The Secret Service is a protective cloak around
the President of the United States. The agency symbolizes the power and importance
of our nation’s highest office. Today, it’s taken for granted that stoic agents
wearing suits and earpieces are constantly watching over our Commander-in-Chief, but
the President wasn’t always this protected. This is the history of the U.S. Secret Service. During the Revolutionary War, General George
Washington ordered a “Lifeguard” be formed to protect him, along with the money and official
papers of the Continental Army. This is a passage from historian Ron Chernow’s
biography on Washington: “…’To guard against assassination — which
I neither expect nor dread — is impossible,’ Washington later wrote. But he knew that kidnapping attempts were
always a possibility, especially since he himself would hatch a couple of failed schemes
to kidnap British generals. His order to forge a personal guard — or
“lifeguard” as it was commonly called — also sprang from a desire to be surrounded
by a crack team of disciplined professionals who would accompany him whenever he rode out
to review the troops. Protective of his historical reputation, Washington
committed the care of his personal papers to this guard. Having such an elite corps at the beck and
call of the chief general was a throwback to the glittering world of European armies.” The men assigned to the Commander-In-Chief’s
Guard were honored to be trusted to protect their beloved general. For this reason, special care was taken to
ensure the soldiers serving in the prestigious unit represented each of the 13 colonies. It was disbanded in 1783 at the conclusion
of the war. In 1865, Abraham Lincoln resurrected Washington’s
idea, creating an elite outfit of federal law enforcement officials to combat the counterfeiting
of American dollars that had been rampant during the Civil War. One-third of all US currency in circulation
was reportedly fake, so there was much work to be done to secure the integrity of the
nation’s monetary system that powered the entire economy. Ironically, the legislation establishing the
Secret Service was awaiting Lincoln’s signature on his desk the night he was assassinated—a
strange coincidence, even if the agency wasn’t tasked with protecting the President for another
36 years. Fast-forward to a sweltering September afternoon
in 1901. While greeting hundreds of people in a receiving
line at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, President William McKinley was shot twice
by an assassin who had used a handkerchief to conceal his weapon. McKinley eventually succumbed to his wounds
and died eight days later. This finally forced Congress to act, legally
mandating the Secret Service to protect the President. In a sign of the frequent obstinance of the
US Congress, three Presidents — Lincoln, James A. Garfield, and McKinley — perished
by assassins’ bullets before America’s legislative body did something to address
the glaring problem. In 1950, the only secret service agent ever
killed while protecting a president died during an assassination attempt on Harry Truman. [Newsreel]: “Outside Blair House — the
President’s temporary Washington home — extreme fanatics of the Puerto Rican nationalist party
try to force their way in, guns blazing, to assassinate the President of the United States.” The assailants opened fire on agent Leslie
Coffelt and other White House Police officers. Despite being mortally wounded, Coffelt returned
fire and killed one of the attackers with a single shot. The other attacker was wounded and Truman
— who remained inside on the second floor of the building during the minute-long gun
battle — was unharmed. The darkest day in the history of Secret Service
came on November 22, 1963 when President John F. Kennedy, riding through downtown Dallas
in a convertible, was shot twice and killed. An investigation by the US House of Representatives
eventually determined that “the Secret Service did not properly analyze information it possessed
prior to the assassination and was inadequately prepared to protect the President.” In 1981, another breakdown in security allowed
an unscreened group of onlookers to stand within 15 feet of President Ronald Reagan
as he exited the Washington Hilton Hotel. John Hinckley, Jr. — armed with a .22 revolver
— was in that group, and fired six shots in 1.7 seconds—the last of which ricocheted
off the door of the armored limousine, struck Reagan in the left arm and lodged in his lung. Though he lost more than half his blood and
endured a 105-minute emergency surgery, the President survived. Several agents acted heroically in the attack,
including Tim McCarthy, who took a bullet in his abdomen while shielding the President
from a shot that — it was later determined — would’ve hit him in the head. So, despite the thousands of threats it must
investigate and defend against each year, it is a testament to the agency’s constant
vigilance that only one President has been assassinated in its 116 year history of protecting
the Commander-in-Chief. Today, the Secret Service protects the First
Family, the Vice President and their immediate family, former presidents and their families,
visiting heads of states, and major presidential candidates. In 1998 President Bill Clinton made the agency
responsible for security at designated high profile events, like the inauguration and
the Super Bowl. A year later, the agency finally got its first
headquarters. In 2003, the Secret Service was transferred
from Treasury to Homeland Security—the newly established massive department created to
consolidate federal law enforcement agencies after the 9/11 attacks. While the Secret Service’s most visible
role is protection, it has expanded its crime-fighting responsibilities far beyond its initial mandate
to fight counterfeiting currency. The USA Patriot Act mandated the agency to
establish a nationwide network of Electronic Crimes Task Forces to investigate and prevent
attacks on financial and critical infrastructure. This cyber-crime fighting effort even has
task forces in Rome and London. In 2016, the Secret Service proved its continued
dedication to shutting down illegal money printing, seizing $30 million in counterfeit
money in Lima during a joint operation with Peruvian police. Peru is believed to be the origin of 60% of
the world’s fake currency. But playing so many different roles can be
hard. The agency has been dealing with budget pressure,
hiring challenges, reports of long hours and low morale among its agents, and some high-profile
lapses in its unique protective service role—like when an armed security guard rode in an elevator
with President Obama, and when a man got inside the East Room of the White House through an
unlocked door. All this has led to some justifiable questions
about whether the Secret Service should leave more of the criminal investigations to other
agencies so it can focus more squarely on its most critical mission: protecting the
President. Thanks for watching. If you enjoyed this video, you’d love our
piece highlighting the greatest speeches in American history. Many commenters were moved by the powerful
oratories of Martin Luther King, Jr. and JFK. I’d also recommend the fantastic audiobook
I’m listening to now on our first president, which you can get through the link below with
a free trial of Audible.com. Until next time, for TDC, I’m Bryce Plank.