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Publication information
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Source: Recollections of an Alienist
Source type: book
Document type: book chapter
Document title: “Political Murders” [chapter 21]
Author(s): Hamilton, Allan McLane
Publisher: George H. Doran Company
Place of publication: New York, New York
Year of publication: 1916
Pagination: 342-68 (excerpt below includes only pages 360-66)

 
Citation
Hamilton, Allan McLane. “Political Murders” [chapter 21]. Recollections of an Alienist. New York: George H. Doran, 1916: pp. 342-68.
 
Transcription
excerpt of chapter
 
Keywords
McKinley assassination; yellow journalism (role in the assassination); Leon Czolgosz (trial); Leon Czolgosz (trial: personal response); Leon Czolgosz (trial: criticism); Leon Czolgosz (mental health).
 
Named persons
Walter Channing; Leon Czolgosz; Homer Davenport; James J. Gallagher; James A. Garfield; William Goebel; Emma Goldman; Charles J. Guiteau; Marcus Hanna; Abram S. Hewitt; Humbert I; Loran L. Lewis [in footnote]; William McKinley; Emmanuel Régis; Emil Schilling; Truman C. White; Ansley Wilcox [first name misspelled below].
 
Notes
The following footnote originally appeared at the bottom of page 364. Click on the asterisk preceding the footnote to navigate to its location in the text.

* According to a Buffalo daily newspaper, “Judge Lewis’ summing up for the prisoner consisted mainly in an apology for appearing as counsel for the defendant and a touching eulogy of his distinguished victim.”

This chapter includes two photographs of Czolgosz as an unnumbered plate facing page 360 and captioned as follows: “Leon F. Czolgosz before and after the Murder. Upper picture before and lower pictures after the murder, showing facial changes.” The text of the chapter refers to the photographs as figures 56 and 57; however, neither photograph is numbered as such.

From title page: Recollections of an Alienist: Personal and Professional.

From title page: With Original Illustrations, Photographs, and Fac-Similes.

From title page: By Allan McLane Hamilton, M.D., LL.D., F.R.S. (Edin.).
 
Document

 

Political Murders [excerpt]

 

