On Tuesday night, a Secret Service officer shot and wounded an intruder who scaled a fence and leaped onto the White House grounds.
Law enforcement officials say the man was carrying an unloaded .38-caliber pistol. The incident came just three days after Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House was closed to car and truck traffic for security reasons. On Friday, an unarmed man jumped the fence.
Last September, a light plane piloted by a drunken man crashed underneath the president's bedroom. A month later, a rifle-toting man fired 29 rounds at the White House. Shortly after that, shots were fired at the south side of the White House -- no assailants were caught.
If you've concluded that the White House is vulnerable to attacks from nuts -- you're right. Unfortunately, it's the price the president pays for living in the "people's house."
The White House, occupied first by President John Adams in 1800, was quickly perceived by occupants and citizenry as a public institution.
Thomas Jefferson, for example, allowed public access to most rooms in the White House, and the building was closed to the public only during sleeping hours and when the president was away.
During the War of 1812, the British set fire to the White House and President James Madison barely escaped advancing British forces. The White House was rebuilt after the war and public access continued.
In fact, during Andrew Jackson's inaugural in 1829, the White House grounds were opened to any individual who chose to come. And a rowdy crowd was the result -- so boisterous that Jackson was forced to escape to another abode.
Presidents discovered that public access to the White House had advantages and disadvantages. The steady stream of visitors passing through the White House allowed presidents to campaign without leaving home, but it was a time-consuming job. As President James K. Polk noted in a diary entry of Feb. 19, 1847, during the Mexican War:
"My office was crowded this morning with visitors, most of them seeking military appointments. For the last week I have been greatly annoyed by this kind of importunity. The city is crowded with young men, many of them loafers without merit, seeking military appointments. . . . I am often exceedingly disgusted with the scenes which occur in my office, but keep my temper and endure the painful labour which is imposed upon me with patience. . . . I am almost ready at some times to conclude that all men are selfish, and that there is no reliance to be placed in any of the human race."
During the Civil War, White House security increased, much to the chagrin of President Abraham Lincoln, who instructed his bodyguards to wear ordinary clothes and conceal firearms. Despite the beefed-up security, there was an ugly incident following the death of Lincoln's 11-year-old son, Willie, in February 1862. Intruders set fire to the White House stables, killing Willie's spirited pony. Throughout the war, Lincoln had weekly meetings with visitors, some of whom were good-tempered and others mean-spirited.
After Lincoln's assassination in Ford's Theater in April 1865, presidential security was eased because the war -- and thus emergency times -- came to an end. Successors continued to do as Polk had earlier, spending inordinate amounts of time meeting visitors and office-seekers in the White House. When in 1881 President James A. Garfield, walking without guards in a Washington rail station, was assassinated by a frustrated job-seeker, the matter of security was dealt with indirectly and belatedly. Congress passed the Civil Service Act of 1883, relieving the president of responsibility for filling 10 percent of federal jobs, which henceforth would be determined by an examination system.
The Secret Service was created in 1864, and at the time Garfield was killed its primary mission was to catch counterfeiters. It did not provide presidential protection until 1901, when President William McKinley was assassinated.
In 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt had the West Wing of the White House built. The new wing was constructed in a manner that denied free access to certain rooms. It also created new office space away from the president's residence.
Free access to the White House continued in the early 20th century, with New Year's Day remaining as a high point for receptions.
On Jan. 1, 1909, Roosevelt shook a record 8,000 hands of visitors. His successor, William Howard Taft, ran up a total of 5,575 hands in 1910 but in a shorter time span: two hours, 55 minutes.