Source: Theodore Roosevelt, Twenty-Sixth President of the United States
Source type: book
Document type: book chapter
Document title: “Assassination of President Mc Kinley” [chapter 18]
Author(s): Banks, Charles Eugene; Armstrong, Le Roy
Publisher: S. Stone
Place of publication: Chicago, Illinois
Year of publication: 1901
|Banks, Charles Eugene, and Le Roy Armstrong. “Assassination of President Mc Kinley” [chapter 18]. Theodore Roosevelt, Twenty-Sixth President of the United States. Chicago: S. Stone, 1901: pp. 354-68.|
|full text of chapter; excerpt of book|
|McKinley assassination; Leon Czolgosz; Paul Czolgosz; William McKinley (death); William McKinley (mourning); William McKinley (death: public response); McKinley funeral services (Canton, OH).|
|John Wilkes Booth; Leon Czolgosz; Emma Goldman; Charles J. Guiteau; Ida McKinley; William McKinley.|
| This chapter includes two photographs and an illustration, captioned
as follows (respectively):
From title page: Theodore Roosevelt, Twenty-Sixth President of the United States: A Typical American.
From title page: By Charles Eugene Banks and Leroy Armstrong; Introductory Chapters by Gen. Joseph Wheeler and Opie Read.
Assassination of President Mc Kinley
The Pan-American Exposition at Buffalo was in
successful progress September 5, 1901, when President McKinley left his home
in the White House in Washington in the company of his wife and the members
of his cabinet, together with a party of other friends, for a visit to that
“magic city” by the Falls of Niagara. September 6 was “President’s Day,” and
an immense number of people had gathered to greet the chief executive of the
nation. In the afternoon of that day President McKinley took his stand in the
Temple of Music, with his personal and official friends about him. The crowds
of people formed themselves in line, and passed for the handshake which has
long been a part of executive custom, and to pay their respects to one whom
all hon-  ored, whatever their political
prejudice may have been.
All about him were the accessories of harmonious sounds. A little to one side stood the mighty organ which had but an hour before breathed forth the tender passages from “The Messiah”; and the whole atmosphere seemed attuned to the sentiment of that angel band which sang to the shepherds: “Peace on earth, good will to men.”
Hundreds had walked slowly past, shaking the hand of the President, and moving into the wider grounds, to await his reappearance for the drive from the plaza. Farmers, business men, manufacturers, sailors and soldiers, young and old, women and children, all were represented in the lines that pressed up for the greeting and the coveted handshake. In that line, unmarked by anything that could publish his purpose to those charged with the President’s safe-keeping, came Leon Czolgosz, a young man of twenty-four, in the conventional dress of the well-to-do mechanic or artisan. His right hand was half concealed beneath the breast of his coat, and about the wrist was wound, in such manner as to be observable by all, a handkerchief. It was as  though the hand were disabled, and had been bound up. In consequence of that, he extended his left hand for the greeting; and President McKinley, always observant of misfortune, always tender in his consideration for those who suffer, took the left hand gently in his right, the quick sympathy beaming from his face as he bent above the citizen.
In that instant, with his naked palm pressing the hand of his President, Leon Czolgosz drew from beneath his coat a revolver, and fired two shots into the body before him.
Czolgosz’s hat, carried under his arm, and pressed against his side with his elbow, fell to the ground. There was an instant of unspeakable silence, in which the most trivial of details impressed themselves on the memory of those who stood about. The report of the shots had not been heard outside of the building. Those nearest the President recovered in a fraction of a moment, and one of them leaped on the culprit—who, however, made not the slightest attempt to escape. He was thrown to the ground. He was grasped and buffeted by a score who were tardily recognizing the enormity of his frightful crime. The President staggered back, and was  caught in the arms of those nearest him. Of all in the building, he was first to understand. And the words which welled to his whitening lips, even before the waking of conscious pain, were: “May God forgive him!”
He was assisted to an armchair, and physicians were summoned. His attention was first attracted to the assassin, who was being hustled vehemently from the building. “Don’t let them hurt him,” he said. Then, in a moment: “Do not tell my wife of this. Or, if it must be done, do not frighten her.”
He was removed to the emergency hospital, where it was found the first ball had inflicted but a slight flesh wound, but that the second had penetrated the stomach. After a surgical operation, rendered instantly necessary, the President was removed to the residence of a friend, where he had been a guest since arriving in Buffalo.
And there, after seven days, he died.
