Source: Journal of Medicine and Science
Source type: journal
Document type: editorial
Document title: “Tendencies That Might Well Be Corrected”
Date of publication: October 1901
Volume number: 7
Issue number: 11
|“Tendencies That Might Well Be Corrected.” Journal of Medicine and Science Oct. 1901 v7n11: pp. 387-89.|
|McKinley assassination (personal response); law; lawlessness; McKinley assassination (public response: criticism); society (criticism); yellow journalism.|
|Leon Czolgosz; William McKinley.|
Tendencies That Might Well Be Corrected
One conclusion to be drawn from the assassination
of President McKinley is the fact that no government, no matter to what stage
of development it has arrived, no matter how free and democratic it may be,
can exist without the restraining influences of law. In establishing a system
of government for the general good each individual agrees to surrender a part
of his individual license or personal liberty for the public weal. In law every
man’s personal liberty must cease so soon as it begins to interfere with the
personal liberty of some other person. If individuals or aggregations of individuals
transgress this law they must be tried by some duly agreed upon authority and
if found guilty must be punished.
Since there must of necessity be something of a spirit of sacrifice of self-interest in a community before any sort of law is possible, and since just laws are the basis upon which every form of government is founded, it becomes primarily important that laws should be just and equitable,—insuring equal rights to every man,—that they should receive the sanction of a majority of those governed, and that the respect and veneration for law of all fairminded men should be so well grounded that they will be the active supporters of the officials chosen and appointed to execute it.
Since law is the very foundation of civilized government, and since only due respect for law can ensure its enforcement, it becomes apparent that any law which is not just and equitable, any law which for any reason fails of enforcement, any legal process which unnecessarily delays the course of justice must surely tend to bring that disrespect upon law which will finally rob it of its majesty and power.
It would seem to be impossible in a christian age, in a country in which the people are the real rulers, and public officials, be they high or low, few or many, but the servants of those in power, that a human being could be found, so lost to all sense of humanity, so arrogant in lawlessness, as to shoot down the chief representative of law and order, and to shoot him down while with true democratic courtesy and cordiality he was engaged in the kindly ceremony of greeting and joining hands with his fellow citizens. While it is undoubtedly true that this appaling [sic] crime would have been committed by this misguided degenerate even if none of the regrettable things hereinafter mentioned had occurred, yet it must be confessed that a spirit of lawlessness often sweeps over sections of our own country, and that, under the sting of great provoca-  tion, lawless acts are not by any means unknown among us. Anarchy is a state of no law—a condition in which every man claims to be a law unto himself, and in which he attempts to right his real or imagined grievances by taking the law into his own hands. It would seem that the American Republic would be the last place in which such sentiments would find a congenial soil in which to flourish and gain an increase, and yet in looking back upon the record of only the recent past we can catch a glimpse of facts tending to show that consciously or unconsciously, intentionally or unintentionally, we ourselves have not been above the taint of lawlessness and that this contempt and disrespect for law may well have served to teach ignorant immigrants, fresh from the hotbeds of anarchy and nihilism of Europe, that this country was so free that every man might with impunity be his own judge, jury, and executioner.
Looking back, seeing but dimly, we can yet trace the steps of the devious way by which it has perhaps become possible for this culminating calamity of lawlessness to come upon us. Whatever may be the guilt and depravity of those aliens who were the active agents in this great calamity, we ourselves cannot wholly shake off our responsibility in this catastrophy [sic]. If we can find no excuse for this crime when committed by those nurtured in ignorance and depravity, what excuse can be found for educated, enlightened, christian men and women, who have always enjoyed and must appreciate the benefits of a free government, when we find them at times of great provocation prone to take the law into their own hands and to uphold and find excuses for gross forms of lawlessness. May not the citizens of the United States have sometimes set a very bad example to the ignorant, superstitious, fanatical immigrants who of late years have flocked to our shores?
We have but to go back a few days to be able to cite many cases of most flagrant lawlessness. Almost every week, in free, law abiding America, negroes are lynched, some citizen is shot down because somebody has a grudge against him, and lives and property are endangered by the lawless acts of disappointed strikers. Neither can these offenses against law and society be laid at the doors of those who through ignorance know no better or through depravity do no better, for some of our best citizens are instigators or apologists for suchlike anarchistic acts.
