Source: Philadelphia Medical Journal
Source type: journal
Document type: article
Document title: “The Czolgosz Case”
Author(s): Spitzka, Edward C.
Date of publication: 26 October 1901
Volume number: 8
Issue number: 17
|Spitzka, Edward C. “The Czolgosz Case.” Philadelphia Medical Journal 26 Oct. 1901 v8n17: pp. 693-95.|
|Leon Czolgosz (trial: personal response); Leon Czolgosz (trial: comparison); Leon Czolgosz (legal defense); Leon Czolgosz (trial: criticism); McKinley assassination (investigation: criticism); McKinley assassination (investigation of conspiracy: criticism); police department (Chicago, IL); Leon Czolgosz (mental health); assassinations (history).|
|Gaetano Bresci; Leon Czolgosz; James A. Garfield; Hasdrubal the Fair; Jugurtha; Nikolai Kibalchich [variant spelling below; in notes]; Abraham Lincoln; Errico Malatesta; Alfredo Montanha Martins de Pinho [identified as de Burgal below]; Masaniello [misspelled below]; William McKinley; Karl Nobiling; Lucius Piso; Carboni Sperandio.|
The article (below) includes the following two footnotes. Click on the asterisk preceding each footnote to navigate to its location in the text:
The identity of Perseus, Pietrucci, and Romalino (all below) cannot be determined. Possibly they are (respectively): Perseus, King of Macedon; Alfonso Petrucci; and Francisco de Remolins.
“By Edward C. Spitzka, M. D., of New York” (p. 693).
The Czolgosz Case
Undoubtedly measured by the standard of public
decency the spectacle furnished by the Czolgosz trial contrasts most favorably
with those offered by the legal and quasi-legal procedures ensuing after the
murders of Lincoln and Garfield. It remains a question, however, whether under
other circumstances some of its features would not have to be regarded as—to
say the least—inadequate to the cause of ideal justice. Gross violations of
the prisoner’s legal rights, such as through ignorance of law, natural in a
court composed as that which tried the real and suspected assassins of Lincoln
and several members of his cabinet, was composed, namely of military men, were
avoided. Nor was there evident on the part of the prosecution any such vindictive
spirit as was shown in the trial of the assassin of our second martyr President,
which notoriously went the length of mutilating exhibits by removing from a
prisoner’s letters such portions as might have suggested or supported the theory
of mental disease. The crime of Czolgosz was so evident, its elements so repulsive,
and its deliberation in its association with anarchist views so manifest, that
a perfunctory prosecution would have sufficed to secure a verdict entailing
the extreme penalty of the law. It will all the more redound to the credit of
the district attorney, that in favorable contrast with like officers, under
like circumstances, he had the prisoner examined in regard to his mental state
without “instructions to find for the prosecution,” and so examined prior to
having the prisoner indicted. He would, in case of a finding of evident insanity,
have been in a position to evade responsibility for such a farce as the Guiteau
The prisoner’s attitude rendered the position of the court an awkward one, and it evidently felt this keenly. Czolgosz’s refusal to plead, or even to reply to ordinary questions, made the position of his counsel an even more difficult one. The latter was under the circumstances limited to one possible line of defence, that of insanity involving irresponsibility. How to establish such, nay, how to justify the mere surmise, where the subject of inquiry wilfully [sic] closes the only channel by which thoughts and reasoning are exhibited to the examiner, is a problem rarely presented to the alienist, and when presented, one of the most difficult to solve. Obstinate mutism has therefore proven one of the more successful measures of the simulator. It could, however, prove of no value in the present case as sustaining the insanity plea, owing to the crass inconsistency of mutism with the mental state at the time of the shooting. It hence proved but an additional stumbling block to any defence whatever. That the prisoner’s assigned counsel felt himself reduced to a purely formal defence need not surprise one. And when the physicians, who at his own request, examined this imposed client, reported the latter to be not insane, the last prop of a material defence fell away and the counsel cannot be accused of dereliction of duty on the above ground.
