The Speech That May Have Saved Teddy Roosevelt’s Life

John Schrank on the front page of the the Milwaukee Sentinel, October 15, 1912. tomatobubble

The would-be assassin was later revealed to be John Schrank, an unemployed saloonkeeper living in New York. A letter found in Schrank’s pocket which was addressed to the American people, described a dream Shrank had where the late President McKinley, (himself shot and killed by an assassin, which had paved the way for Roosevelt’s path to the presidency) sat up from his coffin and pointed at a man dressed in monk’s attire, who Shrank recognised as Teddy Roosevelt, before saying, “this is my murderer – avenge my death.”

Schrank alluded to a political motive to his actions during his trial, where he stated that he “did not intend to kill the citizen Roosevelt,” but that he “intended to kill Theodore Roosevelt, the third-termer.” Roosevelt felt that the media bore some responsibility for his shooting by its inflammatory coverage of the presidential campaign. Roosevelt said that it was a “very natural thing 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.” Shrank was found guilty, deemed to be insane and was confined for life in a Wisconsin asylum.

Later that evening, when Roosevelt arrived at the auditorium to deliver his speech, he began by asking the audience to “be as quiet as possible,” before telling them, “I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot.” When a member of the crowd shouted “fake,” Roosevelt unbuttoned his waistcoat to reveal a bloodstained shirt, before defiantly saying that “It takes a lot more than that to kill a bull moose.”

He took his speech out from his overcoat pocket and held it aloft, saying “fortunately I had my manuscript, you see I was going to make a long speech, and there is a bullet—there is where the bullet went through—and it probably saved me from it going into my heart. The bullet is in me now, so that I cannot make a very long speech, but I will try my best.” True to his hardman image, Roosevelt told the shocked audience, “I give you my word, I do not give a rap about being shot, not a rap.”

First page of Roosevelt’s bullet-riddled speech.

Roosevelt began his speech and at the end of every page, he dropped it to the floor. A photographer named Samuel Marrs picked up the first page of Roosevelt’s bullet-riddled speech (pictured below) and kept it as a souvenir. (The Smithsonian National Museum of American History later acquired the page from Marr’s nephew in 1974).

After Roosevelt had been speaking for about half an hour, his campaign manager walked on stage and pleaded with him to call a halt to his speech and go to a hospital for medical attention. But Roosevelt waved off his concerns, telling the audience, “My friends are a little more nervous than I am.”