Publication information

Railway Conductor
Source type: journal
Document type: editorial
Document title: “The Tragedy at Buffalo”
Author(s): anonymous
Date of publication: October 1901
Volume number: 18
Issue number: 10
Pagination: 777-80

“The Tragedy at Buffalo.” Railway Conductor Oct. 1901 v18n10: pp. 777-80.
full text
McKinley assassination (public response); anarchism (public response); anarchism; anarchism (laws against); anarchism (government response); Donelson Caffery (public statements); McKinley assassination (personal response); anarchism (dealing with).
Named persons
Donelson Caffery [first name only given below]; Leon Czolgosz; Henry George; John W. Griggs; Billy Patterson; Leo Tolstoy [variant spelling below].

The Tragedy at Buffalo

     The recent outrage upon our President has called forth many utterances from an excited people that go to show the impulsiveness of the average American to act in an emergency. The assertion of their denunciation of any agency to which such damnable outrages are given inspiration may grow less demonstrative with time, but they will never grow less sincere. Murder under any circumstances is appalling to the mind, but when a blow is aimed at the executive head of the nation it becomes doubly so, for it not only deprives the community of an upright citizen, as was the case in this instance, but strikes at the sovereign majesty of the nation.
     Already arguments are brought to bear that a law must be enacted to banish all [777][778] persons advocating anarchy in any shape or form in order to preserve the harmony of our government, and to stamp out anarchy in whatever form it exists. Who can tell to what depth these teachings have taken root and who are its disciples? It strikes us that the means for determining just who these disciples are is about as vague as was the proposition which gave rise to the popular query, “who struck Billy Patterson?” It has been asserted that with few exceptions, all anarchists in this country are foreigners and that the belief is of foreign growth exclusively; that its advocates were born under the more or less tyrannical European monarchies and grew up in conditions that stunted the mind and blighted hope.
     That Czolgosz, a native of Michigan, educated in American schools, has been found guilty of revolutionary anarchy, proves that anarchy is not confined alone to aliens as its disciples, nor to those who have suffered under the tyrannical rule of monarchs.
     Anarchists would have us to believe that pure anarchy is that ideal form of government which comes with the millennium, when holiness shall be triumphant throughout the world. They tell us it inculcates the philosophical or peaceful abandonment of all government and the regulation of social life by the voluntary co-operation of individuals, and the moral influence of public opinion. In order to hasten this stage of affairs they demand the destruction of all government on the principle that it must by nature be tyrannical, seeking to effect this end through forceful revolution. Such is anarchy, and if the numerous doctrines expounding new beliefs on this and that method of government is constantly gaining new votaries, may we not reasonably expect to find that anarchy has strengthened in numbers in like ratio? Who, then, are those who foster its principles or have been impressed with its teachings? It is a big proposition which proposes to banish all who are anarchists, and reminds us of the adage, “Catch your thief before you hang him.” The question is, can the nation or state, or both, suppress the anarchy?
     In this connection the Philadelphia North American has issued the following proposition and sent a copy of the same to our national legislators in all sections of the United States:

     Do you favor the following legislation: A law forbidding the entrance into the United States of those called anarchists and believing in destruction, overturning and subversion of established government, and an amendment to the naturalization laws making these principles a disqualification to citizenship?

     There was a unanimity of opinion, and from everywhere came the answer, “banish all anarchists!” Senator Donelson of Louisiana expresses a conservative opinion in the North American, which we reproduce herewith:

     I think it wise and expedient to prosecute anarchists and prevent others from entering the United States. The naturalization laws ought to be so amended as to exclude them, but such an amendment should be carefully worded.
     The people have the right to overturn and destroy their form of government whenever it fails to meet the ends of all just governments, whenever not founded on the consent of the governed or whenever its powers are susceptible of a censtruction [sic] which places the governed under despotism. But individuals banding themselves together to murder rulers indiscriminately should not be permitted to come into our country.
     Despotism produces anarchists. A free government like ours, where peaceful remedies for all wrongs are in the hands of the people, ought to be exempt from anarchists.
     We must take care lest our republic, by adopting despotic rule, breed the assassin of governments and rulers like some of the governments of the old world.

