Richard Lawrence And History's Worst "First"

January 30, 2023 | Samantha Henman

Richard Lawrence And History's Worst "First"

When it comes to historical firsts, some are more desirable than others. After all, everyone looks back fondly on Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, or Marie Curie, the first woman to win the Nobel Prize. But not all “first” achievements are quite as admirable. Take, for example, Richard Lawrence. Lawrence was a house painter originally from England, and the first known person to attempt to assassinate a sitting US President.  

Lawrence emigrated to the US with his family at the age of 12, settling just outside of Washington, DC. He was a reserved and upstanding young man—but sometime around his 30th year, he began to change and exhibit disturbing behavior. First, he told his family that he was going back to England, only to show up again and claim it was too cold. 

He then left again, but ended up in Philadelphia, where he claimed he read stories in the paper that insulted his character. The delusional behavior continued when he returned to Washington, DC again and told his siblings that the government owed him a large chunk of change. Why did they owe him so much? Well, according to Lawrence, it was because he was Richard III of England, the king who had died in 1485, some 350 years before.

Richard Lawrence EditorialGetty Images


Lawrence believed that President Andrew Jackson’s policies were preventing him from receiving the money he was owed through his “royal” estates. At this time, his delusions took an even darker turn, and he began to abuse his sisters and the family’s servants. Then, on January 30, 1835, things came to a bizarre head. 

As President Jackson exited a funeral, Lawrence tried to shoot him twice with two different pistols, but both misfired. Jackson then beat his attempted assassin with his cane until the crowd subdued Lawrence. 

During his trial, Richard Lawrence made a number of wild outbursts, and ultimately, the jury came up with a verdict of “not guilty by reason of insanity”—but the story doesn’t end there. President Jackson believed that Lawrence may have been part of a larger conspiracy spurred on by his political enemies. But this paranoia may have been unfounded, and the truth much simpler: Some modern historians believe that Lawrence’s mental illness and paranoia may have been caused by the toxic chemicals in the paint that he used to use at work.

Sources:  1

More from Factinate

Featured Article

My mom never told me how her best friend died. Years later, I was using her phone when I made an utterly chilling discovery.

Featured Article

Madame de Pompadour was the alluring chief mistress of King Louis XV, but few people know her dark history—or the chilling secret shared by her and Louis.

More from Factinate

Featured Article

I tried to get my ex-wife served with divorce papers. I knew that she was going to take it badly, but I had no idea about the insane lengths she would go to just to get revenge and mess with my life.

Featured Article

Catherine of Aragon is now infamous as King Henry VIII’s rejected queen—but few people know her even darker history.

Dear reader,

Want to tell us to write facts on a topic? We’re always looking for your input! Please reach out to us to let us know what you’re interested in reading. Your suggestions can be as general or specific as you like, from “Life” to “Compact Cars and Trucks” to “A Subspecies of Capybara Called Hydrochoerus Isthmius.” We’ll get our writers on it because we want to create articles on the topics you’re interested in. Please submit feedback to Thanks for your time!

Do you question the accuracy of a fact you just read? At Factinate, we’re dedicated to getting things right. Our credibility is the turbo-charged engine of our success. We want our readers to trust us. Our editors are instructed to fact check thoroughly, including finding at least three references for each fact. However, despite our best efforts, we sometimes miss the mark. When we do, we depend on our loyal, helpful readers to point out how we can do better. Please let us know if a fact we’ve published is inaccurate (or even if you just suspect it’s inaccurate) by reaching out to us at Thanks for your help!

Warmest regards,

The Factinate team

Want to learn something new every day?

Join thousands of others and start your morning with our Fact Of The Day newsletter.

Thank you!

Error, please try again.