Never bring a gun to a cane fight: the almost assassination of President Andrew Jackson

The first ever assassination attempt on a president took place on January 30, 1835. Richard Lawrence hid behind a pillar at the capital, awaiting President Andrew Jackson. The 67-year-old president emerged from the House chamber and Lawrence took his shot. What he hadn’t planned was for his gun to misfire. 

Lawrence was born in England and moved to America in 1812. He was a house painter but was unemployed when he decided to take the shot. He was a hard working man, but it became more and more clear that his mental stability was wavering. He believed he was the lost heir to the British throne and therefore was the rightful King of England. The only person standing in his way? “King Andrew.”

The Democrats, Jackson’s party, and the Whigs were divided prior to Lawrence’s attempt. They accused him of corruption and had dubbed him “King Andrew.” Jackson was never one to take things lightly, and fought back with heated words and threats of physical violence. Senator John C. Calhoun, who was Jackson’s first vice president before he joined the Whigs, said that Jackson was a “Caesar who ought to have a Brutus.” 

Just days after Calhoun’s bold statement Lawrence would make his attempt on Jackson’s life. His gun misfired and an enraged Jackson attacked him, using his cane as a club. He struck Lawrence several times and Lawrence managed to pull out his second gun and pull the trigger, only for the gun to misfire as well. 

Lawrence was apprehended by Jackson’s aides and bystanders, but the seed was planted in Jackson’s mind. He believed Lawrence had been hired by his political opponents to kill him. Questions began to stir in the press and Calhoun was forced to stand in front of the Senate and declare his innocence. The Whigs began to spread the rumor that Jackson had hired Lawrence to garner sympathy. 

Neither of the claims were ever proved, and Lawrence remained in a mental institute for the rest of his life. Jackson narrowly escaped the first assassination of a U.S. president, and Lawrence nearrowly escaped an encounter with Andrew Jackson’s cane.

Published by camryncutinello

She/her/hers. Journalism major at Columbia College Chicago. Co-editor-in-chief of the Columbia Chronicle.

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