October 14, 1912 – Assassination Attempt on Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt Jr. was born on October 27, 1858 in New York City.

Official White House portrait by John Singer Sargent

Official White House portrait by John Singer Sargent

Roosevelt was 42 years old when sworn in as President of the United States in September 1901, after the assassination of President McKinley. Roosevelt was the youngest person ever to assume office, although the youngest president elected to office was John F. Kennedy (age 43 years, 236 days). Roosevelt was also the first of only three sitting presidents to have won the Nobel Peace Prize. Roosevelt was a fifth cousin to the 32nd President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and he was the uncle and guardian of Franklin’s wife, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt. In addition, he was the grandfather of Kermit Roosevelt, Jr., the CIA officer who coordinated the 1953 coup d’état against Iran’s prime minister, Mohammed Mosaddeq, in order to return Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, to Iran’s Peacock Throne. The unabated anger over these actions culminated in the Iran Hostage Crisis in 1979.

Upon taking office, Roosevelt kept McKinley’s Cabinet and promised to continue McKinley’s policies. In the 1904 presidential election, he won the presidency in his own right in a landslide victory. He chose not to run for another term in 1908, and supported William Howard Taft for the presidency.

Parody of Theodore Roosevelt's concern for his legacy by Puck Magazine, February 17, 1909

Parody of Theodore Roosevelt’s concern for his legacy by Puck Magazine, February 17, 1909

The relationship between Roosevelt and Taft deteriorated thereafter, and Roosevelt came to see himself as the only person who could save the Republican party. He announced his candidacy in 1912, but had delayed too long to win enough delegates. Thus he announced the formation of a third party, the Progressive Party, popularly known as the “Bull Moose Party”, which got its name after Roosevelt told reporters, “I’m as fit as a bull moose.”

On this day in history, October 14, 1912, while Roosevelt was campaigning in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a saloonkeeper named John Flammang Schrank shot him, but the impact of the bullet was muted by passing through first, TR’s steel eyeglass case, and next, the 50-page single-folded copy of the speech he was carrying in his jacket. Roosevelt concluded that since he was not coughing blood, he could wait to go to the hospital, and delivered his scheduled speech with blood seeping into his shirt. He spoke for 90 minutes, beginning with the line, “Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose.” Afterward, an x-ray showed that the bullet had lodged in Roosevelt’s chest muscle but did not penetrate the pleura, and it would be more dangerous to attempt to remove the bullet than to leave it in place. Roosevelt carried it with him for the rest of his life.

X-Ray of Roosevelt's ribcage showing the bullet at lower left

X-Ray of Roosevelt’s ribcage showing the bullet at lower left

Roosevelt lost the election to Woodrow Wilson, undoubtedly because of the split in Republican party votes. (Roosevelt received 4.1 million votes (27%), compared to Taft’s 3.5 million (23%) and Wilson’s 6.3 million votes (42%). He did gain immortality, however, by being selected as one of four presidents to have his image carved onto Mount Rushmore near Keystone, South Dakota. (The other three are George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln.) The monument was conceived by South Dakota historian Doane Robinson in order to promote tourism in the region, but has come to represent “great American presidents.” Roosevelt would not have objected.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As for the would-be assassin, at his trial he claimed that William McKinley had visited him in a dream and told him to avenge his assassination by killing Roosevelt. He was found legally insane and was institutionalized until his death in 1943.

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