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Source: Philadelphia Medical Journal
Source type: journal
Document type: letter to the editor
Document title: “The Crime of Czolgosz, the Assassin”
Author(s): Chapin, John B.
Date of publication: 19 October 1901
Volume number: 8
Issue number: 16
Pagination: 649-50

Chapin, John B. “The Crime of Czolgosz, the Assassin.” Philadelphia Medical Journal 19 Oct. 1901 v8n16: pp. 649-50.
full text
McKinley assassination (personal response); William McKinley (medical care: personal response); Leon Czolgosz (trial: personal response); anarchism (dealing with).
Named persons
Leon Czolgosz; Arthur W. Hurd; Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; Carlos F. MacDonald; William McKinley; Thomas Penney.
“By John B. Chapin, M. D., of Philadelphia. Superintendent of Pennsylvania Hospital for Insane” (p. 649).

The document below is one of six letters to the editor appearing in this issue of the journal, all of which are grouped under the collective heading “A Symposium on the Czolgosz Case.”


The Crime of Czolgosz, the Assassin

To the Editor of the Philadelphia Medical Journal:
     1. The shock and depression that affected not only our own country but the people of all lands, on the occasion of the murderous asssault [sic] upon President McKinley, are still vividly recalled. Following this event there has succeeded a profound sense of injury and unforgiveness of the adherents of the pernicious dogmas that are believed to have led up to this national calamity. While the issues of life seemed in the balance there was profound thankfulness that in the momentous emergency the surgeons who were summoned courageously assumed grave responsibilities and performed every known service in the present state of science. It is a satisfaction and a subject of congratulation that the greatest surgical authorities of the world, as well as the people at large, were in daily touch with the condition of the distinguished sufferer and have approved of the management of the case. The conferences of the surgeons appear to have been harmonious. They showed a sense of the solemn responsibilities resting upon them. They demonstrated as well the wonderful possibilities as the limitations of modern surgical science and knowledge, and when all has been well done there is little room and less need for indecorous, unseemly, pessimistic criticism.
     2. The death of the President, the arrest of the assassin, his trial, conviction and sentence, which followed with commendable but orderly promptness, are notable events which might not warrant a notice in a medical journal but for some of the lessons and precedents that were made. In the practice of law, and in court proceedings, there seems at times such a fetish reverence for precedents that the main issue is clouded and even lost to sight. For a time there was an apprehension such would be the [649][650] outcome of the trial of the assassin. Here was the case of a man committing a homicide under most aggravating circumstances. The Chief Magistrate of our nation was shot and killed by an assassin while in the discharge of a most gracious public function, by a man unknown to him or to the locality, who in subsequent conversation avowed himself to be an anarchist. He alleged that the act was committed from a sense of “duty,” that he had no personal grievance, but he was opposed to the Government of which the President was the head. His motive was the destruction of the Government by removing the President. He stated the crime was not the outcome of a conspiracy, that no one had designated him to be an instrument, and that he alone carried the plan into execution, an opportunity for doing which he had looked for several days. He stated also that he had been influenced by reading and listening to lectures or harangues to perform his murderous act.
     This is the first assassination in our country that is to be traced to avowed ideas and organizations for the purpose of destroying the Government by killing his officers, because they stand for tyranny and the financial distress of the poor. This fact together with the enormity of the crime would in our country at once suggest that insanity would and ought to be interposed as a defence. It is a common hypothesis, and too frequently put forward, that an awful tragedy must be the act of a diseased mind. In this case, however, the trial reports published in newspapers state that a new precedent has been created which may be studied in the interests of justice and protection against criminals. It is reported that with the concurrence of the Bar Association of Buffalo, and on invitation of District Attorney Penney, Drs. Hurd, of Buffalo, and Carlos F. MacDonald, of New York, and several physicians of Buffalo, made an examination and reported the assassin to be sane. This opinion of competent experts eliminated a plea of insanity from the whole proceedings, leaving the guilt or innocence as the only issue to be tried, and no defence was offered, as there was none to present. The allegation alone that the act was performed from a sense of “duty” unaccompanied by other symptoms was not in itself a delusion in a medical or legal sense to excuse a criminal act any more than other erroneous beliefs or opinions on similar grounds. The delusions of the insane are the outcome, and imply the existence of a diseased mind, and result wholly from that condition, otherwise any criminal might plead that he committed crime from a sense of duty. Erroneous, mistaken notions do not come within the category of symptoms of insanity. To admit them for a moment would broaden the field of inquiry indefinitely. Neither could the plea of “irresistible impulse” avail, for the assassin took much time to deliberate. It is true that impulses to criminal acts are not resisted when they might and ought to be, and this fact is often the very essence of criminal intent. As the experts did not have an opportunity to present in court the reasons for their conclusions, we may look for some public expression of their own views hereafter. Neither in the portraits of the assassin do we note any marked sign of “degeneration,” and the cranial development appears to be normal. There only remains room for psychological speculation and theorizing. The management and medico-legal proceeding in this case are commended as suggestive that a new precedent and departure in insanity trials have been made.
     It is quite a common experience that only an imperfect, insufficient history can be obtained of obscure, unsettled persons in the social scale in which Czolgosz moved, but if the statement which has been published comprises the whole case, supplemented by what the experts acquired by personal examination, their conclusions were absolutely correct, and the verdict was the only result to be reached.
     3. The problem of the disposition to be made of professional Government wreckers by assassination is a more serious one. It may be difficult to frame a legal definition of the crime of entertaining anarchistic doctrines, but the danger that may come from publishing, proclaiming and encouraging violent measures intended to overthrow the Government by the commission of murder is quite another matter. Organized society must first protect itself at all hazards, and by extraordinary measures. No one questions the use of extraordinary measures to preserve the public health against danger from contagious disease. Society and self-protection sanction even the destruction of well-recognized pest centres, suspected persons and cases are carefully guarded until all danger is passed. The professional anarchist and his doctrines and other ranters are far more dangerous and pernicious moral pests, because the culture field is more abundant and diffused in the undesirable emigration that has already gained an entrance into the country. If it be made legal to deport the dangerous professional anarchist who has applied for entrance into our ports, it may be made legal on trial to isolate and deport those already here until their ferocious natures are subdued by education, the diffusion of knowledge and the inculcation of loftier moral principles. If perchance collected on some island, they might dwell together in love like the Arcadian farmers of Longfellow. They might there perchance enjoy the compulsory opportunity of self-support. As there would be no government probable, human life might be safer, as there would be no king, or president, or ruler to assassinate. Under any circumstances the whole subject may be properly relegated where responsibility and power are vested.



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