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Source: Famous Assassinations of History
Source type: book
Document type: book chapter
Document title: “Assassination of William McKinley” [chapter 24]
Author(s): Johnson, Francis
Publisher: A. C. McClurg and Co.
Place of publication: Chicago, Illinois
Year of publication: 1903
Pagination: 381-95

Johnson, Francis. “Assassination of William McKinley” [chapter 24]. Famous Assassinations of History. Chicago: A. C. McClurg, 1903: pp. 381-95.
full text of chapter; excerpt of book
presidential assassinations (comparison); McKinley presidency; anarchism; Pan-American Exposition; William McKinley (presidential character); William McKinley (last public address); McKinley assassination; William McKinley (death); assassination.
Named persons
Alexander II; Mikhail Bakunin; James G. Blaine; Marie François Sadi Carnot; Roscoe Conkling; Leon Czolgosz; Elizabeth; Elizabeth I; James A. Garfield; Emma Goldman [misspelled below]; Charles J. Guiteau; Humbert I; Louis XIV; Karl Marx [first name misspelled below]; Ida McKinley; William McKinley; Johann Most [variant first name below]; Juan Prim y Prats; Pierre-Joseph Proudhon; Justus Schwab; George Washington.
In the table of contents the chapter title is given as “Assassination of William McKinley, President of the United States (September 6, 1901).”

A photograph of McKinley appears on page 380.

From title page: Famous Assassinations of History: From Philip of Macedon, 336 B.C., to Alexander of Servia, A.D. 1903.

From title page: With Twenty-Nine Portraits.


Assassination of William McKinley



(September 6, 1901)

THE North-American Republic had lived eighty-nine years before political assassination made its entrance into its domain. From 1776 to 1865, a period occasionally as turbulent, excited and torn by political discord and strife as any other period in history, political assassinations kept away from its shores, and appeared only at the close of the great Civil War between the North and the South, selecting for its victim the noblest, gentlest, most kind-hearted of Americans who had filled the Presidential chair.
     Sixteen years later, on July 2, 1881, the second political assassination took place in the United States, resulting in the death of President James A. Garfield, after months of intense suffering from a wound inflicted by a bullet fired by Charles J. Guiteau, a disappointed office-seeker. By removing the President this man hoped to restore harmony in the Republican party, which, in the state of New York at least, had been disturbed by the feud between James G. Blaine and Roscoe Conkling. Guiteau imagined that President Garfield had become an interested party in this feud by appointing Mr. Blaine [381][382] his Secretary of State. His was the act of a vindictive madman.
     Twenty years had elapsed since Guiteau’s horrible crime, and again a President of the United States was prostrated by the bullet of an assassin, who, at the moment of committing the crime, proclaimed himself an Anarchist. When William McKinley was reëlected President in November, 1900, a successful and perhaps glorious second term seemed to be in store for him. During his first term the policy of the Republican party had earned great triumphs, and the President, who was in full accord with his party on all economical questions, and was even its most prominent leader on the tariff question, had justly shared these triumphs.
