Publication information
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Source: Collier’s Weekly
Source type: magazine
Document type: article
Document title: “The Crime at Buffalo”
Author(s): Wellman, Walter
Date of publication: 21 September 1901
Volume number: 27
Issue number: 25
Pagination: 8

Wellman, Walter. “The Crime at Buffalo.” Collier’s Weekly 21 Sept. 1901 v27n25: p. 8.
full text
McKinley assassination (personal response); William McKinley (medical care: personal response); presidential assassination; anarchism (dealing with).
Named persons
James A. Garfield; Lucretia Garfield; John W. Griggs; Charles J. Guiteau; William McKinley.
The article below is accompanied on the same page with four photographs. The three photographs at the top of the page are credited to Collier’s Weekly staff photographer James H. Hare and captioned as follows (left to right): “Waiting for Their Turn to Shake the President’s Hand” [exterior photograph of crowd outside the Temple of Music]; “The Vice-President;” and “The President’s Carriage Waiting outside the Temple of Music.” The single photograph at the bottom of the page is credited to O. E. Dunlap and bears the following caption: “The President and Mr. Milburn at Niagara Falls the Day Before Mr. McKinley Was Shot.”


The Crime at Buffalo

AT FOUR O’CLOCK on the afternoon of Friday, September 6, President McKinley was struck down by an anarchist’s bullet. When the country heard the news it turned aside to weep. With the fuller accounts of the next morning it only dared to indulge a faint hope. Sunday hope was stronger. Monday smiles were seen upon the faces which on Saturday last became wet with tears.


     A rapid story of this most extraordinary episode in our national history is a story of crime—whether deep-laid plot or individual action alone cannot now be told—of a great people plunged in grief, of prompt and skilful action by the surgeons, and of American emotionalism quickly mounting from the slough of despond to the heights of a characteristic and wholesome national optimism.
     That President McKinley did not succumb almost immediately to the assassin’s bullet is due to the accomplished surgeons who wielded the knife with so much skill.
     Fate, or luck, or Providence, or whatever you choose to call it, had something to do with it, too. The assassin, after letting a dozen chances to do his work slip by him, chose a moment when the President stood within a few hundred feet of one of the best-equipped emergency hospitals in the world. There were ready at hand instruments, anæsthetics, all the appliances and auxiliaries of modern surgery. No waiting for anything, no long journey to a place of refuge.


     In less than an hour after he was hurt the President had been operated upon by a man whose reputation was already spread far and wide as an expert in abdominal cases.
     The President was indeed most fortunate in his doctors. Not only has surgery made more progress than any other branch of medical science during the last twenty years, since Garfield fell a victim to Guiteau’s bullet, but President McKinley’s surgeons all worked in perfect harmony. It is a curious circumstance that Mr. McKinley always believed Garfield’s life might have been saved had he had proper surgical attention. Mr. McKinley was a great favorite of Garfield’s and of Mrs. Garfield’s, and he knew the whole wretched story of the Garfield medical scandal.
     As soon as the members of the Cabinet and other prominent men who had hastened to Buffalo had recovered from the shock of the first announcement of the shooting, they began to discuss ways and means of suppressing anarchy in this country and of guarding the life of a President hereafter. It is agreed that some way must be found to inflict more fitting punishment upon such criminals as this wretched Pole, whether or not they succeed in their murderous attempts. The worst the law can do for a criminal who tries but fails to kill the President is to sentence him to ten years in prison, with three years to come off for good behavior.


     Next winter Congress will doubtless enact a law which ex-Attorney-General Griggs is now drafting—a law declaring an assault upon the President of the United States to be treason, punishable with death. If it is treason to fire upon the flag, which is merely the insensible emblem of national authority, why should it not be treason to fire upon the man whose brain and heart and hand are the executive authority of the Republic? A nation is entitled to protect itself. To protect itself it must protect its rulers, since their destruction at a critical moment might mean the downfall of the nation itself. The power to protect implies the power to punish. American public opinion, it is believed, will sustain such a law. In our Republic we do not want lèse-majesté in the sense that a disrespectful word spoken of the President may consign its utterer to prison. But we do draw the line at force and assassination.


     As to a crusade against anarchism, there are different opinions in Administration circles. All wish to destroy anarchism, but some fear that rigorous repressive measures will serve only to stir up other deeds of violence. It has so worked in Europe. The anarchists, hunted and persecuted, believe it is a war of forces. They nerve themselves for the struggle. Like snakes, they crawl around till a good opportunity comes to strike. In all the world there is no more complicated and difficult problem than this of eradicating anarchism; and there can be no more hopeless theory than the one that we dare not lift a finger lest we stir the snakes to greater activity.
     But there seems no hope for one of our American ideals. We have long been proud of the fact that our Presidents are of the people, and that they may mingle with the people without fear of harm. But this fearless practice, miscellaneous hand-shaking, indiscriminate receptions, unnecessary exposure of the life of the chief of the nation, must cease. So all have agreed in the councils at Buffalo. It is painful to give up a cherished national ideal, but better that than a recurrence of such a crime as that of Friday, September 6.



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