Warren Commission Report
Appendix VII - A Brief History of Presidential ProtectionIn the course of the history of the United States four Presidents have been assassinated, within less than 100 years, beginning with Abraham Lincoln in 1865. Attempts were also made on the lives of two other Presidents, one President-elect, and one ex-President. Still other Presidents were the objects of plots that were never carried out. The actual attempts occurred as follows:
Andrew Jackson Jan. 30, 1835 Abraham Lincoln Apr. 14, 1865 Died Apt. 15, 1865 James A. Garfield July 2, 1881 Died Sept. 19, 1881 William McKinley Sept. 6, 1901 Died Sept. 14, 1901 Theodore Roosevelt Oct. 14, 1912 Wounded; recovered Franklin D. Roosevelt Feb. 15, 1933 Harry S. Truman Nov. 1, 1950 John F. Kennedy Nov. 22, 1963 Died that day
Attempts have thus been made on the lives of one of every five American Presidents. One of every nine Presidents has been killed. Since 1865, there have been attempts on the lives of one of every four Presidents and the successful assassination of one of every five. During the last three decades, three attacks were made.
It was only after William McKinley was shot that systematic and continuous protection of the President was instituted. Protection before McKinley was intermittent and spasmodic. The problem had existed from the days of the early Presidents, but no action was taken until three tragic events had occurred. In considering the effectiveness of present day protection arrangements, it is worthwhile to examine the development of Presidential protection over the years, to understand both the high degree of continuing danger and the anomalous reluctance to take the necessary precautions.
Before the Civil WarIn the early days of the Republic, there was remarkably little concern about the safety of Presidents and few measures were taken to protect them. They were at times the objects of abuse and the recipients of threatening letters as more recent Presidents have been, but they did not take the threats seriously and moved about freely without protective escorts.
On his inauguration day, Thomas Jefferson walked from his boarding house to the Capitol, unaccompanied by any guard, to take the oath of office. There was no police authority in Washington itself until 1805 when the mayor appointed a high constable and 40 deputy constables.
John Quincy Adams received many threatening letters and on one occasion was threatened in person in the White House by a courtmartialed Army sergeant. In spite of this incident, the President asked for no protection and continued to indulge his fondness for solitary walks and early morning swims in the Potomac.
Among pre-Civil War Presidents, Andrew Jackson aroused particularly strong feelings. He received many threatening letters which, with a fine contempt, he would endorse and send to the Washington Globe for publication. On one occasion in May 1833, Jackson was assaulted by a former Navy lieutenant, Robert B. Randolph, but refused to prosecute him. This is not regarded as an attempt at assassination, since Randolph apparently did not intend serious injury.
Less than 2 years later, on the morning of January 10, 1835, as Jackson emerged from the east portico of the Capitol, he was accosted by a would-be assassin, Richard Lawrence, an English-born house painter. Lawrence fired his two pistols at the President, but they both misfired. Lawrence was quickly overpowered and held for trial. A jury found him not guilty by reason of insanity. He was confined in jails and mental hospitals for the rest of his life.
The attack on Jackson did not inspire any action to provide protection for the Chief Executive. Jackson's immediate successor, Martin Van Buren, often walked to church alone and rode horseback alone in the woods not far from the White House. In August 1842, after an intoxicated painter had thrown rocks at President John Tyler, who was walking on the grounds to the south of the White House, Congress passed an act to establish an auxiliary watch for the protection of public and private property in Washington. The force was to consist of a captain and 15 men. This act was apparently aimed more at the protection of the White House, which had been defaced on occasion, than of the President.
LincolnEven before he took the oath of office, Abraham Lincoln was thought to be the object of plots and conspiracies to kidnap or kill him. Extremist opponents apparently contemplated desperate measures to prevent his inauguration, and there is some evidence that they plotted to attack him while he was passing through Baltimore on his way to Washington.
For the inauguration, the Army took precautions unprecedented up to that time and perhaps more elaborate than any precautions taken since. Soldiers occupied strategic points throughout the city, along the procession route, and at the Capitol, while armed men in plain clothes mingled with the crowds. Lincoln himself, in a carriage with President Buchanan, was surrounded on all sides by such dense masses of soldiers that he was almost completely hidden from the view of the crowds. The precautions at the Capitol during the ceremony were almost as thorough and equally successful.