     Quite unexpectedly the question of armed intervention in Cuba had been sprung in the middle of Mr. McKinley’s first term of office, and after having exhausted all diplomatic means to prevent war and to induce Spain to grant satisfactory terms to the Cubans, the President was forced into a declaration of war by the enthusiasm of the Senators and Representatives assembled at Washington. But, as if everything undertaken by Mr. McKinley was to be blessed with phenomenal success, the war with Spain was not only instrumental in securing the thing for which it had been undertaken,—the liberty and independence of the island of Cuba,—but it had also an entirely unexpected effect on the international standing of the United States. Up to the time of the Spanish-American War the United States had always been considered an exclusively American power, and while the European powers seemed to be willing to concede to it a leading position—a sort of hegemony—in all American affairs (including Cen- [382][383] tral and South America), which the United States had assumed by the promulgation of the Monroe Doctrine in 1823, they had never invited the American government to their councils treating of European or other non-American affairs. The Spanish-American War was a revelation to Europe. It opened its eyes to the fact that over night, while Europe had been sleeping and dreaming only of its own greatness, a young giant had grown up on the other side of the Atlantic who was just beginning to feel his own strength and who seemed to make very light of time-honored sovereignty rights and inherited titles of possession. As the Atlantic cable flashed over its wires the reports of American victories and achievements of astounding magnitude,—the destruction of two powerful Spanish fleets, followed by the surrender of the large Spanish armies in the Philippine islands and Cuba,—Europe stood aghast at this superb display of power and naval superiority, and European statesmen reluctantly admitted that a new world-power of the first order had been born, and that it might be prudent to invite it to a seat among the great powers. History is often a great satirist; it was so in this case. Spain had for a long time made application for admission to a seat among the great powers of the world and had pointed to her great colonies and to her splendid navy as her credentials entitling her to membership in the illustrious company. But England and Germany, fearing that Spain would strengthen France and Russia by her influence and navy, kept her out of it. And now comes a young American nation which nobody had thought of as a great military and naval power, makes very short work of Spain’s navy, robs her of all her colonies, and coolly, without having [383][384] asked for it, takes the seat which Spain had vainly sighed for.
     In a monarchy a large part if not the whole of the glory of these achievements on land and sea would have been ascribed to the ruler under whose reign they occurred. It was so with Louis the Fourteenth and Queen Elizabeth, but William McKinley was entirely too modest to claim for himself honors which did not exclusively belong to him. Nevertheless a great deal was said about imperialism and militarism during the campaign, and these charges were even made a strong issue against Mr. McKinley’s reëlection. However, the good judgment of the American people disregarded them and reëlected Mr. McKinley by a considerably larger majority than he had received four years before.
     It might have been supposed that this flattering endorsement of Mr. McKinley’s first administration would have allayed all opposition to him personally, because certainly his experience, his conceded integrity and ability, his great influence in the councils of his party, and his immense popularity would have been of inestimable value in adjusting and solving the new problems of administration arising from the acquisition of our new insular possessions in the Pacific and the West Indies. While the two great political parties, and in fact all other parties, had bowed to this decision of the people at the ballot-box, there was, unfortunately, a class of men in the United States as well as in Europe who made war upon the present organization of society as unjust to the poor man, and upon all government, which they declared hostile and detrimental to the rights of individuals, and which they considered the source of all wrongs and mis- [384][385] eries. This doctrine was originated by a French philosopher, Pierre Joseph Proudhon, in his famous pamphlet published in 1850 and entitled: “What is Property?” He denounces the unequal division and distribution of property among men and the unjust accumulation of capital in the hands of the few as the source of all social evils, and, concluding with the emphatic declaration that all property is theft, demands its readjustment and reapportionment on a basis of strict justice as the sole hope for happiness. Proudhon’s ideas and arguments found an echo throughout Europe. He had considered the question only in its economical bearings; but some of his disciples extended the inquiry in all other directions, and showed the hurtful influence of accumulated power and property on all other social conditions, especially on politics and the government of nations. They demanded the reinstatement of the individual in all his natural rights, and a destruction of all those powers and laws which stood in the way of the free and unobstructed exercise of those rights. This meant a declaration of war on all established authority and government. It meant anarchy in the literal sense of the word, and the men who had adopted this doctrine as their political platform called themselves Anarchists.
     On the twenty-ninth of September, 1872, a violent schism occurred at the congress of the International Association of Laborers, held at the Hague, between the partisans of Carl Marx and those of Bakúnin, and from this date we must count the origin of the anarchistic party. In the United States the first symptoms of an anarchistic movement appeared in 1878. At the Socialist congress held at Albany, N. Y., the majority of dele- [385][386] gates, who were advocates of peaceable methods of propagandism, were opposed by a minority of revolutionists preaching the most extreme measures. The leader of this minority was Justus Schwab, who was then publishing a socialistic newspaper, “The Voice of the People,” at St. Louis. He was a friend and admirer of John Most, who had been imprisoned in England for his revolutionary and seditious articles, and who was, unquestionably, the intellectual leader of the radical minority at Albany. The final rupture between the two factions occurred a year later, at the congress at Alleghany [sic], Pa., in 1879, when the radical revolutionists, who were in a majority, expelled the moderate faction from the convention. The radical wing has grown rapidly in numbers and power, and its influence has made itself felt repeatedly on lamentable occasions, the last of which was the assassination of William McKinley, President of the United States, during the Pan-American Exposition at Buffalo, on September 6, 1901.
