When people bring up names like Lincoln, JFK, Martin Luther King, even Julius Caesar, most people have a much clearer picture of how they died than they do of what they accomplished. At very least, it’s the first thing that comes to mind.
This is no secret to people who plot assassinations. Names like John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald and the famous line, “Et tu, Brute?” are equally recognizable if not entirely notorious as well. Assassinations change the course of history.
But what about the ones that fail? For the most part, the attempts vanish into obscurity after a short while. There are obvious exceptions, but most people would find it harder to cite a failed attempt as opposed to one that went off as planned. Here are five examples of failed assassination attempts that had the potential to have lasting impact on the world.
#5 – Andrew Jackson
Ask most people which U.S. president was the first to be the taget of an assassination attempt and the attention goes directly to Lincoln. Few people realize just how close another president came to meeting the same fate years earlier.
Late in Jackson’s first term, a man approached him as he was exiting the Capitol building. The man was wielding a pair of percussion pistols and had a crazed look in his eye. The only reason his plan failed was that both guns misfired. The president went unharmed but the accident injured the assassin who was summarily dragged off and eventually committed to a mental asylum for the rest of his life.
#4 – Ronald Regan
A notable exception to the obscurity rule is the failed assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan. Approximately three decades later and the name John Hinkley is still a familiar name to the American public, mostly due to the strange nature of his crime and its ties to actress Jodie Foster.
Hinkley’s plan was just not well thought-out. It was hasty and therefore very sloppy. Had he succeeded, George H. Walker Bush would have become president nearly eight years sooner. Being a more moderate Republican, it is worth speculating how Reagan’s death would have impacted the economy (no Reaganomics) or how relations with the Soviets would have been different. It is clear that we would be living in a somewhat different America and possibly even a different world had Hinkly been just a bit more organized.
#3 – Benito Mussolini
Not everyone was happy with Mussolini’s abilities to make the trains run on time. In 1926, he was the target of four botched assassination attempts. They all took place over the span of just seven months. The first came from an Irish woman who almost shot his nose off. This would prove to be among the most successful of the failures. The next three were caught before they had the chance to strike. Incompetence and nerves were what undid most of them and they all wound up dead themselves.
#2 – Franklin Roosevelt
What would have become of America without FDR at the helm during WWII and the Great Depression? In February, 1933, the world almost found out. The president was riding through Miami in an open car. A mentally unstable Italian immigrant named Giuseppe Zangara opened fire and sent five shots at the President’s car. He missed his target but managed to take out Anton Cermak, mayor of Chicago.
Franklin Roosevelt’s Shooter – Mentally unstable Italian immigrant, Giuseppe Zangara
#1 – Abraham Lincoln
Why is Lincoln on this list? His assassination was successful, right? It turns out that Booth actually made the second attempt on Lincoln’s life. The first happened months earlier in August of 1864. Most people have never heard the story of the day the President was riding in his carriage and just barely dodged a bullet that blew a hole through his signature top hat. A little better aim and who knows how the work of the Great Emancipator would have been impacted?