Human Shield – Threats Against the President of the United States


The first recorded attempt to kill a president of the United States took place in 1835. A man aimed two flintlock pistols at president Andrew Jackson. He pulled the trigger on the first pistol while 13 feet away from the president, but it misfired. He pulled the trigger on the second pistol at point blank range, but it too misfired, thus avoiding the first presidential assassination. Since 1835, there have been 23 assassinations or assassination attempts on the president while in office or after leaving office.

Tragically, four presidents have been killed by an assassin’s bullet, while two other presidential deaths involve suspicious events leading many to suspect they too were victims of foul play. The task of protecting the president belongs to the United States Secret Service. Prior to 1950, the protective duties were somewhat limited, but an assassination attempt in 1950 changed forever how the president is protected, and how they are accessed by the general public.

Secret Service Gunfight Changes Protective Status

In 1950 the White House was being remodeled and then president Harry S. Truman was staying at the Blair House. Two Puerto Rican activists approached the front of the Blair House and a violent gun battle ensued between the would be assassins and the Secret Service agents on duty. One of the assassins was killed during the gunfight, the other seriously wounded.

Leslie Coffelt was one of the agents on duty that night and became the first and only agent killed while protecting the president. A mortally wounded Coffelt still managed to get off a shot which resulted in the death of one of the assassins. After this bloody gunfight on the sidewalks of the nation’s capital, the Secret Service were given far greater responsibility for the safety of the president.

Two Unconfirmed Presidential Assassinations

President Zachary Taylor was diagnosed with cholera morbus on July 4th, 1850, and was dead just five days later. Theories have come forward saying Taylor was poisoned and his death was actually an assassination. The evidence was strong enough that in 199, Taylor’s body was exhumed and samples taken. The samples showed trace amounts of arsenic, but not at lethal levels.

President Warren G. Harding had just completed his “Voyage of Understanding” when he became ill with what was believed pneumonia. He died a week later from either a heart attack or stroke. His administration had been called corrupt, and Hardings’ list of adversaries was quite long. While little evidence exists, many believe Harding was also the victim of foul play.

Assassinations and Assassination Attempts On The President

  • 1835 Andrew Jackson, Attempted Assassination
  • 1850 Zachary Taylor, Possible Assassination
  • 1861 Abraham Lincoln, Suspected Threat
  • 1864 Abraham Lincoln, Attempted Assassination
  • 1865 Abraham Lincoln, Assassinated
  • 1881 James A. Garfield, Assassinated
  • 1901 William McKinley, Assassinated
  • 1912 Theodore Roosevelt, Attempted Assassination
  • 1923 Warren G. Harding, Possible Assassination
  • 1933 Franklin D. Roosevelt, Attempted Assassination
  • 1950 Harry S. Truman, Attempted Assassination
  • 1960 John F. Kennedy, Attempted Assassination
  • 1963 John F. Kennedy, Assassinated
  • 1974 Richard Nixon, Attempted Assassination
  • 1975 Gerald Ford, Attempted Assassination
  • 1975 Gerald Ford, Attempted Assassination
  • 1981 Ronald Reagan, Attempted Assassination
  • 1993 George H.W. Bush, Attempted Assassination
  • 1994 Bill Clinton, Attempted Assassination
  • 1994 Bill Clinton, Attempted Assassination
  • 2001 George W. Bush, Attempted Assassination
  • 2001 George W. Bush, Suspected Threat
  • 2005 George W. Bush, Attempted Assassination

Since the assassination of John F. Kennedy nearly 50 years ago, the only presidents not to have assassination attempts made against them are Lyndon B. Johnson, Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama. This is not to say there have not been those who wished these presidents harm; there most certainly have been and continue to be threats. The efforts of the Secret Service are focused on identifying and eliminating threats before they can take place. Protecting the leader of the free world in a free and open society is no easy task. The threats continue to change and evolve, and the Secret Service must change and evolve just a little faster in order to maintain the human shield which protects the president both day and night.