There have been several attempts made on the U.S. presidents. Four of these have even been successful in achieving their targets, assassinating Abraham Lincoln (16th President), James A. Garfield (20th President), William McKinley (25th President) and John F. Kennedy (35th President). Attempts have also been made on the lives of Andrew Jackson (7th President), Theodore Roosevelt (26th President) and Herbert Hoover (31st President). Previous attempts at the lives of Lincoln and Kennedy had once failed, but later were successful. Most of the attempted assassins have been found to be mentally unstable rather than having a political motif. In case an assassination succeeds, the Vice President becomes the President, which has happened in America.
1. Franklin Delano Roosevelt (32nd President: Mar 4, 1934 – Apr 12, 1945)
He is the only president to have served four terms in the White House, which makes him the longest serving president in the American history. He is also the last U.S. President to have died of natural causes while holding the office. The assassination attempt on him occurred on February 15, 1933 in Miami, Florida when he was the President-elect and his inauguration was after three weeks. He was giving a random speech from the back of an open car, but remained unhurt. Instead four other people got wounded and Anton Cermak, the Mayor of Chicago was killed due to his injuries two days after Roosevelt’s inauguration. The assassin was Giuseppe Zangara who fired five shots at Roosevelt, but ended up injuring others and killing one. Due to that, he was found guilty of first-degree murder and was executed by electric chair on March 20, 1933. He was just a bricklayer by occupation and was said to have suffered from mental delusions because of his ill physical health. There was no conspiracy plot found against the President-elect. However, the story is not that simple and it is alleged that Zangara was hired by Frank Nitti, who was an Italian American gangster and was the head of the Chicago Mob. His intention was to get killed the Chicago Mayor Cermak and this is exactly what happened. Nitti wanted Cermak to die because the latter had connections with the underworld rivals of the Chicago Mob and wanted to clean off Nitti.
2. Harry S. Truman (33rd President: Apr 12, 1945 – Jan 20, 1953)
He is considered to be amongst the greatest presidents in the American history, often ranking in the top ten. The assassination attempt on his life was made on November 1, 1950 while he was staying into the Blair House, which is the official state guest house for the U.S. President. He shifted there due to renovations the White House was undergoing. The assassins were two Puerto Ricans who were pro-independence activists, Oscar Collazo and Griselio Torresola. The Secret Service however was able to take action quickly and thus, Truman was completely unhurt. After a violent gun battle, Torresola was killed by the White House Policeman Leslie Coffelt, who himself died that day by gunshot wounds. Collazo survived the injuries and was sentenced to death by the court, but Truman commuted his sentence to life in prison. Later in 1979, President Jimmy Carter commuted Collazo’s sentence to time served and hence he got released. He returned to Puerto Rico and died in 1994 as a celebrated hero of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party. He was asked while in prison as to why he had attacked the President who was in favour of Puerto Rico’s self-determination and had even elected the first Puerto Rican governor. He simply replied that the President was attacked being the symbol of the system he was representing and not as an individual himself.
3. Richard Milhous Nixon (37th President: Jan 20, 1969 – Aug 9, 1974)
He had also been the 36th Vice President (Jan 20, 1953 – Jan 20, 1961) under the Eisenhower administration. He is considered to be amongst the worst Presidents in the American history and is often ranked in the bottom ten. He is also the only U.S. President to have been impeached for his misconduct. The assassination attempt on his life was made on February 22, 1974, when the Watergate scandal had already broken out on June 17, 1972. The attempted assassin was Samuel Joseph Byck, who suffered from severe depression and could not do anything useful with his life due to poverty. He had already threatened Nixon once in 1972 and many other public figures as well, but the Secret Service thought of him as harmless and took no action. He had documented his plans of assassination completely in audio recordings because he wanted to be considered as a hero if he succeeds. His assassination plan included hijacking an airliner and crashing it into the White House when Nixon would be in the office. In the process of doing so, he killed the Maryland Aviation Administration Police Officer and the pilot of the Delta Air Lines due to take-off from Washington International Airport. The other pilot he shot survived the gun wound. Byck asked a nearby passenger to fly the plane. The County Police immediately acted and managed to wound him through the aircraft door. However, he did not want to face the consequences of what he had done and hence shot himself in the head committing suicide. The flight never took off because of the mishap and Nixon’s schedule for the day remained unchanged. At the time, media did not report on the incident as much in order to avoid copycat crimes.
