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Dangerous Times

December 20, 2017

On Saturday December 21, 1912, President Taft departed for Panama.  He had lost the November contest for re-election, but there was still work to do.  On Christmas day, fifteen minutes after motoring down a street in the port city of Colón, a dynamite explosion occurred on the route Taft had taken.  The next day the Milwaukee Sentinel reported: “It is generally believed that the act was committed with a view to taking the life of the president and that the plot failed because of some miscalculation in the arrangements.”

No individual or group claimed responsibility for the blast.  Still, it was easy to believe assassins were plotting against the political leaders of the day.  Since the 1880’s the Queen of England, the Prince of Wales, and the King of Spain were the targets of would-be assassins.  Tsar Alexander II of Russia experienced three assassination attempts before succumbing to a fourth.  Since the end of the Civil War three U.S. Presidents – Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley – had been assassinated.  Most recently, during the 1912 Presidential election campaign, there was an attempt on the life of former President and Bull Moose Party candidate Theodore Roosevelt.

The attempt on Roosevelt occurred three weeks and one day before the Presidential election.  Roosevelt had just arrived in Milwaukee to deliver a speech when he received a .38 caliber bullet to the chest.  On Christmas day 1912 that story was still fresh in everyone’s mind.  It was easy for the people of Milwaukee to conclude that the explosion in Colón was just one more in a series of violent acts, and their local newspaper concurred with that sentiment.

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