Publication information

New Jersey Law Journal
Source type: journal
Document type: editorial
Document title: none
Author(s): Keasbey, Edward Q.
Date of publication: September 1901
Volume number: 24
Issue number: 9
Pagination: 641-42

Keasbey, Edward Q. [untitled]. New Jersey Law Journal Sept. 1901 v24n9: pp. 641-42.
full text
McKinley assassination (personal response); presidential assassination; anarchism (dealing with); the press.
Named persons
Stephen J. Field; William McKinley.
“E. Q. K.” (p. 642).


     The assassination of the President was avowedly an attack upon the Government of the United States. It was an attack upon the ruler and not the man, and the purpose professed by the anarchists whom the assassin represents is to destroy governments by striking at their heads. No wonder, therefore, that there is an urgent popular demand that the government of the United States should defend itself against such attacks and punish the man or the society by whom they are made. As a matter of fact the assassin is held in custody by the officers of the state where the crime was committed and will be tried under the laws of New York for the murder of William McKinley, and not for the killing of the President. If the assault had not proved fatal there could have been no other punishment than that which the laws of the state provided for an attempt upon the life of any person within its borders, and it might well happen that in time of political excitement justice could not be done to an assailant of the President by the authorities of the place where the attack was made, and in such a case under existing laws the government of the United States would be powerless to prevent an assault upon its chief executive.
     There are statutes against the obstruction of an officer in the discharge of his duty, and the Supreme court held in the NEAGLE case, 135 U. S. 1, that there is such a thing as “the peace of the United States” which is invaded by an attack upon a justice of the Supreme court, but in that case the protection of the United States court was given to the officer who killed the assailant of Justice Field, and it must be admitted, as was suggested in the dissenting opinion, that if Justice Field had been killed the murder of a Justice of the Supreme court could not have been prosecuted by the United States in its own courts.
     There is no need for the United States to give its courts jurisdiction over assaults upon all persons holding official position, but an attack upon the President is an attack upon the government. It affects the country profoundly in every relation and the prevention and punishment of such attacks should not be left to local authorities. It is naturally suggested that the crime be punished as treason, but the very fact that it is regarded as treason suggests a doubt that it may be punished at all as an offense against the government under the Constitution of the United States.
     “To compass or imagine the death of the king” was one of the four things named as treason in the statute in force in England when the constitution was adopted. 24 Edw. III, Ch. 2. The constitution declared that treason should consist only of two of these and this one relating to [641][642] the death of the king was omitted. It is suggested that to make an attack upon the life of the president in fact is to make it treason and an evasion of the constitution, but such a conclusion is not warranted. It cannot be implied that the United States may not punish an assault upon its president because the constitution does not allow it to be included under the vague and dangerous term treason. There is no king and no king’s wife, and the two provisions relating to them were left out, but it does not follow that the United States cannot protect its president and punish those who assail him.


     The protection that is really required against such attacks as this which has now struck down the President is protection of the country against the presence of men who are proclaimed enemies of all government. We have gone far enough in our welcome to the refugees of all countries, and, while we should remain an asylum for the oppressed of other nations so long as such asylum is required, we may, a [sic] least, insist that they shall accept the country as a refuge and abide by the government as they find it, or else that they discover a continent or an island for themselves. A statute excluding persons who are professed enemies of government, or who are found on investigation to belong to societies organized for the purpose of conspiracy and sedition, may be enforced to some extent at least by the machinery of our immigration laws and will afford us some protection. We must go further than that, however, and punish by the state, as well as the Federal authorities, the attempts of newspapers, as well as of professed anarchists, to incite the people against the persons intrusted [sic] with the administration of the government. Reckless attacks upon the characters of public officers are demoralizing and dangerous to public safety, and no exaggerated regard for liberty of the press ought to stand in the way of indictment and punishment of libelous and seditious publications.