Robert Lincoln Witnesses Assassinations of Three Presidents

September 28, 1881

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Robert Lincoln Witnesses Assassinations of Three Presidents
Letter Signed
2 pages | SMC 1108

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      Background

      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 presidential assassinations. Robert Lincoln was at the bedside of his father, Abraham Lincoln, when he died; Robert was at the Washington railroad station when Garfield was shot; and he was also at the Pan-American Exposition as McKinley 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.

      Robert Todd Lincoln is the only witness to be present at three different presidential assassinations, and thus his opinions are both unique and compelling.


      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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      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 Soldiers' 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

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      Page 2 transcript
      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 these classes of people.

      Very respectfully yours.

      ROBERT T. LINCOLN


      Capt. John S. Cunningham,
      Pay Director, U.S.N.
      425 Crescent St.
      Philadelphia, Pa.