murder of a prominent person, often a political leader or ruler
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Assassination is the targeted killing of a public figure, often for political purposes. Assassinations may be prompted by religious, ideological, political, or military reasons. Additionally, assassins may be motivated by financial gain, revenge, or personal public recognition. In figurative language usage, the word assassination may also be used in colloquial speech as a hyperbole, as in the phrase "character assassination," meaning an attempt to impugn another's character, and thus diminish or destroy ("assassinate") his reputation and credibility.


The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment. ~ Robert Maynard Hutchins
The external threat to liberty should not drive us into suppressing liberty at home. Those who want the Government to regulate matters of the mind and spirit are like men who are so afraid of being murdered that they commit suicide to avoid assassination. ~ Harry S. Truman
Assassination is the extreme form of censorship; and it seems hard to justify an incitement to it on anti-censorial principles. ~ George Bernard Shaw
Alphabetized by author
  • The important thing to know about an assassination or an attempted assassination is not who fired the shot, but who paid for the bullet.
  • The American Dream has run out of gas. The car has stopped. It no longer supplies the world with its images, its dreams, its fantasies. No more. It's over. It supplies the world with its nightmares now: the Kennedy assassination, Watergate, Vietnam.
    • J. G. Ballard, as quoted in an interview in Metaphors No. 7, (1983); also in The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations (1993) by Robert Andrews, p. 937.
  • They who say, "There will always be war," do not know what they are saying. They are preyed upon by the common internal malady of shortsight. They think themselves full of common-sense as they think themselves full of honesty. In reality, they are revealing the clumsy and limited mentality of the assassins themselves.
    • Henri Barbusse, Light [Clarté] (1919), as translated by Fitzwater Wray, Ch. XVI : De Profundis Clamavi.
  • We were sure that ours was a nation of the ballot, not the bullet, until the murders of John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • No assassination instruction should ever be written or recorded. Ideally, only one person will be involved. No report may be made, though the act will usually be properly covered by news services. … The simplest local tools are often the most efficient means of assassination. A hammer, axe, wrench, screw driver, fire poker, kitchen knife, lamp stand, or anything hard, heavy and handy will suffice … The most efficient accident … is a fall of 75 feet or more onto a hard surface … Falls before trains and subway cars are usually effective, but require exact timing … assassinations can seldom be employed with a clear conscience. Persons who are morally squeamish should not attempt it. … The techniques employed will vary depending on whether or not the assassin himself is to be killed with the subject. If the assassin is to die with the subject, the act will be called "lost." If the assassin is to escape, the act will be called "safe." It should be noted that no compromise should exist here. The assassin must not fall alive into enemy hands. … Except in terroristic assassinations, it is desirable that the assassin be transient. In a lost assassination, the assassin must be a fanatic of some sort. Politics, religion and revenge are about the only feasible motives.
    • A Study of Assassination (c. 1954), a CIA training booklet, published in Secret History : The CIA's Classified Account of Its Operations in Guatemala, 1952-1954 (1999) by Nick Cullather, Appendix C, p. 137; also quoted in Derailing Democracy : The America the Media Don't Want You To See (2000) by David McGowan, and "How Bush and Cheney Revived the CIA's "Murder Inc." by Pierre Tristam, at About (13 July 2009).
  • These events don't constitute assassinations because as far as we are concerned assassinations are only those of heads of state.
    • Duane Clarridge, CIA division chief in charge of Nicaraguan paramilitary operations in Congressional briefing in 1983, on the murders of "civilians and Sandinista officials … heads of cooperatives, nurses, doctors, and judges" by CIA supported Contra guerrillas; as quoted in Washington's War on Nicaragua‎ (1988) by Holly Sklar, p. 186.
  • When such crimes are perpetrated the public mind is apt to fall into gloom and perplexity, for it is ignorant alike of the causes and the consequences of such deeds. But it is one of our duties to reassure them under unreasoning panic and despondency. Assassination has never changed the history of the world. I will not refer to the remote past, though an accident has made the most memorable instance of antiquity at this moment fresh in the minds and memory of all around me. But even the costly sacrifice of a Caesar did not propitiate the inexorable destiny of his country.