Lincoln lived in peril during all his years in office. The volume of threatening letters remained high throughout the war, but little attention was paid to them. The few letters that were investigated yielded no results. He was reluctant to surround himself with guards and often rejected protection or sought to slip away from it. This has been characteristic of almost all American Presidents. They have regarded protection as a necessary affliction at best and contrary to their normal instincts for either personal privacy or freedom to meet the people. In Lincoln these instincts were especially strong, and he suffered with impatience the efforts of his friends, the police, and the military to safeguard him.
The protection of the President during the war varied greatly, depending on Lincoln's susceptibility to warnings. Frequently, military units were assigned to guard the White House and to accompany the President on his travels. Lincoln's friend, Ward H. Lamon, on becoming marshal of the District of Columbia in 1861, took personal charge of protecting the President and provided guards for the purpose, but he became so exasperated at the President's lack of cooperation that he tendered his resignation. Lincoln did not accept it. Finally, late in the war, in November 1864, four Washington policemen were detailed to the White House to act as personal bodyguards to the President. Lincoln tolerated them reluctantly and insisted they remain as inconspicuous as possible.
In the closing days of the war, rumors of attempts on Lincoln's life persisted. The well-known actor, John Wilkes Booth, a fanatical Confederate sympathizer, plotted with others for months to kidnap the President. The fall of the Confederacy apparently hardened his determination to kill Lincoln. Booth's opportunity came on Good Friday, April 14, 1865, when he learned that the President would be attending a play at Ford's Theater that night. The President's bodyguard for the evening was Patrolman John F. Parker of the Washington Police, a man who proved himself unfit for protective duty. He was supposed to remain on guard in the corridor outside of the Presidential box during the entire performance of the play, but he soon wandered off to watch the play and then even went outside the theater to have a drink at a nearby saloon. Parker's dereliction of duty left the President totally unprotected. Shortly after 10 o'clock on that evening, Booth found his way up to the Presidential box and shot the President in the head. The President's wound was a mortal one; he died the next morning, April 15.
A detachment of troops captured Booth on April 26 at a farm near Bowling Green, Va.; he received a bullet wound and died a few hours later. At a trial in June, a military tribunal sentenced four of Booth's associates to death and four others to terms of imprisonment.
Lincoln's assassination revealed the total inadequacy of Presidential protection. A congressional committee conducted an extensive investigation of the assassination, but with traditional reluctance, called for no action to provide better protection for the President in the future. Nor did requests for protective measures come from the President or from Government departments. This lack of concern for the protection of the President may have derived also from the tendency of the time to regard Lincoln's assassination as part of a unique crisis that was not likely to happen to a future Chief Executive.
The Need for Protection Further DemonstratedFor a short time after the war, soldiers assigned by the War Department continued to protect the White House and its grounds. Metropolitan Washington policemen assisted on special occasions to maintain order and prevent the congregation of crowds. The permanent Metropolitan Police guard was reduced to three and assigned entirely to protection at the White House. There was no special group of trained officers to protect the person of the President. Presidents after Lincoln continued to move about in Washington virtually unattended, as their predecessors had done before the Civil War, and, as before, such protection as they got at the White House came from the doormen, who were not especially trained for guard duty.
This lack of personal protection for the President came again tragically to the attention of the country with the shooting of President James A. Garfield in 1881. The President's assassin, Charles J. Guiteau, was a self-styled "lawyer, theologian, and politician" who had convinced himself that his unsolicited efforts to help elect Garfield in 1880 entitled him to appointment as a consul in Europe. Bitterly disappointed that the President ignored his repeated written requests for appointment to office and obsessed with a kind of megalomania, he resolved to kill Garfield.
At that time Guiteau was 38 years old and had an unusually checkered career behind him. He had been an itinerant and generally unsuccessful lecturer and evangelist, a lawyer, and a would-be politician. While it is true he resented Garfield's failure to appoint him consul in Paris as a reward for his wholly illusory contribution to the Garfield campaign, and he verbally attacked Garfield for his lack of support for the so-called Stalwart wing of the Republican Party, these may not have supplied the total motivation for his crime. At his trial he testified that the "Deity" had commanded him to remove the President. There is no evidence that he confided his assassination plans to anyone or that he had any close friends or confidants. He made his attack on the President under circumstances where escape after the shooting was inconceivable.