We have but to read the newspapers of the week following the great crime to learn of men swayed by passion and excitement—men who ought to and do know better, men high in official positions and men whom we look to as guides—who have advocated a lawless course of revenge, but little better than that which is characteristic of anarchy itself. Under the recent great provocation, statesmen, lawyers, ministers of the gospel and good citizens have been heard advising methods of procedure against anarchists which would be a disgrace to savages and barbarians. These mourners of the President have all meant well but their remedy for the lawlessness which prevails in anarchy was little less lawless than the acts of the great criminals whom they condemned. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth may have been good doctrine in the times and conditions of the Old Testament, but two wrongs can never make a right, and surely we ought to have made some progress in civilization and in decency, if not in religion, during the past three thousand years.
Another fundamental principle in upholding the majesty of the law, is that law should command respect, and anything which tends to undermine this respect for law must work to the detriment of society. Looking back we can catch a glimpse of many things, which we have come to regard as every day occurrences, but which must have had a powerful influence in bringing the law into disrespect. Some of these have been more pernicious than others but all have had a part in this regrettable tendency. Itching for notoriety, or influenced by the illurements [sic] of bribes, legislators have passed many foolish laws, and this nation of ours is not by any means a nation of fools or one likely to accord respect for fool-legislation. The law has also been brought into disrespect through the nonenforcement of laws already passed, for nobody can find any respect for law so long as statutes are left unenforced. An unenforced law is a powerful agent for bringing law into contempt, but when the officials, sworn to carry out the laws, are found aiding and abetting, for a money consideration, those who are violating the laws, what word can be found vigorous enough to express our loathing and abhorrence of such debauchery, and how can the law itself fail of acquiring part of the odium attached to such treachery? The constitutional changes recently made in some of the southern states for the purpose of disinfranchising [sic] the negroes are a perversion of the equality and justice of law. They are an insult to every honest, fair minded man and but serve to bring the law into disrespect and disrepute. “Yellow”  journalism exaggerating, twisting, and falsifying reports of events, having no respect for any man’s private affairs, even villifying [sic] character and destroying reputation,—if thereby selfish aims can be realized—has done much to belittle the dignity of the President and other executive officers. We should protect our President with at least that minimum of the divinity which doth hedge about a King so that he will never be held up to ridicule and contempt either in cartoons or editorials. Cartoons and editorials reflecting upon the character and reputation of candidates taking part in a hot political campaign may be tolerated, but after the chief executive has been elected and inaugurated, he has become the highest exponent of law and government, and even yellow journals should hold the office if not the man in veneration and respect.
The sickly sentimentality lavished by hysterical, gushing, notoriety seeking women upon perverts and criminals—attempts to raise murderers, dynamiters, and bomb throwers to the pedestal of martyrs and heroes,—is a custom likely to exert a pernicious influence by placing a sanction upon lawlessness and riotousness.
No one who reads this article in the spirit of its intent will find in it any attempt to mitigate the crime of the murderer Czolgosz. Neither is it intended to offer any solution of the problem of what shall and must be done to curb the spirit of lawlessness of which the anarchists are the most debased and contemptible types. But the main object in this writing is to show forth that we should approach this whole subject somewhat in a spirit of humility because we ourselves—the American people—are not entirely above reproach, and we need to purge ourselves somewhat of the spirit of lawlessless [sic]—which under great provocation is liable to become rampant among citizens boasting of twentieth century civilization—before we can expect anything nobler or better of ignorant immigrants in whom anarchy, bad as it is, is in part an hereditary manifestation of the ills endured by their ancestors for several generations.
Judging from what we know, and from what we see and learn every day, does it not seem as if we could be convicted of unintentionally maintaining, right in our own midst, a school in which the ignorant and perverted might be taught the fundamental principles of anarchy?
In regard to this matter of upholding the majesty of the law we have been guilty of both sins of omission and of commission. And, indirectly, and, at least partly as a result of this lawless spirit and these lawless tendencies, a terrible crime has been committed, one of God’s noblemen has perished by the assassin’s bullet, and a creature, having the appearance of a man, and made in the image of the Almighty, has been found so mean, low, and contemptible, as to abuse all the privileges of friendship and of hospitality in order to commit a felony. Are we ourselves entirely guiltless of being particeps criminis in this matter? For so long as we know that some American citizens have been direct active agents in taking the law into their own hands, and many more have been found to be silent partners and apologists for such lawlessness, while each and every one of us has sat calmly by and in our apathy and indifference have made little attempt to wipe out this great blot upon law and society, how can we, when Justice lifts aloft her even scales, hope to escape entirely this great condemnation.