Source: Country Life
Source type: magazine
Document type: editorial
Document title: “Enemies of the Human Race”
Date of publication: 14 September 1901
Volume number: 10
Issue number: 245
|“Enemies of the Human Race.” Country Life 14 Sept. 1901 v10n245: pp. 322.|
|McKinley assassination (international response); anarchism (international response); United States (relations with Great Britain); William McKinley (presidential character).|
|Robert Cecil [identified as Salisbury below]; Leon Czolgosz; Paul Kruger; William McKinley.|
Enemies of the Human Race
ONLY a fortnight ago we were jesting at the advent of the silly season, and
wondering what topic newspaper editors would get to fill their starved columns.
But no one knows what the morrow will bring forth, and from what appeared to
be a blue and cloudless sky Fate has issued one of those thunderbolts that make
an end of all trifling for the time being. On Friday the President of the United
States of America, the first citizen of a great and free republic, one, too,
who owed his magnificent position neither to influence nor to ancestry, but,
as became the traditions of a country the beginning of whose charter is “All
men are born free and equal,” to his own talent, perseverance, and service to
the State, was ruthlessly shot by an assassin. He was at the time engaged in
a task that could have aroused no man’s enmity, since the shots were fired while
he was receiving visitors at the Pan-American Exhibition at Buffalo, and apparently
glad at the universal expressions of goodwill that his presence called forth.
The assailant was a foreigner, by name Leon Czolgosz, a stranger in Buffalo.
If he had possessed a personal grudge against the President, had the crime been
one of revenge, there would be less to say. This is a temptation to ordinary
criminals, who are as dangerous to a ruling statesman as to the humblest peasant.
It would have been enough to hang the would-be murderer and have done with it.
But the circumstances are very different from those which usually accompany
the crime of bloodshed. The man appears to be one of those weak-minded fanatics
who take Anarchist lecturers at their word, and literally carry out their frightful
doctrines. And if that is so, then the assassin is not more to blame than those
who suggested the deed to him. He deserves, and we hope will receive, no mercy.
“Thou shalt not kill” is a commandment humanity is bound to enforce for the
sake of its own well-being and security, since if this crime were not severely
punished, the frequency and peril of its occurrence would soon render life unbearable.
Yet it is notorious that the perpetrators of the political crimes that have been so frequent of recent years are invariably of weak intellect. They act upon suggestion as certainly as a hypnotised subject does, and it seems a vain thing to hang them while those who are really responsible go scot-free. This is a matter well worthy of consideration in Great Britain, where every demagogue is free to preach the vilest doctrines as publicly as he cares to. We are too apt to despise the Anarchist as a self-glorifying mountebank, whose sweeping doctrines are in equal degree the offspring of ignorance and an insane thirst for notoriety. Unluckily all his hearers do not take him so lightly. A few on listening to the contumely heaped on all rulers, begin really to believe that by killing one of them they will not only perform a meritorious act, but win what is, in their eyes, eternal fame. That they take their own lives in their hands is nothing extraordinary. Our age is not one that really values life very highly. We live so fast and so intensely that an increasing number weary of the journey before half the road is travelled; and never was a time more prodigal of those willing to undertake hazardous enterprises, it may be in legitimate warfare on the African veldt or in cowardly murder in the centres of civilisation. But a time surely has come for making the mere promulgation of Anarchism a punishable offence. As it is really an incitement directed against the human race, it may be described as lése-majesté exaggerated to the point of enormity. Freedom of speech and freedom of thought are very excellent attributes, but our respect for them ought not to lead us to the toleration of the abuse of licence. Undoubtedly we have done that in the past. No other nation in the world would without severe punishment have allowed even the members of its own Legislature to express sympathy with its enemies, and enter into friendly correspondence with them during a war between the two countries; no other nation is so heedlessly disregardful of openly taught sedition. Our vigilance is keen for printed offences against purity, but similar offences directed against life are ignored.
There would be a special fitness in taking some step of the kind indicated in direct consequence of this outrage. England, during recent years, has been drawn close to America in a bond that should never have been relaxed, and the American President took a great share in helping the change onward. Indeed, nothing is more remarkable in connection with it than the advance he has made himself. A few years ago the McKinley tariff seemed like to hurt British trade most seriously, yet no later than Thursday, at the same Pan-American Congress, he was all but advocating Free Trade. We note this because the real bond of union between the two countries, as he frankly recognised, is commercial. Sentimental considerations are advanced mostly for the benefit of the multitudes, but the policy of statesmen is guided by considerations of interest. And these are really uniting the two countries. It was greatly to Mr. McKinley’s credit that he was quick to see and act upon this. A difficult game he had to play, too! There is in America a party very strongly opposed to this country, and that would probably rejoice if America came to loggerheads with us. Great thanks, therefore, are due to Mr. McKinley’s tact and skill, helped by the wise collaboration of Lord Salisbury, that the various conflicting questions were settled without friction. At the time of the German Emperor’s telegram to President Kruger, it will be remembered that insults were being almost daily showered upon this country by the American Press. England, it is true, did not take them very seriously, because it was considered that twisting the lion’s tail was an ordinary electioneering dodge, but they showed that there was an element on the other side of the Atlantic that might easily have been inflamed into terrible enmity. Instead of that, what recent years have witnessed has been an international exchange of help and sympathy. We stood by the States during their war with Spain, and America refused to have anything to do with the Boer delegates when they went there in the hope of trading upon an alleged hostility.