     The great American cities, from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific, are hot-beds of extreme political radicalism; Italian Carbonarism and Russian Nihilism are represented in those cities by some of their most daring representatives, whose official programme is destruction of authority by the assassination of its most exalted heads, and subversion of law. By placing William McKinley in line with the monarchs who were the special targets of their inflammatory harangues and writings, danger and death were attracted to his person with magnetic power; and what in the intention of party opponents was but a forcible means of attacking Mr. McKinley’s and his party’s colonial policy (to disappear again with his election) may have lingered in the heated imaginations of these [386][387] avowed regicides, and may have intensified their feelings against him, as the most exalted representative of law and order (with alleged imperial designs) in this country. Several months before the assassination took place it was reported that detectives had ferreted out at Paterson, N. J., which is known as a gathering-place of Italian anarchists and assassins, a conspiracy which had for its object the assassination of all European monarchs and of President McKinley. This report, when published in the newspapers, was received with laughter and contempt by the reading public. The mere idea appeared too absurd to deserve even a moment’s attention, and the result was that to the recent assassinations of the Empress of Austria and King Humbert of Italy was added the tragedy of Buffalo.
     Only a few months after Mr. McKinley was inaugurated for his second term of office, the Pan-American Exposition was held at Buffalo. Mr. McKinley had, from the very inception of the great undertaking which was to shed new lustre upon his administration, given to it great attention and cordial encouragement. For the first time, such an exposition was to exhibit all the products, natural and artificial, of the two Americas in one common presentation, challenging the admiration or the criticism of the world on the intellectual and industrial standing which this display manifested. The result was grand, and in many respects surpassed expectation. It emphasized the impression already created by the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, that America would within a short time become a dangerous rival for Europe in many departments of industry, not only at home, but even in foreign countries which up to that time had almost [387][388] held a monopoly for supplying certain articles of manufacture. The departments in which articles of steel and iron manufacture, electrical machines, etc., were exhibited showed such superiority over what old Europe could show that even the most prejudiced visitors from abroad had to concede it.
     It had been expected that President McKinley, by his presence on several days in some official capacity, would heighten the interest and emphasize the importance of the Exposition. He had promised and planned to do so. In the summer of 1901 he made a trip to the Pacific coast, and was everywhere welcomed with boisterous enthusiasm. Mrs. McKinley accompanied him, sharing his popularity and triumphs. Perhaps no President since George Washington had to a higher degree possessed the confidence and love of the whole people than Mr. McKinley did at the time of his second inauguration. Even his political opponents conceded his eminent worth, his integrity, his loyalty to duty, and his sincere desire to promote the general welfare of the country. The short addresses which he made during his trip to California found an enthusiastic echo in the hearts of his fellow-citizens, East and West; the ovations he received and which he accepted with becoming modesty and tact, were heartily endorsed by the nation as symptomatic of the universal feeling of harmony and of good-will toward the administration. The ante-election charges of imperialism were laughed at, and both parties seemed to be willing to make the best of the results of the war. Moreover the great urbanity of manners, and the personal amiability which distinguished Mr. McKinley were the strongest refutations of these ridiculous imperialistic [388][389] charges and of Mr. McKinley’s ambition to be clothed with royal honors. He showed equal courtesy to rich and poor, and his grasp of the laborer’s hand was just as cordial as of the rich merchant’s.
