We're sorry, but we're pretty sure that by simply by clicking on an article about presidents nearly dying, every single one of you joined a list monitored by the Secret Service. But hey, did you like hearing about how Lincoln could have joined the Donner party and Roosevelt almost died in the Amazon? Then sit back and listen next to how ...
In 1958, Venezuela decided it was that time of the decade again and rose up. They crowds of revolutionaries grew so big and scary that dictator Marcos Perez Jimenez took the first flight out of there and found himself in the United States. A few years later, America would send him back to Venezuela to account for all the hundreds of millions of dollars he'd stolen from there, but for now, it seemed a lot like the US was siding with the enemy of the new nation. And amid this climate, the United States thought it was a good idea to send Vice President Richard Nixon down to South America for a "goodwill" tour.
When Nixon and his wife Pat landed in Caracas, a crowd at the airport threw stones and spat them with tobacco-flavored spittle. The Secret Service formed a wall to protect the Second Couple as best as they could, but it was still a struggle for them just to get into their waiting car. The plan had been to visit a national memorial and lay a wreath down, but someone informed Nixon, "Sir, there are already protesters at the memorial, and they found the wreath and tore it to shreds," so the new plan was to seek safety at the US embassy.
The mob only grew on the way, now armed with pipes and clubs. The car had to stop, and the assailants tried to flip it -- they were pretty clearly going to tear Nixon apart if they could get their hands on him. The Secret Service got outside the car and tried to push the locals back, and 12 agents got injured (all later received awards or medals). They were about to open fire, but Nixon told them not to, showing off that Nixonian calm for which we of course remember him today. He was just lucky that they had chosen a closed vehicle rather than the open car he'd used during the trip so far. He was also fortunate that the car had shatter-proof windows.
They made it to the embassy, where the Venezuelan military needed to come out to keep the crowd from storming the place. The US happened to have a military of its own, and killing a vice president was a good way to start a war, so President Eisenhower mobilized 1,000 troops to invade the country if necessary, in a maneuver called Operation Poor Richard. The Venezuelan president, Wolfgang Larrazabal, had been okay with the protests up to this point, but he now said Nixon would have the country's full protection. And so Nixon got the hell out of the country without dying. He'd go on to always dislike Latin America, as well as the world in general.
In 1844, John Tyler threw a party on a boat, because he was president and no one could tell him what to do. The boat was the USS Princeton, a warship, and though America was engaged in a dozen or so minor wars around this time, the Princeton's only job on February 27 was cruising along the Potomac with the president aboard. Also aboard were cabinet officials, military leaders, a Missouri senator, and 400 other guests. Captain Robert Stockton had the perfect way to entertain them all: He'd fire his gun.
We don't mean he'd aim his pistol in the air. He'd fire a long gun called the Peacemaker, sending a 225-pound shot flying 5 miles. Stockton had overseen the design of the gun himself, and he'd overseen this poorly. While the ship's other gun had gone through over 100 test fires before getting attached to this ship, this one had been tested just a couple times. During the cruise, Stockton fired the gun twice, to the watching crowd's great satisfaction. Then he fired it a third time.
The back of the gun exploded, throwing shrapnel into the crowd. The secretary of state happened to be aboard. The explosion killed him. The secretary of the navy was there as well, and he died too, as did a state senator from New York. Eight died and another dozen were injured, but luckily most of the crowd, including President Tyler, had gone below after the second of the three shots to get refreshments, probably of the liquid variety.
That dead state senator's daughter, Julia Gardiner, was among those below deck, and when the explosion rocked the ship, she fainted. She awoke while being carried out of the ship by none other than John Tyler. The two knew each other before this, and Tyler had proposed to her repeatedly, but it was this incident that convinced her to say yes the next time he asked. As First Lady, she started the tradition of the band welcoming the president with "Hail to the Chief," and she introduced the country to the polka. So what we're saying is, if President Tyler had died on the ship that day, we may never have got the polka, and American history would never be the same.
Fifteen years before he became president, Andrew Jackson was a major general taking a little break from the greater War of 1812 to hop into a civil war between the Creek Indians. One Creek faction, the Red Sticks, were super against the presence of white settlers, while the other more or less okay with it. So the Red Sticks attacked Fort Mims in Alabama, killing everyone there, meaning both white settlers and Creek Indians. Jackson responded by facing the Red Sticks at Horseshoe Bend, a battle where, sadly, he died.
