An Engrossing Narrative of Attempts at and Assassinations of Presidents

By Faktorovich, Anna | Pennsylvania Literary Journal, Spring 2017 | Go to article overview

An Engrossing Narrative of Attempts at and Assassinations of Presidents


Faktorovich, Anna, Pennsylvania Literary Journal


An Engrossing Narrative of Attempts at and Assassinations of Presidents

Mel Ayton. Plotting to Kill the President: Assassination Attempts from Washington to Hoover. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press: Potomac Books, February 1, 2017. ISBN: 978-1-61234-856-8. $32.95. 376pp. 6X9". 30 illustrations.

Most Americans are intimately familiar with how Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, but few might even recall that James Garfield and William McKinley also fell under an assassin's hand. The book goes further to say that "almost all" American "presidents have been threatened, put in dancer, or survived 'near lethal approaches' during their terms." Plotters tried to offPresident Hays amidst his inauguration, another nearly shot Benjamin Harrison on a Washington street, and President Roosevelt really was nearly killed in the White House (making the bit about Roosevelt's cook's cheese a bit more suspicious in retrospect). Apparently, many such incidents are "covered up," perhaps to prevent copycats. Around fourteen US presidents' assassinations or attempts are explored in depth, making up more than one in five of the total. One drawback is that the assassins are treated as fame-seekers due to a "life built on constant failure" (x). Only American history is this critical towards rebellious plots, while cheering on the American Revolutionary plot as well as all other rebellions or assassinations where the American president is leading the struggle. In other words, the Gordon Riots, the French Revolution, and some assassinations of tyrants and lunatics like Osama Bin Laden are carried out on behalf of a just cause that helped to restore human freedom and rights. To dismiss those who attempt an assassination as rebels without a cause is a one-sided approach. Know thy enemy, the proverb says. A true study of assassinations would primarily be interested in why these people took such drastic actions. Were they revolting against an action they deemed to be treasonous on the president's part? There is a description of Lincoln receiving numerous letters threatening his life from the time of his election and Lincoln's dismissal of them, but they are not reproduced at length to explain what exactly are the reasons the would-be-assassins giving for such threats. Instead, there is a note that Lincoln questioned their motivations and could not determine them (59-60). …

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