     The words of the president when he sank down after the shot—“Let no one hurt him”—were not alone intended to protect the assassin from bodily harm, but as words of warning intended to reach farther than this miserable miscreant. He intended these words, “Let no one hurt the Constitution, the sacred foundation on which our free government securely rests, and has rested in security since the fathers, sufferers from tyranny and seeing far into the future, in their deep wisdom builded it.”
     This noble sentiment, uttered in a moment when the heart would naturally turn to condemn so dastardly an act as this, exposes the true spirit and magnanimity [778][779] of the man. He heard the violent expressions, so anarchial in themselves that came quick from the heart upon the announcement of the awful crime, and they were perfectly natural. But in the midst of tumult and suffering, and conflicting emotions that only himself knew he saw the danger of having our laws trampled under foot and raised his voice in the appeal, “let no one hurt him.”
     While the excited expressions that come to us from our national legislators and which din our ears at every corner make us feel in sympathy with any movement that shall forever rid us of these enemies of our government, we feel that extreme legislation may bring a condition that will only increase this evil. America has been the haven for free speech for more than a hundred years. During our normal habits of thought we have permitted the anarchist, the socialist, the single-taxer, the populist, the unionist, the democrat and the republican to express himself fully and freely upon the views he entertained without the thought of making a law that should banish any of them for their beliefs. Shall we now permit ourselves to lose confidence in the stability of our laws and formulate legislation that may hereafter be regretted?
     The Chicago Record-Herald says in this connection:

     But legislation certainly will not be based on any of the extreme suggestions that have been made, and even the more conservative ones have their difficulties.
     We should resent at once a kind of intimation that somehow we have something to learn from governments which deal in drastic laws and produce anarchists by their contempt for the rights of the people. As a matter of fact we have nothing to learn of those governments except an avoidance of their ways. The great lesson they teach us is that anarchy or any other manifestation of popular discontent cannot be prevented permanently by “terrible and inexhorable [sic] punishments.”
     We should proceed according to methods all our own, and in every case we should be exceedingly careful to act in conformity with the spirit of our own laws.
     Before we begin our campaign against anarchy we ought to define the crime. A mere expression of the belief that the world would be better without governments can hardly be made an indictable offense. Men may hold the most radical opinions against the present constitution of society, as Count Tolstoi does, and still abhor all violence, and even carry the doctrine of nonresistance by force to extremes. On the other hand a speaker who incites to murder comes within the reach of our present laws, and so do all conspirators and all riotous and seditious assemblages.
     Ex-Attorney General Griggs approves the suggestion that any attempt on the life of the chief executive or higher officers of the government be made a capital offense, whether it succeeds or not. As we have indicated before, there is a just sentiment back of this suggestion which discriminates between the man and the office, and a law might be passed to gratify that sentiment. But we doubt if it would have much influence on men who meant to commit murder.
     What we need now most of all is a return to our normal habits of thought and to our old confidence in the essential soundness of our institutions. Legislation passed in the temper of much of the comment that has been published lately would be most regrettable.

     Henry George says: “The first cry that goes up is to exclude anarchism from this country, to refuse admission to any persons in the least way identified with anarchism in any foreign country. But this presupposes that this belief is of foreign growth, etc.”
     With the history we have at hand bearing on the origin and growth of anarchy we believe it leaves no question as to the country of its birth. On the other hand a careful study of the history of the United States from the time it was the thirteen original colonies to the year 1886, in which occurred the memorable Haymarket massacre at Chicago, we find no account of them of any consequence. Did these idiotic ideas of government prevail in the minds of the framers of our constitution and come all the way down through these years to break out just now? We guess not.
     It is true that our argument favoring a specific knowledge of our language, laws and customs as a condition of admission and citizenship in this country, gets a hard blow in the individual case of Czolgosz, but we appeal to common sense that the average individual who enters any institution, whether social or governmental, with a full conception of its laws, will make a better member and a more loyal citizen than those who come here in [779][780] ignorance, to be driven about like cattle, and who imagine that the tyrannical rule of a despotic government still overshadows them.
     In our opinion our immigration laws are responsible for the tragedy enacted at Buffalo, and are responsible for daily tragedies that are being enacted, of which no cognizance is taken, in which the poor American laborer is the sufferer. So long as ignorance of our customs and laws prevail; so long as the foreign horde is permitted to land who cannot discern the difference between a free government like ours and a despotic government under which they lived, just so long we will endanger the safety of our government and the lives of its rulers, and crush the American workingman down to a level with those who are forcing us to live under the worst of conditions.
     We sincerely regret the terrible tragedy that has been brought upon us, but we trust that it will inspire us with a proper conception of legal procedure that will serve to protect us and future generations from the enemies of our government and the lepers that poison the minds of the people and drag them down to crime.