Source: American Manufacturer and Iron World
Source type: journal
Document type: editorial
Document title: “Result of Reckless Agitation”
Date of publication: 19 September 1901
Volume number: 69
Issue number: 12
|“Result of Reckless Agitation.” American Manufacturer and Iron World 19 Sept. 1901 v69n12: pp. 1153-54.|
|McKinley assassination (personal response).|
|James A. Garfield; Abraham Lincoln; William McKinley.|
Result of Reckless Agitation
That the results of a certain grade of agitation
should fix upon the United States a more undesirable record than attaches to
any nation in the world is a matter to give serious minded people pause. The
question natural in the minds of patriots is, “What will be the end?” if demagogues
and flippant agitators are permitted to go about with licensed freedom proclaiming
vicious doctrines to the mentally weak.
Since 1865 three presidents of the United States have been victims of assassins. There is no distinct similarity in the murders of Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield and William McKinley, but none is needed to establish the main facts that unbridled license of speech may result in the vicious results common to all other forms of unlimited license which exceeds the boundaries of legitimate freedom desired by level headed men. It may be too much to assert that the assassination of President McKinley was due directly to the teaching of a certain brand of Anarchists, but it is true that the attack was the result of that too great license which the American people are ready to grant until some such public calamity strikes them. Then they arise in fury and demand punishments born of the grief and rage of the hour.
It is almost degrading to know that no other country of the civilized world, not even excepting Russia, the greatest despot of the earth, has had three heads of the nation destroyed in the hour of their greatest usefulness, in 36 years. No other country in fact has had three rulers assassinated since civilization spread over the world. That the freest country of the universe should have such a record is therefore something to cause sober men to think of the future. The freedom and liberty of our speech and press has been until now one of our greatest possessions and boasts, but since that freedom has become degenerate through the vicious uses made of it by illy-balanced minds, the time seems to be ripe for an efficient remedy. The prevention of such diabolical deeds as that at Buffalo a few days ago would be incalculably better than the infliction of unusual punishments upon the murderer if they could be permitted. That the assassin is simply one of many is not to be doubted. In every community there are many such and no one knows the hour when the deed may be repeated upon the person of another public man or private citizen.
The United States, the whole world, could not afford to spare William McKinley for he was a man whose influence reached to every part of the globe. His work not alone elevated the United States through the careful and liberal exemplification of a policy that had for its object the greatest good to his fellow citizens, but commanded the respect of the nations of Europe where there had been formerly only villification. Those nations later sought his good will and pronounced his praises as a statesman without stint. He had reached the highest pinnacle in the affections of his fellow countrymen and brought the nations of the earth under the influence of his greatness. When such a man falls a victim to the bullet, or the knife, or the bomb of the assassin, where may the limit be placed? Nothing more cruel could have come to the greatest tyrant of the world and seems damnable when the character of our martyr to the public good is remembered.
How far the agitation of thoughtless speakers and writers is directly responsible for the cowardly act may be debatable, but that the murder was the reward of the study of that inflammable and sophistical buncombe so prevalent and effective upon the illogical there is not the slightest doubt. And it may also be questioned whether the discussions of the Anarchists in their “groups” or “sections” had more to do toward inspiring the crime than the teachings of publications charitably classed as newspapers. The crime of attacking the lives and every act of public and even private citizens, making use of vicious untruths and villification where the facts would direct the publication otherwise is as great the crime of the assassin to whom President McKinley held out his hand in friendly greeting as the deadly weapon was pressed against his breast and the bullet speeded on its way. The murderer of a character is as vicious and as cowardly or more so than the wretch who stands up in a public place and shoots the life from a living body. The assassins of our public and private citizens are more numerous than merely those few who have used the pistol and should be brought under the same restraints. Legitimate discussion of public acts and public  men as public acts and public men are permissible because one of our privileges. But discussion must not descend to the depths of anarchy, and criticism must not degenerate into assassination, either of the character or the body. The remedy should begin at the beginning and cover every species of assassination and every grade of assassin. The prevention will be better than after punishments. Punishments are almost useless because not deterrent. Prevention should be the guide.