Publication information

Bankers’ Magazine
Source type: journal
Document type: editorial
Document title: none
Author(s): anonymous
Date of publication: October 1901
Volume number: 63
Issue number: 4
Pagination: 561-64

[untitled]. Bankers’ Magazine Oct. 1901 v63n4: pp. 561-64.
full text
McKinley assassination (personal response); assassinations (comparison); anarchism (personal response); McKinley assassination (lessons learned).
Named persons
Domitian; James A. Garfield; Henry IV; Abraham Lincoln; William McKinley; Joachim Murat; Stephanus [identified as Stephan below]; Suetonius; William I.


THE AMERICAN PEOPLE had learned from the assassination of LINCOLN and GARFIELD, that the executive head of their nation was exposed to the same danger from the spirit of lawlessness as the rulers who directed the destinies of countries accustomed to tyranny and despotism.
     There are in men two instincts—one that makes for order and regulation, and one that is constantly opposed to any interference with the widest rights of the individual. Fortunately, as a rule, the instinct of order is the preponderating one, so much so that in its name nations have endured almost without complaint the most unjust and tyrannical laws.
     The careful and deeply-studied adjustment of the necessary governmental forces, to secure at the same time an adequate national strength and the greatest freedom to the individual, which characterizes the laws of the United States, would seem to have precluded that bitterness towards the personal heads of government, which might seem to have some justification in despotic countries.
     The human mind is, however, swayed by signs and symbols. The President of a republic is as much the State to the imaginations of many, as was the Grand Monarch of France in his own well-warranted belief. The President is as much the concentrated embodiment of the Government, which either protects or oppresses the individual, according to that individual’s peculiar standpoint, as is the Czar of Russia. It is a peculiar mark of the ordinary mind, unaccustomed to reflection, that it looks for some personal enemy upon whom to fasten the personal grievance. As intelligence retrogrades and trenches on insanity, this tendency becomes more paramount in the individual constitution. The conspicuousness of a republican ruler, and ignorance of the real nature of the powers he possesses and the restrictions imposed upon him, render him just as [561][562] liable to the personal attack of fanatics as the greatest and most assured despots. The intelligence of the majority of the citizens of the United States, and their pride in the general beneficence of the Government they support, make them forget the danger from the small minority who would be dissatisfied under any circumstances whatever.
     Although the fate of LINCOLN and GARFIELD showed that the assassination of the President was not forfended by the general liberality of our institutions, yet in each of these cases there had been some semblance of a reason for the final catastrophe. The fanatic who killed LINCOLN had fed his mind on the hatred and despair immediately engendered by the failure of the Southern Confederacy; the one who killed GARFIELD, on the political rancors consequent on party division, But in the case of MCKINLEY, there seemed to be no reasonable ground from which any human mind, sane or insane, could draw the poison necessary to drug it into the condition to devise and carry out so foul a crime. This last assassination has fallen like a bolt from a clear sky. Of course, after the event it is not difficult to trace the influences which impelled the mind and nerved the assassin’s hand.
     Anarchy is the science of getting along without any Government. It is in an academic sense a purely utopian idea, which could only become practical were it possible to so train the physical and moral nature of each individual that each could exist and thrive and exercise all desirable rights without ever trenching or seeming to trench in thought, word or aim on the rights of any other. In other words, under ideal anarchy each individual would simply govern himself. There would be no disputes or differences of opinion, in fact a sort of governmental Nirvana, heavenly only to those who could enjoy a perfect stagnancy of mind and body, and utterly unattainable by beings having the characteristics of men and women. Unluckily, this ideal of moon-struck philosophers has been taken up by people either half educated or wholly ignorant, who do not possess the faculty of detecting impracticability. They possess only sense enough to see that the existing order of society and government does not coincide with their ideas, and must be abolished if these ideas are to be practically tested. They ignore the experience of ages, that has proved the limits of human capability of self-government, and would apply their untested remedy for unavoidable evils, with a hand more merciless than that of the most notorious oppressor of his fellow men. The half-baked disciple, longing to distinguish himself and become a martyr and saint of the vague propaganda, rushes upon the most conspicuous personal symbols of the present social order, just as the iconoclast tore down idols and images. [562][563]
     The history of successful assassination has seldom shown any conspiracy or plot among a number of persons. Conspiracies to remove rulers have been, in modern times at least, usually detected and defeated. The assassination of William the Silent, of Henry the Fourth, of MURAT, of GARFIELD and of MCKINLEY, are of the class where the deed is conceived and executed by one person alone, with a mind influenced by what may be called the suggestion of some contemporary hatred, real or supposed, of a local character. This hatred may be either personal towards the victim or merely towards the system he is supposed to represent. It is generally agreed among philosophers that when from any motive an individual becomes really willing to sacrifice his life and undertakes to kill any victim he has marked down, precautions are useless. Assassinations like those mentioned could not be guarded against. Luckily, however, such assassins are rare, but unluckily there is no means of detecting them until they have performed their fatal act. The device used by the murderer of MCKINLEY for concealing his weapon was precisely the same as that adopted by the assassin who killed the Emperor DOMITIAN. This Emperor, according to SUETONIUS, had very good reason to fear assassination, and no one, not even a relative, was admitted to his presence until he or she had been searched for weapons. STEPHAN, the assassin, concealed a dagger in a bandaged hand and arm, and when admitted accomplished his purpose.
     This and other instances that might be cited show that the greatest precautions may be taken in vain. Nevertheless, since the tradition of the personal safety of the Presidents of the republic in the hands of their fellow citizens has been broken by three bloody instances, it were well that the ease with which the chief men of the country are generally approached should be restricted, and there is no doubt that while the appearance of accessibility will be preserved to as great a degree as possible, more precautions will be taken hereafter. While these may not always be effective, yet they are better than the loose openness of approach which is a temptation to the notoriety-seeking crank. The catastrophes which disturb the calculations and plans of a whole nation, which may upset business, and paralyze enterprise and industry, should be made, if not impossible, at least extremely difficult to bring about.
     The death of MCKINLEY, lamented and grievous, falling a victim as he has to the organized spirit of lawlessness, if organism can be predicated of anarchy, may have its uses in arousing the feelings of our citizens in favor of respect for law and order, which of late years has tended to become too dormant. The uncontrolled individualism which in mobs has defied law and wreaked its impulses on supposed criminals, may just as easily, as has been shown in the case of the [563][564] President, be made to manifest itself against the greatest, the purest and most revered of citizens. Respect for law has become lax in all parts of the country. This fact makes itself evident in the indifference to the punishment of petty crime because of expense, that may be noted in communities outside of cities. This indifference leads to greater offenses, and to attempts at repression by an impulsive rising of the mob. If the shock given to the country by the murder of the President shall result in awakening the people to the necessity of supporting law and order in all its details great and small, and make every citizen look upon the invasion of the legal rights of another as a beginning of the invasion of his own, then WILLIAM MCKINLEY in his death will continue to confer on his countrymen the benefits which they enjoyed from his living administration of affairs.