January 30th, 1835 – President Jackson’s Assassin

Today-In-History

Richard Lawrence was a house painter and the first known person to attempt to assassinate the President of the United States. Lawrence attempted to shoot President Andrew Jackson outside the United States Capitol on January 30th, 1835.

Jackson Assassination Attempt 680

In the weeks leading up to the assassination attempt on President Jackson, Lawrence began observing Jackson’s movements. Witnesses later testified that Lawrence was often seen sitting in his paint shop muttering to himself about President Jackson. On January 30th, 1835, the day of the assassination attempt, Lawrence was seen sitting in his paint shop with a book in his hand while laughing. Lawrence suddenly got up and left the shop with a smile stating, “I’ll be damned if I don’t do it.”

Jackson was attending the funeral of South Carolina congressman Warren R. Davis at the United States Capitol. Lawrence originally planned to shoot Jackson as he entered the service but was unable to get close enough to the President. However, when Jackson left the funeral, Lawrence had found a space near a pillar on the East Portico where Jackson would pass. As Jackson walked, Lawrence stepped out and fired his first pistol at Jackson’s back; it misfired. Lawrence quickly made another attempt with his second pistol but that also misfired. It was later determined that the weapons he had chosen were noted for being vulnerable to moisture and the weather on that date was extremely humid and damp.

Jackson Fights BackLawrence’s unsuccessful attempts were noticed by Jackson, who proceeded to beat him down with his cane, very brutally. The crowd (which included Congressman Davy Crockett) eventually intervened and wrestled Lawrence into submission.

Lawrence was brought to trial on April 11th, 1835 at the District of Columbia City Hall. The prosecuting attorney was Francis Scott Key. At his trial, Lawrence was prone to wild rants and he refused to recognize the legitimacy of the proceedings. At one point he said to the courtroom, “It is for me, gentlemen, to pass judgment on you, and not you upon me.” After only five minutes of deliberation, the jury found Lawrence “not guilty by reason of insanity.”

In the years following his acquittal, Lawrence was held by several institutions and hospitals. In 1855, he was committed to the newly opened Government Hospital for the Insane (later renamed St. Elizabeths Hospital) in Washington, D.C. where he remained until his death on June 13th, 1861.

As with later assassinations, there would be speculation that Lawrence was part of a conspiracy. While nobody denied Lawrence’s involvement, many people, including Jackson, believed that he may have been supported or put up to carrying out the assassination attempt by the President’s political enemies. Senator John C. Calhoun made a statement on the U.S. Senate floor that he was not connected to the attack. Jackson believed that Calhoun, an old enemy of his, was at the bottom of the attempt.

Jackson also suspected a former friend and supporter, Senator George Poindexter of Mississippi, who had used Lawrence to do some house painting a few months earlier. Poindexter was unable to convince his supporters in Mississippi that he was not involved in a plot against the President, and was defeated for reelection. However, no evidence was ever discovered that connected Lawrence, John C. Calhoun or George Poindexter in a plot to kill President Jackson.

“Today in History” on The Pandora Society dot com is primarily focused on Victorian and Edwardian history and does not always have a direct connection to Steampunk, Dieselpunk, or whatever punk; in fact it rarely does, but it is our hope that in sharing these historical events they might serve as some inspiration to the writers in our community to create potential alternative history stories which we look forward to reading 🙂


 

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