Sudden Death, Assassination Attempts, and Mourning

Mourning card for Abraham Lincoln, 1865
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 one elected to lead the country is threatened. The death of a president, from illness or especially by assassination, traumatizes the nation and plunges it into a period of questioning, reflection, and ritualized mourning. However, from the peaceful, constitutional transfer of power to the vice president, there emerges renewed confidence in our method of government.

Eight presidents have died in office. Four died from natural causes--William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Warren G. Harding, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Four were killed by assassins’ bullets—Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield, William McKinley, and John F. Kennedy.

Music such as this "Funeral March" for James A. Garfield enabled Americans to express their grief over his death.

Fascinating Facts

Assassination attempts

 Year  President  Assassin  Result 
 1835  Andrew Jackson  Richard Lawrence  Jackson is unhurt 
 1865  Abraham Lincoln  John Wilkes Booth  Lincoln is killed 
 1881  James Garfield  Charles Guiteau  Garfield is killed 
 1901  William McKinley  Leon Czolgosz  McKinley is killed 
 1912  Theodore Roosevelt  John Schrank  Roosevelt is wounded 
 1933  Franklin Roosevelt  Giuseppe Zangara  Roosevelt is unhurt 
 1950  Harry S. Truman  Oscar Collazo  Truman is unhurt 
 1950  Harry S. Truman  Oscar Collazo 
 Griselio Torresola 
 Truman is unhurt 
 1963  John F. Kennedy  Lee Harvey Oswald  Kennedy is killed 
 1975  Gerald R. Ford  Lynette Fromme  Ford is unhurt 
 1975  Gerald R. Ford  Sara Jane Moore  Ford is unhurt 
 1981  Ronald Reagan  John Hinckley Jr.  Reagan is wounded