Source: Orations, Addresses and Speeches of Chauncey M. Depew
Source type: book
Document type: interview
Document title: “Interview on Return from Buffalo, September 15, 1901, after the Assassination of President Mc Kinley”
Author(s): Depew, Chauncey M.
Editor(s): Champlin, John Denison
Volume number: 8
Place of publication: New York, New York
Year of publication: 1910
|Depew, Chauncey M. “Interview on Return from Buffalo, September 15, 1901, after the Assassination of President Mc Kinley.” Orations, Addresses and Speeches of Chauncey M. Depew. Ed. John Denison Champlin. Vol. 8. New York: [n.p.], 1910: pp. 282-86.|
|full text of interview; excerpt of book|
|Chauncey M. Depew (interviews); William McKinley (death); Theodore Roosevelt (inauguration); assassinations; anarchism (dealing with); rulers (protection); presidents (handshaking in public).|
|John Wilkes Booth; James A. Garfield; Charles J. Guiteau; Marcus Hanna; Henry IV; Humbert I; Abraham Lincoln; Émile-François Loubet; William McKinley; Theodore Roosevelt; Elihu Root; George Washington.|
Volume VIII: Miscellaneous Speeches.
Interview on Return from Buffalo, September 15, 1901, after the Assassination of President Mc Kinley
I FOUND that
the whole population, visiting and resident, was horrified by the revulsion
of feeling from the absolute confidence of the day before to the doubt caused
by the relapse. I went several times to the Milburn house. At 4 o’clock, although
the report came that the President had rallied, the committee of railroad men
with whom I had been consulting decided to postpone the exercises for Railroad
Day. On my visit to the Milburn house I found no especial alarm. What was apparently
an extreme attack of indigestion was considered to have been relieved. Later
in the day almost the old hopefulness had its sway. Upon an evening visit, however,
I found the gloom of a death chamber. I met Senator Hanna, who was quite unnerved,
and he told me that the President was dead.
I was among the men who were near Lincoln when he died and was by, also, when Garfield died. Those about Lincoln were in a wild rage for revenge. Garfield was so short a time President that beyond the general horror and sympathy there were no evidences of deep feeling. At the Milburn house on Friday night a stranger would have said that the Cabinet officers, the judges, the Senators, and the distinguished men who were associated with President McKinley were members of his family and were feeling in his death the loss of a most cherished member. The poignancy of the grief manifested was extraordinary and showed what a tremendous hold the President had on those who came in contact with him.
Secretary Root is not an emotional man. His severe training at the Bar has taught him to curb his feelings and given him a marvelous control over his emotions, but at the inauguration of Roosevelt in an effort to make a simple announcement that the Cabinet desired the Vice-president to at once assume the Presidency Mr. Root’s battle to prevent himself giving external evidence of grief intensified by its failure the broken sentences he  uttered. I have witnessed most of the world’s pageants in my time, where fleets and armies, music and cannon, wonderful ceremonials and costumes enchanted the onlookers and fired the imagination, but that all seems to me in recollection tawdry and insignificant in the presence of that little company in the library of the Wilcox house in Buffalo. It was apparently a gathering of professional and business Americans, coming hastily from their vocations to the meeting.
There was an interregnum of a few hours in the Chief Magistracy of the Republic. The long silence in the library, which had become painful, was broken by a few scarcely audible words of the Secretary of War. A brief pause and then the emphatic announcement by the Vice-president of the continuance of the policy of McKinley for the peace, progress, and honor of our beloved country lifted every one out of despair. Roosevelt, with his youth and his magnificent, athletic personality, and the terrible earnestness of his little speech, seemed to personify the indomitable vigor of that American conquest and industrial and commercial evolution, and its continuance, of which McKinley, in the public mind, was largely the creator and wholly the representative. In repeating the words of the Judge administering the oath, Roosevelt extended his hand over his head to the full length of his arm. He closely followed each sentence, and his ending seemed almost as if it was a salvo of artillery: “And so I swear.”
That little company had only a few minutes before left the house of the murdered President, and now they were extending congratulations to his successor who had assumed the greatest office which man can hold, and had become Chief Magistrate of the most powerful country in the world.