His assassin had never before seen President McKinley. He had no personal ends to gain by the act, and no sense of revenge to gratify. He stated later in jail that he was an anarchist; that he believed all kings and rulers should be “removed,” and that he had come to Buffalo for the  express purpose of killing President McKinley. He had voted for that gentleman in 1896, but since then had listened to the speeches of Emma Goldman, a leader among the anarchists of the country, and had read the publications of their societies. He at no time denied his act, and at most times appeared composed and sane. When arraigned, he pleaded “guilty,” although the law of New York State refuses to accept the plea in capital cases. Beyond that, little is known of Czolgosz, except that he was a native of the United States, and that his father was an immigrant from Russian Poland. The family had lived at different places in the lower peninsula of Michigan, and no member of it had ever risen to public notice, with the exception of the father, who in 1876 made one of a party that attacked a tyrannical landlord of the neighborhood, and killed him. This landlord was a nobleman from central Germany, and had brought to America quite a fortune in money. He established himself on an island near the east shore of Lake Michigan, and set up a sort of old-world barony. He regarded himself as vastly the superior of his neighbors, and imposed upon them grossly. He indulged in a life of lawlessness and brazen  debauchery at his island home, and scandalized the whole community. His habits became unbearable, and his abuse of the settlers about the place continued until, driven to desperation, they gathered one night, and fired a fusilade of bullets into his house. He was instantly killed, and the perpetrators of the deed escaped without a trial. It was the sense of the region that the dissolute and abusive nobleman had received precisely what he deserved, and the matter dropped there. The father of Leon Czolgosz was a member of that party, and a number of the family relatives still live in Alpena county, where these incidents occurred. Later the father of Leon moved to Detroit, and there the lad attended public school. He is said to have been a timid child, a cowardly boy through all his years up to manhood. He has himself complained that he “never had any luck.” In many respects he became a complete realization of degeneracy. He read books relating to anarchy, and advocating that doctrine. He listened to addresses by a number of the more prominent exponents of anarchy, and readily agreed with them in their denunciation of law. It is possible that the story of slaying the German baron was told and approved in his  father’s family, and that Leon came naturally to think that substantial justice could best be done without regard to the forms of law, and on the judgment of individuals who may feel themselves aggrieved. True, he was not aggrieved as an individual in this case; but a man who advances “ill luck” as an excuse for failure in life is likely to regard all successful men as his enemies. It is then easy to apply the other rule: that a man should settle with his enemies in such manner as will best gratify his sense of their crime’s enormity.
There may have been a plot among anarchists of the country, and that Czolgosz was deputed by fellow-malcontents to “remove” the President. For a man habitually “out of luck,” he certainly rode around the country a good deal. He was in Chicago ten days before the assassination, and there learned that the President was going to Buffalo October 5. He paid his fare from the Western to the Eastern city. He had kept up his dues in the anarchist “lodges” to which he belonged. He had been a worker in iron, but had left that occupation because of ill health. For two years he seems not to have had any very lucrative occupation, yet he had money.  All these incidents support the theory that Czolgosz was an emissary of the organized haters of law, in spite of his own statement that he committed the crime on his own account, and with not even a suggestion from any one else. Just what is the truth, the future will most likely tell. Certainly there was not even the harebrained reason existing in the case of Guiteau, nor the passionate motive of Booth.
It happened that a number of very excellent physicians were close at hand when the President was shot, and they gave him immediate attention. Specialists were summoned, and every step in the treatment was taken on the judgment and approval of the men best qualified to decide. All that first night the suspense throughout the country was painfully intense. The President had not been instantly killed, and a gleam of hope came from the sick chamber when it was known he still lived at dawn. The hope grew next day when signs of improvement were detected, and published throughout the world. Messages of condolence from every capital in every land were followed with other messages of cheer at the apparent start toward recovery. Through six days each bulletin was fairer than the last, and  it was with a double sorrow that the nation was advised on the following Friday—a week from the day of the shooting—that the President was very much worse, and could hardly hope to recover. And a little past midnight on the morning of Saturday he died.
President McKinley knew that his end was approaching, and he fronted the grim fate with all the courage which a man of such life should have possessed. He bade farewell to his friends, and the members of his official family, and his parting with his wife was sorrowfully tender. He spoke encouraging words to all, and particularly to the woman who had been his “half of life” for more than thirty years.
When the end came an examination was made by the physicians. The bullet which had penetrated his stomach had never been removed. The surgeons thought the patient would be exposed to less risk by this course than if they should subject him to the exhausting ordeal of further probing. But in the autopsy it was found that the course of the bullet was marked with gangrene. Whether this was the result of some substance applied to the bullet before firing, or whether the gangrene was due to another cause, could not  be determined. But the apparent improvement in President McKinley’s condition had been deceptive. In the absence of the gangrene, he would almost certainly have recovered. With it there, death had begun from the instant the wound was inflicted.
