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10 Uses of the Insanity Defense

10

Richard Lawrence

This illustration shows Lawrence’s attempt on President Andrew Jackson’s life on Jan. 30, 1835. © CORBIS
This illustration shows Lawrence’s attempt on President Andrew Jackson’s life on Jan. 30, 1835. © CORBIS

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Richard Lawrence, a house painter in his mid-30s, was the first man to be charged for the assassination attempt on an American president, Andrew Jackson. On Jan. 30, 1835, Lawrence shot at Jackson in the Capitol Rotunda but his derringer -- and then his backup derringer -- misfired, giving Jackson opportunity to retaliate with his cane.

Lawrence was found to have delusional thinking, including the belief he was the king of England and that Jackson had killed his father. He was acquitted by reason of insanity and committed to a mental asylum, but the experience left Jackson suspicious. The president believed that because he opposed the national bank of the U.S., the Whig Party was trying to remove him from office.

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