     The Presidential party had reached San Francisco, and its reception there was fully as enthusiastic as it had been in the cities along the route to the Pacific. It had been the President’s intention to stop at Buffalo on his return from his trip to California, to be the guest of the managers of the Exposition for a few days, and to perform those duties and ceremonies which were expected of him as head of the nation. Unfortunately this programme could not be carried out. Mrs. McKinley, always in very delicate health, fell seriously ill at San Francisco, and for several days her life was despaired of. She recovered; but as soon as she was able to bear the discomforts of transportation, without inviting the danger of a relapse, the President’s return to the East was decided on, and all his previous appointments were cancelled. His intention to visit Buffalo, during the continuance of the Exposition, was, however, not abandoned, but simply postponed to a more opportune time, after Mrs. McKinley should have recovered her usual strength.
     Mr. McKinley came to Buffalo in the first week of September. The Exposition had attracted many thousands of visitors who were anxious to greet the President. On the fifth—which had been made President’s Day—he delivered an address to a very large audience, in which he spoke feelingly of the blessings bestowed by Providence on this country, and in eloquent terms referred to the unexampled prosperity enjoyed by its citizens. That secret and unaccountable influence which frequently in- [389][390] spires men on the verge of the grave and endows them with almost prophetic foresight seemed to have taken possession of Mr. McKinley on this occasion. The speech was, perhaps, the best he had ever made. It was the speech of a statesman and patriot, full of wisdom and love of country. He did not know, when he made it, that it would be his farewell address to the American people; but if he had known it and written it for that purpose, he could not have made it loftier in spirit, more patriotic in sentiment, and more convincing in argument.
     On the afternoon of the next day a grand reception had been arranged for the President at the Temple of Music. An immense multitude had assembled, eager to shake hands with Mr. McKinley and to have the honor of exchanging a few words with him. He was in the very best of spirits and performed the ceremony of handshaking with that amiable and cordial expression on his features which won him so many hearts. It had been arranged that only one person at a time should pass by him, and that after a rapid salutation his place should be taken by the next comer. Hundreds had already exchanged greetings with the President, when a young man with smooth face and dark hair stepped up to him. Mr. McKinley noticed that the right hand of the young man was bandaged, as though it had been wounded, and he therefore made a move to grasp his left hand; but at that moment the young man raised his right hand, and in quick succession fired two shots at the President, which both wounded him,—the one aimed at his chest, lightly, because the bullet deflected from the breastbone; the other, which had penetrated the abdomen, very seriously. The assassin had carried a revolver in his right hand and [390][391] had covered it with a handkerchief in order to avoid detection. Mr. McKinley did not realize immediately that he was wounded, although from the effects of the shot he staggered and fell into the arms of a detective who was standing near him.
     “Am I shot?” asked the President. The officer opened the President’s vest, and seeing the blood, answered: “Yes, I am afraid you are, Mr. President.”
     The assassin was immediately thrown to the ground. Twenty men were upon him, and it was with some difficulty that he was rescued from their grasp. At first he gave a fictitious name, and, when asked for his motive, replied: “I am an Anarchist, and have done my duty.” His statements shortly after his arrest seemed to implicate a number of more or less prominent Anarchists in the crime and to make it appear as the result of a widespread conspiracy. In consequence a number of the recognized leaders of the party—especially Emma Goldmann, whom the assailant named as the person whose teachings had inspired him with the idea of committing the crime—were arrested and held for a preliminary examination; but nothing could be proven against them, and they were discharged.
     After a few days the assailant made a full confession. His name was Leon Czolgosz; he was a Pole by birth, and his family lived at Detroit. He was a believer in Anarchism and had murdered the President because he considered him the chief representative of that authority which, in his opinion, was hurtful to the development of a society founded on the equal rights of all its members. He had had no accomplices; he had not consulted with anybody concerning the plan, time, or execution of the [391][392] crime, but he had resolved upon and executed it on his own responsibility. While his confession fully exonerated both the Anarchist party at large and all its members individually, it nevertheless showed what terrible consequences may arise from the propagandism of a party which has declared war on the existing organization of society, when its doctrines inflame the mind of a fanatic or of an unthinking proselyte. Public opinion in the United States was stirred to its very depths, all parties vying with one another in showing not only their abhorrence of the crime, but also their love and admiration for the illustrious victim.
