Today in History, February 15: 1933 –
Assassination; Courage; and links between courageous Presidents. President elect Franklin Delano Roosevelt gives a speech, from his car (he is crippled, though few know it), in Bayfront Park in Miami, Florida. Standing on the running board of the car was a political ally, Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak.
Nearby a 5 foot, unemployed Italian immigrant bricklayer stands on a chair so that he can see the soon to be president, and fires his revolver. Instead of FDR he strikes Cermak before a woman standing beside him attacks him…and his next four shots injure standersby instead.
Within weeks Cermak dies…and the assassin will die by execution. Stories will go forward about whether FDR was the intended target, or Cermak, who was at the time fighting the Chicago mob.
What I find most interesting is the extended story. The crowd was about to beat the assassin to death in a bloodlust…Franklin calmed them…the suspect should face a court of law. FDR then directed that the Chicago mayor be loaded into his car, and cradled him in his lap as he was rushed to a nearby hospital. Cermak would die, the assassin would be executed…but FDR’s courage would inspire the nation.
FDR had adored his distant cousin, Theodore Roosevelt. TR had been shot in the chest while campaigning for the Presidency in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (by an insane immigrant)discouraged the crowd from abusing the would-be assassin…and continued on to finish a lengthy speech before seeking medical attention…he was a Bull Moose.
When he was a young boy in 1865 in New York, Teddy Roosevelt had watched from the window of a New York apartment as the body of his idol, President Abraham Lincoln, passed by in a funeral escort after he was assassinated in Washington, D. C. Lincoln had been discouraged from public appearances, including at Ford’s Theater, and responded to the effect that if someone wanted him dead, they would find a way. Our history is not nearly as disconnected as we think, and courage comes from knowledge and perspective.