Theodore Roosevelt: Assassination Attempt, 1912

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During a stop in Milwaukee on his 1912 "Bull Moose" campaign for the presidency, Roosevelt was shot at close range by John Schrank, a psychotic New York saloonkeeper. Schrank had his .38 caliber pistol aimed at Roosevelt's head, but a bystander saw the gun and deflected Schrank's arm just as the trigger was pulled. Roosevelt did not realize he was hit until someone noticed a hole in his overcoat. When Roosevelt reached inside his coat, he found blood on his fingers.

Roosevelt was extremely lucky. He had the manuscript of a long, 50-page speech in his coat pocket, folded in two, and the bullet was no doubt slowed as it passed through it. He also had a steel spectacle case in his pocket, and the bullet traversed this, too, before entering Roosevelt's chest near the right nipple. Thus, one could say that Roosevelt's long-windedness and myopia saved his life! SEE BELOW

Although the bullet traveled superiorly and medially for about 3 inches after breaking the skin, it lodged in the chest wall, without entering the pleural space. Roosevelt was examined in a Milwaukee hospital MORE, (where he reluctantly allowed the surgeons to administer an injection of tetanus anti-toxin 1a), and then was observed for 8 days in a Chicago hospital. He was discharged on October 23, 1912 -- only a few days before the election. The bullet had effectively stopped Roosevelt's campaign. He finished second to Woodrow Wilson, but ahead of the incumbent President, William Howard Taft. The bullet was never removed, and caused no difficulty after the wound healed. 2

The details of the assassination attempt and its aftermath are described in 3a.

To quote Foley's interesting article 2:

The assassin's bullet played an unique role in the Presidential career of Theodore Roosevelt. He became president when McKinley was shot... and his efforts to regain the presidency from Taft in the campaign of 1912 ended for all practical purposes in Milwaukee with his own attempted assassination.
Roosevelt had clearly thought about what he would do if confronted by an assassin.

Once, while discussing McKinley's assassination with reporters, he implied that if it had been he instead of McKinley, he would have shot back. Roosevelt, in fact, was known to carry a gun on occasion during his presidency.
  • Once while he was walking across the White House lawn, his suitcoat flapping in the breeze, cavalrymen standing nearby glimpsed the butt of a revolver sticking out of his inside pocket.
  • On another occasion, while visiting St. Paul, the President and Samuel Van Sant, governor of Minnesota, accidentally exchanged overcoats. Van Sant found a pistol in Roosevelt's coat pocket.
  • On still another occasion, Roosevelt was in Washington, DC, dedicating a Masonic temple. When he opened his suitcoat to take a handkerchief from his pocket, the audience saw the butt of a revolver sticking out of his hip pocket.
However, when the would-be assassin finally struck, Roosevelt was not carrying a gun.

Schrank, who had stalked Roosevelt all over the country, was never tried for the assault. He said he was motivated to shoot Roosevelt after a dream:

I saw President McKinley sit up in his coffin pointing at a man in monk's attire in whom I recognized Theodore Roosevelt. The dead president said, "This is my murderer, avenge my death."
Schrank was committed to a state hospital in Wisconsin, where he remained until his death in 1943 at age 67. In more than 30 years of confinement, he never received a visitor or a letter.
Cited Sources
  1. Manners, William. TR and Will: A Friendship that Split the Republican Party. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1969.
    a  p.286
  2. Foley, WJ. A bullet and a Bull Moose. JAMA. 1969;209:2035-2038. Pubmed: 4897364.
  3. Davis, Oscar King. Released for Publication: Some Inside Political History of Theodore Roosevelt and his Times 1898-1918. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1925.
    a  pp.374-393, 398

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