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A Violent History

The events of Saturday in Tucson, Arizona shook us all. The violence and bloodshed were shocking. And though previous political assassination attempts in American history have been largely absent an attendant mass shooting, the sheer number of these incidents is stunning.

An educational web site called Digital History has a fascinating and detailed article called Political Assassination: The Violent Side of American Political Life.

Here’s the stunning part:

Nine American Presidents – Andrew Jackson in 1835, Abraham Lincoln in 1865, James Garfield in 1881, William McKinley in 1901 Harry S. Truman in 1950, John F. Kennedy in 1963, Richard Nixon in 1974, Gerald Ford twice in 1975, and Ronald Reagan in 1981 – have been the targets of assassination. Attempts have also been made on the lives of one President-elect (Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933) and three Presidential candidates (Theodore Roosevelt in 1912, Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, and George Wallace in 1972). In addition, eight governors, seven U.S. Senators, nine U.S. Congressmen, eleven mayors, 17 state legislators, and eleven judges have been violently attacked.

The most common unifying characteristics of those who have attempted Presidential assassinations in the United States: unemployed and single. Nine out of eleven had not worked in the year prior to the assassination attempt. Only one was married and had children.

Very few of these attempts have actually been purposely politically motivated. John Wilkes Booth, the Lincoln assassin was a clear cut case of an ideologically-based murderer. Sirhan Sirhan, the assassin of Senator Robert Kennedy claimed his attack was due to RFK’s pro-Israeli political stance. Booth expected he would become a hero in the South but did not and would write sadly at the cold hand he’d been greeted with by residents of the former confederacy. Richard Nixon would win the Presidency in 1968 and he was, if anything, an even more ardent supporter of Israel than Robert Kennedy.

Almost all have been solitary acts of violence; only in two cases were the acts part of an organized conspiracy; Lincoln and an attempt on the life of President Harry Truman organized by Puerto Rican nationalists.

I do not know what is says or what it implies. But violence against our political representatives is a part of our lives and of the history of this nation and it is not, in any way, unusual or an aberration.

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