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Source: Arena
Source type: magazine
Document type: editorial
Document title: “The Assassination of the President and the Aftermath”
Author(s): Flower, B. O.
Date of publication: November 1901
Volume number: 26
Issue number: 5
Pagination: 532-38

Flower, B. O. “The Assassination of the President and the Aftermath.” Arena Nov. 1901 v26n5: pp. 532-38.
full text
McKinley assassination (personal response); anarchism (dealing with); assassination (preventative measures); McKinley assassination (public response: criticism); McKinley assassination (religious response: criticism); John Lloyd Lee (public statements); T. De Witt Talmage (public statements); McKinley assassination (news coverage: criticism); presidential assassinations (comparison); assassinations (comparison); McKinley assassination (religious response); Henry Codman Potter (public statements); Henry H. Washburn (public statements).
Named persons
John Wilkes Booth; George S. Boutwell; Marie François Sadi Carnot; Leon Czolgosz; James A. Garfield; Emma Goldman; Charles J. Guiteau; Victor Hugo; John Lloyd Lee; Abraham Lincoln; William McKinley; Charles Eliot Norton; Paul; Henry Codman Potter; Edith Roosevelt; T. De Witt Talmage; Henry H. Washburn.


The Assassination of the President and the Aftermath



     The assassination of President McKinley was a great tragedy, well calculated to arouse sentiments of horror in every well-balanced mind. It was an outrage unrelieved by extenuating circumstances, and, being committed against the chosen head of the government, was a crime against the Republic; while to the philosophic student of history the tragedy takes on still darker hues when he contemplates its evil effect on the cause of free government, wholesome liberty, and human progress, for it is difficult to conceive of anything better calculated to aid and reenforce those despotic and reactionary influences that for centuries prior to the American Revolution had prevailed and resulted in civilization-wide oppression and the virtual serfdom of the vast majority of lives throughout the Christian world, while thwarting justice and barring the path of progress and enlightenment.
     If Emma Goldman had been the paid emissary of Russian despotism, she could not better have aided the cause of absolutism and oppression than by inciting the feverish, ill-balanced brain of the assassin to commit the crime for which he well knew his life must pay the penalty. They who preach or advocate assassination are the most efficient allies of despotism. They afford the reactionaries, and those who for selfish motives desire oppression and subversive legislation, a justification for proposed laws that would soon be used to bulwark tyranny, injustice, and class interests, and which are in the nature of the case essentially destructive to the spirit of free government. We not only hold that murder is never justifiable, but such is our view of the sanctity of human life that, while yielding to no one in our demand that society [532][533] should be protected from its enemies, we believe that the State itself is not justified in taking life. We would imprison or deport the criminal, employing such means as would thoroughly protect the public from his power to do it harm, but with Victor Hugo we hold that “life belongs to God alone,” and that neither the individual nor the State has the moral right to take life.
     In the murder of President McKinley the American people were robbed of the Executive of their choice, and society beheld stricken down a man that in his private life was a splendid illustration of the best side of Anglo-Saxon civilization—clean, tender, thoughtful, and loving; such was the husband and father. Indeed, the unfailing fidelity and unforgetting love that William McKinley bore to his wife will ever be a priceless and helpful influence among us, and we believe that this sweet and simple devotion more than aught else touched the deepest and holiest emotions of our people and awakened an intense affection for the Chief Magistrate. His tragic death in the midst of a time of national prosperity and victory has exalted his place in history and materially enhanced his fame.


