Richard Lawrence died 150 years ago today, on June 13, 1861. He was the first man to try to murder an American president. He was also a lunatic.
In The First Assassin, Gen. Winfield Scott describes what happened in 1835:
“Colonel,” interrupted Scott, “the other thing you must realize is that no American president has ever been assassinated. I know of only one attempt that’s ever been made. You are perhaps a bit too young to remember it yourself. It was about twenty-five years ago, during the second term of Andrew Jackson.” Scott spit out the name with distaste, as Jackson was an old nemesis. He described how Jackson was walking through the rotunda of the Capitol, when a madman—a house painter called Richard Lawrence—leaped out from behind a pillar and pointed his pistol at the president. He pulled the trigger, but the gun failed to fire. So Lawrence reached for a second one, aimed it at Jackson, and pulled its trigger. Again, the gun did not go off. By this point onlookers were able to grapple with Lawrence and disarm him. Investigators later determined that his powder and bullets had fallen out of his guns when they were still in his pockets.