Publication information
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Source: American Journal of Insanity
Source type: journal
Document type: editorial
Document title: “The Mental Condition of Political Assassins”
Author(s): anonymous
Date of publication: October 1901
Volume number: 58
Issue number: 2
Pagination: 317-19

“The Mental Condition of Political Assassins.” American Journal of Insanity Oct. 1901 v58n2: pp. 317-19.
full text
assassins (mental health).
Named persons
Alexander II; Jacob Johan Anckarström; Michele Angiolillo [identified as Golli below]; William Blackstone; John Wilkes Booth; Charles-Ferdinand de Bourbon [identified as Duc de Berry below]; Gaetano Bresci; Antonio Cánovas del Castillo; Marie François Sadi Carnot; Sante Geronimo Caserio [identified as Santo below]; Jacques Clément; Boston Corbett; Charlotte Corday; Leon Czolgosz; James A. Garfield; Balthasar Gérard [variant spelling of first name below]; Charles J. Guiteau; Gustav III [variant spelling below]; Henry III (France); Henry IV (France); Humbert I; Richard von Krafft-Ebing; Abraham Lincoln; Louis-Pierre Louvel; Luigi Luccheni; Jean-Paul Marat; Charles K. Mills; Petr Alekseevich Pahlen; Paul I; Peter III; François Ravaillac; William I.
Click here to view the item by Charles K. Mills referred to below.


The Mental Condition of Political Assassins

     In a late number of the Philadelphia Medical Journal, Dr. Charles K. Mills, of Philadelphia, presents an excellent paper on “Political Assassinations in some of their Relations to Psychiatry and Legal Medicine.” He divides political assassins into four classes, sane and insane conspirators, sane degenerates and degenerates of doubtful sanity. Among sane conspirators he classes the Orloffs who assassinated Peter III of Russia, Count Pahlen and others who put to death Paul I of Russia, Anckarström who shot Gustavus III of Sweden, J. Wilkes Booth who shot President Lincoln, and the Nihilist assassins of Alexander II of Russia. We are somewhat surprised not to find mention of Balthazar Gérard, the assassin of William of Orange, among these sane murderers. Among insane conspirators he mentions Ravaillac, who murdered Henry IV of France, Louvel, the assassin of the Duc de Berry, and Guiteau, who shot Garfield. Among degenerates he classes Jacques Clément who murdered Henry III of France, Charlotte Corday who stabbed Marat, Santo who stab- [317][318] bed Carnot, Golli who assassinated Canovas the prime minister of Spain, Luccheni who killed the Empress of Austria with a file, and Bresci who shot Humbert. Some of these criminals he believes to have been sane and others of doubtful sanity. He makes an excellent distinction between degeneracy and insanity, defining the former as “the undoing of a kind” and a change from a higher to a lower type of mental development. He queries whether or not Czolgosz may have been the tool of a band of conspirators and influenced by them or whether he was unaided and acted upon his own initiative, and seems to incline to the latter view. He believes that a degenerate may be capable of entering into a conspiracy, and that certain degrees of degeneracy do not preclude such concerted action. Some groups of degenerates were undoubtedly concerned in the assassination of Alexander II, Canovas and King Humbert. In other instances, as in the case of Clément and Ravaillac it is evident that degenerates were made the tools of men who possessed normal mental faculties.
     In reference to the disposition to be made of political assassins, he makes the following suggestive statements:

     “What should be done with political assassins? Let us glance at what has been done with some of them in the past. When Jacques Clément stabbed Henry III in the abdomen, the king instantly wrenched the knife from his body and struck his assassin in the face with his bloody weapon, and a moment later the attendants and guards fell upon the assassin who died pierced by twenty sword thrusts. Ravaillac after a speedy and formal trial was torn to pieces by horses. Anckarström was flogged on three successive days and then beheaded. Charlotte Corday, Louvel and Santo were guillotined. The assassins of Peter III and Paul I were protected and some of them even rewarded by the legatees of their crimes. Booth was shot to death by Boston Corbett, one of the soldiers engaged in his pursuit. Of the Nihilists who killed Alexander II of Russia, one was blown to pieces by the same bomb that killed the Czar, and five others were hanged two days later. Guiteau was hanged after a prolonged and tedious trial. Golli was executed, probably by garroting. Luccheni was imprisoned for life, as according to the laws of the Swiss Canton in which the crime was committed, the death penalty could not be inflicted. Bresci was imprisoned for life but soon committed suicide. A few days after the publication of this article Czolgosz will be electrocuted.
     Some seem to favor the infliction of punishments that rival those of post-medieval times; others cry out for execution without even the form [318][319] of trial, and still others after the form but not the substance of a trial. Just punishment should be inflicted but it should be done by due process of law. Whenever possible, efforts should be made to reach those who are the real instigators of the crimes. It is probable however, that in the case of the insane and degenerate the infliction of the death penalty does not always lead to the results which are hoped for in the protection of society. Krafft-Ebing says of the political paranoiacs that they do not fear death, as it stamps them as martyrs in the eyes of their followers and he holds that the true punishment for them is the asylum. If the asylum means a place in which they can be safely confined during the rest of their lives, this opinion is, for the insane, correct. I have seen two men of the class referred to by Krafft-Ebing hanged and have had interviews with others a short time before their execution. In all cases they have shown an indifference to death and, in some, have looked upon the scaffold as a place where they could pose as heroes and martyrs. The great publicity which is given to the details of execution certainly does much harm.”

     These words are sensible and timely, and emphasize the statement made long ago by Blackstone, that “the execution of an offender is for example, ut poena ad paucos, metus ad omnes perveniat; but so it is not when a madman is executed, but should be a miserable spectacle, both against law and of extreme inhumanity, and can be no example to others.”



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