     There are several things connected with the assassination of the President, quite apart from the crime itself, that are well calculated to disquiet the sober-minded lover of free government, not the least of which is the symptom of degeneracy and widespread hysteria among men who assume to be leaders of thought and molders of public opinion. It has long been one of the chief glories of the Anglo-Saxon people that in trying moments and periods of excitement they have been able to remain sane, dispassionate, and for the most part just. They have never permitted passion and prejudice to blind reason or lead them into unseemly displays of hysteria and intemperance of speech unworthy of enlightened minds. But unhappily the tragedy at Buffalo has called forth from ministers and editors, and in a few instances from statesmen, a number of foolish, irrational, and essentially lawless expressions that must be deplored by all right-thinking individuals. In Concord, New Hampshire, a clergyman, impiously assuming to speak for the Almighty, claimed that the President’s death was punishment sent by God because he had not suppressed the rum traffic in the Philippines. One of the gravest offenses against truth, decency, and common sense was perpetrated by certain promi- [533][534] nent clergyman in New York and Boston, who chose the hour when even politicians shrank from expressing partizan [sic] opinions to assail the wise and well-considered utterances of such men as Professor Charles Eliot Norton, of Harvard University, and ex-Governor Boutwell, of Massachusetts. The intimation that the just and statesmanlike criticisms of these great and revered patriots were in any way responsible for the insane deed of Czolgosz was as wide of the truth as were the ill-timed utterances of the reverend gentlemen unworthy of their high calling. Other statements from the pulpit were scarcely less amazing and even more lawless in spirit. Of these the following extracts from a New York despatch to the Boston Herald of September 4th are fair samples:

     At the Westminster Presbyterian Church the Rev. John Lloyd Lee said: “There is no standing room in this country for such an assassin. Only a two-by-four cell should hold him. There must be severe measures meted out, or this will happen again and again. Until a better way is found the only way now at hand is to lynch him on the spot.”
     The Rev. T. De Witt Talmage said at Ocean Grove auditorium: “I wish with all my heart that the policeman who arrested Czolgosz had with the butt end of that pistol dashed his life out.”


     The sensational press indulged in many wild and intemperate utterances, well calculated to inflame the passions and blind the reason of its readers—utterances that all sane people in cooler moments must regard as discreditable to one of the noblest professions of our time. A labored effort has been made to prove that the assassin was the instrument of an organization which acted in furthering a gigantic plot. On this and other baseless assumptions labored arguments against the fundamental principles and the uninterrupted policy of the Republic have been advanced in the interest of methods that prevail in Russia and Spain. We have been assured that the President’s assassination demonstrated the necessity of our country employing European Continental methods for the suppression of anarchy, and great stress has been laid upon the fact that three President have been assassinated, from which the reader has been led to understand that anarchy is more dangerous in a free republic than in an Old-World despotism, and consequently the methods of absolutism are not only justifiable but demanded. Yet in point of truth the facts involved [534][535] prove precisely the reverse of what has been so persistently claimed, as will be obvious from a glance at recent history.
     The assassination of President Lincoln was the deed of a highly-wrought man, at a time of unprecedented excitement—a time when the passions of men had risen to white heat, and when man had become all too familiar with the slaughter of his fellow-men. The assassin knew nothing of the political or economic theories of nihilism or revolutionary anarchy, nor was his deed the result of any Old-World philosophy. The assassin of President Garfield was a disgruntled office-seeker who belonged to the President’s own party. He was by affiliation a Republican and not an anarchist. To class John Wilkes Booth and Charles Guiteau as anarchists, or to try to liken their motives to those that in recent years have led to the political assassinations of European rulers, or to the recent murder of President McKinley, is either absurd or dishonest. But one assassination has had anything to do with foreign social and economic theories that are the legitimate products of despotic oppression and injustice.


     In England, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States we find the greatest freedom and the widest liberty of press, speech, and thought. Now, in all these lands during the last century and a quarter—or since the birth of our Republic—there has been but one ruler killed as a result of the false theories and the dangerous doctrines of the revolutionary anarchists; while in France, where there exists an elaborate and in many ways exceedingly objectionable police system, which is the legacy of imperialism but which certain reactionaries and monarchists in our own land are advocating as a model for this country, we find President Carnot assassinated. There an irksome police system, only second to that of Russia in its power, was as futile as was the body-guard of secret service men in our own country to stay the murderous intent of the assassin.
     In Spain, where anarchy is a crime and where anarchists had previously been horribly tortured—tortured in such a way as to remind one of the most bloody days of the Inquisition—we find the great prime minister (the real head of the government) assassinated; and furthermore, it is said that to-day Spain is literally honeycombed with anarchy, the savage perse- [535][536] cution only resulting, as is usually the case with persecution, in a rapid spread of the banned theories.
     In Italy, where the most stringent methods had been taken to crush anarchy, and when the hand of government had fallen heavily even upon the starving ones who had headed the bread riots, the king, in spite of soldiers, detectives, police, and bodyguard, was assassinated.
     In Russia the most frightful and oppressive of despotisms was powerless to save the Czar. All history proves that it is in the land of despotism that the child of oppression—anarchy—best flourishes. Neither the suppression of free speech, with the blighting curse of despotism that always follows in its wake, nor a land filled with spies and paid informers, bristling with soldiers and burdened by an enormous police force, has been able to save Russia, Austria, Spain, France, or Italy from the hands of anarchistic assassins.