There were some hereditary mental problems in his family and Guiteau apparently believed in divine inspiration. Guiteau later testified that he had three opportunities to attack the President prior to the actual shooting. On all of these occasions, within a brief period of 3 weeks, the President was unguarded. Guiteau finally realized his intent on the morning of July 2, 1881. As Garfield was walking to a train in the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station in Washington, Guiteau stepped up and shot him in the back. Garfield did not die from the effects of the wound until September 19, 1881. Although there was evidence of serious abnormality in Guiteau, he was found guilty of murder and sentenced to be hanged. The execution took place on June 30, 1882.
At least one newspaper, the New York Tribune, predicted that the assault on Garfield would lead to the President becoming "the slave of his office, the prisoner of forms and restrictions," in sharp and unwelcome contrast to the splendidly simple life he had been able to live before.
The bullet of the assassin who lurked in the Washington railway station to take the life of President Garfield shattered the simple Republican manner of life which the custom of nearly a century has prescribed for the Chief Magistrate of the United States. Our Presidents have been the first citizens of the Republic nothing more. With a measure of power in their hands far greater than is wielded by the ruler of any limited monarchy in Europe, they have never surrounded themselves with the forms and safeguards of courts. The White House has been a business office to everybody. Its occupant has always been more accessible than the heads of great commercial establishments. When the passions of the war were at fever heat, Mr. Lincoln used to have a small guard of cavalry when he rode out to his summer residence at the Soldier's Home; but at no other time in our history has it been thought needful for a President to have any special protection against violence when inside or outside the White House. Presidents have driven about Washington like other people and traveled over the country as unguarded and unconstrained as any private citizen.
The prediction of the Tribune did not come to pass. Although the Nation was shocked by this deed, its representatives took no steps to provide the President with personal protection. The President continued to move about Washington, sometimes completely alone, and to travel without special protection. There is a story that President Chester A. Arthur, Garfield's successor, once went to a ceremony at the Washington Navy Yard on a public conveyance that he hailed in front of the White House.
During Grover Cleveland's second administration (1893-97) the number of threatening letters addressed to the President increased markedly, and Mrs. Cleveland persuaded the President to increase the number of White House policemen to 27 from the 3 who had constituted the force since the Civil War. In 1894, the Secret Service began to provide protection, on an informal basis. The Secret Service was organized as a division of the Department of the Treasury in 1865, to deal with counterfeiting. Its jurisdiction was extended to other fiscal crimes against the United States in later appropriations acts, 23 but its early work in assisting in protecting the President was an unofficial, stopgap response to a need for a trained organization, with investigative capabilities, to perform this task. In 1894, while investigating a plot by a group of gamblers in Colorado to assassinate President Cleveland, the Secret Service assigned a small detail of operatives to the White House to help protect him. Secret Service men accompanied the President and his family to their vacation home in Massachusetts; special details protected the President in Washington, on trips, and at special functions. For a time, two agents rode in a buggy behind President Cleveland's carriage, but this practice attracted so much attention in the opposition newspapers that it was soon discontinued at the President's insistence. These initially informal and part-time arrangements eventually led to the organization of permanent systematic protection for the President and his family.
During the Spanish-American War the Secret Service stationed a detail at the White House to provide continuous protection for President McKinley. The special wartime protective measures were relaxed after the war, but Secret Service guards remained on duty at the White House at least part of the time.
Between 1894 and 1900, anarchists murdered the President of France, the Premier of Spain, the Empress of Austria, and the King of Italy. At the turn of the century the Secret Service thought that the strong police action taken against the anarchists in Europe was compelling them to flee and that many were coming to the United States. Concerned about the protection of the President, the Secret Service increased the number of guards and directed that a guard accompany him on all of his trips.
