Abraham Lincoln was the first of four American presidents assassinated by fanatic gun wielders – and the mid-April 1865 tragedy, as well as the more recent ones, should not be allowed to fade from the public consciousness.
Gen. Robert E. Lee’s April 9 surrender of his Confederate army to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant of the Union was recognized as the virtual end of the Civil War.
Rejoicing in the North was still in progress when the whole country was plunged into shock and mourning by the murder of Lincoln.
On the evening of April 14, the war-burdened president and his wife Mary were relaxing at a Ford Theater performance of the comedy. “Our American Cousin,” when an intoxicated actor and southern sympathizer, John Wilkes Booth, crept into the presidential box and shot Lincoln in the head. The 16th president died without speaking at 7:22 the next morning, April 15.
Other presidents subsequently murdered by gunmen were James A. Garfield, William McKinley and, in our time, John F. Kennedy.
There is much more, of course, in the history of gun attacks on presidents and presidential aspirants.
President Ronald W. Reagan was shot in the chest March 30, 1981 not long after taking office. He displayed admirable stamina and recuperative powers in his recovery.
Theodore Roosevelt, who was president 1901-1909, was campaigning in Milwaukee in 1912 during a political comeback against President William H. Taft and Woodrow Wilson when a man fired a bullet that lodged in the former presidents chest.
The courageous Roosevelt, not critically wounded, concluded his speech before going to the hospital. Wilson, incidentally, won the election.
Four presidents – Andrew Jackson, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Harry S Truman and Gerald R. Ford – were shot at but not hit. Robert Kennedy was killed on the campaign trail, and George Wallace, another presidential candidate, was severely wounded.
After the Lincoln tragedy, the next president assassinated was Garfield, the 20th chief executive. He was at a Washington railroad station July 2, 1881 when shot in the spine by a lawyer named Charles J. Guiteau, who had sought a consular post without success.
Garfield lay for weeks between life and death. Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, tried to locate the bullet with an induction-balance electrical device. (The X-ray was unknown at that time.) Garfield died Sept. 19 from an infection and internal hemorrhage.
McKinley had begun his second term as the 25th president when he was fatally wounded Sept. 6, 1901. Standing in a receiving line at the Buffalo Pan-American Exposition, he had just given a little girl the red carnation from his buttonhole when an anarchist named Leon Czologosz shot him twice. McKinley died eight days later.
Memories of the last presidential murder, that of John F. Kennedy, are still vivid for most Americans.
The 35th president was slain Nov. 22, 1963 while riding with his wife in a caravan through Dallas, Texas. The outpouring of shock and grief was comparable to that which marked the death of Lincoln. High officers from more than 100 countries came to Washington for the funeral.
The anniversary of Lincoln’s death turns thoughts to the “great emancipator” who struggled successfully to win the war and reunify the nation.
Give a thought also to the other fallen leaders and to the problems all presidents face in security against criminal, unstable, and fanatic elements. Thirty-nine men have served as United States presidents. Ten of these have been killed, wounded or shot at, a sad commentary in a country dedicated to law and order.