  • The reverberations of Princip's shots truly shook the world. Yet political assassinations were far from uncommon in the early twentieth century, as we have already seen in the case of the unfortunate President McKinley. His successor, Theodore Roosevelt, only narrowly escaped assassination too. Between 1900 and 1913 no fewer than forty heads of state, politicians and diplomats were murdered, including four kings, six prime ministers and three presidents. In the Balkans alone there were eight successful assassinations, the victims of which included two kings, one queen, two prime ministers and the commander-in-chief of the Turkish Army.
    • Niall Ferguson, The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West (2006), p. 73
  • The philosophic historian, studying hereafter this present age, in which we are ourselves living, may say that it was a time of unexampled prosperity, luxury, and wealth; but catching at certain horrible murders which have lately disgraced our civilisation, may call us a nation of assassins. It is to invert the pyramid and stand it on its point.
  • The landlord may become a direct oppressor. He may care nothing for the people, and have no object but to squeeze the most that he can out of them fairly or unfairly. The Russian government has been called despotism tempered with assassination. In Ireland landlordism was tempered by assassination.
    Unfortunately the wrong man was generally assassinated. The true criminal was an absentee, and his agent was shot instead of him. A noble lord living in England, two of whose agents had lost their lives already in his service, ordered the next to post a notice in his Barony that he intended to persevere in what he was doing, and if the tenants thought they would intimidate him by shooting his agents, they would find themselves mistaken.
    • James Anthony Froude, "On the Uses of a Landed Gentry", an address in Edinburgh (6 November 1876), published in Short Studies on Great Subjects, Vol. III (1893), p. 406.
  • The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment.
  • The path you walk on has no end. No matter how far you go, or how many corpses you crawl over, the killing will never end. It's a future without hope. Hear me Snake! My spirit will be watching you...
  • Every two years the American politics industry fills the airwaves with the most virulent, scurrilous, wall-to-wall character assassination of nearly every political practitioner in the country — and then declares itself puzzled that America has lost trust in its politicians.
    • Charles Krauthammer, as quoted in Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War that is Destroying America (2007) by Cal Thomas and Bob Beckel
  • Tyranny is usually tempered with assassination, and Democracy must be tempered with culture. In the absence of this, it turns into a representation of collective folly.
  • Absolutism tempered by assassination.
    • Count Munster, Hanoverian envoy at St. Petersburg, writing of the Russian Constitution; reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 634.
  • I decided that the only form of government was a benevolent despotism, tempered with assassination. Then I went home again, hopeless. I am still hopeless, for that matter. We will commit the same follies again. Nothing teaches us.
  • If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well
    It were done quickly. If the assassination
    Could trammel up the consequence, and catch,
    With his surcease, success; that but this blow
    Might be the be-all and the end-all — here,
    But here, upon this bank and shoal of time, —
    We'd jump the life to come. But in these cases
    We still have judgement here; that we but teach
    Bloody instructions, which being taught, return
    To plague the inventor: this even-handed justice
    Commends the ingredients of our poison'd chalice
    To our own lips.
  • The external threat to liberty should not drive us into suppressing liberty at home. Those who want the Government to regulate matters of the mind and spirit are like men who are so afraid of being murdered that they commit suicide to avoid assassination.
  • E un incidente del mestiere.
    • Translated: It is one of the incidents of the profession.
    • Umberto I, of Italy, after escaping death; reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 634. Sometimes erroneously reported as metier.
  • Assassination is the perquisite of kings.
    • Umberto I, of Italy; reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 634, as having been "[a]scribed to him by other authorities.
  • America is the place where you can not kill your Government by killing the men who conduct it. The only way you can kill government in America is by making the men and women of America forget how to govern, and nobody can do that.
    • Woodrow Wilson, "Address at Opera House, Helena Montana" (September 11, 1919), in, Addresses of President Wilson (1919), p. 154.
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