Unlike Lincoln and Garfield, President McKinley was being guarded when he was shot by Leon F. Czolgosz, an American-born 28-year-old factory worker and farmhand. On September 6, 1901, the President was holding a brief reception for the public in the Temple of Music at the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo. Long lines of people passed between two rows of policemen and soldiers to reach the President and shake his hand. In the immediate vicinity of the President were four Buffalo detectives, four soldiers, and three Secret Service agents. Two of the Secret Service men were facing the President at a distance of 3 feet. One of them stated later that it was normally his custom to stand at the side of the President on such, occasions, but that he had been requested not to do so at this time in order to permit McKinley's secretary and the president of the exposition to stand on either side of McKinley. Czolgosz joined the line concealed a pistol under a handkerchief, and when he stood in front of the President shot twice through the handkerchief. McKinley fell critically wounded.
Czolgosz, a self-styled anarchist, did not believe in rulers of any kind. There is evidence that the organized anarchists in the U. S. A. did not accept or trust him. He was not admitted as a member to any of the secret anarchist societies. No co-plotters were ever discovered, and there is no evidence that he had confided in anyone. A calm inquiry made by two eminent alienists about a year after Czolgosz was executed found that Czolgosz had for some time been suffering from delusions. One was that he was an anarchist; another was that it was his duty to assassinate the President.
The assassin said he had no grudge against the President personally but did not believe in the republican form of government or in rulers of any kind. In his written confession he included the words, "'I don't believe one man should have so much service and another man should have none.'" As he was strapped to the chair to be electrocuted, he said: "I killed the President because he was the enemy of the good peoplethe good working people. I am not sorry for my crime."
McKinley lingered on for 8 days before he died of blood poisoning early on the morning of September 14. Czolgosz, who had been captured immediately, was swiftly tried, convicted, and condemned to death. Although it seemed to some contemporaries that Czolgosz was incompetent, the defense made no effort to plead insanity. Czolgosz was executed 45 days after the President's death. Investigations by the Buffalo police and the Secret Service revealed no accomplices and no plot of any kind.
Development of Presidential ProtectionThis third assassination of a President in a little more than a generationit was only 36 years since Lincoln had been killedshook the nation and aroused it to a greater wareness of the uniqueness of the Presidency and the grim hazards that surrounded an incumbent of that Office. The first congressional session after the assassination of McKinley gave more attention to legislation concerning attacks on the President than had any previous Congress but did not pass any measures for the protection of the President. Nevertheless, in the Secret Service, which was then the only Federal general investigative agency of any consequence, assumed full-time responsibility for the safety of the President. Protection of the President now became one of its major permanent functions, and it assigned two men to its original full-time White House detail. Additional agents were provided when the President traveled or went on vacation.
Theodore Roosevelt, who was the first President to experience the extensive system of protection that has surrounded the President ever since, voiced an opinion of Presidential protection that was probably shared in part by most of his successors. In a letter to Senator Henry Cabot Lodge in, from his summer home, he wrote:
The Secret Service men are a very small but very necessary thorn in the flesh. Of course, they would not be the least use preventing any assault upon my life. I do not believe there is any danger of such an assault, and if there were, as Lincoln said, "though it would be safer for a President to live in a cage, it would interfere with his business." But it is only the Secret Service men who render life endurable, as you would realize if you saw the procession of carriages that pass through the place, the procession of people on foot who try to get into the place, not to speak of the multitude of cranks and others who are stopped in the village. Roosevelt, who had succeeded to the Presidency because of an assassin's bullet, himself became the object of an assassination attempt a few years after he left office and when he was no longer under Secret Service protection. During the Presidential campaign of 1900, just as he was about to make a political speech in Milwaukee on October 14, he was shot and wounded in the breast by John N. Schrank, a 36-year-old German-born ex-tavern keeper. A folded manuscript of his long speech and the metal case for his eyeglasses in the breast pocket of Roosevelt's coat were all that prevented the assassination.
Schrank had a vision in 1901, induced possibly by McKinley's assassination, which took on meaning for him after Roosevelt, 11 years later, started to campaign for the Presidency. In this vision the ghost of McKinley appeared to him and told him not to let a murderer (i. e., Roosevelt, who according to the vision had murdered McKinley) become President. It was then that he determined upon the assassination. At the bidding of McKinley's ghost, he felt he had no choice but to kill Theodore Roosevelt. After his attempt on Roosevelt, Schrank was found to be insane and was committed to mental hospitals in Wisconsin for the rest of his life.
