Source: Solicitors’ Journal and Reporter
Source type: journal
Document type: editorial column
Document title: “Current Topics”
Date of publication: 21 September 1901
Volume number: 45
Issue number: 47
Pagination: 775-77 (excerpt below includes only pages 775-76)
|“Current Topics.” Solicitors’ Journal and Reporter 21 Sept. 1901 v45n47: pp. 775-77.|
|Theodore Roosevelt; presidential succession; presidential assassinations (comparison).|
|John Wilkes Booth; James Bryce; Joseph H. Choate; Grover Cleveland; Walter Cox; James A. Garfield; Charles J. Guiteau; Courtney Stanhope Kenny; Abraham Lincoln; William McKinley; Theodore Roosevelt.|
Current Topics [excerpt]
IT IS NOTEWORTHY that the new President of the United States is not, and never has been, a lawyer. The late President was admitted to the bar and practised for some time, but with no great success. His predecessor, Mr. CLEVELAND, was a prosperous lawyer, and we have an impression that, after laying down his office, he returned to practice at the bar. There seems to be a difference between the relations of law and politics in this country and in the United States. Here a lawyer usually enters political life with a view to advancement in his profession; there the profession seems to be very commonly regarded as the road to political promotion and office. Mr. CHOATE, for instance, the leader of the New York bar, did not hesitate to give up his great position and practice at the bar to accept the post of Ambassador to this country.
PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT has succeeded to the supreme magistracy of the United States in virtue of the clause of the constitution which provides that “in case of the removal of the President from office, or of his death, resignation, or inability to discharge the powers and duties of the said office, the same shall devolve on the Vice-President.” The remarkable thing is that, unless the Vice-President is brought before the public in this exceptional manner, he has no public function except to preside in the Senate. There he has a casting vote, but no ordinary vote. The original clause in the constitution provided that the candidate for the Presidency who was second in number of votes to the successful candidate should be Vice-President. Apparently this mode of selection, while securing that the Vice-President should be a politician of note, also secured that he should be of the opposite party to the President, and therefore the devolution of power from one to another meant a sudden change of policy as the result of a mere accident. At any rate the mode was found unsatisfactory, and it was changed in 1804, by the twelfth amendment to the constitution, for the present system, by which the presidential electors vote for the President and the Vice-President separately. The result is that they are selected from the same “ticket” and belong to the same political party. Mr. BRYCE tells us (The American Commonwealth, vol. 1. p. 65) that “very little pains are bestowed on the election of a Vice-President. The convention which selects the party candidates usually gives the nomination to this post to a man in the second rank . . . sometimes as a compliment to an elderly leader who is personally popular.” President ROOSEVELT cannot be described as “elderly,” but otherwise he seems to answer to the description, and notwithstanding this criticism on the mode of selection, he seems qualified to play a distinguished part in the position to which he has succeeded under such melancholy circumstances.
THE LATE President MCKINLEY is, as is well known, the third President of the United States who has perished at the hand  of the assassin. In the case of President LINCOLN the assassin BOOTH did not live to suffer punishment in the regular course of law. After shooting the president in his box at the Washington Theatre, he leaped down upon the stage and escaped for the time by the rear of the building. Twelve days later he was shot in a barn where he had concealed himself. The assassination was part of a plot for the murder of the heads of the Government. The assassination of President GARFIELD by GUITEAU in 1881 was due to the disappointment of the assassin. He had sought unsuccessfully to obtain a consulship, and he attributed his failure to GARFIELD’S abandonment of the policy of giving public appointments as rewards for electioneering services. The defence of insanity was set up, and the direction of COX, J., on this point to the jury, reported in 10 Federal Rep. 161, is included in the Select Cases on Criminal Law, recently compiled by Dr. COURTNEY KENNY. The learned judge referred to the rules in M’Naughten’s case (10 Cl. & Fin. 200), as having been approved, with some qualifications, in the United States, and directed the jury that where partial insanity is set up as a defence, it must appear that the crime charged was the product of the morbid condition and connected with it as effect with cause. GUITEAU was found guilty and was executed. With regard to the assassin of President MCKINLEY it is to be presumed that the law will take its course, and there does not at present seem to be any suggestion of a defence such as that of GUITEAU. The misfortune is that the last penalty seems to have practically no deterrent effect on other similar criminals. The punishment is simply retributive, and that is the least satisfactory aspect of the penal law.