On this day in 1912, outside the Hotel Gilpatrick in Milwaukee, a would-be assassin rushed up to Theodore Roosevelt, then campaigning for the presidency on the Progressive Party ticket, and shot him on the right side of his chest.
Slowed by passing through the manuscript of the speech Roosevelt was to give that night, the bullet nevertheless pierced his flesh, and blood covered his shirt.
But he went to the hall and gave the speech anyway, going on for almost an hour.
Because Theodore Roosevelt was entirely made of top-grade triple-refined USDA-inspected 100 percent purest awesome.
And this is what he said:
Now, I would not speak to you insincerely within five minutes of being shot. I am telling you the literal truth when I say my concern is for many other things. It is not in the least for my own life….
I don’t know who the man was who shot me to-night…. He shot to kill me. He shot the bullet. I am just going to show you (Col. Roosevelt then unbuttoned coat and vest and showed his white shirt badly stained with blood)….
Now, I wish to say seriously to the speakers and newspapers representing the Republican and Democratic and Socialist Parties that they cannot, month in and month out, year in and year out, make the kind of slanderous, bitter, and malevolent assaults that they have made and not expect that brutal and violent characters, especially when the brutality is accompanied by a not too strong mind; they cannot expect that such natures will be unaffected by it….
Don’t you pity me. I am all right. I am all right, and you cannot escape listening to my speech either….
I wish to say that the Progressive Party is making its appeal to all our fellow citizens without any regard to their creed or to their birthplace….
In New York, while I was Police Commissioner, the two men from whom I got the most assistance were Jacob Riis, who was born in Denmark, and Oliver von Briesen, who was born in Germany, both of them as fine examples of the best and highest American citizenship as you could find in any part of this country….
At one time I promoted five men for gallantry on the field of battle…. two of them were Protestants, two Catholics, and one a Jew. One Protestant came from Germany and one was born in Ireland. I did not promote them because of their religion, it just happened that way. If all of them had been Jews, I would have promoted them, or if all had been Protestants I would have promoted them, or if they had been Catholics….
I ask that in our civic life that we in the same way pay heed only to the man’s quality of citizenship—to repudiate as the worst enemy that we can have whoever tries to get us to discriminate for or against any man because of his creed or his birthplace…. in the same way I want our people to stand by one another without regard to differences of class or occupation. I have always stood by the labor unions…. It is essential that there should be organization of labor…..
Now, the Democratic party in its platform and through the utterances of Mr. Wilson has distinctly committed itself to the old flintlock, muzzle-loaded doctrine of States’ rights, and I have said distinctly we are for people’s rights. We are for the rights of the people. If they can be obtained best through National Government, then we are for national rights. We are for people’s rights however it is necessary to secure them.
Mr. Wilson has made a long essay against Senator Beveridge’s bill to abolish child labor. It is the same kind of argument that would be made against our bill to prohibit women from working more than eight hours a day in industry. It is the same kind of argument that would have to be made; if it is true, it would apply equally against our proposal to insist that in continuous industries there shall be by law one day’s rest in seven and three-shift eight-hour day….
I ask you to look at our declaration and hear and read our platform about social and industrial justice and then, friends, vote for the Progressive ticket without regard to me, without regard to my personality, for only by voting for that platform can you be true to the cause of progress throughout this Union.1
Roosevelt recovered from the shooting, and his campaign lumbered to the most respectable losing third-party finish in presidential history.
He was right about the man who shot him. John Schrank probably was of weak mind, and influenced by the strong language common in 1912 casting Roosevelt as a messianic madman reaching for an unprecedented third term (Roosevelt had served almost all of McKinley’s second term; you can of course read more about this here).
Such people—such violent and pliable people—were out there, Roosevelt supposed; the thing to do was to conduct politics so that they did not think their violence wanted in the nation’s public affairs.
Not too long ago the Exceptional Case Study Project of the Secret Service compiled data on assassination and attempted assassinations in the United States; you can find it here. They defined “principal incidents”—assassination, attack, or approach with a lethal weapon—as the primary unit of analysis. They found 25 cases, or around one every two years, in which such an incident occurred involving the president.
Assume, as Roosevelt did, a population in which there are some weak-minded people, prone to violence. What makes such people fixate on a public figure? Roosevelt thought it could only be the language, bordering on incitement, with which it had become acceptable to attack public figures.
1I didn’t have the collected works to hand (I know, I should really carry it with me everywhere—all 24 volumes) so I pieced this together from the NYT report, which was for some reason not the complete speech, and this version.