Sudden Death of a President | The Secret Service

Mourning card for Abraham Lincoln

"We are left sitting in the dark, still wondering how such a deed could have been done ... in fair and free America."

--Observation made immediately after the assassination of William McKinley in 1901

The American political system experiences its greatest challenge when the life of the man elected to lead the country is threatened. The death of a president, especially by assassination, traumatizes the nation and plunges it into a period of questioning, reflection, and ritualized mourning. And, from the peaceful, constitutional transfer of power to the vice president, there emerges renewed confidence in our method of government.

Beginning with an attack on Andrew Jackson in 1835, there have been eleven attempts to kill the American president. Four presidents--Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield, William McKinley, and John F. Kennedy--died from assassins' bullets.

Since 1901, the formal protectors of the chief executive have been the agents of the U.S. Secret Service. Their courage, creativity, and dedication are taxed to the utmost in safeguarding the president.

                 Home | Press | Site Map | Help | Credits
National Museum of American History