Source: The Rights of Man
Source type: book
Document type: lecture
Document title: “The Perils of Democracy” [lecture 10]
Author(s): Abbott, Lyman
Publisher: Houghton, Mifflin and Company
Place of publication: Boston, Massachusetts
Year of publication: 1902
Pagination: 278-312 (excerpt below includes only pages 295-97)
|Abbott, Lyman. “The Perils of Democracy” [lecture 10]. The Rights of Man. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1902: pp. 278-312.|
|excerpt of lecture|
|William McKinley (presidential character: criticism); anarchism; the press (impact on Czolgosz); anarchism (impact on Czolgosz).|
|John Wilkes Booth; Leon Czolgosz; Charles J. Guiteau; William McKinley.|
From preface: “These lectures were given in the months of January and February, 1901, before the Lowell Institute of Boston, some of them in November and December preceding before the Brooklyn Institute of Brooklyn, New York” (p. v).
From title page: The Rights of Man: A Study in Twentieth Century Problems.
The Perils of Democracy [excerpt]
While this volume is going through the press the assassination of President McKinley affords a startling and tragical illustration of the perils threatened to democratic institutions by the spirit of lawlessness. Intemperate speech, going far beyond all bounds of legitimate discussion of either public measures or public men, had exhausted the resources of vehement rhetoric in vituperation of the chief magistrate of the nation. He had been assailed by reputable men and women as “unscrupulous and deceitful,” “the most unmoral of all the occupants” of the presidential chair, characterized by “vacillation, infirmity of purpose, and general dishonesty,” as “affable putty,” a “puppet,” “watchful for votes alone,” a “traitor,” one who “stands not only for cheating and robbery, but also for arson and murder,” a “shameless  President,” “an Ohio twaddler,” with “mediocrity of mind and low left-handed cunning,” whose name history would “pillory in letters black,” “whether as tool or tyrant . . . time alone can tell.” While these epithets were flung in widespread publications by reputable Americans in an endeavor to excite popular passion against the man whom the nation had chosen to be its leader, the doctrine was in smaller circles sedulously taught that all government is oppression, that all rulers are “tool or tyrant,” and stand “not only for cheating and robbery, but for arson and murder,” and that there is a sacred right and even a solemn duty to slay them at sight, as we would slay a prowling wolf or a man-eating tiger. One of the disciples of this school traveled across the sea from America and assassinated the king of Italy, and his fellow disciples here met and glorified his act; still Americans contented themselves with newspaper protests; nowhere was a vigorous, concerted, and continuous effort made either to restrain by law the speeches of Anarchists inciting to crime and glorifying it when committed, or to rebuke by public opinion the speeches of embittered partisans transcending all the bounds of honorable public debate. At last a man of feeble intellect and still feebler conscience, with that ambition for notoriety which a sensational press does much to stimulate even in larger men, put the public teaching of the partisans and the private teachings of the Anarchists together and carried them to their logical  conclusion. The one had told him that William McKinley was a tyrant, the other that all tyrants ought to die, and he resolved to achieve a martyr’s crown by carrying into execution the lesson he had learned. It is idle to charge the result to immigration, or to think that repetition of such murders can be guarded against by sentinels placed at the landing piers of our Atlantic cities. Booth, Guiteau, and Czolgosz were all native Americans, and Czolgosz was a graduate of our public schools. The assassination of William McKinley was the ripened fruit of seed sown by lawless tongues in partisan invective which public opinion, regardless of party, should have sternly rebuked, and in Anarchistic counseling of crime which public law ought to have forbidden under severe penalty.