A clutch of anniversaries

Posted by Tory Historian Tuesday, March 30, 2010 , ,

The biggest of all: on March 30, 1981 there was an attempt to assassinate President Reagan, which very nearly succeeded. The two pictures of the security services in action and Reagan being hustled off into a car, thence to a hospital, do not give the full story - he was far more seriously wounded than anyone, including him, realized at first.

There was a moment of high comedy when Secretary of State Alexander Haig announced that he was in charge until the Vice-President, George H. W. Bush could get back to Washington DC. In actual fact the Secretary of State comes below the Vice-President, the Speaker of the House (Tip O'Neill) and the President pro tempore of the Senate (J. Storm Thurmond). But details like that were not going to stop Haig. In any case, the Veep flew back and Reagan recovered remarkably quickly, given that his lung had been punctured.

There is a wonderful, though unsubstantiated story of Reagan being wheeled to the operating theatre and him saying with his usual impish grin to the surgeon: "I hope you are a Republican." The surgeon is supposed to have replied: "Mr President, today we are all Republicans." Si non e vero, e ben trovato.

One interesting aspect of that attempt, the first any American President had actually survived, is not generally discussed, and that is the effect it had on Tecumseh's Curse. Tory Historian remembers reading about that curse, supposedly put upon President William Harrison by the brother of the defeated Shawnee chief, Tecumseh, in an early edition of Ripley's Believe it or Not, which enumerated all the presidents elected in the year with 0 at the end (that is, every twenty years) who died in office starting with Harrison, elected in 1840 only to die in 1841. The book had been published in 1930 and the section on Tecumseh's Curse with the portentous: 1940 ????? As we know, the man elected in 1940, Franklin D. Roosevelt, did die in office, as did the man elected in 1960, John F. Kennedy. But not the man elected in 1980, who survived that assassination attempt or the man elected, in 2,000, George W. Bush. I think we can assume that by surviving Reagan broke the curse.

Having spent so long on the Reagan story Tory Historian feels that the other anniversaries, some bad like the assassination of Airey Neave MP, the death of the Queen Mother, some good like the ending of the Rosenberg trial with them being found guilty of espionage and some simply hilarious like John Major climbing on his famous soap box during the 1992 election campaign, deserve separate postings.


  1. Michael Says:
  2. You mean Reagan was the first sitting President to be shot and survive.

    Shots were fired (twice) at Gerald Ford, at President-Elect Roosevelt, at Andrew Jackson.

    There were of course many other assassination attempts where the Secret Service apprehended people armed with weapons in the vicinity of the President. At least one was unambiguously an assassination attempt: the 1950 case where Puerto Rican extremists shot dead a White House police officer in an attempt to reach President Truman.

  3. This could well be an election issue...

    The sixth anniversary of the government failing to comply with its obligations under the Convention

    Dominic Grieve does not come off well at all.

  4. You are quite right, Michael. Sloppy use of language. He was the first to be actually shot and survive.

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