Publication information
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Source: Catholic World
Source type: magazine
Document type: editorial
Document title: “The Undoing of William McKinley, President”
Author(s): Doyle, A. P.
Date of publication: October 1901
Volume number: 74
Issue number: 439
Pagination: 1-7

Doyle, A. P. “The Undoing of William McKinley, President.” Catholic World Oct. 1901 v74n439: pp. 1-7.
full text
McKinley assassination (religious response); McKinley assassination (religious interpretation); William McKinley (political character); anarchism (impact on Czolgosz); anarchism (religious interpretation); yellow journalism; society (criticism); McKinley assassination (poetry); anarchism (poetry); religion; Leo XIII (public statements).
Named persons
Leon Czolgosz; Mary Sarsfield Gilmore; Emma Goldman; Jesus Christ; William McKinley.
The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 5. Click on the asterisk preceding the footnote to navigate to the location in the text.
* “With patriotism in our hearts, and the flag of our country in our hands, there is no danger of anarchy.”—McKinley’s address in Cleveland, 1894.


The Undoing of William McKinley, President

OUR Chief Magistrate has been cruelly murdered by the hand of an assassin. The circumstances of the dastardly deed could not have been more tragic and at the same time more pathetic.
     President McKinley had risen above all partisan strife and animosities and had become the Chief Magistrate of all the people. He counted no one as his enemy, but on the contrary the probity of his public life commanded the respect and esteem of even those who had been his antagonists in political warfare, while the affection and attention that were bestowed in the inner sanctuary of his domestic life claimed the love of all the people. He was the first citizen of the United States, seeking his country’s good in every act of his administration. He was the supreme representative of American institutions, and stood for all that was high and noble in our national life. He had served his country well from earliest manhood, and he had given the most precious time of his maturer years to her advancement. He had piloted the ship of state through many dangerous shoals out into the open sea of commercial and civic prosperity. We are just entering into a larger sphere of world influence, and becoming an active factor in international politics, and under the guiding hand of William McKinley the power of the United States was likely to become a determining factor in the destinies of nations. Yet withal he lost none of the genuine American spirit of manliness and simplicity. In the performance of his duty as a plain, simple man, protesting his determination to meet his fellow-citizens and extend to them the hand-grasp [1][2] of a fellow, he was stricken down by the insidious bullet of the assassin.
     When the bullet was sent crashing into his vitals the world was stunned. The nations stood aghast at the viciousness of the crime as well as at the dastardly way in which it was conceived and carried to execution, and perchance in the memory of man there has not been such an outpouring of sympathy nor such expressions of respect for the dead President as have come from all classes of the people. The Holy Father “broke down in uncontrollable emotion” when he heard of the crime. The crowned heads of Europe seemed to infuse into their messages of condolence a personal note of affection and esteem that, far more than anything else, demonstrated the fact that President McKinley occupied a place very close to their hearts. The business interests of the world have stopped for the moment to pay their tribute of respect to the beloved dead, and there seems to be no language strong enough to express the horror that fills the hearts of all the people.
     The Twentieth Century is but born, and in all the stretch of years unto hoary old age it is hardly possible to conceive that a crime could be committed more foul in its planning, more wanton in its plotting, more heinous in its execution, than was that of the undoing of William McKinley.
     It is not regicide, for we have no king. It is as yet a nameless crime, a degree baser than regicide, for our Chief Magistrate is of the people, and ruled, not by divine right but by the will of the people; a shade darker than parricide on account of the eminent place held by the victim. It is treason doubly dyed, and it is more.
     But the point is this: Who is there that will interpret its meaning to the people? When Israel of old deflected from the straight ways of righteousness, and went out after strange gods and incurred the wrath of an angry Judge so that calamities were visited on the people, there was found a prophet who interpreted to the nation the ways of God, pointed out to the people their delinquencies, and brought them back in sackcloth and ashes to humble penitence.
