The 1912 Presidential election campaign was characterised by a serious split in the Republican Party between the conservative wing under President William Howard Taft and the liberal/reform wing under ex-President Theodore Roosevelt. After a bitter confrontation at the Republican Convention, Taft won renomination. Roosevelt led a bolt of his followers, who held a convention and nominated him for President on the ticket of the Progressive Party, nicknamed the “Bull Moose Party.” Taft and his supporters attacked Roosevelt for being power-hungry, and seeking to break the tradition that U.S. Presidents only serve up to two terms in office.
On October 14, 1912, while Theodore Roosevelt was campaigning in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, John Flammang Schrank attempted to assassinate him.
According to documents found on Schrank after the attempted assassination, Schrank had written that he was advised by the ghost of William McKinley in a dream to avenge his death, pointing to a picture of Theodore Roosevelt.
Roosevelt was at the Gilpatrick Hotel at a dinner provided by the hotel’s owner, a supporter. The ex-President was scheduled to deliver a speech at the Milwaukee Auditorium. News had circulated that Roosevelt was at the hotel, and Schrank (who had been following Roosevelt from New Orleans to Milwaukee) went to the hotel. The ex-President had finished his meal, and was leaving the hotel to enter his car when Schrank acted.
Schrank did shoot Roosevelt, but the bullet lodged in Roosevelt’s chest only after hitting both his steel eyeglass case and a 50-page copy of his speech he was carrying in his jacket. Roosevelt decided the bullet could not have penetrated to his lung because he coughed no blood and, declining suggestions that he go to the hospital, delivered his scheduled speech. He spoke for ninety minutes, but sometimes managed no more than a whisper. His opening comments to the gathered crowd were:
Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose. But fortunately I had my manuscript, so 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.
— Theodore Roosevelt, Address at Milwaukee, Wis., October 14, 1912
Afterwards, doctors determined that he was not seriously wounded and that it would be more dangerous to attempt to remove the bullet than to leave it in his chest. Roosevelt carried it with him until he died. In later years, when asked about the bullet inside him, Roosevelt would say, “I do not mind it any more than if it were in my waistcoat pocket.”