Source: Collier’s Weekly
Source type: magazine
Document type: editorial
Document title: “The Shooting of President McKinley”
Date of publication: 14 September 1901
Volume number: 27
Issue number: 24
|“The Shooting of President McKinley.” Collier’s Weekly 14 Sept. 1901 v27n24: p. 5.|
|McKinley assassination; presidents (incapacity).|
|Leon Czolgosz; John Hay; Ethan A. Hitchcock; John D. Long; Ida McKinley; William McKinley; John G. Milburn; Thomas Collier Platt; Theodore Roosevelt; Elihu Root; Charles Emory Smith.|
The Shooting of President McKinley
FOR THE THIRD TIME A PISTOL-SHOT HAS added a sad chapter to American history
and created consternation throughout the world. President McKinley was shot
down by an assassin while he stood in the Temple of Music at the Buffalo Exposition
on Friday afternoon, September 6, greeting his fellow citizens.
He had gone to Buffalo on Wednesday in the fullest enjoyment of health and in good spirits. He had taken occasion to deliver what will stand as a memorable utterance on the American policy. On Friday, the customary reception was planned—one of those hand-shaking ordeals to which all Presidents are condemned, although they invite and tempt the fury of unbalanced brains. Mr. McKinley never shirked such a duty. He stood amiably receiving the people, shaking hands with them or exchanging a few words of greeting until about four o’clock in the afternoon. At that hour, a man in the line whose hand was seemingly bandaged presented himself to Mr. McKinley. As he took the President’s hand with his own left, he produced a revolver covered with the false bandage in his right hand and, placing the pistol so near the President’s body that the powder burned the cloth of the coat, he fired two shots. Mr. McKinley fell back into the arms of one of the officers, and it was instantly apparent that he was badly hurt. He bore his wounds like the old soldier that he is and not unused to wounds. His first thought was of his wife. She is an invalid, and always liable to serious illness from mental shock. He asked that the news be withheld from her. Then he called upon the officers not to harm the writhing anarchist who had committed the crime. Finally, as, weak and pain-racked, he was carried from the Temple of Music to the hospital, the thoughtful, kindly gentleman expressed sorrow that he had brought trouble on the Exposition.
The assassin was felled to the ground by men of the Marine Guard and rather roughly handled. He would have been still more roughly handled if the crowd in the Exposition grounds could have had its way. But the police and soldiery kept their heads, and the cowardly criminal, trembling, ashen and pleading for protection after the manner of the anarchist, was carried in safety to a police station. At the moment of his arrest he is said to have exclaimed: “I am an anarchist and I only did my duty.” He first gave the name Frederick Nieman, and later, Leon Czolgosz. He is a Pole, aged twenty-eight, a workingman of average education, a member of the Free Society of Anarchists in Chicago, who came directly from his home in Cleveland to accomplish the murder of the Chief Executive. For weeks he had been planning to take the President’s life. On this particular Friday, while a hundred thousand persons swarmed over the Fair grounds in honor of “McKinley Day,” he had nerved himself for the deed.
One bullet struck the President on the upper portion of the breast bone, glancing and not penetrating; the second bullet penetrated the abdomen five inches below the left nipple and one and a half inches to the left of the median line. The first was extracted, but the other, even after hours of probing, was not found. It was this dangerous wound, hiding the lead, that from the first caused the greatest apprehension to the five physicians and surgeons who were in attendance almost immediately after the event. The sufferer was carried first to the Emergency Hospital on the Exposition grounds, where the second and most serious operation was performed, in the fruitless search for the assassin’s ball; the work of the surgeons being described in a bulletin issued to the public:
“The abdomen was opened through the line of the bullet wound. It was found that the bullet had penetrated the stomach. The opening in the front wall of the stomach was carefully closed with six sutures, after which a search was made for a hole in the back wall of the stomach. This was found and also closed in the same way. The further course of the bullet could not be discovered, although careful search was made. The abdominal wound was closed without drainage. No injury to the intestines or other abdominal organ was discovered.”
Later, the sufferer was conveyed in an automobile ambulance, through cleared streets, past a multitude of sympathetic men and weeping women, to the residence of Mr. John G. Milburn, President of the Exposition, where Mrs. McKinley was awaiting her husband, unaware of the terrible ordeal which was before her. With Mr. McKinley and a hundred guests, she had been spending the day at Niagara Falls, and returned physically exhausted. Because of fear of the effect the news might have upon her, it was withheld as long as possible. When finally told, she was calm.
The country bore the shock with what seemed a reflection of the manly fortitude displayed by Mr. McKinley himself in the presence of death. There was little excitement, except in Buffalo. The report was received at first with incredulity. No one could believe it. Mr. McKinley might have enemies of his politics; that he should have enemies of his person seemed quite unbelievable. What brain so muddled, what heart so malign, as to cherish deadly hatred against a man whose generosity and tenderness are admitted even by his most zealous opponents? But it was not many minutes before the public was forced, against its will and hope, to accept the first news as true. The shock was keen. Probably a good many men echoed Senator Platt’s wish, that the assassin had met summary vengeance at the hands of the mob.
Vice-President Roosevelt, who was in Vermont, started for Buffalo on receipt of the news, as did also nearly every member of the Cabinet. In Washington the report caused a profound sensation. Rumors of attacks upon the President had been so frequent that the story was not as first given credence. Many times the President’s friends had warned him to guard against fanatics. For his country’s sake, if not for his own, he was urged to have a bodyguard whenever he appeared in public. But Mr. McKinley insisted that the American people were too intelligent, too loyal, to harm their Chief Executive. Nevertheless, unknown to him, he was surrounded and accompanied everywhere by Secret Service men. Since last October, more than a score of anonymous letters have been received at the White House, warning Mr. McKinley of a plot to take his life. At the very moment of the murderous attempt, two Secret Service detectives were standing beside the victim.
Within an hour after the shooting, steps were taken to provide for the future of the executive branch of the government. From many parts of the country, the Cabinet ministers started for Buffalo—Secretary Hay from Newbury, New Hampshire; Secretary Long from Buckfield, Maine; Postmaster-General Smith from Philadelphia; Secretary Hitchcock from Dublin, New Hampshire; Secretary Root from Southampton, Long Island; and the others from Washington. As soon as all the Cabinet members reached Buffalo a council was held to decide upon the course to be pursued by the executive branch. Vice-President Roosevelt held himself in readiness to take the place of the Chief Executive; for it was realized that, even under conditions the most favorable, the President’s injuries would make it impossible for him to discharge the duties of his office for months to come, even in a formal way. The obligations imposed upon the Vice-President in a crisis like the one that now confronts the government are outlined in the Constitution thus:
“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.”
Under this clause, as soon as Mr. Roosevelt is called by the senior Cabinet officer, Secretary Hay, to assume the responsibilities of his office, he will become, temporarily, the Chief Executive on the inability clause.