You Gotta Know These Assassinations
- On March 15, 44 BC (the Ides of March) Roman statesman Julius Caesar was stabbed 23 times by the Liberatores (“Liberators”), a group of senators led by Gaius Cassius Longinus and Marcus Junius Brutus. Caesar died at the base of the Roman Curia in the Theater of Pompey, just outside the Roman Senate. Caesar had recently been named dictator perpetuo—or “dictator in perpetuity”—which many senators believed would be the end of the Roman Republic. After the assassination, Caesar’s adopted grandnephew Octavian (later Augustus) and his top general Marc Antony formed the Second Triumvirate with Marcus Lepidus; the trio deified Caesar and defeated Brutus and Cassius at the Battle of Philippi.
- On May 4, 1610 King Henry IV of France was stabbed to death by François Ravaillac, a Catholic fanatic who claimed to have had visions instructing him to convince Henry to convert the Huguenots (Protestants) to Catholicism. Ravaillac stabbed Henry—the first French king from the Bourbon Dynasty—on the Rue de la Ferronnerie when the king’s coach stopped in traffic. One of the king’s advisors, Hercule, Duke of Montbazon, was wounded in the attack but survived. Henry IV was survived by his wife Marie de’ Medici, who served as regent for their son Louis XIII until he took power in 1617.
- On April 14, 1865 U.S. President Abraham Lincoln was shot and killed by John Wilkes Booth during a showing of the play Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. Lincoln died the next morning at Petersen House across the street. The assassination was part of a wider plot that included failed attempts to kill Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William Seward. Prior to shooting the president, Booth shouted the Virginia state motto, sic semper tyrannis (“thus always to tyrants”). Booth fled the theater after the attack. After a two-week manhunt, he was found in a barn in northern Virginia, where he refused to surrender and was killed by Union soldier Boston Corbett. Samuel Mudd, a doctor, was controversially imprisoned for treating the broken leg that Booth suffered during his escape.
- On June 28, 1914 Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were assassinated in Sarajevo by Serbian ultra-nationalist Gavrilo Princip, a member of a secret military society called the Black Hand. In response to the assassination, Austria-Hungary issued the July Ultimatum to Serbia, leading to the outbreak of World War I.
- On January 30, 1948 Indian independence advocate Mohandas Gandhi was shot three times at point-blank range by Nathuram Godse, a Hindu nationalist. The shooting occurred just as Gandhi was beginning his daily interfaith service at Birla House in New Delhi. Godse was apprehended by Herbert Reiner Jr., an American diplomat. During his trial, Godse criticized Gandhi’s accepting behavior toward Muslims and blamed Gandhi for the 1947 Partition of India. Gandhi’s death was reported to the nation via radio by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru that evening.
- On November 22, 1963 U.S. President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed by Lee Harvey Oswald, who targeted the presidential motorcade from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository as the vehicles rode through Dallas’s Dealey Plaza. Texas Governor John Connolly was also severely injured in the shooting, which was captured on tape in the Zapruder film. Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as president aboard Air Force One later that day. Oswald never faced trial for the assassination, as he himself was shot and killed by bar owner Jack Ruby while being transported by federal agents. The Kennedy assassination was investigated by the Warren Commission, led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, which concluded that Oswald was the lone gunman.
- On February 21, 1965 Muslim activist Malcolm X was shot and killed in the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan by three members of the Nation of Islam, an organization that Malcolm X left in March 1964. The assassins were Talmadge Hayer, Norman 3X Butler, and Thomas 15X Johnson. Malcolm X was about to give a speech to the Organization of Afro-American Unity when he was shot 21 times with a shotgun. Many people, including Malcolm X’s widow, have blamed Louis Farrakhan’s harsh rhetoric for inciting the assassination.
- On April 4, 1968 civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed on a balcony at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee by James Earl Ray. King had been in Memphis to show support for a strike by African-American sanitation workers. One notable response to the death of King was the speech given by Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy that night in Indianapolis, in which he quoted the words of the Greek playwright Aeschylus about “pain which cannot forget” that “falls drop by drop upon the heart.”
- On June 5, 1968 Robert F. Kennedy was himself fatally shot by Sirhan Sirhan in Los Angeles. Kennedy was only the second sitting U.S. senator to be assassinated (the other was Huey Long in 1935). The day after winning the California presidential primary, Kennedy was leaving the Ambassador Hotel through the hotel kitchen when he was shot. Following Kennedy’s death, it became policy for the Secret Service to provide protection to presidential candidates during the campaign. The Democratic nomination for 1968 eventually went to Hubert Humphrey, who lost the election to Richard Nixon.
- On October 31, 1984 Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated in New Delhi by two of her Sikh bodyguards: Satwant Singh and Beant Singh. Her murder came four months after Operation Blue Star, a military raid on the sacred Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab. Gandhi had been on her way to give an interview with British actor Peter Ustinov when she was killed, and the incident led to widespread anti-Sikh riots throughout India in which thousands of Sikhs were killed. Indira Gandhi’s oldest son, Rajiv, succeeded her as Prime Minister of India.
This article was contributed by NAQT writer Justin Millman.