“Oh, murder!” said British Prime Minister Spencer Perceval as he stumbled and fell.
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He had just entered the lobby of Parliament, where a tall man with a hidden pistol was waiting. The killer stood in Perceval’s path and fired point blank into his chest, pulverizing his ribs, breast and heart. It was May 11, 1812.
The only British prime minister to be assassinated, Perceval enjoyed almost autocratic power and presided over a “political ice age.” According to Andro Linklater, author of “Why Spencer Perceval Had to Die,” he was a man of fixed convictions, sure of his own righteousness.
John Bellingham, his killer, was also such a man. A merchant with a grievance against the government, he acted in the name of justice and believed he’d be acquitted when the world learned the truth.
He was tried and hanged a week later. But the conspiracy theories never died, and among Bellingham’s suspected paymasters was American businessman Elisha Peck.
I spoke with Linklater on the following topics:
1. Extreme Positions
2. Starvation and Riots
3. Stalking the Prime Minister
4. “Oh, murder!”
5. Follow the Money
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(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)
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