The establishment and extension of the Secret Service authority for protection was a prolonged process. Although the Secret Service undertook to provide full-time protection for the President beginning in 1902, it received neither funds for the purpose nor sanction from the Congress until 1906 when the Sundry Civil Expenses Act for 1907 included funds for protection of the President by the Secret Service. Following the election of William Howard Taft in 1908, the Secret Service began providing protection for the President-elect. This practice received statutory authorization in 1913, and in the same year, Congress authorized permanent protection of the President. It remained necessary to renew the authority annually in the Appropriations Acts until 1951.
As in the Civil and Spanish-American Wars, the coming of war in 1917 caused increased concern for the safety of the President. Congress enacted a law, since referred to as the threat statute, making it a crime to threaten the President by mail or in any other manner. In 1917 Congress also authorized protection for the President's immediate family by the Secret Service.
As the scope of the Presidency expanded during the 20th century, the Secret Service found the problems of protection becoming more numerous. In 1906, for the first time in history, a President traveled outside the United States while in office. When Theodore Roosevelt visited Panama in that year, he was accompanied and protected by Secret Service men. In 1918-19 Woodrow Wilson broadened the precedent of Presidential foreign travel when he traveled to Europe with a Secret Service escort of 10 men to attend the Versailles Peace Conference.
The attempt on the life of President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933 further demonstrated the broad scope and complexity of the protection problems facing the Secret Service. Giuseppe Zangara was a bricklayer and stonemason with a professed hatred of capitalists and Presidents. He seemed to be obsessed with the desire to kill a President. After his arrest he confessed that he had first planned to go to Washington to kill President Herbert Hoover, but as the cold climate of the North was bad for his stomach trouble, he was loath to leave Miami, where he was staying. When he read in the paper that President-elect Roosevelt would be in Miami, he resolved to kill him.
On the night of February 15, 1933, at, a political rally in Miami's Bayfront Park, the President-elect sat on the top of the rear seat of his automobile with a small microphone in his hand as he made a short informal talk. Fortunately for him, however, he slid down into the seat just before Zangara could get near enough to take aim. The assassin's arm may have been jogged just as he shot; the five rounds he directed at Roosevelt went awry. However, he mortally wounded Mayor Anton Cermak, of Chicago, and hit four other persons; the President-elect, by a miracle, escaped. Zangara, of course, never had any chance of escaping.
Zangara was electrocuted on March 20, 1933, only 33 days after his attempt on Roosevelt. No evidence of accomplices or conspiracy came to light, but there was some sensational newspaper speculation, wholly undocumented, that Zangara may have been hired by Chicago gangsters to kill Cermak.
The force provided since the Civil War by the Washington Metropolitan Police for the protection of the White House had grown to 54 men by 1922. In that year Congress enacted legislation creating the White House Police Force as a separate organization under the direct control of the President. This force was actually supervised by the President's military aide until 1930, when Congress placed supervision under the Chief of the Secret Service. Although Congress transferred control and supervision of the force to the Secretary of the Treasury in 1962, the Secretary delegated supervision to the Chief of the Secret Service.
The White House detail of the Secret Service grew in size slowly from the original 2 men assigned in 1902. In 1914 it still numbered only 5, but during World War I it was increased to 10 men. Additional men were added when the President traveled. After the war the size of the detail grew until it reached 16 agents and 2 supervisors by 1939. World War II created new and greater protection problems, especially those arising from the President's trips abroad to the Grand Strategy Conferences in such places as Casablanca, Quebec, Tehran, Cairo, and Yalta. To meet the increased demands, the White House detail was increased to 37 men early in the war.
The volume of mail received by the White House had always been large, but it reached huge proportions under Franklin D. Roosevelt. Presidents had always received threatening letters but never in such quantities. To deal with this growing problem, the Secret Service established in 1940 the Protective Research Section to analyze and make available to those charged with protecting the President, information from White House mail and other sources concerning people potentially capable of violence to the President. The Protective Research Section undoubtedly permitted the Secret Service to anticipate and forestall many incidents that might have been embarrassing or harmful to the President.
