Wednesday, January 16, 2008
While I was watching "The Hunt For John Wilkes Booth" the other night, I was once again struck by the fact that Booth was able to gain such easy access to Lincoln on that fateful night. History well knows that the police officer assigned to guard Lincoln that night, John F. Parker, inexplicably disappeared from his post. Lincoln was left under the "protection"of his valet, and the rest is history.
Leaving the president unguarded is of course an impossibility today, thanks to the outstanding efforts of the United States Secret Service. The Secret Service was ironically founded in July 1865, just three months after the first assassination of an American president. However, the Service did not actually begin even unofficial protection to the president until 1894 during the Grover Cleveland administration. Official full-time protection was provided beginning in 1902, a few months after the assassination of President William McKinley. Today, the Service provides 24-hour protection to the President and his immediate family, former presidents and their spouses (unless the spouse remarries), children of former presidents until the children turn 16, and visiting heads of state.
Beginning in 1968 with the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, the Secret Service began protection detail for the major presidential candidates as well. This article I found in The Toronto Star contains some great information about how current Democrat candidate Barack Obama is protected, and how the protection began early. The fear of course is that as an African-American man, Obama may attract more attention of criminals than the other candidates. Many of the Secret Service techniques are classified, but as this photo of Obama shows, he is shadowed by tough-looking agents.
Even with the outstanding efforts of these incredibly brave men and women, tragedy has of course struck. John F. Kennedy was killed while surrounded by agents, but was riding in an open car. Presidents and the leading candidates rarely do this these days and motorcade routes are carefully guarded secrets. Buildings along those routes are secured to try to prevent another Dallas. And there have been even more assassination attempts: two on President Ford, Ronald Reagan was nearly killed, and a plot against the first President Bush was discovered. Presidential candidate George Wallace was shot in 1972 during his own campaign.
America is unfortunately one of the most violent countries in the industrialized world. Let's hope and pray that an assassin's bullet never strikes any president, or presidential candidate, again.
Posted by Geoff Elliott at 11:52 AM