Publication information

Socialism and Labor and Other Arguments, Social, Political, and Patriotic
Source type: book
Document type: public address
Document title: “Assassination and Anarchy” [chapter 8]
Author(s): Spalding, John Lancaster
Publisher: A. C. McClurg and Co.
Place of publication: Chicago, Illinois
Year of publication: 1902
Pagination: 137-48

Spalding, John Lancaster. “Assassination and Anarchy” [chapter 8]. Socialism and Labor and Other Arguments, Social, Political, and Patriotic. Chicago: A. C. McClurg, 1902: pp. 137-48.
full text of address; excerpt of book
John Lancaster Spalding (public addresses); William McKinley (memorial addresses); William McKinley (death: religious response); society (criticism); anarchism.
Named persons
William McKinley.
From title page: By Rt. Rev. J. L. Spalding, Bishop of Peoria.

Assassination and Anarchy


[Address delivered in Peoria at Mass-meeting in memory of the death of President McKinley.]

IN the presence of the grief and humiliation of a great nation, one would wish to be silent. Words cannot give right utterance to what we feel. They are apt even to strike us as but noise and sound, to distract and disturb rather than to strengthen and console. There is not question here of the passing of a man, however true, however good, however noble he may have been. The occasion does not call for clamorous denunciation or vulgar abuse; much less for appeals to the beast of prey that ever lurks in the human breast. Crime is not a remedy for crime; lawlessness is not a corrective of lawlessness. A great people and petty thoughts or revengeful feelings go ill together. The strong do not rail; the brave make no outcries. In proportion to one’s power should be his forbearance and self-control. If our dead President was great, he was great through his [137][138] kindliness, his forgiving spirit, his desire to be of help, his modesty and lowly-mindedness. His greatness sprang from his Christian faith and character, rather than from any surpassing intellectual endowments. If we grieve for his sad taking away, let our thoughts and sentiments be such as he would approve. To die as he died can hardly be deemed an evil for him. For more than half a century he had led a life of honesty, purity, and honor; he had served his God and his country from his earliest years; he had reached the topmost height to which an American citizen may aspire. He had the respect of the whole people; and those who disagreed with him in matters of policy were glad to accord him the high merit of a disinterested patriotism. In the midst of a whole world who thus honored him, while still in the full vigor of manhood, untouched by the palsying and blighting hand of age, he is suddenly stricken by one whose mental and moral nature had been wholly perverted. He dies in the fulfillment of kindly offices; he dies in the midst of the people who loved him and whom he loved; he dies after many years of life of noblest service and without stain. His task is done; his fame is secure; and his example remains with us to show us what a true American should be.
     When the generous and the good have been [138][139] placed on the summit of earthly things, their memory abides as a possession forever. The calamity which has befallen, has befallen not him, but the nation. When dire misfortunes overtake individuals or a people whom inner power makes great, they convert what might utterly destroy baser natures to means of good. We shall therefore seek to find the uses there may be in this adversity. The cry of shame and rage which has been heard throughout the whole land is intelligible. It is the instinctive utterance of the love we bear our country and of the infinite abhorrence we feel for whoever or whatever may do it hurt. Within our inmost souls we are persuaded that America is God’s greatest earthly gift to His children; that He has destined it to be the training ground of a nobler race, the home of a more Christlike and diviner humanity, whose beneficent influence shall be as self-diffusive as love, and as wide-spreading as the unending globe. When, therefore, a crime is committed against the one man who is the symbol and the representative of the whole national life, we are filled with amazement, we are confused with astonishment, we are roused to indignation, and in our mad bewilderment we lose sight of the fundamental principles on which our government rests. Declaimers and demagogues think to win favor by violent lan- [139][140] guage, and even from the chairs which have been established to teach wisdom, rash counsels are given. When shall we acquire that repose which is a mark of maturity, the imperturbable mind which belongs to those who have faith in an overruling Providence and are certain of themselves?
     There are no patent remedies for social evils. What we sow we reap, whether there be question of individuals or of nations. We cannot remain habitually indifferent to the supreme interests of religion and justice, and when emergencies come upon us, save ourselves by devices and contrivances. We do not need more or new laws: what we need is a new spirit—a more real faith in God, a more real love of our fellow-man, more honesty, more chastity, more unselfishness. We need a religion that will not lead us to think it enough to skin and film the ulcerous place, but that will impel us to probe deep and cut away the gangrenous flesh that poisons the fountains of life.