     It is not our place to assume the rôle of the prophet of God. But we cannot but ask ourselves, Why has this national calamity been permitted? Are there not some things in the crime itself, or in the tendencies that have led up to it, on account of [2][3] which we may gather between the porch and the altar, and beat our breasts and cry out, “Spare, O Lord, spare Thy people, and give not Thine inheritance to reproach, that the heathen shall rule over them”? Is Czolgosz a half-crazed fanatic, irresponsible, representing nothing but his own wild vagaries, or is he the natural product of a system of teaching, the legitimate outcome of certain degenerate tendencies which have been allowed to persist? He professes that he was impelled to the crime by the vicious teaching of Emma Goldman. There was a purpose in his act, a shrewdness in its execution, a method in his madness that never originated with himself. He is the product of a movement, the outcome of visionary ideas, the logical result of certain established tendencies. In this view of the case he is more than a puny individual, more than a hollow-chested, flabby-muscled degenerate. He is a Frankenstein that we have raised up among us. Nor can we attribute the paternity of this monster to the effete despotisms of the old land. This is the misery of it all. He was born on our own soil, he grew up amidst the liberty-loving children of America. He was fashioned by the tendencies that surrounded him from early manhood. These are all facts that we cannot blink, distasteful as they are to our national pride.
     An effort has been made to lay the blame at the door of newer methods of sensational journalism, and there is undoubtedly a great deal of truth in it. Irresponsible and conscienceless journalism, without any standards but that of money-getting, is the most vicious thing in the world. It wields a power that, unrestrained, can undermine the surest foundations of our most sacred institutions. It can poison the fountains of all that is pure and sweet in the body politic. It can degrade life from its holy ideals and make it a base and blatant vulgarity. It can do this as effectually as the noxious gases escaping into the school-room will take the bloom from the cheek of the innocent child, and make his head reel and his heart faint. But while we lay all manner of accusations at the door of Yellow Journalism, we must remember that there is something else that has made the conscienceless journal a possibility. It could not exist if there was not a demand for it. It panders to an existing taste, increasing it, to be sure, by gratifying it, but it finds in the first instance a conscienceless public to appeal to.
     In the good old days of our fathers, when religion was hon- [3][4] ored and a sense of eternal responsibility pervaded the hearts of the people, and the honor and worship of God filled the souls of the nation, the conscienceless journal could have found no clientèlle on which to thrive. But bit by bit we have lost our hold on religious ideals. There has been a decline of faith. The Bible, which contains much that was helpful to preserve the sweet seriousness of life, has been torn to shreds in the home of its friends. Only a short time ago a non-Catholic wrote a public letter to the Holy Father in Rome, in which he said, and there was found none to gainsay him, that “the Protestant church is fast drifting into infidelity. In many of the great theological seminaries of that church open disbelief in some parts of the Bible is taught. Thousands of the ministers of the Protestant denominations are men who believe that certain parts and books of the Bible need not be accepted. Their position and work have hastened the growth of disbelief in all religion.” This is a terrible accusation to make, and if there were not a good deal of truth in it no man would dare make it, much less one who calls himself a non-Catholic. In shame and confusion we must acknowledge that it is so. While we can only apologize for the intrusion of anything that savors of a lack of charity while the nation’s heart is wrung with grief, still frankness and candor are the truest wisdom. Nor is the blame entirely on one side of the house. We can beat our own breasts and say that we have not done the Lord’s work as well as we might have. We, too, have frequently forgotten the divine ideals and have chased after the lesser things of earth. We have believed that religion is the cement that holds the stones of our national fabric together, and when we attempt to build our civic structure without a belief in God, and a faith in Christ, and a respect for his law, we are erecting a structure that some day will topple down about our heads and destroy us. We have been convinced of this fact, but we have not bestirred ourselves sufficiently to vitalize the spirit of faith, nor have we fostered the religious sentiment as we should have. We have believed in religious education on the theory that “no river can rise higher than its source,” and where there is no infusion of the religious element among the children of the nation there will be none among its manhood, and we have made many sacrifices to make it a reality. But with it all we have fallen short of our ideals.
     A recent poem was published in the Boston Pilot by one of [4][5] our most gifted poets, and it puts in a most startling way these truths that this editorial has tried to make plain. It has not received the recognition it has deserved, and we cannot do better than to quote it in its entirety. It reads like the inspired message of a prophet:


BROTHERS, the blow has fallen, smiting not one, but all;—
Over the world of nations Liberty’s blood-drops fall.
Rally, then, all ye peoples,—one in the common cause,—
Order against sedition,—Order, the first of laws!


While loyal hearts within us glow,
      And flags in hands wave proudly,
 No anarchy can Freedom know!*
      He vaunted over-loudly,
 Whose banner’d hand turned not the dart
 Of anarchy from his own heart!

