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Political assassinations


Political upheaval was ripe and often successful, but just how many politicians were targeted? Who the hell knows. Why? Psychos…pure and simple. Anarchists who thought they’d do something, separatists who tried to kill leaders on their side…people are stupid. Seriously. But here are a couple big ones during the late 1800s.

Napoleon III of France who had the distinction of being the first President of the First French Republic [1848-1852] and the last king of France [1852-1871] – period – which was basically the only emperor of the Second French Republic. How many other people can put that on their résumés? How many others want to bother? Now Felice Orsini, Italian revolutionary and leader of the Carbonari. Orsini wanted Italian independence, much like Napoleon III did…so naturally when you’re on the same side, you try to kill the man who can help. Louis Napoleon didn’t die, but Orsini was hanged for his roll in the attempt. And Italy was untied in 1860. Orsini missed it by 2 years. Impatience never helped a cause.

Russia had its share (more than) of attempts, their history was rife with it. Each emperor from Paul I (1801 successful assignation) to Nicolas II (eventually successful in 1917 after the Era) had at least one attempt on his life. Alexander II [1855-1881] had so many it was inevitable one succeeded. Nikolai Rysakov, wearing a heavy black overcoat edged towards the imperial carriage making its way down the street. He was carrying a small white package wrapped in a handkerchief.

“After a moment’s hesitation I threw the bomb. I sent it under the horses’ hooves in the supposition that it would blow up under the carriage…The explosion knocked me into the fence.” [Edvard Radzinsky, Alexander II: The Last Great Tsar,(Freepress 2005) p. 413]

The explosion killed one Cossack guard and seriously wounded the driver and people on the sidewalk, several critically, but there was no damage the carriage. Why? See man above who wasn’t stupid: The carriage was bulletproof, a gift from Napoleon III of France. Nice.

What’s a tsar to do but emerge shaken but unhurt. Rysakov was captured almost immediately. Police Chief Dvorzhitsky heard Rysakov shout to someone in the gathering crowd. There was at least one more conspirator near by. Dvorzhitsky, being the smart Police Chief he was, urged the tsar to leave. Alexander agreed to do so but only after he had been shown the site of the explosion.

After he’d seen the site of the explosion? Oh, yes very smart. Guess what happened next. Yup…

Completely surrounded by the guards and the Cossacks, the tsar made his way down the street. Ignacy Hryniewiecki, standing by the canal fence, raised up both arms and threw something at the tsar’s feet. Anyone know what it was?

Dvorzhitsky was later to write:
“I was deafened by the new explosion, burned, wounded and thrown to the ground. Suddenly, amid the smoke and snowy fog, I heard His Majesty’s weak voice cry, ‘Help!’ Gathering what strength I had, I jumped up and rushed to the tsar. His Majesty was half-lying, half-sitting, leaning on his right arm. Thinking he was merely wounded heavily, I tried to lift him but the tsar’s legs were shattered, and the blood poured out of them. Twenty people, with wounds of varying degree, lay on the sidewalk and on the street. Some managed to stand, others to crawl, still others tried to get out from beneath bodies that had fallen on them. Through the snow, debris, and blood you could see fragments of clothing, epaulets, sabers, and bloody chunks of human flesh.” [Edvard Radzinsky, Alexander II: The Last Great Tsar,(Freepress 2005) p. 415]

Abraham Lincoln. Frankly, there’s nothing new to say on this except I’d have listened to to my gut. It’s rumored Lincoln had a dream of people crying in the East Wing. Investigating, he was told they wept for the President who had been assassinated. Days later he was killed in Ford Theatre by John Wilkes Booth and his body was later held in state in the East Wing.

If you don’t want to listen to yourself, how about your bodyguard? Lincoln told W. H. Crook, his bodyguard, that he had dreamt about his assassination three nights in a row. Crook begged him not to go to the Ford Theater, but Lincoln had promised Mary they would attend. When the Lincolns left for the theater, Lincoln said “Good-bye” to Crook, not the usual “Good night.”

There were two other successful attempts on US presidents: James A Garfield and William McKinley.

Garfield was president for four whole months before leaving for a vacation on July 2, 1881. Charles J. Guiteau waited for him at the train station. Got his shoes shined, paced, and asked a cab driver to take him to the jail later. Such a considerate killer.

Garfield had no bodyguard or security detail. Let this be a lesson!

Garfield entered the station, Guiteau stepped forward, and pulled the trigger from behind. Considerate but cowardly. Garfield cried out “My God, what is this?!” Guiteau fired again, Garfield collapsed. One bullet grazed Garfield’s arm; the other lodged in his spine.

Guiteau put his pistol back in his pocket and turned to leave for the cab, but was apprehended by policeman Patrick Kearney. Kearney was so excited at having arrested the man who shot the president that he neglected to take Guiteau’s gun from him until after their arrival at the police station. Probably didn’t matter, Guiteau was on his way to jail anyway.

William McKinley was at the Temple of Music in Buffalo, New York attending the Pan-American Exposition. Saw a cool thing on his presidency and assassination on the History Channel. Apparently he was ushering well wishers by shaking hands, turn, pass along. Left him wide open for anarchist Leon Czolgosz. Czolgosz wrapped his hand with a white handkerchief to hide the pistol. Secret Serviceman George Foster later explained his failure to observe Czolgosz’s wrapped-up hand by saying that Czolgosz was too closely bunched up to the man in front of him. Excuses, excuses.

And just what did Leon think was going to happen in killing the president? Surely not that the Vice President, Theodore Roosevelt, would take over. Because obviously we don’t have a line of succession numbering in the hundreds (that may be an exaggeration) for this kind of thing. No brains.

Queen Victoria’s life was endangered at least 8 times, but I lost count. Now seriously, what did they think was going to happen? Another monarch ascend? Parliament would find them and crush them? Parliament would gain further power? Noting that’d help the assassins. Sheesh, some people never learn.


  1. Denise Eagan says:

    I didn’t know Lincoln dreamt of his own death. How horrilble! But still he went to the theater. I guess he didn’t have the whole thing down, huh?

  2. Interstinng post!
    I’d heard the story of Lincoln’s dreams prediciting his death. He was also very depressed thoughout his life.

  3. Fascinating Blog, Isabel!
    Abraham Lincoln is one of the most interesting and mysterious characters in our history. There are websites dedicated to the enduring stories that Lincoln was actually the bastard son of John C. Calhoun. It supposedly was an accepted fact during his lifetime.

  4. Isabel Roman says:

    I dind’t know that, Mary Ann!I love John C. Calhoun, talk about a great character.

    Personally, I’m all about listening to myself (no insanity jokes please) and am not sure I’d have gone to the theater. Too creepy.

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