Andrew Jackson, Francis Scott Key & the Defense of Insanity

Andrew Jackson, Francis Scott Key & the Defense of Insanity

Andrew Jackson was born in the backwoods of the Carolinas and he read the law to become a lawyer. He was an outstanding lawyer in Tennessee. He was a frontiersman who engaged in brawls and killed a man Andrew_jackson_2 in a duel. He was the commander of American forces at the Battle of New Orleans and was known as "Old Hickory" for his toughness. He was the founder of the Democratic party He was the seventh president of the United State from 1829 to 1837.

Jackson was also the first American president to be the victim of an assassination attempt. The story involves unique coincidences and miraculous circumstances. The attempt to kill Jackson failed because two pistols failed to fire correctly. Not only that, but the trial of the perpetrator was the first time a defense of insanity was recognized by an American jury and the prosecutor was none other then the author of the Star Spangled Banner.

Richard Lawrence was a 35 year old English born unemployed house painter in 1835 when he tried to shoot Jackson to death. President Jackson had attended a funeral of South Carolina Congressman Warren Davis in the hall of the House of Representatives and was walking through the Capital Rotunda with aides when Lawrence, in a crowd of spectators, stepped from a pillar where he had been waiting with a pistol in his hand. He was about twelve feet away when he pointed it at Jackson’s back and pulled the trigger. It fired with a loud noise. But while the percussion cap exploded no bullet came out. The 67 year old Jackson, who was using a cane, turned and advanced on Lawrence clubbing him with his cane. Lawrence pulled a second loaded pistol from his pocket which he fired a point blank range. It too misfired. The crowed wrestled Lawrence to the ground while Jackson had to be restrained from continuing to club him. Later examination of the pistols by the Smithsonian Institute determined the odds of both guns not firing was one in 125,000.

Lawrence suffered from the delusion he was an heir to the British throne and that Jackson had conspired to keep him from his position. He also thought Jackson had killed his father. On April 11, 1835 Lawrence went to trial. The prosecuting attorney was Francis Scott Key. The lyrics to the Star Spangled Banner, the national anthem of the United States, had been written in 1814 by Key when, as a thirty five year old lawyer, he had witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry in Maryland by British troops during the war of 1812.

Lawrence interrupted proceedings shouting he was the King of England during the trial. While no legal instruction was given to the jury about insanity, after only five minutes of deliberation the jury acquitted him and gave their reason as insanity. Lawrence spent the next 26 years in asylums where he died. The public was not pleased with the acquittal as it was felt sane or not, he should have been hanged. The defense of insanity continued to be a legal controversy in the United States courts.

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