 Do crime and culprit represent
      Blood-guilt we limit to them?
 Not so! Effect is Cause’s vent!—
      A primal wrong works thro’ them.—
 Trace back the guilt from final course,
 To evil at sedition’s source!


                        This is the evil, this:—
That “Thou shalt not kill!” of the Father’s law,
By decline of faith, has been robb’d of awe.
That the “Love!” of Christ has been slain in strife
For the greed of gold, and the pride of life:—
                        This is the evil!

That “Progression” sets in its vanguard naught
Of Divine to chasten the human thought;—
That we feign the spirit the proud brain’s foe,—
Though their true affinity sages know,—
                         This is the evil!

That the Age of Reason has starved man’s soul,
And the Reign of Science deposed its goal
From the heavens lighted by Truth’s pure star,
To the plane where only earth’s rush-lights are,—
                        This is the evil. [5][6]

That denuding life of Divine Ideal,
We exalt, instead, the clay-footed Real,
And adore and serve, till the truth we face,
That the false god fails in the true God’s place!—
                         This is the evil.

That the seed we sow in our godless pride,
Is the seed of plunder and homicide,
Since relinquish’d Heaven leaves naught of worth,
Save monopoly of the goods of earth:—
                         This is the evil.

That humanity, knowing sense and self
To be slaves of passion, and pride, and pelf,
Yet denies its children diviner good
Than the social creed, Human Brotherhood:
                         THIS IS THE EVIL!


Brothers, the truth is spoken, smiting the ill at root,—
Cursing the seed of evil, judged by its harvest-fruit!
God is the lack of nations, Christ is the lack of men:—
Anarchy’s crime convicts it Faith’s godless alien.

Liberty is not license. Christ on the cruel Tree
Symbols supremest freedom! Hither humanity,
First or last, must turn humbly, searching Diviner ways;
Else are its straying footsteps lost in the social maze.

Face the great truth, my brothers! Murder and hate and greed,
Envy of lofty places, egoist-scales and creed,—
These are the fallen human: only in God abides
Charity,—social keynote singing where Peace presides!

Anarchy’s irreligion failing God, fails mankind.
Christ’s are the only ethics potent to draw and bind
Men unto men as brothers, striving for human good,—
Sons free and equal under God’s common Fatherhood!

This generation passes, slayer and slain alike:—
Late, all too late, to lower hands we have taught to strike!
As we have sown, we garner: but we redeem our blight,
Schooling our sons in lore of God,—Life’s omniscient Light.

Choose, O ye kings and rulers! Choose, O ye courts and schools!
Anarchy reigns red-handed over mere human rules.
Peace and the civic safety bide where the soul-laws are,—
Back to Faith’s social gospel,—God,—and the Christ-Child’s Star!


     It is this same message that the Holy Father in Rome gave to all the world at the opening of the Twentieth Century:
     “The greatest misfortune is never to have known Jesus Christ. Christ is the fountain-head of all good. Mankind can no more be saved without his power than it can be redeemed without his mercy.
     “When Jesus Christ is absent human reason fails, being bereft of its chief protection and light; and the very end is lost sight of for which, under God’s providence, human society has been built up.
     “To reject Dogma is simply to deny Christianity. It is evident that they whose intellects reject the yoke of Christ are obstinately striving against God. Having shaken off God’s authority, they are by no means freer, for they will fall beneath some human sway.
     “God alone is life. All other beings partake of life, but are not life. Christ, from all eternity and by his very nature, is ‘the Life,’ just as he is ‘the Truth,’ because he is God of God. If any one abide not in Me, he shall be cast forth as a branch, and shall wither, and they shall gather him up and cast him into the fire, and he burneth (John XV. 6).
     “Once remove all impediments and allow the spirit of Christ to revive and grow in a nation, and that nation shall be healed.
     “The world has heard enough of the so-called ‘rights of man.’ Let it hear something of the rights of God.
     “The common welfare urgently demands a return to Him from whom we should never have gone astray; to Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life,—and this on the part not only of individuals but of society as a whole.”


     While we lay the tribute of respect at the newly-made grave of our martyred President, let us with reverent pen gently amend his statement made in Cleveland in 1894, when he said: “With patriotism in our hearts, and the flag of our country in our hands, there is no danger of anarchy”;—let us insert “and with religion in our souls,” and he who is now before the great white throne and has a wider range of vision over the affairs of men will not fail to accept the amendment.



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