Wait, hold on, that can't be right. No, he almost died, but along with the pro-United States Creek Indians, his men were backed up by a Cherokee army who suddenly showed up and attacked the Red Sticks from the other side, while that music from The Lord of the Rings played. Jackson specifically was all set to be fatally sliced open, but a Cherokee named Junaluska stepped in and saved him. "As long as the sun shines and the grass grows, there shall be friendship between us," said Jackson. So, what fate awaited Jackson's eternal friend Junaluska?
Jackson confiscated Cherokee land as president, and sent Junaluska on the Trail of Tears. That meant arresting him for a while and then sending him to go 1,000 miles on foot to the new lands where America was forcibly resettling them. Unlike many, Junaluska survived the Trail of Tears, and he even ended up walking 1,000 miles back east again to return to his home of North Carolina. But he said that he'd have let Jackson die in that battle given a second chance: "Oh my God, if I had I known at the battle of the Horse Shoe what I know now, American history would have been differently written."
Maybe he should have realized earlier that Jackson was not a man to be trusted. Back during the battle where Junaluska saved him, Jackson's men killed hundreds of the Red Sticks as they fled, which isn't exactly sportsmanlike. Then he skinned the slain men to make reins for his horses, which isn't exactly something any human should do ever. And he stripped the dead men so he could send their clothes to the ladies of Tennessee, as souvenirs. So, on top of everything else, Jackson was terrible at picking out gifts.
Say what you like about John Hinckley Jr., but at least he never got too concerned about politics. Sure, you might think that trying to assassinate the president of the United States would be the ultimate political act, but he wasn't acting out of some deeply held convictions about tax policy or anything like that. He just thought his heroics would impress Jodie Foster, because he'd watched the movie Taxi Driver too many times. Just like that shooter who was inspired by watching Joker, except that Hinkley actually existed outside of the media's masturbatory fantasies.
So, Hinckley had no reason to kill Ronald Reagan specifically. He just wanted to kill "the president." And he in fact pulled off the shooting just two months into Reagan's first term, not very long since the president had been someone else entirely. If he had gone forward with the shooting a little earlier, might he have gone ahead and aimed his gun at Jimmy Carter instead? Answer: Yes. It seems like he was planning to do just that.
No one really put two and two together at the time, but Hinckley was caught stalking Jimmy Carter during the run-up to the election. At one campaign event, he got within six feet of him, and prosecutors ended up sharing footage of this at his trial. He went on following Carter right up until he was arrested on a weapon charge in Nashville, the very day Carter was coming to the city. If he did shoot Carter that day and Carter survived, surely voters would have switched sides to him, and he would have won in November 1980 if the election was at all close. Was it at all close?
Okay, Carter wasn't exactly in spitting distance of winning, but if anything could get people to rally around an incumbent, his surviving a shooting one month before Election Day would surely do it. On the other hand, if the assassination succeeded and Carter died, Walter Mondale would have been immediately inaugurated as the 40th president. Exactly as scheming VP Walter Mondale had planned.
If you have somehow gone this far without knowing that Ronald Reagan starred in a chimpanzee movie called Bedtime for Bonzo, well, you're in for a treat. The entire film is available on YouTube. Watch it to see actor Ronald Reagan raise a chimpanzee, while declaring, "A lot of people think they were born better than others. I'm trying to prove it's the way you're raised that counts. But even a monkey brought up in the right surroundings can learn the meaning of decency and honesty."
Ronald Reagan did not actually like his costar, and the chimp (whose name was Peggy, though a chimp actually named Bonzo replaced her for the cerebral sequel Bonzo Goes to College) didn't like him either. One time on set, she grabbed at his tie and tightened it around his throat till someone had to cut it off with a knife so he could breathe again. By some accounts, the chimp pulled the tie so tight, the knot was as small as a fingernail, and Reagan was just seconds from dying. But you should keep in mind that Reagan was an actor in a movie, and actors in movies tend to be a little too ready to call every single filming mishap a terrifying accident that just barely missed killing them.
A little later in Reagan's life, though, and we have a brush with death that's more closely documented. The culprit here was even less scary than a trained chimp: It was a single peanut. A peanut that found its way down his trachea to choke him. His campaign aide, Mike Deaver, happened to be on hand and gave him that forceful thrust known as the Heimlich maneuver, sending the peanut flying back out his mouth.
Today, this would be a tense situation for a presidential candidate to go through, but it wouldn't be so surprising that someone managed to save him. Everyone's heard of the Heimlich maneuver. You routinely hear of even little kids using it on each other after seeing it on TV. But in 1976, the maneuver was brand-new and was yet to be endorsed by experts. And still Reagan had heard of it and had forced baffled aides to learn it. Had he not, that nut would have killed him. Exactly as peanut farmer Jimmy Carter had planned.