     As a people we are wanting in respect for those who are clothed with authority; we lack reverence; we are too ready to persuade ourselves that all is well so long as wealth and population increase; we wish to be flattered, and we turn away from the truth-speakers who love us, to listen to the demagogues who would lure us [140][141] to ruin. We seek facile solutions of the great problems, and distrust whoever, for instance, declares that to teach the young to read, write, and cipher is not to educate them; that education consists essentially in the building of character, which is what a man is, and not what he knows. We forget that morality, and not legality, is the only foundation on which a free government can securely rest. When corrupt influences determine legislation, laws cease to be regarded as binding. Men yield to force, but in their hearts they rebel against the injustice.
     When immoralities and crimes become general, minds are perverted and consciences made callous. How is it possible to read day after day of the suicides, the murders, the lynchings, the robberies, the divorces, the adulteries, the prostitutions and corruptions with which the newspapers are filled, and not to lose the sense of the sacredness of human life?
     Vice propagates itself far more easily than virtue, as men take disease, but not health, from one another; and if whoever is guilty of crime, or of misdeeds of whatever kind, is at once advertised to the world in millions of sheets as an object of curiosity, of interest, and at times of admiration, how can the readers of such things retain balance of judgment and a sensitive consciousness of the heinousness of sin? [141][142]
     It is easy to put to death the wretched man who has committed the outrage which has filled us all with consternation; it is easy to denounce and difficult to exaggerate the inhumanity, the fiendish nature of those who would destroy the whole fabric of society, our very civilization, the beliefs, the laws, the forces, which make us men and give value to life; it is easy in the hour of national affliction to gather in numerous assemblies throughout the land to utter our grief and to express our abhorrence. And all this is well, springing as it does from what is best within us; but it has little efficacy. It will do good only if it helps to make us good. We cannot destroy anarchy by enacting more rigid laws; much less by resorting to violence.
     “God bless every undertaking,” said President McKinley in 1897, “God bless every undertaking which revives patriotism and rebukes the indifferent and lawless.” And in 1894: “With patriotism in our hearts there is no danger of anarchy and no danger to the American Union.”
     There is the patriotism of instinct, that which binds a man to the land of his birth and to the home about which cluster his earliest and sweetest memories; and there is the patriotism of reason and religion, whereby we are made conscious that our dearest interests, temporal and [142][143] eternal, are vitally associated with our country, with its prosperity and security, its honor and welfare. The patriotism of instinct needs little encouragement; it is implanted by nature and is self-developed; but that of reason and religion must be cultivated and cherished with ceaseless care and vigilance, as reason and religion themselves are living forces only in the self-active.
     To this higher patriotism none but the wise and good are true; and false to it are not those alone who commit crime against the majesty and sacredness of the State, but false to it are all who are vicious themselves, all who by word or example sow the seeds of vice. The germ of anarchy is in every wrongdoer, in every lawbreaker. It is in those who propagate irreligion, who undermine man’s faith in God and in his own spiritual nature, for the moral code of the people is their religion. What is right or wrong for them is what they believe, not what they know, to be so. For all of us, indeed, duty is a thing of faith, not of the pure reason. Religion has rocked the cradles of all the nations, and infidelity, issuing in insatiable greed and sensuality, has dug the graves of those that have perished, sophistry and indulgence destroying what had been built by faith and virtue. There is the principle of anarchy in the mobs [143][144] that gather to torture and murder with fiendish cruelty the unfortunate beings for whose punishment laws have been enacted. There is the germ of anarchy in the homes of those who marry as recklessly, and separate with as little compunction, as animals breed. It is in the boodleism which in our cities fosters prostitution, the criminal saloon, the dance hall, and the gambling den. It is in our street fairs, when they are made a pretext for pandering to the lowest passions of the crowd. It lurks in the very constitution of our competitive system, if this system leads us to prefer markets to men, riches to the dignity and honor of human beings; if it so turns us away from the ends and ideals for which the wise live as to make of the nation a money-getting mob, where the few are dwarfed and crippled by their enormous possessions, while the multitude seek to drown their sense of misery in alcohol and degrading pleasures. It is not conceivable that this should be the fate of us, the heirs of all ages, us, the latest birth of time. Rather shall we lay to heart and be convinced in our inmost souls of this truth, uttered by one of the best inspired teachers of our age: “There is no wealth but life—life, including all its powers of love, of joy, and of admiration. That country is the richest which nourishes the greatest number of noble and [144][145] happy human beings; that man is richest who, having perfected the functions of his own life to the utmost, has also the widest helpful influence, both personal and by means of his possessions, over the lives of others.”
