U.S. Capitol Shooting of March 1954

U.S. Capitol Shooting of March 1954

On March 1, 1954, five Congressmen were shot when a gang of Puerto Rican Nationalists opened fire on the House of Representatives. News coverage of the event reveals suspicions that the shooters are part of the same group that attempted the assassination of President Harry Truman in November 1950.

When has the Capitol seen other attacks over the past 220 years

FILE – In this July 24, 1998, file photo, a flag flies at half-staff on Capitol Hill in honor of two Capitol police officers who were killed after a gunman burst through security barriers. A woman tourist was also seriously wounded in the incident and hospitalized for her injuries. (AP Photo/Doug Mills, File)

WASHINGTON, D.C.- In more than 220 years, the U.S. Capitol had seen nothing like it: a roiling mob, forcing its way past its majestic marble columns, disrupting the passage of power, desecrating the seat of the world’s greatest democracy.

But this was far from the first time the Capitol has been scarred by violence. Here is a rundown of some of the other incidents:

  • FILE- U.S. Capitol after burning by the British. Courtesy: LIbrary of Congress
  • FILE – In this March 1, 1954, file photo, Puerto Rican nationalist Lolita Lebron is led away by police officers following her arrest after a shooting attack on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. While shouting “Free Puerto Rico” a commando group of four under the leadership of Lebron opened fire from the visitor’s gallery onto the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, wounding five congressmen. (AP Photo/File)
  • FILE – In this July 24, 1998, file photo, a flag flies at half-staff on Capitol Hill in honor of two Capitol police officers who were killed after a gunman burst through security barriers. A woman tourist was also seriously wounded in the incident and hospitalized for her injuries. (AP Photo/Doug Mills, File)
  • FILE – In this Oct. 3, 2013, file photo, a damaged Capitol Hill police car is surrounded by crime scene tape after a car chase and shooting on Capitol Hill in Washington. A woman driving a black Infiniti with a young child inside tried to ram through a White House barricade Thursday, then led police on a chase that ended in gunfire outside the Capitol, witnesses and officials said. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci, File)

Upset with mistreatment, Puerto Rican radicals stormed the Capitol and started shooting in 1954

On the afternoon of March 1, 1954, four armed Puerto Rican nationalists entered the United States Capitol building. Security guards stopped the group — consisting of three men and one woman — and asked them if they had cameras. They did not. The quartet then proceeded to an upper gallery of the House chamber. Below them, members of the Congress were debating a bill.

They drew guns and began shooting down into the floor of the House. It was the the most severe assault in the history of the Capitol building. In all, five members of Congress were hit, and while some were critically wounded, they all survived.

The 1950s were seeing progressively rising tensions between the U.S. and the Puerto Rican nationalists. In 1950, the United States granted permission to Puerto Rico to draft its own constitution, while more or less forbidding it a track to independence. The Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, which had endured domestic suppression and conflict for two decades (one 1948 law prohibited the flying of the Puerto Rican flag), were outraged by what they viewed as colonial rule. On October 29, 1950, the party incited uprisings against U.S. and local government forces across Puerto Rico. America sent fighter planes armed with machine guns to control the riots. Nine nationalists were killed, including five who were executed in a police station without trial.

Following the nationalist defeat, a couple days later on November 1, two nationalists attacked Blair House in Washington, D.C. where President Harry Truman was living during White House renovations, with the intent of killing him. The shooters were suppressed following a gun battle with Secret Service and police officers outside the door. One shooter and one United States officer died in the firefight.

In 1952, Puerto Rico drafted a constitution to continue its territorial relationship with the U.S., a measure that 82 percent of Puerto Ricans supported. The nationalists were incensed. Their leader, Pedro Albizu Campos, was in prison at the time, but was determined to maintain the fight for independence. He coordinated with Puerto Rican exiles stateside to execute more acts of political violence.

On the morning of March 1, 1954, four Puerto Rican-born New Yorkers named Lolita Lebrón, Rafael Cancel Miranda, Andres Figueroa Cordero, and Irvin Flores Rodríguez, took a train to Washington, D.C. with the intention of assassinating members of Congress and bringing international attention to Puerto Rico’s struggle for independence. The group did not expect to survive their attack. The four of them arrived in Union Station shortly after noon and had lunch. The walk to the Capitol from the station is only a few blocks, but on the way they got lost, and in the unpleasant weather the men in the group got cold feet.

