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September 11
A Year Later

A history of assassination at home and abroad

Assassination is hardly unknown in American political life. Since 1835, when an unemployed British house painter fired at President Andrew Jackson but the gun failed to discharge, nine U.S. presidents have been the targets of assassination. According to the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, eight governors, seven U.S. senators, nine U.S. Congressmen, 11 mayors and 17 state legislators have been the object of assassination attempts. The institute says no other country with a population of over 50 million has compiled such a high record of assassinations.

Assassination as a tool of U.S. policy came into vogue in the 20th century but has had a spotty record, with the United States bungling many of the assassination efforts it has attempted. The United States sponsored eight attempts on the life of Fidel Castro. All of them either failed or were abandoned.

Since 1976 assassination as a tool of American foreign policy has been prohibited, though the Pentagon claims the right to act in self-defense. In reaction to the disclosures of a congressional committee investigating planned and attempted CIA assassinations of foreign leaders, President Gerald R. Ford issued an executive order in 1976 outlawing political assassination. Since that time, every president has upheld Ford’s prohibition on assassination, which was confirmed and revised by Presidents Carter and Reagan. In 2001 U.S. Rep. Bob Barr, a Georgia Republican, introduced a bill that would repeal the assassination ban laid out in Ford’s, Carter’s and Reagan’s executive orders.

-- Margot Patterson

National Catholic Reporter, September 6, 2002