others tied to the assassination (including the first female to be executed in American history – Mary Surratt). Two of the conspirators were to assassinate Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William Seward the same night as Booth killed Lincoln. Seward was injured, but those assassination attempts failed.

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