Lebrón was their leader, however, and had been the one to arrange the attack while Campos was in prison. Later, her high heels and red lipstick would capture reporters’ attention in the aftermath of the shooting. When her companions expressed doubts about executing their attack that day, she said “I am alone,” and continued forward. Her partners followed.

Entering alongside a class of sixth-graders from Maryland, the nationalists had little trouble making their way up to the House Chamber Ladies’ Gallery. They each carried a .38 caliber German Luger-like pistol. Below them were 243 representatives and other members of congressional staff. In an ironic coincidence, representatives were debating an immigration bill concerning braceros — migrant Mexican workers to be permitted entry to the country to work in the farms of California and the Southwest.

At 2:32 p.m., people in the House Chamber heard a sequence of popping sounds resembling firecrackers. Paul Kanjorski, a 16-year-old page at the time, felt a spray of dust on his arm, reminding him of his days of target practice in the quarries of Pennsylvania. He was one of the first to glean the reality of the situation: members of Congress were under assault.

From the right corner of the gallery, the nationalists emptied rounds onto the House Chamber, while screaming “Viva Puerto Rico libre!” and waving a Puerto Rican flag.

Representative Alvin M. Bentley (R-Michigan), who took a bullet to the chest, was most severely wounded. Upon his arrival at the hospital doctors did not expect him to live. Ben F. Jensen (R-Iowa) was shot in the back, Clifford Davis (D-Tennessee) was shot in the leg, and wounded as well were George Hyde Fallon (D-Maryland) and Kenneth A. Roberts (D-Alabama).

Lebrón fired her eight shots at the ceiling, earning her the least sentence of the group for lacking the intent to kill. In fact, most of the 30 or so rounds fired at the House floor that day came from Rafael Miranda’s gun.

Talk:1954 United States Capitol shooting

I thought this incedent happened March 4, 1954 and didn't President Jimmy Carter parden them.

First of all, you should remember to sign these pages so people can talk to you if they need to. Second, according to this article, it was on the 1st and it says that "President Carter freed the Puerto Ricans in 1979 after they had served 25 years in prison. Although the Carter White House denied any connection, their release coincided with Fidel Castro's release of several Americans being held in Cuba on espionage charges." --Ricky81682 07:42, Nov 12, 2004 (UTC) True the incident is described in the Congressional Record entry for the day, 1 March 1954. I've personally read it. Demf 02:38, 8 October 2006 (UTC) Umm. while it is true that Carter was not president in 1954, neither was Harry Truman. -Grammaticus Repairo 05:44, 11 October 2006 (UTC)

"who shot thirty rounds of a Luger and automatic pistol" IMO "they shot thirty rounds using automatic pistols" is beter suted as a Luger is an Automatic pistol.

Apparently there is a photo of the pages carrying Rep. Bently out of the line of fire, which is now hung somewhere in the Capitol. I've heard that it's rather famous, but I can't seem to find it anywhere. I think it'd make a good adition to this article.

I added numerous sources and citations, in response to templates. Nelsondenis248 (talk) 17:42, 11 June 2012 (UTC)

This article is not about the entire history of the Puerto Rican Independence Movement, nor about the history of the Nationalist Party. It is inappropriate to list all the 19thc. leaders, all the male and female members of the Nationalist Party, as well as articles and people who have already been referenced in the article with wikilinks. Please stick to the topic of each article.Parkwells (talk) 16:02, 11 December 2012 (UTC)

All articles about the assassination attempt of Truman, the 1950s revolts, and the independence movement lack the fact that in a plebiscite, the people voted in 1952 by nearly 82% in favor of the constitution for the "Free Associated State". I will be adding this with cite.Parkwells (talk) 17:13, 11 December 2012 (UTC)

This page and the pages on the individual shooters appear to be heavily biased in their favor. Nothing negative at all is said about them, and the attack is constantly referenced as an incident of Puerto Ricans rebelling against an oppressive power. If you look at any other article which involves an attack on government officials, the attackers are almost always described negatively. Does it really make sense to have individuals who committed a mass shooting described in such a positive way, instead of being described as terrorists? They were certainly attempting assassinations, but even that term seems to be lacking on the pages. I really think someone needs to go over all the pages associated with the attack. Describing the attackers in a positive light is one thing, but constantly referring to them in a positive manner without any content describing the attack in a negative manner is another thing entirely — Preceding unsigned comment added by 2602:306:C463:2550:B570:DEE5:22A6:8042 (talk) 20:21, 1 March 2014 (UTC)

Does the word 'incident' really fit an armed attack? It did not happen by incident and doesn't seem minor. Perhaps 'attack' would work better.

