Crime History, Jan. 30, 1835: First assassination attempt of American president fails on steps of U.S. Capitol

An etching of the assassination attempt on President Andrew Jackson at the U.S. Capitol.

An etching of the assassination attempt on President Andrew Jacksonl.

On this day, Jan. 30, in 1835, in the District of Columbia, a man who believed he was the heir to the English throne tried to shoot President Andrew Jackson at close-range in the first known assassination attempt of an American president.

Richard Lawrence was a deranged house painter living in Washington, D.C. He believed he was King Richard III of England, that Jackson had killed his father and that the U.S. government owed him money.

President Jackson

President Jackson

President Jackson was leaving the funeral of South Carolina congressman Warren R. Davis at the United States Capitol when Lawrence stepped from the crowd and pulled the trigger on his pistol. The gun failed to fire. A second pistol misfired.

The president was no stranger to violence, having fought in American wars and survived a pistol duel left a bullet in his chest.

The 67-year-old Jackson beat Lawrence with his cane before several men, including famed frontiersman Davy Crockett, detained the failed assassin.

Lawrence was prosecuted by Francis Scott Key, the man who wrote The Star-Spangled Banner. Lawrence dismissed the court proceedings, “It is for me, gentlemen, to pass judgment on you, and not you upon me.”

Lawrence was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Lawrence was detained by several institutions. In 1855, he was committed to the newly opened St. Elizabeths Hospital where he remained until his death on June 13, 1861.

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