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What Did the Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley Assassinations Have in Common?

The assassinations of Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley share chilling similarities: all three presidents were shot by men who felt wronged by society or politics. Each tragedy unfolded in public spaces, profoundly shaking the nation's sense of security. These events also led to significant changes in security protocols. How did these assassinations reshape the presidency? Join the conversation and share your thoughts.

Robert Todd Lincoln, the eldest son of Abraham Lincoln, must have lived much of his life believing he was cursed. Not only did he rush to his father's deathbed after the president was shot at Ford's Theatre in 1865, but he was also present when President James Garfield was shot in the Baltimore & Potomac Railroad Station in 1881, and he arrived in Buffalo, New York, to meet President William McKinley in 1901, only to learn that McKinley had been shot moments before.

According to Robert Todd Lincoln's 1926 obituary in The New York Times, he later refused to go to any more events involving a U.S. president. "There is a certain fatality about presidential functions when I am present," the Times quoted Lincoln as saying.

Robert Todd Lincoln, eldest son of Abraham Lincoln, was present or nearby for three presidential assassinations.
Robert Todd Lincoln, eldest son of Abraham Lincoln, was present or nearby for three presidential assassinations.

Unlike Abraham Lincoln, neither Garfield nor McKinley died just after being shot. Both men were treated at a hospital and were expected to recover, only to later die from complications. That fact did little to ease Robert Lincoln's worry, though. When Theodore Roosevelt took office after McKinley's death, Lincoln wrote to him, saying: "I do not congratulate you, for I have seen too much of the seamy side of the Presidential Robe to view it as an enviable garment."

The unusual life of Robert Todd Lincoln:

  • In another bizarre coincidence, Edwin Booth, brother of assassin John Wilkes Booth, pulled Robert Todd Lincoln from a potentially deadly train track accident, in late 1864 or early 1865.

  • Mary Todd Lincoln never forgave her son Robert for having her committed to a mental hospital in 1875.

  • Robert Todd Lincoln served as Secretary of War from 1881 to 1885, and U.S. Minister to the United Kingdom from 1889 to 1893.

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    • Robert Todd Lincoln, eldest son of Abraham Lincoln, was present or nearby for three presidential assassinations.
      Robert Todd Lincoln, eldest son of Abraham Lincoln, was present or nearby for three presidential assassinations.