Through Sunday the body of the dead President lay in the house of his friend, and sermons were delivered throughout the country extolling his virtues, and deprecating the horror of his taking off. The whole nation was bowed with the terrible sorrow. Mr. McKinley had always been a strong partisan, and yet he had been so gentle in manner, so courteous even to his opponents, and so manly and honorable in his business and social life, that there was no bitterness in any heart toward him. Those who had differed with him in policy cheerfully conceded his uprightness and sincerity. But, above all, there was a sentiment, more evident here than in any other case, that this man was the President of the whole nation; that he was, in some sense, the expression of the purpose and the dignity of every law-abiding man and woman. It was the perfection of the national sentiment; and every citizen felt a personal sense of bereavement, of indignation  at the felon who had stricken down this official, and of horror at the deed. Almost the last words of the President had been: “God’s will be done!” And the general sorrow was tempered with a reverent regard for the uncomplaining victim of unreasoning crime.
Monday morning the body, inclosed in a casket upon which the flag of the nation was laid, started for Washington. The journey was made on a special train, which was given the right of way. All along the line were evidences of the general grief. In cities and towns bells were tolled, and flags were at half-mast. Along country roads families of farmers, and pupils from district schools assembled, and waved their tearful salute as the crape-covered train hurried past. In Harrisburg a great choral society sang “Nearer, my God, to Thee”—a hymn which had been well loved by the President. Thousands gathered at the station in Washington, and followed respectfully and silently through the night as the casket was carried to the White House. It remained there until morning, and then was removed to the rotunda of the capitol, where a funeral service was conducted in presence of a thousand friends of the late President, and offi-  cials of the various governments represented in Washington. At the conclusion of the service the great bronze doors were thrown open, and the public was admitted. For six hours the people filed past, and then the doors were closed again, and the great coffin was carried back to the executive mansion.
Thursday the body of President McKinley was consigned to a vault in the cemetery at Canton, Ohio, the home he had chosen when a young man. The little city was crowded beyond all precedent. More than a hundred thousand people had come to attend the last sad rites. The entire population of Canton was but thirty thousand, and accommodations for entertainment were far from adequate. But there was no complaint at discomfort. An inclination on the part of certain citizens to make money in consequence of the nation’s grief—as by renting their windows, and charging exorbitant prices for food—was noted, and passed without comment.
The final funeral services were held in the Canton church at which Mr. McKinley had been an attendant, of which he had been a member through all his adult life; and then the last journey began. Nominally, it was a private funeral.  Actually it was a national demonstration. More than twelve thousand marching men were in line. About half were the citizen soldiery of Ohio. The rest were old soldiers, or members of the civic and fraternal organizations from all over the country. The head of the cortège arrived at the cemetery at 3:30 o’clock in the afternoon. The roadway from the gate to the receiving vault was strewn with flowers. From the hill-tops the President’s salute of twenty-one guns, fired at intervals of a minute, boomed his last official recognition. As the casket was lifted from the hearse the gathered throngs stood with bared heads; and when the door of the vault was reached, eight buglers, brought from the regular army, joined in sounding “taps”—the soldier’s good-night. Mrs. McKinley, who had been in delicate health for years, was unable to accompany the body of her husband to its last resting-place, and remained in the Canton home which his industry had provided, and his love had glorified to her using.
The funeral was made the more impressive by an unprecedented action taken throughout the country. While the coffin was being transferred from hearse to vault, and while the last prayers  were being said, industry of all kinds, in every city of the Republic, was absolutely suspended. Of all the tributes paid to the dead President, none approached in majesty and impressiveness that utter abandonment of all occupation. From the Atlantic to the Pacific not a wheel turned in any mill, nor on any railroad, for the five minutes of that final ceremony. Engineers, firemen, conductors, crews, paused for a period in their occupation, turned devoutly toward the little town where the last sad rites were being performed, and sent their thoughts to join in the hushed farewell. That stopping of America, that pause of the United States, that wait of every citizen while the body of one dead was laid away, is impressive past all power of description. Of it a famous author has said: “Five minutes taken out of life! Five minutes snatched from activity, lost to productive effort, subtracted from material struggle! It is an amazing thing in the most energetic, the most thrifty nation on the face of the earth. And yet that five minutes, taken from the total money value of the day, brought in return a sense of tenderness, of fraternity with all the other millions waiting, bowed and reverent, which nothing else could have pro-  duced. That five minutes was the best investment that busy lives could possibly make. It brought them nearer all that was noble in the life that had been ended. It gave them a better confidence in the citizenship of America. It enacted anew the law of love, and blessed with its swift ministrations the purer patriotism. Silence and tears for the victim of malignant hate; new resolves for the upholding of law and the extension of real liberty; unbounded faith in the stability of our republican institutions; an impressive warning to the foes of order—such was the moment’s meaning to every loyal American, and to the world.
“Eighty millions of people, gathered about a bit of earth, six feet by two! That is the spectacle bought at a price so matchless.”