“I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot.” – Theodore Roosevelt
The year is 1912. Former President Theodore Roosevelt is attempting a third term by running as a candidate of the newly formed Progressive Party, created from an ideological divide which had manifested within the Republican Party, primarily between Roosevelt and his successor William Howard Taft. The Progressives were (and are) in favor of a stronger, more intrusive central government whereas the Republican Party believed in a more conservative, limited role of government. After leaving the office in 1909, Roosevelt felt compelled to run again after seeing Taft’s version of progressivism. Roosevelt believed that the president should do anything necessary to benefit the nation and its people unless strictly prohibited by the constitution. Taft, on the other hand, believed that “ the President can exercise no power which cannot fairly be traced to some specific grant of power in the Constitution or act of Congress.” In the eyes of Roosevelt, Taft was dull and weak and making poor use of the office.
The Progressive, or Bull Moose, Party was formed and Roosevelt was once again on the campaign trail.
Shot in the Chest Before a Speech
You have probably seen the memes for this. If not, do yourself a favor a give it a search. Roosevelt did indeed get shot at close range in the chest and he did indeed continue to speak for about an hour. Here’s the story.
October 14, 1912, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
While greeting people outside the Gilpatrick Hotel, 36 year-old saloonkeeper John Schrank walked up to within 5 feet of the president, and fired .32 caliber round into Roosevelt’s chest. As an aside, I found it somewhat cool that Schrank was a saloonkeeper. The idea that they had “saloons” back then gives an idea of the still rough and emerging nation.
It was Roosevelt’s stenographer who quickly grabbed the assailant and prevented him from firing another round. Note to self: Never mess with a stenographer.
Fortunately for Roosevelt the bullet was slowed by his thick jacket, eye glass case, and a folded manuscript in this breast pocket.
Those who had come to see the Rough Rider President give a speech, who moments before had been all cheers and smiles, quickly became a mob with shouts of “Kill him!” after seeing their hero shot.
Roosevelt kept his calm:
“Don’t hurt him. Bring him here. I want to see him.” he said.
Schrank would eventually say that “ any man looking for a third term ought to be shot.” though he gave Roosevelt no reason at that time.
“ He pinked me.” Roosevelt said after putting his hand into his coat and seeing a spot of blood.
While his aides tried to persuade him to go the hospital, Roosevelt coughed three times into his hand, and seeing there was no blood and his lungs had not been hit, he demanded to give the speech.
Here are a few pics I was able to quickly dig up that show how close of a call this really was.
Gives the Damned Speech
The crowd undoubtedly knew something had happened, but a .32 caliber pistol would be hard to hear after being muffled by the many bodies around the president and noise of the crowd. As Roosevelt took the stage he informed his audience of the situation in the coolest manner possible.
“ I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot.” he said. To the horror of the crowd, he unbuttoned his coat and reach into his pocket and pulled out a bloodied manuscript and said what may be his most famous line ever: “ It takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose!” He continued, “ Fortunately I had my manuscript, so you see I was going to make a long speech, and there is a bullet — there is where the bullet went through — and it probably saved me from it going into my heart. The bullet is in me now, so that I cannot make a very long speech, but I will try my best.”
After speaking for nearly 90 minutes, Roosevelt finished the speech and was hurried to the hospital. The X-Ray above shows the bullet stopped on one of TR’s ribs. The doctors decided it was best to leave it be and the bullet remained in Roosevelt for the rest of his life.
John Schrank was found to be insane and placed in a mental hospital. He said, “ In a dream I saw President McKinley sit up in his coffin pointing at a man in a monk’s attire in whom I recognized Theodore Roosevelt. The dead president said — This is my murderer — avenge my death.”
Roosevelt obviously had nothing to do with McKinley’s assassination, but the assertion from Schrank was not the first time it had been aired. Roosevelt was certainly a bull moose of a man, but he was also very lucky. Who would have thought those glasses of his, which were deemed a sign of weakness by so many in his younger years, would one day save his life.