Four out of 45 US presidents have been assassinated over the course of American history.
But many more chief executives escaped assassination attempts thanks to heroic bystanders, diligent guards, misfiring pistols, and crazy luck.
Even two presidents who were eventually assassinated escaped previous attempts on their lives.
On a hot August night in 1864, a sniper shot Lincoln’s hat off his head — missing his skull by inches — as he took a solo ride on his favorite horse “Old Abe,” according to “1864: Lincoln at the Gates of History.” Lincoln was later shot and killed by Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth, just five days after the surrender of Robert E. Lee.
Almost a century later, in 1960, retired postal worker Richard Paul Pavlick crammed his car with dynamite and plotted to ram the vehicle into Kennedy’s limo in Palm Beach, Florida, according to Smithsonian magazine. He was motivated by his intense hatred of Catholics and the Kennedy family, but backed off when he saw that the president was with his wife and young children. Pavlick was later arrested and institutionalized until 1966, three years after Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald while visiting Dallas, Texas.
But these 13 other presidents all experienced serious assassination threats and ultimately survived — and these are only the most dramatic, most-publicized instances. Undoubtedly, the Secret Service has thwarted many more over the years.
Here are 13 presidents who escaped attempts on their lives:
On a misty January day in 1835, Richard Lawrence, an out-of-work house painter who believed he was the 15th-century English king Richard III, walked into the US Capitol Building.
President Andrew Jackson was leaving the funeral of a House representative when the English national confronted him in the East Portico, brandishing a pistol.
He raised the gun at Andrew Jackson and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened.
“Let me alone! Let me alone!” Jackson yelled at Lawrence, according to Smithsonian magazine. “I know where this came from.”
Lawrence discarded the weapon, produced a second pistol, and aimed the new gun at Jackson. It also misfired.
According to legend, Jackson subsequently flew at the man and thrashed him with his cane. Whether or not that’s true, Lawrence’s assassination attempt was unsuccessful. Smithsonian magazine reported that national anthem lyricist Francis Scott Key prosecuted his trial, where he was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Lawrence spent the rest of his life institutionalized.
As Time reported, the chance that both perfectly functional pistols would misfire was about one in 125,000. Jackson’s survival may have depended on the dampness in the air that day.
President Theodore Roosevelt was saved by the length of his speech after an assassin shot him in the chest with a .38-caliber revolver in 1912.
At the time, Roosevelt was running for the presidency on the Bull and Moose ticket. Saloon-owner John Schrank had begun stalking the former president after having an unusual dream.
According to “Killing the President: Assassinations, Attempts, and Rumored Attempts on U.S. Commanders-in-Chief,” Schrank wrote: “In a dream I saw President McKinley sit up in his coffin pointing at a man in a monk’s attire in whom I recognized Theodore Roosevelt. The dead President said, ‘This is my murderer — avenge my death.'”
Fortunately, Roosevelt had his notes with him when he was shot on October 14 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin — 50 pages of them, folded in his breast pocket next to his metal glasses case. These objects slowed the bullet and saved Roosevelt’s life.
The ex-president continued to speak after letting his audience know he’d been shot, according to the Theodore Roosevelt Association:
“Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. 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. But 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. The bullet is in me now, so that I cannot make a very long speech, but I will try my best.”
He finished the rest of his speech with a bullet in his ribs, where it remained until his death in 1919.
In 1928, President Herbert Hoover was nearly killed while visiting the Andes.
Argentine anarchists attempted to blow up his train, but the would-be assassin was seized before he could plant the bombs on the tracks.
After learning of the thwarted plot, Hoover tore the front page story from the newspaper so his wife Lou Henry Hoover wouldn’t worry, according to the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum. The 31st president is said to have quipped that while he was unconcerned, “It’s just as well that Lou shouldn’t see it.”