The Assassination of President McKinley

     On September 6th, 1901, during the Pan-American World’s Fair at Buffalo, New York, the whole nation was again shocked by the news of the assassination of President William McKinley by a Polish wire worker, named Leon Czolgosz. This person advanced in a queue of people who awaited their turn to shake hands with the President in a building known as the Temple of Music. No one had observed the tall, smooth-faced young man who, when his turn came, hastily aimed a pistol and fired two shots into the body of the unsuspecting man, whose hand was already extended to grasp his. To further his purpose Czolgosz had twisted his handkerchief about the weapon, thus concealing it so that no one had seen what happened until the shots were fired and the President fell. Immediately there was an inconceivable scene; the fanatical murderer was thrown to the floor, beaten and stamped upon, and when rescued with great difficulty and taken to the gaol, his body was covered with cuts, and his clothing torn in shreds. The same unreasoning vindictiveness and violence that has been shown on many other occasions possessed the onlookers, although the conduct of the man at the time clearly betrayed his madness. This desire for summary punishment extended throughout the country, [360][361] while the press in particular was more vengeful than at the time of the Guiteau murder.
     There was much hysterical agitation, and numerous plans were suggested by the usual class of letter writers, some being more absurd than others for the suppression of anarchy. One New Jersey judge, I am told, publicly advocated the execution of all anarchists by a red-hot circular saw.
     The Hon. Abram S. Hewitt kept his head and advised moderation, and when addressing the New York Chamber of Commerce, said: “I do not know what further legislation may accomplish, but I should expect very little from it—from a more earnest public opinion, from a sounder public judgment, I should expect more.”
     Undoubtedly the crime was precipitated by the outrageous attacks printed in one of the sensational and irresponsible journals of the time. This paper had for weeks been abusing McKinley, and accusing him of working in the interests of the trusts. In one issue it said: “McKinley’s fat white hand has tossed to the starving American peasant the answer out of the White House window, ‘A trust can do no wrong,’” and again, “‘Has assassination ever changed the World’s history?’ We invite our readers to think over this question.” A despatch from Washington to the same paper, dated February 4th, said: “The bullet that pierced Goebel’s chest cannot be found in all the West; good reason. It is speeding to stretch McKinley on his bier.”
     The New York Sun said editorially in commenting upon the above: “The utter perversion of the thing known as yellow journalism was never shown more conclusively or offensively than in this hypocritical pretence to exalted motives in connection with other ends as a cloaked complicity in a crime that has shocked the entire country.” [361][362] In this same newspaper were vulgar and inflammatory caricatures of the crudest kind in which the “artist” Davenport not only grossly insulted the Chief Magistrate, but Senator Mark Hanna and various other public characters, who were alleged to be acting “against the public interests.” It is not surprising, as in the Gallagher and other cases, that just such incendiary suggestions proved all that was necessary to prompt a murderous assault by an insane or drunken subject. As a rule these assassins belong to the class of hereditary degenerates with a mystical temperament so aptly described by the French alienist, Régis, who at times are misled by a political or religious delirium, believing themselves to be agents of justice, and martyrs, and who make their killing as the result of irresistible obsessions. There is always a nobler mission, and they may have visions or see apparitions. There is commonly a consistency in their conduct which was found in that of Czolgosz alias Neumann, but not in Guiteau, who clearly invented the “inspiration” which he said directed him to kill Garfield.
     When Czolgosz was arrested he manifested the bearing of a hero who had performed an inspiring act, but this speedily disappeared when he was taken to the gaol and the familiar third degree was energetically applied to make him confess who were his possible accomplices. From what I could learn at the time he suffered unusual torture, the result being what is so often the case—the production of a mild dementia which followed the shock. According to the sagacious police and newspaper reports of the day “the prisoner’s display of nerve is a mere veneer of bravado and it is confidently predicted that he will collapse when the sentence of death is passed upon him.” This he did, but before he entered the court, and not in the manner predicted by these wise prophets. At no time was he [362][363] free from his delusions, but all his exaltation was crushed out by the brutal hand of the authorities.
     I was sent for by Ainsley Wilcox, the distinguished Buffalo lawyer at whose house the President finally died, and at the request of the District Attorney went to Buffalo on Sunday afternoon, May 3rd, 1902. On arriving, I found that the three people’s experts, and the two physicians retained by the Erie County Bar Association had made up their minds that the prisoner was sane. It seems that they were a long time reaching a conclusion, and had made their report only an hour before they heard I was coming to Buffalo. A secret meeting, to which I was not invited, was held that night by the experts with the attorneys of both sides, and it was decided to go on with the trial. It really would appear as if every one had surrendered to the popular clamour for the life of Czolgosz, who was practically friendless and deserted. I was then told that no further examination was necessary, after I had been informed the night before that I was to see the prisoner at nine o’clock on Monday morning. I was, however, permitted to attend the trial, which I did. This was on September 23rd, 1901. I really do not think in all my experience that I have ever seen such a travesty of justice, nor have I heard of such a tribunal except in the clever Grand Guignol little horror of Les Trois Messieurs du Havre.
     The prisoner was brought into court accompanied by one of his brothers. He was a tall young man with good features, but bore the effects of his ill-usage for a red scar ran across his face. His was a prepossessing personality, and there was none of the repulsive cunning or ugliness of Guiteau. He was clearly demented, though, and seemed to take little or no interest in the proceedings. When made to stand up, he evidently did not understand the na- [363][364] ture of the indictment, which was read twice, and he had to be asked twice to plead. Finally, when his coat-tail was pulled by his brother and the hint given, he said, in a low voice: “Guilty.” This, however, was not received by the judge, who forced him to plead “not guilty” and the latter plea was entered on the record.
     That this should be done, unless the learned Judge White himself had doubts of the prisoner’s sanity, is inconceivable. Then this trial went on. The two superannuated and apparently self-satisfied ex-judges assigned for the defence apologised freely and humbly for their appearance in behalf of this wretched man, referred to “the dastardly murder of our martyred President,” and really made nothing more than a formal perfunctory effort, if it could be called such. Long and fulsome perorations were indulged in by these remiss members of a great and dignified profession, and others who praised the dead President, and flattered each other, the District Attorney, the Presiding Judge, the Medical Faculty of Buffalo, and every one else they could think of.*
     The doctors and surgeons, one after the other, were called to tell what they had individually and collectively done for President McKinley, and after a great deal more of this sort of testimony the poor madman was sentenced to death. All through the trial he had appeared absolutely silent and indifferent, and in fact said little before his execution except to reiterate his insane claim that in killing McKinley he had acted only in the interests of the poor man and for the public good. Some of this was the reflex of the yellow journal—some the fruit of the [364][365] months of insane brooding. The two illustrations here presented show his insane facies (Figs. 56 and 57) before and after the murder.
     Had I been allowed, and had the trial not been hurried on with such indecent haste, I would have made the same examination subsequently undertaken by Dr. Walter Channing, the learned psychiatrist of Brookline, Mass., who after the execution established without doubt the family degeneracy and the prisoner’s mental disease, but the newspapers were impatient and something had to be done, and at once, to appease the vengeful and restless public. The case was tried and a verdict of “guilty” was rendered within a period of two court days, with sessions from 10-12 in the forenoon and 2-4 in the afternoon, the time actually occupied being eight and one-half hours. Much congratulation was afterward indulged in upon this “record.”
     Czolgosz had really no anarchistic society behind him, and though Emma Goldman’s name was mentioned, it appears that the assassin had only heard one of her lectures, and this one was most harmless, temperate and sensible. He had tried to affiliate himself with an anarchistic society in Cleveland, but had been kept at arm’s length by its head, one Schilling, and others whom he had impressed months before by his crazy conduct. The newspaper organ called The Free Society even advertised him as a spy because of his erratic behaviour.
     The assassin was really a defective who had long been drifting to paranoia, and whose actual delusions of persecution and grandeur found soil in which to grow. As early as the spring of 1901 his family said he had “gone to pieces”; he neglected his trade, and became a vagabond. He had delusions that he was being poisoned, for he bought and cooked his own food, and would not let even his mother prepare his meals. He talked a great deal about anarchy [365][366] and murder, and eagerly read the accounts of the assassination of King Humbert; he likewise had religious and “exalted” delusions. His ordinary conduct before the commission of the crime had been orderly and gentle; he was fond of children and simple things, and a week before his act had played with the little daughters of the people with whom he stayed. He was not notably vainglorious, and in the performance of the deed must have known that he was to surely sacrifice his life, and would probably be torn to pieces by the angry populace. He was undoubtedly of weak nature and absorbed the doctrines of anarchism in the same manner that certain morbid adolescents undergo a religious change which leads to a familiar kind of breaking down. Unlike the ordinary anarchist, who when he kills takes means to save his neck and escape, this boy carried his fanatical recklessness to the extreme danger point with complete indifference to his fate.
     In the electric chair his last words, I learn, were an expression of his delusions which he consistently held to the last, and he died believing himself to be a martyr. The post-mortem examination showed nothing, but the young medical man who made it admitted very properly and fairly that “no indications of insanity can be found in many individuals who have been for a long period mentally disturbed.”

 

 


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