September 28, 1881

Robert Todd Lincoln on Presidential Assassinations

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If in the annals of American history, if there was ever an expert witness on Presidential assassinations, that person would have to be Robert Todd Lincoln – he who was so unique, and unlucky, as to have been at the scenes of three assassinations. He was at the bedside of his father, Abraham Lincoln, when he died; at the Washington railroad station when Garfield was shot; and at the Pan-American Exposition as McKinley, too, was mortally wounded. What he had to say, then, about presidential assassination, he said from experience: this letter, written just nine days after the death of Garfield, is about the awful specter of assassination.

Responding to the suggestion that President Arthur “should occupy a residence at the Soldier's Home, and be there guarded by a large body of troops” he explains that in his father’s time “the situation was very different, and it was at one time supposed that an attempt would be made to abduct him and  hold him as a hostage.” It was for this reason, Lincoln says, that his father was guarded. As for President Arthur, he continues, he has no doubt that he will take care of himself, but then adds:

He is undoubtedly liable to be killed by some crazy person or by a fanatic who would be willing to do the deed for the notoriety which might be gained thereby.
As things go in this life it is impossible to thoroughly guard against those classes of people
.

After the assassination of McKinley, legend has it that Lincoln stopped attending Presidential functions: he brought, he believed, bad luck to them.

Letter Signed, as Secretary of War, 2 pages, octavo, War Department, Washington, September 28, 1881. To Captain John S. Cunningham in Philadelphia.

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Transcript

War Department,
Washington

Sept. 28th, 1881

Dear Sir:


I have your note of the 22nd instant, suggesting that President Arthur should occupy a residence at the Soldier's Home, and be there guarded by a large body of troops.

In my father's time, to which you refer, the situation was very different, and it was at one time supposed that an attempt would be made to abduct him and  hold him as a hostage. It was for this reason that he was guarded.

I have no doubt that President Arthur will take care of himself; but he is undoubtedly liable to be killed by some crazy person or by a fanatic who would be willing to do the deed for the notoriety which might be gained thereby.

As things go in this life it is impossible to thoroughly guard against those classes of people.

Very respectfully yours,

ROBERT T. LINCOLN

Captain John S. Cunningham
Pay Director, U.S.N.
425 Crescent Street,
Philadelphia, Pa.