For most of American history, the men who attained election to the Oval Office came from a sturdy stock.
George Washington, for one, earned the nickname “Conotocarius” — which translates to “Devourer of Villages” — from Iroquois natives when he was 21 years old. Dwight Eisenhower, for another, led the Allied forces to defeat Adolf Hitler.
Without a doubt, the ruggedness of America’s leaders revealed itself in their darkest moments — including near-death experiences at the hands of would-be assassins.
From brushing off physical attacks with profound humor to personally fighting back with a profound ardor, these four American Presidents took assassination attempts in their stride.
President Theodore Roosevelt was shot at during a campaign stop, then finished his speech after personally confronting his foe.
As Roosevelt waved to a crowd before entering his car and departing for the speech, an assailant five feet away fired two shots from his revolver at the President. Roosevelt himself calmed members of the crowd as they began chanting for the attacker’s death.
“Don’t hurt him. Bring him here. I want to see him,” shouted Roosevelt.
“What did you do it for?” he asked the shooter. Frustrated, he said, “Oh, what’s the use? Turn him over to the police.”
Using his finger, Roosevelt located a bullet wound on the right side of his torso. After coughing three times into his hand to ensure that neither bullet had punctured his lung, Roosevelt told his driver to “get me to that speech.”
The bullet had been blocked by his overcoat, steel eyeglass case, and speech manuscript — a point that he made sure to emphasize with his audience.
“Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible,” he told the crowd. “I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot.”
“It takes more than that to kill a bull moose,” he reassured the crowd, waving the damaged manuscript.
“Fortunately I had my manuscript, so you see I was going to make a long speech, and there is a bullet — there is where the bullet went through — and it probably saved me from it going into my heart,” he explained. “The bullet is in me now, so that I cannot make a very long speech, but I will try my best.”
“I give you my word, I do not care a rap about being shot; not a rap,” he added.
Roosevelt glared at aides every time they attempted to end the speech early. After the event ended and Roosevelt finally consented to a hospital visit, doctors confirmed that the bullet had lodged against Roosevelt’s rib on its way to his heart.
President Ronald Reagan retained his trademark sense of humor even after he was nearly murdered in 1981.
As TIME Magazine noted following the assassination attempt, Reagan quipped throughout the entirety of his experience. “Please tell me you’re Republicans,” he said to the attending physicians. “Honey, I forgot to duck,” he told his wife as she entered the hospital.
Reagan was equally humorous in the aftermath of surgery. In various notes written as he emerged from operation, Reagan jotted:
“All in all, I’d rather be in Philadelphia.”
“There’s no more exhilarating feeling than being shot at without result.”
“Send me to L.A., where I can see the air I’m breathing.”
“If I had this much attention in Hollywood, I’d have stayed there.”
On the morning after surgery, he greeted White House staffers by saying: “Hi, fellas. I knew it would be too much to hope that we could skip a staff meeting.”
President Andrew Jackson beat an assailant with his cane after the would-be assassin’s gun misfired.
As Jackson exited the Capitol Building following an 1835 funeral, a bystander pulled a pistol from his jacket and attempted to kill the Commander-in-Chief at point-blank range. However, the gun misfired.
The attacker pulled a second pistol, but Jackson was already preparing to defend himself. “Let me alone! Let me alone! I know where this came from,” yelled Jackson as he beat the attacker with his cane. Before Tennessee Congressman Davy Crockett subdued the attacker, he pulled a second firearm, which also misfired.
Though he could never prove it, Jackson suspected that the attack came from Whig Party opponents who were resisting his attempt to dismantle the Second Bank of the United States.
President Herbert Hoover was almost killed in South America; however, he downplayed the incident in an attempt to stop his wife from being worried.
During a 1928 trip to Argentina, anarchists attempted to bomb the President’s train. However, the assassins were discovered and seized before they could plant the explosives on the tracks.
Hoover tore the front-page story about the attempt from a newspaper so that his wife, Lou Henry Hoover, would not worry.
“It’s just as well that Lou shouldn’t see it,” he remarked.
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