Although there was no advance warning of the attempt on Harry S. Truman's life on November 1, 1950, the protective measures taken by the Secret Service availed, and the assassins never succeeded in firing directly at the President. The assassins Oscar Collazo and Griselio Torresola, Puerto Rican Nationalists living in New Yorktried to force their way into Blair House, at the time the President's residence while the white House was being repaired. Blair House was guarded by White House policemen and Secret Service agents. In the ensuing gun battle, Torresola and one White House policeman were killed, and Collazo and two White House policemen were wounded. Had the assassins succeeded in entering the front door of Blair House, they would probably have been cut down immediately by another Secret Service agent inside who kept the doorway covered with a submachine gun from his vantage point at the foot of the main stairs. In all, some 27 shots were fired in less than 3 minutes.
Collazo was brought to trial in 1951 and sentenced to death, but President Truman commuted the sentence to life imprisonment on July 24, 1952. Although there was a great deal of evidence linking Collazo and Torresola to the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico and its leader, Pedro Albizu Campos, the Government could not establish that the attack on the President was part of a larger Nationalist conspiracy.
The attack on President Truman led to the enactment in 1951 of legislation that permanently authorized the Secret Service to protect the President, his immediate family, the President-elect, and the Vice President, the last upon his request. Protection of the Vice President by the Secret Service had begun in January 1945 when Harry S. Truman occupied the office.
In 1962 Congress further enlarged the list of Government officers to be safeguarded, authorizing protection of the Vice President (or the officer next in order of succession to the Presidency) without requiring his request therefor; of the Vice President-elect; and of a former President, at his request, for a reasonable period after his departure from office. The Secret Service considered this "reasonable period" to be 6 months.
Amendments to the threat statute of 1917, passed in 1955 and 1962, made it a crime to threaten to harm the President-elect, the Vice Presidents or other officers next in succession to either office. The President's immediate family was not included in the threat statute.
Congressional concern regarding the uses to which the President might put the Secret Servicefirst under Theodore Roosevelt and subsequently under Woodrow Wilsoncaused Congress to place tight restrictions on the functions of the Service and the uses of its funds. The restrictions probably prevented the Secret Service from developing into a general investigative agency, leaving the field open for some other agency when the need arose. The other agency proved to be the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), established within the Department of Justice in 1908.
The FBI grew rapidly in the 1920's, and especially in the 1930's and after, establishing itself as the largest, best equipped, and best known of all US. Government investigative agencies. In the appropriations of the FBI there recurred annually an item for the "protection of the person of the President of the United States," that had first appeared in the appropriation of the Department of Justice in 1910 under the heading "Miscellaneous Objects." But there is no evidence that the Justice Department ever exercised any direct responsibility for the protection of the President. Although it had no prescribed protection functions, according to its Director, J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI did provide protection to Vice President Charles Curtis at his request, when he was serving under Herbert Hoover from 1929 to 1933. Over the years the FBI contribution to Presidential protection was confined chiefly to the referral to the Secret Service of the names of people who might be potentially dangerous to the President.
In recent years the Secret Service has remained a small and specialized bureau, restricted to very limited functions prescribed by Congress. In 1949, a task force of the Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch of the Government (Hoover Commission), recommended nonfiscal functions be removed from the Treasury Department. The recommendation called for transfer of the White House detail, White House Police Force, and Treasury Guard Force from the Secret Service to the Department of Justice. The final report of the Commission on the Treasury Department omitted this recommendation, leaving the protective function with the Secret Service. At a meeting of the Commission, ex-President Hoover, in a reference to the proposed transfer, expressed the opinion that "the President will object to having a 'private eye' looking after these fellows and would rather continue with the service."
In 1963 the Secret Service was one of several investigative agencies in the Treasury Department. Its major functions were to combat counterfeiting and to protect the President, his family, and other designated persons. The Chief of the Secret Service administered its activities through four divisions: Investigation, Inspection, Administrative, and Security, and 65 field offices throughout the country, each under a special agent in charge who reported directly to Washington. The Security Division supervised the White House detail, the White House Police, and the Treasury Guard Force. During fiscal year 1963 (July 1, 1962-June 30, 1963) the Secret Service had an average strength of 513, of whom 351 were special agents. Average strength of the White House Police during the year was 179.