Source type: journal
Document type: editorial
Document title: “Law in Its Relation to the Assassination of the Pesident” [sic]
Date of publication: October 1901
Volume number: 8
Issue number: 10
|“Law in Its Relation to the Assassination of the Pesident” [sic]. Bar Oct. 1901 v8n10: pp. 341-43.|
|anarchism (laws against, impracticality of); anarchism (dealing with); presidents (handshaking in public); McKinley assassination (legal process).|
|John Wilkes Booth; Leon Czolgosz; Charles J. Guiteau [misspelled below]; William McKinley.|
Law in Its Relation to the Assassination of the Pesident [sic]
THERE is no law that a civilized people would put upon its statute books, that
would have deterred the hand of the silly crank who took the President’s life.
He intended to kill the President; he knew the penalty of his deed was death; he defied the penalty of the law and the vengeance of the mob, and did his dastardly work in the open without the slightest chance of escape, and with no apparent effort or provision for escape.
What can you do with a thing like that?
Certainly no law can reach it.
Granted that there ought to be a law against attempts upon the life of public officers, it would be futile as a means of security against creatures like Czolgosz, and Giteau and Booth.
Every crowd like that which surrounded the President at Buffalo contains just such hair brained monomaniacs who would feel it to be their “duty” to “remove the President.” There is no objection to any amount of law for such monsters, but that would not protect their victims. The more law the more glory to the perpetrator who defies it.
Anarchy, and fads, and fools cannot be suppressed by law. Anarchy is arrayed against law. It is arrayed, in this country, against the best government on earth. To make laws does not destroy but magnifies its mission. You may drive it into obscurity by the terror of the law, but you only intensify its spirit, and enhance the public danger from its operations.
What then will we do with the anarchist, and the fool, and the man with a fad?
Evidently society cannot surrender to them. And there is no law that will reach them. We might let a fool-killer loose with plenary power to exterminate, but he would  doubtless overlook the most deserving.
The main consideration involved is not the punishment of the crank-murderer but the security of his victim. It is almost humiliating to concede that all that government or law can do, is to concede that a man like President McKinley, occupying the highest post in the nation, and holding the respect, the admiration, the love, and the confidence of the whole people—that the life of such a man is at the mercy of a wretch like Czolgosz, and that all you can take in exchange for such a life is the life of one who deserves the universal execration of mankind. But that is the situation.
Conceding then, that cranks exist and will always exist, the high public official—the President at least—who goes openly into a large assemblage of people; who undertakes to meet individually, and shake hands with a mass of people, risks his life, no matter how formidable the force present to protect him, or how severe the penalties of the law against injury to his person.
The only reasonable conclusion from these conditions is that the President of this Republic should not take such risks. This is a people’s government, and the President is a servant of the people, chosen directly by them, and we are loth to conclude or to recognize the necessity or propriety of the President standing aloof from the people, and taking on the seclusion of an austere monarch. But hand-shaking of the crowd must, at least, be conceded to be a useless and unnecessary ceremony, foolhardy in the President who takes the risk, and ought to be abandoned as a measure of common sense and safety. The public ought not to demand it under such conditions and the President ought not to indulge it. There are other ways and conditions under which he can meet the people which ought to satisfy the public and save him from any seeming exclusiveness and seclusion.
So far as the anarchist and crank are concerned there  ought to be an international comity of governments, that would apply at least to the former, and exclude him from the propagation of his doctrines and the open attitude of antagonism to law which he has heretofore been permitted to assume and flaunt before the public. Admitting that it is a hard matter to deal with under a free government, the chief difficulty will be overcome when a clear cut definition of the term “anarchist” has been made, and a special summary proceeding under the law has been devised for disposing of him.
We are glad that in [the] case of the reptile who took the life of President McKinley the forms of law have been strictly and admirably maintained, and that even under such severe provocation, the supremacy of law has been absolutely preserved; that he will undoubtedly have as fair a trial, and as formal and lawful an execution as any other prisoner who could come into our courts. Not only so but he will be represented by the best legal talent of the State, without money and without his request. In view of the frequent instances of disregard for law in these days, this is an object lesson for our country which may do good. But we would not justify his attorneys in making a technical and dilatory defense of their client in this case.
We hope the attorneys will also set the Profession an example, of simply seeing that the forms of law are observed in the trial, and that no unwarranted obstruction to the ends of justice may be interposed to protect a client whom they know to be guilty. The character of these attorneys and the circumstances of their appointment to the case, is the best assurance that the case will be conducted on the part of the defense—not after the manner of the trial of Giteau—but that “the highest traditions of the profession shall be upheld, and that the trial shall be dignified, just and impartial.”