In regard to his closing address, however, I find a most objectionable feature. It was not necessary for the counsel to anticipate the prosecuting attorney by calling up the emotions of the jury on behalf of the martyr victim of his client. The district attorney scarcely went so far as the defendant’s counsel in this respect. The pathetic recital of President McKinley’s noble qualities, the loss the country sustained, the bereaval the counsel asserted himself to have personally suffered, were all made truthfully. But we question whether such appeals would have been regarded as essential to his securing a verdict of guilty by the public prosecutor. All the less were they in place in counsel’s final address to the jury in whose hands the fate of his client was shortly to be placed.
The crocodile tears, which certain notorious pettifoggers of criminal courts are so apt at calling forth when required, are regarded justly with equal detestation and contempt. How shall the tears of genuine grief shed by Czolgosz’s counsel as he mentioned the bereavement inflicted by his client, be judged? From the general standpoint of humanity they may be condoned, but from the strictly professional standpoint the pathos manifested on so unusual an occasion and in a way so contrary to a client’s interest does not seem to be in harmony with the dignity, gravity and propriety otherwise marking the proceedings.
Regarding a point which was and is of far greater importance than the retributive punishment of the single assassin, I believe that our police and legal machinery has proven grievously inadequate. I refer to the existence of possible accessories, since to my mind there are features in the crime which point to their existence. The subterfuge of the bandaged hand1 strikingly suggests a female source; at all events the prisoner does not exhibit the appearance of intelligent spontaneity this dastardly trick presumes. His itinerarium of the four months preceding the murder brought him in collusion with persons notoriously associated with an international set of anarchists. Barely a year ago this very set was affiliated with the notorious anarchist’s leader, Malatesta, and about the time of his visit as well as shortly thereafter there were several warnings, anonymous and otherwise of a plan aiming at the leading crowned heads. Two of these warnings mentioned the President of the United States as included in the list of intended victims. The warnings were too nearly simultaneous and preceded from too widely separate quarters, South America, the States and Europe, to have been fortuitously coincident practical jokes. The event has proven the reality of such a plot; no doubt some of the selected soloists experienced stage fright at the critical moment, and not all defalcators could be substituted with as prompt effectiveness as was Sperandio by Bresci, but within a few weeks of Czolgosz’s deed, we have Pietrucci’s suicidal attempt revealing prematurely the mission of Romalino; we have further the suicide of de Burgal and  the arrest of several bearers of related missions at Hamburg, in Buenos Ayres, and at St. Petersburg.
The method of arresting suspected accessories of Czolgosz, followed by the police authorities of several of our cities, smacks of the same panicky stupidity that induced the authorities to grant a paranoic in the President’s native city a guard of soldiers to protect him against the phantoms of persecutional delirium. It was at random and so stupidly initiated and carried out, that instead of furthering the interest of justice, it simply furnished opportunity for damage suits on the part of the parties arrested—which these last are too wise to avail themselves of.
To closet such persons in jail together with full opportunities for reading the daily papers and seeing emissaries passing and repassing from one to the other, as was done in several instances in connection with this case, were worthy of the palmiest days of Abdera. Solitude, time and uncertain expectancy are motive springs for confession and betrayal of associates, whose employment has at all times been regarded as essential to the end of justice in case of dangers menacing the safety of the State. But to not one of these has recourse been had and the authorities lost prestige with the public, and the awe of the guilty by this random and inconsistent procedure.
It so happens that for what may be good reasons the prosecution failed to avail itself of a means calculated to effectively trace and punish accessories, if Czolgosz had such. Though an unconstitutional law the Conspiracy Law of the State of Illinois rendered that State the more eligible one to conduct the trial of Czolgosz in.
In the first place, it provides for the case of criminals guilty of crimes in other States and extraditable from such States to its own custody when the crime committed in the latter is suspected to be the result of a conspiracy in the State of Illinois. In the second place, the collected facts point to the location of the presumptive conspiracy in that State. In the third place, the loopholes in the law open in other States for a defence of quibbles are closed in Illinois. No matter how objectionable in principle the legislation securing, and how servile the motives of the judicial advisor suggesting (at the time of the Haymarket bomb-throwing) them, these features are advantages the prosecution would have been justified in availing itself of; what may seem to justify its neglect to do so is at once a curious and a humiliating fact.
