On this day in 1912, Teddy Roosevelt is shot by a would-be assassin. By then, Roosevelt was a former President, but he was campaigning to win the White House again! He’d been campaigning hard. In fact, he traveled and spoke so much that a doctor who had been traveling with him had advised him to stop and get some rest. His voice was wearing out!
Roosevelt rested on October 13, but he was determined not to miss an October 14 rally in Milwaukee. His decision almost proved fatal.
Roosevelt arrived by train late in the day. At first, he thought he’d dine in the railway car, then go to the auditorium for his speech. However, he was convinced to head to a hotel to eat instead.
Trouble didn’t come until he was leaving the hotel, headed for the speech.
As the candidate got into an open car outside the hotel, the crowd around Roosevelt broke out in applause. Standing up again, Roosevelt began to wave at his supporters. Just then, a man pushed his way through the crowd, raised his Colt revolver, and fired.
It would later be discovered that John Schrank had been following the former President around the country for weeks.
One of Roosevelt’s staff members, Elbert Martin, had been riding with him. Martin rushed into action, launching himself at Schrenk and pinning him to the ground. By then, Roosevelt had concluded that he’d only been “pinked,” because he was not bleeding from his mouth. “Don’t hurt him, bring him to me,” Roosevelt ordered. The man was forced toward the former President, and Roosevelt got a good look at him. “Why did you do it?” he asked. “What was your reason?” But Schrank didn’t answer, and he was marched away.
Roosevelt was not one to be dissuaded from his speech, simply because of a bullet. He continued on to the auditorium and gave his speech anyway, speaking to the crowd at a level barely above a whisper.
“Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible,” he said in a low voice. “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.”
Roosevelt had prepared a long speech, and his thick stack of notes took the brunt of the bullet’s impact. Roosevelt spoke for more than an hour before he was taken to the hospital and treated.
Despite these heroics, Roosevelt wouldn’t win the election, which was a three-way contest that year. Roosevelt had become more progressive over time, and the party was split on whether to support him. In the end, a united Democratic Party defeated the fractured Republicans.
As for Schrank, he was declared to be suffering from “insane delusions, grandiose in character.” He claimed that the ghost of William McKinley wanted him to kill Roosevelt! Schrank was committed to a mental hospital where he lived for decades until his death.
He outlived Roosevelt, who died in his sleep in 1919. Woodrow Wilson’s Vice President commented at the time: “Death had to take Roosevelt sleeping, for if he had been awake, there would have been a fight.”
Gerard Helferich, Theodore Roosevelt and the Assassin: Madness, Vengeance, and the Campaign of 1912 (2013)
James Chace, 1912: Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft and Debs–The Election that Changed the Country (2004)
Patricia O’Toole, When Trumpets Call: Theodore Roosevelt After the White House (2005)
Willard M. Oliver & Nancy E. Marion, Killing the President: Assassinations, Attempts, and Rumored Attempts on U.S. Commanders-in-Chief (2010)