     Unfortunately the hopes of the American people that Mr. McKinley would survive the foul and senseless attempt on his life were disappointed. For about a week his condition seemed to improve, and his strong vitality seemed to rise superior to the weakening effects of a dangerous surgical operation which failed to produce the second bullet, deeply seated as it was in the spine. At first he rallied from the severe shock, and his physicians were hopeful of saving his life, but in the afternoon of September 12, a sudden change for the worse occurred which, it was soon noticed, indicated the approach of dissolution. He remained conscious till about seven o’clock in the evening of September 13, and faced death in the same spirit of calmness and submission to the will of God which had characterized his whole career. “Good-bye, all; good-bye. It is God’s way. His will be done!” were his last conscious words to the members of his cabinet and other friends who, overcome with emotion, were at his bedside. The end came shortly after two o’clock in the morning, on September 14, apparently without pain. [392][393]
     President McKinley’s death made a profound impression on the American people. The rage of the people of Buffalo against the assassin was boundless, and but for the efficient measures for protecting him at the station-house in which he was imprisoned, he very likely would have fallen a victim to the fury of the thousands who surrounded it. The entire police force and several companies of soldiers were kept under arms to be ready for any emergency.
     The body of the dead President was first taken to Washington, and thence to its final resting-place at Canton, Ohio. The obsequies were of imposing grandeur and magnificence; but even more impressive than these, and more honorable to his memory, was the sorrow of a whole nation in tears over his untimely and cruel death.
     President McKinley’s death is typical of the modern attempts on the lives of sovereigns and prominent men. These attempts have lost much of the personal character which in former times made them so interesting. They are much more the results of a wholesale conspiracy against the organization of society than against great individuals. Unfortunately political assassinations have not become of rarer occurrence during the last fifty years, as might have been hoped from the progress of education and civilization. On the contrary, they have multiplied with the spread and development of Anarchism. The Anarchist makes no distinction between the bad ruler and the good ruler. The fact that the ruler occupies an exalted station above his fellow-men makes him an object of hatred for the Anarchist, and justifies his removal from an elevation which is a danger to all. At the present time men very high in authority, whether [393][394] in a monarchy or in a republic, are always exposed to the daggers or pistols or—what is much worse—to the dynamite or other explosives of assassins.
     The field of operation of these murderers—who are generally the deluded agents of a central organization of Anarchists, and who have frequently no personal grievance against their victims— extends not only all over Europe, from Russia to Spain, but also to the western hemisphere.
     While these murders fall with the same crushing effect upon the nations immediately stricken in the persons of their rulers or intellectual leaders, the interest in the causes leading to them is essentially diminished since they are all inspired by the same general motive,—destruction of authority,—and since the hand armed with the fatal weapon strikes with blind fanaticism, sparing neither age nor sex nor merit; in fact, quite often slaying those who deserve to live, and sparing those whose death might be a benefit to their country and the world. In this way we have seen the Czar Alexander the Second of Russia, the emancipator of the Russian serfs; General Prim, who, if he had lived longer, might have secured a constitutional government for Spain and her political regeneration; the Empress Elizabeth of Austria, a faultless and much betrayed wife as well as a bereaved mother; King Humbert, whose best endeavors were made in behalf of a reunited Italy; President Sadi Carnot, one of the purest and most patriotic statesmen the French Republic has had; and last, though not least, our genial and noble-hearted President, William McKinley,—all falling victims to the senseless vindictiveness of men who do not persecute wrong and oppression, but power and authority [394][395] in whatever form they may present themselves. We have selected the assassination of President McKinley as representative of this class of political murders, because he was dearest to the American heart, and also because, in our opinion, he was the most illustrious of the many victims of anarchistic vengeance.



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