Political Assassinations and Attempts in US History: The Lasting Effects of Gun Violence Against American Political Leaders

Political Assassinations and Attempts in US History: The Lasting Effects of Gun Violence Against American Political Leaders

by J. Michael Martinez
Political Assassinations and Attempts in US History: The Lasting Effects of Gun Violence Against American Political Leaders

Political Assassinations and Attempts in US History: The Lasting Effects of Gun Violence Against American Political Leaders

by J. Michael Martinez


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The long, dark history of political violence in the United States

Violence has been employed to achieve political objectives throughout history. Taking the life of a perceived enemy is as old as mankind. Antiquity is filled with examples of political murders, such as when Julius Caesar was felled by assassins in 44 BCE.

While assassinations and assassination attempts are not unique to the American way of life, denizens of other nations sometimes look upon the US as populated by reckless cowboys owing to a “Wild West” attitude about violence, especially episodes involving guns.

In this book, J. Michael Martinez focuses on assassinations and attempts in the American republic. Nine American presidents—Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield, William McKinley, Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Ronald Reagan—have been the targets of assassins. President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt was also a target shortly before he was sworn into office in 1933. Moreover, three presidential candidates—Theodore Roosevelt, Robert F. Kennedy, and George Wallace—were shot by assailants. In addition to presidents and candidates for the presidency, eight governors, seven U.S. senators, nine U.S. House members, eleven mayors, seventeen state legislators, and eleven judges have been victims of political violence.

Not all political assassinations involve elected officials. Some of those targeted, such as Joseph Smith, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr., were public figures who influenced political issues. But their cases are instructive because of their connection to, and influence on, the political process.

No other nation with a population of over 50 million people has witnessed as many political assassinations or attempts. These violent episodes trigger a series of important questions. First, why has the United States—a country constructed on a bedrock of the rule of law and firmly committed to due process—been so susceptible to political violence? Martinez addresses these questions as he examines twenty-five instances of violence against elected officials and public figures in American history.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781631440700
Publisher: Carrel Books
Publication date: 11/14/2017
Pages: 456
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

J. Michael Martinez is an attorney and author of numerous articles and five books, including The Safety of the Kingdom: Government Responses to Subversive Threats. He lives in Monroe, Georgia.

Table of Contents

List of Photographs xi

Preface and Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction xvi

Part I Type 1 Actors 1

Chapter 1 "Sic Semper Tyrannis": Abraham Lincoln (1865) 3

Chapter 2 "I Killed the President for the Good of the Laboring People, the Good People. I Am Not Sorry For My Crime": William McKinley (1901) 23

Chapter 3 "I Saw Murder-No, Not Murder, a Thousand Times Worse Than Murder-I Saw Anarchy Wave Its First Bloody Triumph in Idaho": Frank Steunenberg (1905) 38

Chapter 4 "It All Happened So Rapidly. I Didn't Really Know What the Hell Was Going On": Harry S. Truman (1950) 52

Chapter 5 "RFK Must Die": Robert F. Kennedy (1968) 61

Part II Type 2 Actors 73

Chapter 6 "It's Just That We Will Never Be Young Again": John F. Kennedy (1963) 75

Chapter 7 "Whoever Dies in Project Pandoras Box Will Be Directly Attributable to the Watetgate Scandal": Richard M. Nixon (1974) 93

Chapter 8 "The Security Was So Stupid. It Was Like an Invitation": Gerald R. Ford (1975) 101

Chapter 9 "At Least Give Me the Chance, with This Historical Deed, to Gain Your Respect and Love": Ronald Reagan (1981) 116

Part III Type 3 Actors 129

Chapter 10 "I Have the Gun in My Hand. I Kill Kings and Presidents First and Next All Capitalists": Anton Cermak (1933) 131

Chapter 11 "Looking Back on My Life, I Would Have Liked It If Society Had Protected Me from Myself": George C. Wallace (1972) 142

Chapter 12 "I've Never Killed a Person Who Was Undeserving of It": John H. Wood, Jr. (1979) 153

Part IV Type 4 Actors 161

Chapter 13 "Let Me Go, Gentlemen-I Am Not Afraid-They Can't Kill Me-I Can Protect Myself": Andrew Jackson (1835) 163

Chapter 14 "I Shot the President as I Would a Rebel, If I Saw Him Pulling Down the American Flag. I Leave My Justification to God and the American People": James A. Garfield (1881) 173

Chapter 15 "Lock Me Up; I Am the Man Who Shot the Mayor": Carter Harrison, Sr. (1893) 190

Chapter 16 "I Don't Know Whether You Fully Understand That I Have Just Been Shot; But It Takes More Than That to Kill a Bull Moose": Theodore Roosevelt (1912) 199

Chapter 17 "He's Been Controlling My Mind for Years. Now I've Put an End to It": Allard K. Lowenstein (1980) 211

Chapter 18 "I Believe That for All Our Imperfections, We Are Full of Decency and Goodness, and That the Forces That Divide Us Are Not as Strong as Those That Unite Us": Gabrielle Giffords (2011) 225

Part V Unknown Or Mixed Motives 239

Chapter 19 "Oh Lord, My God, Is There No Help for a Widow's Son?": Joseph Smith, Jr. (1844) 241

Chapter 20 "I Ask No Quarter and I Fear No Foe": William Goebel (1900) 252

Chapter 21 "Every Man a King, but No One Wears a Crown": Huey P. Long (1935) 263

Chapter 22 "I Live like a Man Who's Already Dead": Malcolm X (1965) 277

Chapter 23 "I May Not Get There With You. But I Want You to Know Tonight, That We as a People, Will Get to the Promised Land": Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1968) 295

Chapter 24 "If You See Me as Your Savior, I'll Be Your Savior. If You See Me as Your God, I'll Be Your God": Leo Ryan (1978) 317

Chapter 25 "We've Said All Along There Were Three Victims in This. Today Dan White Became the Third Victim": George Moscone and Harvey Milk (1978) 334

Part VI Conclusion 349

Afterword 351

Notes 355

References 399

Index 415

About the Author 434


“In J. Michael Martinez’s new book Political Assassinations and Attempts in US History , he does a brilliant job of putting US presidential assassinations and attempts under a microscope for an insightful and sobering view of US history.” —Greg Stebben, author of White House Confidential

“This fascinating book provides a deeper understanding into the warning signs, which unfortunately, may be all too plentiful in today’s political climate.” —Mike Farris, author of A Death in the Islands: The Unwritten Law and the Last Trial of Clarence Darrow

“Original and evocative, this book examines within the historical context the nature of assassinations perpetrated against twenty-five American political figures. Grappling with this perplexing issue, Martinez probes the jagged edge of human psychology. He offers a provocative explanation of the underlying motives behind political assassinations, assigning them to five categories.” —Orville Vernon Burton, author The Age of Lincoln

“In Political Assassinations and Attempts in US History , Martinez thoughtfully examines political assassinations in America to understand not just the historically important question of what happened, but, perhaps more importantly, the intriguing one of why individuals resorted to violence against prominent political figures.” —William D. Richardson, author of Democracy, Bureaucracy, and Character: Founding Thought

“In Political Assassinations and Attempts in US History , J. Michael Martinez provides an incisive description and analysis of a problem that has plagued nations and communities. Based on twenty-five instances of violence against elected officials and public figures in the United States, the book contributes new insight to long-standing issue.” —Jeffrey L. Brudney, PhD, Betty and Dan Cameron Family Distinguished Professor of Innovation in the Nonprofit Sector, University of North Carolina Wilmington

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