Liberty and Happiness, in the Light of a Recent
shot within the vivid memory of Americans not old! This is the record
in the freest country on earth. But the latest, and in all the fourth
murderous, attack upon a President is the most significant and threatening.
The earlier assassins were moved by temporary conditions; the latest
acted on a theory which, consistently carried out, would subject
to foul murder all public officials whomsoever; and this theory
is one known to be held not only by a single miscreant, but by other
foreigners in various parts of this country, whose sense of “duty”—the
very word used both by Czolgosz and by the assassin of the Empress
of Austria—may at any time lead to as dastardly a performance as
that at Buffalo.
No wonder that the whole nation has
been profoundly stirred, not merely by sympathy, grief, and indignation,
but by a sense of danger and a desire to do whatever may be wisely
and safely done to prevent a spread of that disease of the mind
and morals which leads to such far-reaching crimes.
While lawyers and laymen, statesmen,
legislators, and others are debating as to possible legal remedies,
a great deal of good is being done by discussions in the press and
elsewhere of general and moral, rather than legal and specific,
remedies. It is very much to be hoped that these discussions may
have a powerful effect upon that public opinion which is the ultimate
and supreme lawmaker and ruler of communities.
In the first place, the guardians
of public morals have been given a text from which to preach against
all forms of violence. The wretch who attacked President McKinley
seems to have been inspired directly by the enunciation of anarchical
doctrines; but in a country where illegal, violent, and murderous
acts are constantly being performed by mobs of citizens who take
the law into their own hands and hang, shoot, and burn human beings
“for the public good,” in such a country how can it be expected
that individuals will not sometimes act on their own peculiar theories
of “public good” and perform executions without warrant of law?
So much as to the possible effect
of conspicuous and illegal acts of violence. But violence of speech,
as is now clearly shown,—and as was shown, also, in the case of
the Chicago anarchists,—leads surely to violent action. The ravings
of anarchists, it is evident again, lead directly to murders by
anarchists. Cause and effect work as exactly in the psychological
as in the obviously physical domain.
There is a wholesome appreciation,
moreover, at the present crisis, of the fact that professed anarchists
are not the only promoters of anarchical sentiment in America. The
sordid and assumed friendship of “yellow journalism” with the working-man
whom it deceives and deludes has led to utterances which may prove
as dangerous as any emanating from the convinced, or demented, or
solely criminal advocates of anarchy. Now and again the decent portion
of the community has a period of intense realization of the demoralizing
influence of the “loathsome press”; such a period is now upon us;
it will be interesting to note how long this revival of indignation
will last. 
Again, there is a new sense of the
danger of allowing proper and patriotic criticism of the public
action of a national Executive to pass over into abuse so violent
as to be little less than an instigation to murder. This is an outrage
difficult to regulate by law, but easily regulated by public opinion.
Personal vilification and gross caricature of a nation’s chosen
representative and chief magistrate should be abhorrent and unendurable
to a self-respecting people.
The words “Liberty and Happiness”
were always being joined in the speeches and writings of the founders
of our republic. The phrase represented the ideal toward which the
world, by its most liberal and sympathetic leaders, earnestly and
hopefully strove. “Liberty and Happiness” were supposed to have
been established by the written constitutions of the United States
and certain other countries, and by the unwritten constitutions
of others; and indeed there has been a genuine advance, we believe,
in human liberty and in human happiness. But this country is finding
out, through painful experiences, that our “free government” does
not make certain all forms of happiness; it does not insure our
system from deadly attack in the person of its rulers; it does not
make our whole Senate pure; it does not, in itself, save all our
State and municipal governments from corruption. When a people has
obtained its freedom, it may be only beginning to learn the lesson
of self-government. There are ill-regulated minds, even in a republic
like ours, that interpret freedom as license, and would make free
speech the handmaid to free murder.
The opening of the twentieth century
is crowded with events that should induce sober reflections and
lead to strenuous efforts to supplement our liberty with those virtues
that alone can preserve a state and make the happiness of its people
an inalienable possession.