     One great vital fact has been entirely overlooked by the short-sighted and essentially superficial advocates of the extension of police power and the introduction into our land of the ancient governmental despotic censorship, such as still prevails in Russia and Spain; and this ignored fact, which is as fundamental to the issue as is a premise to an argument, is that all the anarchistic and nihilistic assassins, whether in France, Austria, Spain, Italy, Russia, or the United States, are the result of generations of crushing oppression and of the very restrictions that certain editors, politicians, and reactionaries are advocating for our own country. In every instance the assassin has been the product of generations of despotism. Even Czolgosz, American born though he be, is of a Russian or Polish family who have come so little under the American spirit that it is stated that the parents have never learned to speak our language. Behind the hand that held the fatal pistol were centuries of injustice and oppression.
     For America to turn her back upon the great principle of freedom which is to-day the crowning glory of the Anglo-Saxon world, and to imitate Continental despotisms, under the mistaken belief that freedom is more dangerous than despotism, would be not only to display ignorance of the history of the past and of the facts involved, but to stultify herself and [536][537] to commit a crime of measureless proportions. No doubt some measures will be passed with a view to guarding against political assassinations in the future, but it is to be hoped that the drafting of such measures will be intrusted to the wisest, most thoughtful, and most truly democratic among our statesmen, in order that they may be so framed as to render it impossible for the laws to be made instruments of oppression in the hands of officialism, or that they should be so drafted as to prevent that publicity and free discussion which are all-important for the preservation of free institutions and the crushing of corruption.


     It is reassuring to find that, while many clergymen vied with sensational newspapers in advocating the introduction of Old-World despotic measures and in inflaming the public mind, there were many notable and conspicuous exceptions to the rule, among the most noteworthy of which were the utterances of the eminent head of the Episcopal Church in America, Bishop Henry C. Potter, and Dr. Washburn, who is Mrs. Roosevelt’s pastor. These great divines struck the key-note when they declared that education, embracing moral culture, was the true remedy for anarchy. Dr. Potter said:
     “Men and brethren, in this solemn and august moment we should remember that we cannot have the freedom of Republic without the responsibilities of Republic. We must have a great system of free education, a system that will reach and enlighten the perverted minds so as to give them true comprehension of the principles underlying our Government. And we must represent in our lives an example of sincere manhood and enlightened citizenship, and refrain from sinking into lying Pharisaism which, ever ready to denounce the wrong, will not lift its smallest finger to remove it and its causes. What St. Paul wrote to his followers in the corrupt Roman Empire applies to our life to-day. What is the summing up of the whole law? Love. And when we shall have lifted up our brothers from their ignorance we shall exercise that love which is the keystone to the brotherhood of man.”
     In the course of his remarks, Dr. Washburn uttered these noble words:
     “Neither a free press nor free speech is responsible for an- [537][538] archy nor the crimes committed in its name. Anarchy does not exist because of a free press and free speech. It did not have its origin here, but it grew up in the poverty, ignorance, and lack of moral education of other countries. If it has been transferred here, neither a free press nor free speech is to blame for it. The policy which should be adopted to suppress it must be moral training for our young, which will do more to obliterate it than all the laws that may be enacted. People must be educated, so that they can reason and think. That this is essential no one will deny, yet we are told that in New York City there are 50,000 children without school accommodations.”
     No utterances of the hour are more worthy of the thoughtful consideration of statesmen than are the above words of Dr. Washburn.



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