Well, it doesn't only say incident. It says "shooting incident". It's clear enough. --The Eloquent Peasant (talk) 02:37, 14 September 2019 (UTC)

1954 Shooting at the U.S. Capitol

Gunfire erupted on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives on March 1, 1954, when four Puerto Rican nationalists shot at random from the spectators’ galleries, shouting “Viva Puerto Rico libre!”—“Long live free Puerto Rico!” Five members of Congress were injured, one seriously.

“Guard Congress After Gunfire,” Boston Daily Globe, March 2, 1954, p. 1

The U.S. had annexed Puerto Rico in 1898 and the relationship between the island and the U.S. government had long been in contention. While some Puerto Ricans sought to remain a territory or become a state, others argued for independence . The nationalists who staged the attack on the Capitol supported the most extreme interpretation of the latter—use violence to draw attention to their demand for immediate Puerto Rican independence. 

The surprise attack was mounted by four members of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party— Lolita Lebrón , Rafael Cancel Miranda, Irvin Flores Rodriguez, and Andres Figueroa Cordero. At the time, the Capitol had few security protocols and the four would-be assassins easily entered the gallery armed with handguns. About 2:30 p.m., they indiscriminately opened fire onto the House Chamber, waving an unfurled Puerto Rican flag. 

“HELD IN ATTACK ON CONGRESSMEN,” Atlanta Daily World (Atlanta, GA), March 4, 1954, p. 2

“Aftermath of Weird Drama in Washington,” Boston Daily Globe, March 2, 1954, p. 15

Representative Alvin M. Bentley (R-MI) took a bullet to the chest and was the most severely wounded. Four other representatives were also shot : Ben F. Jensen (R-IA) was shot in the back, Clifford Davis (D-TN) was hit in the leg, George Hyde Fallon (D-MD) was shot in the hip, and Kenneth A. Roberts (D-AL) was hit in the knee.  

“The Five Representatives Who Were Wounded in House Shooting Yesterday,” New York Times, March 2, 1954, p. 16

Those on the House floor quickly moved into action. Congressional pages carried the wounded to safety. As the shooters attempted to escape, three of them were overpowered by visitors, police, House staff, and Congressman James Van Zandt of Pennsylvania, who personally apprehended Rafael Miranda . The fourth shooter, Irvin Flores, escaped, but was captured later that day.

The four gunmen were tried and sentenced to more than 49 years in federal prison.  Cordero, terminally ill, had his sentence commuted on humanitarian grounds by President Jimmy Carter in October 1977 and died in 1979. President Carter granted clemency for the remaining three later in 1979.  Lebrón, the alleged ringleader and lone woman shooter, went on to become a revered figure among Puerto Ricans, and died in 2010. Miranda died recently on March 2, 2020.

Today, bullet holes from the shooting are still visible in the House Chamber.

“Carter Commutes Terms of Four Puerto Ricans,” Hartford Courant (Hartford, CT), September 7, 1979, p. 1

U.S. Capitol has had violent incidents in the past - a historical review

WASHINGTON -- In more than 220 years, the U.S. Capitol had seen nothing like what happened this week.

A violent mob forced its way past the Capitol's majestic marble columns, disrupting the passage of power, and desecrating the seat of the world's greatest democracy.

A woman was fatally shot by police, three people died from medical emergencies and a Capitol Police officer died of injuries sustained in the melee.

But this was far from the first time the Capitol has been scarred by violence:

1814: British forces in the War of 1812 tried to burn the Capitol down, along with the White House. The building was badly damaged but a sudden rainstorm prevented total destruction.

1835: A deranged house painter tried to shoot two pistols at President Andrew Jackson outside the Capitol building but the guns misfired and Jackson caned his assailant into submission.

1856: Congressman Preston Brooks attacked abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner on the floor of the Senate after the senator gave a speech criticizing slavery. It took Sumner three years to recover and return to Congress. Brooks resigned - but was then re-elected.

