Assassination, the taking of a person's life by surprise attack. The term is generally used to refer to the murder of a public figure. Most assassinations have been politically or religiously motivated, although some have been committed for no apparent reason. The word comes from the name of a secret order of Muslim fanatics, the Assassins.
Four United States Presidents have been the victims of assassination. Some assassinations have had great political consequence. For example, many historians believe that the murder of President Lincoln was to some extent responsible for the harsh Reconstruction policy toward the South after the Civil War. The assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary was the spark that led to World War I.