     There is not now, nor has there ever been, a civilized people. Ignorance, sin, depravity, injustice, cruelty, deceit, greed, and selfishness have always prevailed and still prevail in the world. The majority has never loved, nor does it now love, truth and mercy and purity and holiness. But we, more than any other people, are dedicated to the securing of the largest freedom, the fullest opportunity, the completest justice to all—to men and women, to the strong and the weak, to the rich and the poor. These are the principles which we proclaimed when first we took our place in the family of Christian nations; these are the principles which our greatest and most representative men, whether orators or statesmen or warriors or poets, have with deepest conviction asserted to be the embodiment of the spirit of America. This is the meaning of our life; this is the key to our destiny. Our conception of democracy is not that it is, like some of the barbarian empires of the past, an irresistible power whose mission is to overrun and subjugate, to conquer and lay waste. On the contrary, from our point of view democracy [145][146] is a beneficent force. It rests on faith in human nature; on the educability of all men, if they be but rightly environed and attended.
     Institutions are preserved by the principles from which they originate, and if our country is to grow, not in wealth and numbers alone, but in inner power and worth, we must adhere with unalterable fidelity to the great truths which inspired our fathers when they founded the Republic. Nay, since it is the nature of vital truth to develop, we must see more clearly than it was possible for them to see, that the Republic means justice to all, good-will to all, helpfulness to all; and first of all, to those who are overburdened, who are insufficiently equipped, who are sorely tried. The cry of the laborer is for justice, not for charity; and it is a cry which all the good gladly reëcho. But let us remember that men are just only when they love. Sympathy gives insight, and where this is lacking we are blind to the injustice our fellows suffer and we do them wrong with easy consciences. The impulse now, as of old, is to seek to overcome evil with evil. The world is so full of perversity that the only way, it would seem, in which society can protect itself is to cut off for a time or for ever those who sin against its laws. But no punishment, however severe, can destroy the roots from which grows the tree [146][147] that bears the bitter fruit; and if in any part of the world men should ever become rightly civilized, they will overcome evil with good. They will not condemn men to do work which they cannot do with joy, work which takes away heart and hope, which cripples the body and darkens the mind. They will suffer none to live in ignorance who might have knowledge; none to live in vice who might be made pure and holy. In their cities there will not be found districts where no innocent or healthful creature can breathe and not become tainted. There shall be no fortunes built on dead men’s bones and cemented with blood; no splendid dwellings around which shriek the ghosts of women whose toil did not bring enough to save them from lives of shame. It is toward all this that we must strive and struggle, if we are not to be recreant to our most sacred duties, false to the mission which God has given to America.
     In the shadow of the gloom that falls on the hearts of all the people, as what was mortal of the most religious, the most God-fearing of our presidents is lowered into the grave, let the eternal principles of freedom and justice, of truth and love, of religion and righteousness, gleam on us with fuller beauty and power, like stars from the raven bosom of night.
     Let us rouse ourselves from the torpor which [147][148] benumbs our spiritual being. Let us forget a little our petty and selfish interests and pleasures, that we may become able to enter into the larger life of our country, each working as a separate individual force for the good of all. So shall the calamity which has befallen startle us into newness of heart and mind, making us more solicitous for the common welfare, more careful lest we ourselves give offense; so shall there be more love and piety in our homes, more reverence and docility in our schools, more faith and religion in our churches, more wisdom and virtue in our public life. And in this way, and possibly in no other, shall we be able to make such crimes as this, which has filled us with horror and dismay, for ever impossible.