1915: A German man who'd been a Harvard professor detonated a bomb inside the Capitol in an attempt to deter the United States from entering World War I. The bomber also murdered his pregnant wife and shot financier J.P. Morgan, Jr.

1954: Puerto Rican nationalists unleashed a barrage of shots from the Visitor's Gallery, wounding five congressmen, before unfurling the island's flag.

1971: The radical militant group known as The Weather Underground set off an explosive to protest the U.S. bombing of Laos during the Vietnam War.

1983: A Communist group bombed the Senate in response to the U.S. invasion of Grenada.

1998: A mentally ill man fired at a checkpoint and killed two Capitol Police officers. One of the dying officers managed to wound the gunman, who was arrested and later institutionalized.

1814: British forces burn the Capitol

British Burn the Capitol, 1814, painted by Allyn Cox in 1974 on the corridor of the Capitol building House wing, first floor (Architect of the Capitol)

Flames leapt from unfinished wreckage of the U.S. Capitol on August 24, 1814. British forces set fire to this building, the White House and much of Washington in retaliation for Americans’ burning of the Canadian capital at York the year prior. Britain and its young former colony were embroiled in the War of 1812, a conflict that ignited over the Royal Navy’s practice of “impressing” American soldiers into British service by wrongly accusing them of being British subjects, among other causes, reports Joel Achenbach for the Washington Post.

At the time, the Capitol building housed the House, Senate, Supreme Court and Library of Congress, per the Architect of the Capitol. British forces burned the 3,000 or so books in the collection in the Library of Congress and piled furniture together in the Supreme Court Chamber to create a huge bonfire. The Capitol building was still under construction and did not yet have its famous dome, reports Gillian Brockwell for the Post.

Nature happened to save the day. A huge storm, possibly a tornado brought on by the previous day’s 100-degree heat, struck Washington and put out the fires, sending British forces packing earlier than planned. Some interior structures and much of the Capitol’s exterior survived the blaze, and after some debate, officials decided to rebuild the federal government’s building where it stood. As Cassandra Good reported for Smithsonian magazine in 2016, just one casualty was reported from the fires: John Lewis, the grandnephew of George Washington himself.

A history of violence at the U.S. Capitol

Workers in the U.S. Capitol were ordered to shelter in place and the White House was placed on lockdown on the afternoon of March 28 amid reports of gunshots at the Capitol Visitor Center.

This isn’t the first time violence has invaded the home of the United States’ federal legislative branch.

Miriam Carey shooting, 2013

The Capitol complex was placed on lockdown on Oct. 3, 2013, after reports that a driver had attempted to breach a White House security fence and then drove 12 blocks to the Capitol, where she was confronted by U.S. Capitol Police.

Miriam Carey, 34, was shot and killed by police on the Capitol grounds.

Her 13-month-old daughter, also in the car, was not injured. One officer was injured.

Officers slain, 1998

A gunman charged past a Capitol security checkpoint on July 24, 1998, and killed two U.S. Capitol Police officers.

Russell Eugene Weston Jr. was later found incompetent to stand trial. He is currently incarcerated in a federal medical facility in North Carolina.

The deaths of John Gibson and Jacob Chestnut spurred Hill leaders to renew a push for increased security in the Capitol and specifically to construct a visitors center.

A Lifetime of Service

Bentley left Congress in 1960 and ran a close senatorial race that same year, winning the Republican nomination but losing the election.

In 1961, Bentley established the Alvin M. Bentley Foundation to support educational, scientific, and charitable projects. In 1967, he donated funds to endow a chair in the Department of History honoring the memory of his parents. He was later elected to U-M’s Board of Regents.

Construction on the Bentley Historical Library, named for Alvin Bentley, began in 1971.

Today, the Bentley scholarship is one of the most competitive scholarships U-M awards to first-year undergraduate students.

Bentley died in 1969 at the age of 50. In the fall of 1971, his widow, Arvella, donated funds to build new quarters for the Michigan Historical Collections, which became the Bentley Historical Library.


Registration on or use of this site constitutes acceptance of our User Agreement, Privacy Policy and Cookie Statement, and Your California Privacy Rights (User Agreement updated 1/1/21. Privacy Policy and Cookie Statement updated 5/1/2021).

© 2021 Advance Local Media LLC. All rights reserved (About Us).
The material on this site may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached or otherwise used, except with the prior written permission of Advance Local.

Community Rules apply to all content you upload or otherwise submit to this site.