Source: Educational Review
Source type: journal
Document type: editorial
Document title: “After the Crime”
Date of publication: October 1901
Volume number: 22
Issue number: none
|“After the Crime.” Educational Review Oct. 1901 v22: pp. 320-23.|
|McKinley assassination; society (criticism); anarchism; anarchism (dealing with).|
|James A. Garfield; Abraham Lincoln; William McKinley.|
After the Crime
For the third time in a generation the people of the United States, and with
them a large portion of the peoples of the world, sit in the shadow of an overwhelming
sorrow, because of a lawless and unspeakably base and cruel act committed against
the person of the President. Because of instant and highly skilled surgical
treatment, the life of President McKinley was apparently to be saved, where
those of Lincoln and of Garfield were lost. But such a happy issue was not to
occur, and despite the hope and the promise of the first anxious days of waiting,
death claimed President McKinley for its own.
The attack of the monster who shot President McKinley was as sudden, as desperate, and as unprovoked as might be that of a wild beast in the African jungle. It was not unnatural that, outraged and stirred to their very depths, the people, while face to face with the possibility of the loss of the President they so loved and idolized, should mistake false remedies for true ones, and cry aloud for vengeance, when vengeance was futile. Now that the end has come and right reason is enthroned again, it behooves us all to take some account of our responsibility as a people for the constant and terrible outbreaks of lawlessness and violence among us.
What is our civilization worth? We are not cannibals, nor are we savages in the strict sense of the word. Yet among our eighty millions of people the instincts and the violence of the savage are not so far beneath the surface, after all, in thousands and tens of thousands. The predatory instinct is widespread and strong, and civilization and its standards are outraged whenever, either under the cover of law or of custom, or without it, one man enriches himself unjustly at the cost of his fellow. The crime of murder is shockingly common, and mob violence grows constantly more frequent and more terrible in  its manifestations. Freedom of speech, spoken and written, secured to us by the fathers as a means of lawful discussion and agitation and as a protection against tyranny, has been made the source of an insidious attack upon the very constitution and laws that establish and ensure it.
It is true that, in opening the doors of residence and of citizenship to all who wish to come, the people of the United States have undertaken an imposing and perhaps a quixotic experiment. The path of the elders, who were courageous, high-minded, and constructive, has been trodden for three decades past by increasing hosts of the weak-spirited, the ignorant, and the vengeful. The national powers of assimilation have been taxed to the utmost, and often they have sadly failed. The revolutionary watchwords of a century and more ago appear grimly sarcastic now, or Pickwickian perhaps, in the light of the last forty years of American history. What is tonic to one human being is poison to another, and the prescription of one political and social and educational food for each and all can only end in death and disaster. All men are born free and equal only when each is measured by his own separate standard. Attempts to establish artificial equality disrupt society itself.
Is it not plain enough, too, that, as a people, we give only lip-service to some of the deepest truths that we profess? We are unanimous in support of the glittering generalities of politics, of morals, and of education, but strangely discordant in applying them to concrete experiences. The ethics of the mob that lynches, the political theory of the anarchist who kills, and the business integrity of the banker or merchant who seizes upon unjust gain or unlawful privileges, are only skin-deep. Education has never reached their heads or their hearts, well-informed and conventionally polished tho they be.
The question, What of the future? is not an easy one to answer satisfactorily. So far as the preaching of anarchy is concerned,—whether it be “philosophical” anarchy or plain, ordinary, murderous anarchy,—there need be no difficulty. Some things are settled forever, and one of those things is the necessity for law and organized government. It is not guaranteeing freedom of speech, but licensing lunacy, to permit the public discussion of the contrary view. Society owes no pro-  tection to men and women who believe and who teach that there should be no society at all. Deportation to the island of Guam, or to an isolated member of the Philippine group, for those who have not yet stolen or killed, and imprisonment and hanging for those who have, are practicable and appropriate penalties. The man who simply thinks anarchy, and who neither preaches nor acts it, is beyond reach. He is correspondingly harmless. In reply to the dreamer who thinks that, in the long run, less harm is done by permitting avowed anarchists to assemble and to exploit themselves than by deporting them to an almost inaccessible island, the person who is thoroly awake mentally need only point to the long line of murdered dignitaries and officials, and to the singularly despicable character of the assault on President McKinley. The loss of one such life can never be compensated for by the deportation of all the anarchists that ever lived.
When the avowed anarchists, self-proclaimed enemies of social order, are out of the way, we have the rest of the nation left. What of us? The slow process of an education that really educates is the only influence that can avail much. It is depressing, perhaps, to reflect upon how long it will probably take to bring us, not to perfection, but to ordinary everyday morality, individual and political. On the other hand, it is distinctly encouraging to reflect upon the spread of high ideals, of healthy sentiment, and of wider knowledge. Vulgar and inflammatory as some of our journals are, the vast majority are not so. Sickening and angering as private and public corruption are, the overwhelming mass of citizens and of public officers are incorruptible. The world is moving forward, and some part of our indignation at wrongdoing is due to the establishment of higher standards of judgment than once prevailed. There is no occasion for despair, but there is every reason for vigorous heart-searching and self-criticism, individual and national.
Another year of school and college life has just opened. Suppose that every teacher in the land should try to think out, and to teach, an answer to the question, What is a civilized man? However fragmentary his thought, or however partial his information, he could not help getting hold of the root-idea  that the civilized man must be able to live together with other men; that law, order, and property are respected by him and his fellows; and that injury to his fellows, surreptitious or open, is a blow at himself in his most vital part. We can deport anarchists and suppress open anarchy. The more corroding anarchy which gnaws in secret at our vitals cannot be suppressed by mandate or by law. It must be outgrown; it must be educated out. To get rid of it should be the one great dominating purpose of American education.