4. Gerald Rudolph “Jerry” Ford, Jr. (38th President: Aug 9, 1974 – Jan 20, 1977)
He had also served as the Vice President (Dec 6, 1973 – Aug 9, 1974) under Nixon administration and became president due to Nixon’s impeachment. Two assassinations attempts have been made on him around three weeks apart from one incident to the other. The first one was made on September 5, 1975 by Lynette Fromme, who was a follower of the notorious criminal Charles Milles Manson. Ford was visiting California State Capitol when Fromme came garbed as a nun to meet him while he was at the Capitol Park. She pointed the semi-automatic pistol with four rounds at him, but the firing chambers were empty. A Secret Service agent immediately intervened in time by restraining her through handcuffs. She was sentence to life in prison for her attempted assassination under the federal law. She said she did it to save the California redwoods and the environment. She was released on August 14, 2009 after 3 years of Ford’s death. The second assassination attempt was made by Sara Jane Moore on September 22, 1975 in San Francisco. She had already been checked by the Secret Service, but they thought of her as not dangerous. She was in the crowd standing around 40 feet away from Ford when she fired a shot that nearly missed him, but ricocheted off and mildly injured a bystander. She tried to fire the second time, but a man in the crowd grabbed her and pulled her to the ground. She was sentenced to life in prison, but was later paroled on December 31, 2007 almost a year after Ford’s death.
5. James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr. (39th President: Jan 20, 19877 – Jan 20, 1981)
He too is considered to be amongst the worst presidents in the U.S. history and is often ranked in the bottom ten. An assassination attempt was made on him on May 5, 1979, when Raymond Lee Harvey was about to make his planned move. Luckily for Carter the Secret Service arrested Harvey just ten minutes before he was to make a speech at the Civic Center Mall in Los Angeles. Harvey had suffered from mental illness for a long time. He said that he was part of an operation consisted of four men who plotted to assassinate the president. According to him, those other three men were Latinos who gave him the pistol and asked him to create a diversion by shooting into the ground. By this, they will get a chance of hitting off Carter from their hotel room in the Alan Hotel. He was arrested along with another man named Ortiz and they were charged with the crime, but due to lack of evidence these charges were dismissed. Since no significant case was built up against these culprits, this whole episode has now gone to obscurity.
6. Ronald Wilson Reagan (40th President: Jan 20, 1981 – Jan 20, 1989)
The assassination attempt on him was made by John Hinckley, Jr. on March 30, 1981 who wanted to impress the actress Jodie Foster. He suffered from the mental illness called erotomania, and while living in Hollywood during the 1970s saw Jodie’s debut movie 15 times and began to identify himself with the lead character of Travis Bickle, who attempts to assassinate a presidential candidate. Hinckley went beyond limits to follow Jodie around. When he got no response from her obviously, he turned more paranoid and decided to make headlines by assassinating the president as was shown in the film. Just a few days before on March 21, Reagan visited the Ford’s Theatre with his wife Nancy and said that with the Secret Service around it is still easy to shoot at a president. His fears came true when Reagan was getting inside his limousine after he had made a speech at the Hilton Washington Hotel. He was injured due to shooting along with three others, including the White House Press Secretary James Brady, Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy, and a D.C. police officer Thomas Delahanty. All of these injured men received immediate medical attention and survived the attack. Only Brady came out disabled due to his injuries. Reagan received an emergency surgery at nearby George Washington University Hospital. Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity and still is in a psychiatric institution.
