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March 25, 1983

American Assassins: The Darker Side of Politics

Author Affiliations

Beth Israel Hospital and Medical Center New York

JAMA. 1983;249(12):1641. doi:10.1001/jama.1983.03330360075041

This scholarly treatise, written by a professor of political science at the University of Arizona and appearing so soon after the outrage expressed not only by the lay press but in psychiatric journals as well over the acquittal of John Hinckley, Jr, on the basis of insanity, will undoubtedly find a well-deserved public acceptance. The "battle of the experts" led to almost universal loss of faith in the psychiatric profession. The fact is, however, that, when there was a unanimity of opinion by alienists for the defense and alienists for the Queen in the trial of Daniel M'Naghten in 1843 to the effect that this assassin was psychotic and, hence, not responsible, the public rage was even greater.

Professor Clarke has gone to original sources and has studied the lives and the social and political stresses of 16 assassins and would-be assassins of ten presidents and four other prominent persons.