In light of the recent release of John Hinckley Jr., who shot but failed to kill President Ronald Reagan 35 years ago, NPR examined a number of notable would-be presidential assassins. Topping the list is Richard Lawrence, who, on January 30, 1835, became the first known person to attempt to assassinate a sitting U.S. president. Andrew Jackson, the target, wasn’t too happy with Lawrence and showed him just that.
Lawrence, an unemployed house painter, believed he was King Richard III and that the American government owed him money. He was convinced that if Jackson was no longer in office that vice-president Martin Van Buren would establish a national bank, which would then repay him the money he was owed. As Jackson left the Capitol Building, Lawrence pulled a gun on the president but it misfired — twice. The elderly Jackson beat the would-be assassin with his cane before the crowd subdued Lawrence. He was found insane and sent to a mental hospital for the rest of his life. He died in 1861.
Among the other deadly failures was Giuseppe Zangara, who fell short of his target on February 15, 1933.
Zangara, an Italian immigrant who fiercely hated politicians, attempted to assassinate Franklin Roosevelt at a rally in a Miami park, according to the Florida Department of Corrections. But at only five-feet tall, he was unable to see over the people in front of him. Standing on a wobbly folding chair, he aimed at Roosevelt but instead shot Chicago’s mayor at the time, Anton Cermak. The Chicago Tribune reported that during the ride to the hospital, with Roosevelt at his side, Cermak uttered his famous line: “I am glad it was me instead of you.