7. George Herbert Walker Bush (41st President: Jan 20, 1989 – Jan 20, 1993)
He had also been the 43rd Vice President (Jan 20, 1981 – Jan 20, 1989) under Reagan administration. He was not the serving president at the time of the assassination attempt on him, but was a former one as his term had just ended in January 1993 and the attempt was made three months after. The assassination attempt occurred on April 13, 1993 when Bush was giving a speech at the Kuwait University. But the plot did not come to execution because the Kuwaiti officials found the bomb beforehand and arrested 16 men suspected to be assassins. These men were employed by Saddam Hussein. They smuggled a car bomb into Kuwait to carry out the assassination. The Iraqi Intelligence Service, especially Directorate 14, has been linked with hatching this plot. Further deals have not been revealed.
8. William Jefferson “Bill” Clinton (42nd President: Jan 20, 1993 – Jan 20, 2001)
Three assassination attempts were made on him over the period of his two terms in the Oval Office. The first one occurred on September 12, 1994 when Frank Eugene Corder flew a single-engine Cessna plane into the White House lawn. He tried to hit the White House and died himself during the act. Clinton and his family were not present in the White House at the time so nothing came out of his attempt. The second assassination attempt happened on October 29, 1994 when Francisco Martin Duran fired 29 shots with a semi-automatic rifle toward the White House from the fence near the north lawn. But Clinton was inside and not outside. Hence, he was in no danger from it. No one was injured from the firing and the crowd around him took hold of him. He was carrying a suicide note in his pocket and was given a sentence of 40 years in prison. The third attempt was made in 1996 during his visit to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Manila. The bomb was implanted on the bridge over which his car was to drive through. But the Secret Service detected the message about the attack and saved him before anything could take place. Clinton was to meet a local politician and his route was thus changed. The plot was revealed to have been conceived by Osama bin Laden who was living in Afghanistan at the time.
9. George Walker Bush (43rd President: Jan 20, 2001 – Jan 20, 2009)
He too is considered amongst the worst presidents of America and is frequently ranked amongst the bottom ten. Four assassination attempts were made on him. The first one was just two weeks after his inauguration on February 7, 2001 when Bush was in the White House. Robert Pickett fired a couple of shots at the White House with a sophisticated handgun, but due to his angle, the bullets did not hit the White House. He was immediately put down and injured by a Secret Service officer. He was hospitalized and was found to be emotionally unstable due to unemployment. He was sentence to three years in prison. The second was on the historic day of September 11, 2001, when Bush was getting ready for the routine of the day. A van pulled over with Middle Eastern men who claimed they had an interview with the President, but due to no appointment letter, they were declined. The authorities now claim that this was an assassination attempt possibly by Al-Qaeda. The authorities have not made anything further clear about the case and they have declined to comment. The third attempt was made on May 10, 2005 when Bush was giving a speech in the Freedom Square in Tbilisi, Georgia. The attempted assassin was Vladimir Arutyunian who threw a Soviet-made RGD-5 hand grenade towards the podium. On stage was also present the then First Lady of the U.S. and Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili. Although the grenade was live with its pin pulled, it did not explode because of the handkerchief that was wrapped around it. During his arrest in July 2005, Arutyunian killed an agent from the Interior Ministry. He was given a life sentence for his crime. The fourth assassination attempt was on November 19, 2008 when Asa Seely was claiming that he would shoot Bush. He was found with a rifle at West Baltimore train station and was charged with weapons offenses before he could go on to execute his plans.
10. Barack Hussein Obama II (44th President: Jan 20, 2009 – Current)
He is currently serving his term in the Oval office. An assassination attempt was made on him recently on November 11, 2011 by Oscar Ortega-Hernandez. He fired seven shots from a semi-automatic rifle at the White House and two of them even hit the building. The only harm done was the cracking of a window from these shots. Obama was in Honolulu, Hawaii for APEC meeting and was far away from any danger from this act. Hernandez was arrested in Pennsylvania and was charged with an attempted assassination of the president. He disappeared for a few weeks before committing this act and his family reported him as missing in October 2011. He is said to be suffering from schizophrenia according to the doctors. His father said that Hernandez was obsessed with the idea that the world would end on November 11 and thought that Obama was the Antichrist and wanted to kill him. He considered himself to be sent by God to save the world and claimed that he was the Jesus Christ everyone was waiting for. Now this is clearly a text-book case of schizophrenia.