A prominent police official in Chicago has with apparent good reason become the subject of investigations whose ultimate result promises to become a prosecution of a more serious character. No better opportunity to rehabilitate himself could have happened than the discovery of criminals so vengefully regarded by the public as conspirators against our Executive. Accordingly he was all activity. His opponents fearing the overshadowing of their energy by a successful coup, did everything in their power to throw discredit on his efforts, and the old proverb about honest men coming to their own was illustrated in an inversion: when the authorities fall out, the guilty escape.
As to the mental calibre of Czolgosz, generally speaking, I recognize nothing particularly differentiating it from the average persons belonging to his class, or if you please, “party.” There is the same contracted view of the individual’s relations to his surroundings; the same false ideal of heroism, and, what must not be lost sight of, the same obstinate loyalty to his associates, a feeling which will probably conduct him through the ordeal of punishment without revealing their identity and share in the crime. Like most anarchists2 he has not acquired any skilled trade, nor has he, in fact, shown any capacity in other directions than the coarsest kind of manual labor. I believe that the scene which has been related in the press as his “collapse on arriving in jail” may bear a different interpretation. His movements are described as an unloosening of all his limbs in jactatory movements. They occurred when the attendants seized him to put the prison garments, which are of a somber hue, on him. Czolgosz imperfectly comprehending his sentence, whose terms it must be remembered, are in this State indefinite as to the precise time of execution, may have apprehended that this sentence was being carried out instanter, and his conception of the influence of the lethal current by “suggestion” as it were, was illustrated in the movements which struck casual observers as so singular.
In a study made some years ago relative to mental epidemics and historical periods as influencing insane mentality as well as its sane counterpart, it appeared incidentally that assassinations have not become more frequent in the present era. The social disease of which these acts are mere surface manifestations has been coeval with the history of civilization, and under different guises has produced corresponding results at all times.
From the cuneiform inscriptions to the modern book page, the records of assassination are distributed with the same surprising evenness as are the analogous ones of suicides and of epidemic insanity. That assassination has ceased to be a relaxation of the opulent and ruling classes as it was in the days of the Ptolomies, Seleucides, Perseus and Jugurtha, and occasionally also in the later days of the Plantanegets and the Borgias, is paralleled in other fields. In those days it required a strong provocation of the ego to nerve a proletarian against a governor or a king, as it did a slave to avenge a beloved master by slaying Hasdrubal, and the peasant stab the repacious [sic] tax collector L. Piso. Later religion supplied the motive, and from the fanatics who poinarded the chiefs of Kufa down to the Ravaillacs, Gerards, Clements and Damiens, its strong influences were felt. Still later these gave way with the developing prominence of economical and social questions to socialistic, atheistic, libertinistic and chaotic views generally. That they contained devotees in their ranks such educated men as was for example the assassin, Nobiling, is  among the incomprehensible features of the subject. Equally is the fact that any historical student, for such he was, could ever have dreamed of any good result accruing from assassination. A summary of the facts elicitable from the figures in the sequel might be made the basis of an educational chart for the use of anarchists and other terrorists.
Of 588 murders attempted and consumated [sic],
including all instances in which those prominent in history have been killed
from political, dynastic or other reasons connected with the public station
of the victim, 277 may be termed assassinations in the accepted narrow meaning
of the word, equivalent to the attentat of continental writers. Of these, 155
succeeded in so far as the death of the victim ensued. Of these, 52 were avenged
by the legal execution of one or more of the perpetrators, 20 by instant death
at the hands of guards or the public by the killing of the flying assassin or
by his suicide; a total of 75 cases in which death was retributive. In 5 additional
cases execution occurred for later crimes, the perperator [sic] having
escaped the immediate consequences of the former, and in 3 further cases suicide
similarly ended the criminal’s career. In 61 cases execution, in 6 suicide,
and in 3 retributive assassination avenged unsuccessful attempts.
The “mortality” by legal and other retributative [sic] measures was therefore over fifty-five per cent. Excluding those cases where the deed was done under protecting influences, as were Czolgosz’s and Masamiello’s for example, over eighty per cent. of the assassins perished.