It is singular that in the United States, possessing the freest government the world has ever known, all its Presidents, with the exception of Washington, having come from the humbler conditions, in thirty-six years three of its chief magistrates should have been assassinated. Autocratic Russia is a hotbed of conspiracy against the Czars, yet only one ruler in Russia has been murdered in the period covering the life of the American Republic. The six hundred years of the Hapsburg house and nearly as many of the Hohenzollern dynasty have been free from the tragedy of assassination. Only one member of the house of  Savoy, King Humbert, fell under the assassin’s hand. The English throne has been free from these crimes for one thousand years. In France in thirty years one of her presidents has been assassinated; with the exception of Henry IV, none of her kings or emperors. The immunity of rulers of Continental Europe is ascribed to the care of guards. There are no special precautions surrounding the movements and residence of the English sovereign.
The murder of Lincoln was not the act of an anarchist and was as deeply regretted by the South, whose wrongs Booth thought he was avenging, as by the North. Had Lincoln lived, the reconstruction of the South on lines satisfactory to its intelligence would have come much sooner. The assassination of a ruler has always defeated the purpose of the attack by intensifying the power of the Government assailed. The assassination of Garfield was the crime of an addle-brained egotist seeking notoriety, without accomplices or sympathizers. And yet we can trace Guiteau’s crime to the intense passions of factional strife of the period.
President McKinley was the most beloved of our Presidents. Beyond any of them he possessed the affection of the whole American people. Parties and partisanship had ceased to have any enmity toward him personally. He was not only the best friend of the workingman and the wage-earner who ever filled the place of ruler of a great country, but they all knew it and so regarded him. Notwithstanding these facts, this most popular of Presidents fell a victim to a conspiracy. His death was brought about as a result of teachings of a political school which, so far as they dare, approve and applaud the crime.
The conditions which give comparative safety to European rulers and make the position of President of the United States the most hazardous place in the world, must be considered in the protection to be given in the future to our Presidents. All continental governments by concert of action among the police of the several countries locate, identify and exchange descriptions of anarchists and anarchist groups. To arrest them on the slightest pretext you must in various ways endeavor to make life unbearable for them. The Reds have in the main fled from these countries to find asylums only in Great Britain and the United States. They work a vigorous propaganda through their publications for  use on this continent. The Scotland Yard police hold the London anarchists under constant surveillance. The anarchist leaders in Russia are all foreigners, as with us, with the exception of one or two. The leaders in Great Britain order that no outrages be committed there. They know that an attempt on the life of the sovereign would lead to the expulsion of them all.
The Reds have discovered that in the United States there is such absolute freedom that there is no law, Federal or State, under which anything worse can happen than brief imprisonment if unsuccessful, and execution only if successful, to the member of their society upon whom the lot falls to assassinate a President, a Governor, a judge, or a policeman. The chief tenets of the anarchist organization being revolution of society by killing those who now carry out its laws, how can we protect our President and have him as safe from these assaults as European sovereigns? There is no analogy between a President who temporarily represents the people and executes their will and the hereditary rulers of Europe, but the anarchists make no distinction.
In the first place, President Loubet of the French Republic does not attend public meetings, speak from the platform of railway cars, move around in an approachable and conspicuous way at fairs and expositions, nor hold open levees for the shaking of hands. Whenever he appears he is guarded by secret police. They know his route and, themselves inconspicuous, keep a constant watch on the President and those near him. Our Presidents are in the habit of shaking hands with everybody who wishes, wherever they have temporarily stopped or have been staying. Can we afford, when the life of the President is so important to every interest in the country, to have him continue this ceremony without restriction or limitation? The American people number 77,000,000. It would be almost impossible for a President in his four years in office to shake hands with 50,000 persons. Considering that some one person in this insignificant proportion of our people might precipitate a tragedy that would plunge the whole country into grief and disturb commercial and industrial conditions, the question arises, Can we afford to continue to imperil our Presidents? Our Presidents, notwithstanding the danger, must continue to travel and meet the people as heretofore with certain precautions and with changes in the functions which have been characterized as presidential receptions. 
We must begin at the fountain head and stop the reservoirs of European anarchy pouring into our country. Such certification of immigrants must be had as will establish a proper environment and association abroad before they pass our immigrant inspectors. Supplementing this, there should be under proper safeguards the power lodged somewhere to expel known enemies of our laws and country. Legislation should also be adopted by the Federal Government and all States that will make attempts upon the life of the President, which fail out of the category of mere assaults, and make such crimes adequately punished.