Theodore Roosevelt was shot at a campaign stop on this date in 1912. Roosevelt had just gotten into a car outside a Milwaukee hotel when John Schrank, an unemployed saloonkeeper, shot him with a Colt revolver from a distance of five feet. Schrank — who believed he had been given orders by the ghost of President McKinley — had been stalking Roosevelt, and intended to stop him from pursuing a third term as president. It had been an ugly campaign so far, with deep division in the Republican Party. Roosevelt left the GOP and ran as a member of the National Progressive, or “Bull Moose,” Party.
The crowd tackled the shooter, but Roosevelt’s composure was not ruffled in the least. He asked Schrank why he’d done it, and turned the man over to the police when he received no answer. Roosevelt then coughed experimentally into his hand, and deduced that the bullet had not penetrated his lungs, because he didn’t cough up any blood. He insisted on proceeding to the Milwaukee Auditorium, where he delivered a 90-minute speech as scheduled.
He began by calling for quiet, and then told the stunned crowd: “I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot — but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose.” He opened his coat to reveal his bloodstained shirt, and credited the 50-page speech in his breast pocket for saving his life. Roosevelt blamed the media for provoking the shooter: “It is a very natural thing,” he said, “that weak and vicious minds should be inflamed to acts of violence by the kind of awful mendacity and abuse that have been heaped upon me for the last three months by the papers.” He also predicted that such shootings would become more commonplace, should the government fail to care for the well-being of all its citizens.
In the end, Roosevelt came in second to Democrat Woodrow Wilson. He received 27 percent of the vote, the most any third-party candidate has received in an American presidential election. Schrank’s bullet remained lodged in Roosevelt’s rib for the rest of his life.