' Skip To Content
Murder of a President | Article

American Presidential Assassinations

The U.S. President has not always had people protecting him. In the country's early years, many people believed the young democratic republic was immune to political violence. The White House was even relatively open; only one policeman and a secretary stood between the president and Pennsylvania Avenue. With each presidential assassination, however, protection has increased from protecting not only the president, but also their family, former presidents, and presidential candidates.

Abraham Lincoln

Shot: April 14, 1865
Died: April 15, 1865
Where: Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C.
By WhomJohn Wilkes Booth
How: Booth, a well-known actor, slips into Lincoln's private box as the president, his wife and friends take in a show at 10:15 pm at Ford's Theater. Booth shoots Lincoln once in the head and then jumps down to the stage, yelling "Sic Semper Tyrranis" ("Thus ever to tyrants," the Virgina state motto) and escapes the theater. 
Why: Five days after Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrenders in Virginia, ending the Civil War, Booth acts out a desperate plan to throw the Union into disarray to save the Confederacy.
What happened to the president: Doctors realize quickly that Lincoln, paralyzed and struggling to breathe, will not survive his injuries. He is pronounced dead at 7:22 the following morning.
What happened to the assailant: Despite breaking his leg jumping from Lincoln's private box to the stage, Booth escapes the theater and is met by a co-conspirator. The two make their way to Virginia, with federal troops following behind as Booth had been recognized by a number of theater-goers. After surrounding the barn where Booth is hiding in Virginia, troops set fire to it to flush Booth and his co-conspirator out. Booth refuses to leave and is shot in the neck by a federal troop who later says that Booth raised a gun. Booth is rescued from the burning house and lives for three hours before dying.

James Garfield

Shot: July 2, 1881
Died: September 19, 1881
Where: Baltimore and Potomac Train Station in Washington, D.C.
By WhomCharles Guiteau
How: Guiteau, a frustrated office-seeker, stalks Garfield for days before waiting for the president in the Baltimore and Potomac train station in Washington D.C. Guiteau shoots President Garfield twice, the first shot grazes the president's arm, and the second shot hits Garfield in the back. Guiteau is captured by police as he flees the train station. He always believed he would be caught, but thought that the vice president would pardon him. 
Why: Guiteau felt betrayed by Garfield after Garfield did not appoint him to a diplomatic post.
What happened to the president: Despite doctors' initial pronouncements that Garfield was as good as dead, the bullet did not kill the president. However, repeated unsanitary probing of his wound and a lack of understanding of antiseptic medicine led to an infection that ravaged the president's body. Garfield died on September 19, 1881, 79 days after being shot.
What happened to the assailant: Charles Guiteau was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death by hanging. He was executed on July 21, 1882.

William McKinley

Shot: September 6, 1901
Died: September 14, 1901
Where: The Pan-American Exhibition in Buffalo, NY
By Whom: Leon Czolgosz
How: As President McKinley shakes hands at the Pan-American Exhibition in Buffalo, NY, Czolgosz approaches the president and shoots him twice in the chest. He continues advancing, planning to shoot a third time, and is wrestled to the ground by a bodyguard.
Why: Czolgosz was an anarchist who said he killed McKinley because he was the head of a corrupt government. His last words were, "I killed the president because he was the enemy of the good people—the working people."
What happened to the president: Shot twice in the chest, McKinley seemed to be recovering from the assassination attempt until September 12, when his health deteriorated rapidly. He died of gangrene infection.
What happened to the assailant: Unrepentant, Czolgosz is convicted and sentenced to death by electrocution. He is executed on October 29, 1901.

John F. Kennedy

Shot: November 22, 1963
Died: November 22, 1963
Where: A motorcade in Dallas, TX
By Whom: Lee Harvey Oswald
How: Oswald shoots Kennedy from a window in the Texas School Book Depository Building as Kennedy drives past in a convertible, part of a presidential motorcade weaving through downtown Dallas.
What happened to the president: Both Kennedy and Texas Governor John Connally were wounded in the shooting. Kennedy died 30 minutes later at Parkland Hospital. Governor Connally made a full recovery.
What happened to the assailant: Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested in a movie theater hours after the shooting on November 22nd. On November 24th, as he was being transferred to a more secure prison, Oswald was shot and killed by Jack Ruby.

Support Provided by: Learn More