Publication information
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Source: Gunton’s Magazine
Source type: magazine
Document type: editorial
Document title: “The Responsibility of Public Opinion”
Author(s): anonymous
Date of publication: October 1901
Volume number: 21
Issue number: 4
Pagination: 305-08

“The Responsibility of Public Opinion.” Gunton’s Magazine Oct. 1901 v21n4: pp. 305-08.
full text
McKinley assassination (personal response); yellow journalism (role in the assassination); New York Journal; William Jennings Bryan; Johann Most (public statements); anarchism (causes); anarchism (personal response).
Named persons
William Jennings Bryan; Leon Czolgosz; Abraham Lincoln; William McKinley; Johann Most [variant first name below]; George Washington.
Click here to view the preceding editorial appearing in the magazine (which the opening sentence below refers to).


The Responsibility of Public Opinion

But, when all this is done, the most vital phases of the subject will still be left untouched. We need a new type of public opinion with reference to the nature and value of our institutions,—governmental, industrial, and social. There is in this country a dark background of public suspicion and bitterness, directed towards capitalistic interests and indirectly against government as the supposed tool of these interests. This inflamed sentiment is continuously renewed and fostered by the sensational press and political demagogues in every quarter of the union. For years, capitalists have been held up as public enemies, and government officials assailed as uniformly corrupt and in disgraceful league with organized wealth for the systematic plundering of the poor. For example, the very papers which have been showering the most profuse eulogies upon Mr. McKinley, and picturing most lavishly the pathos and horror of the tragedy at Buffalo, are the ones which have most persistently and offensively held him up to public ridicule and scorn, and assailed his entire conduct of public affairs as either contemptible or despotic or both. Note, for example, the following as illustrating [305][306] the tone of the editorials that appeared in a New York evening paper after the assassination:

     “With the closing of the tomb at Canton yesterday the career of William McKinley took its place high in the archives of the republic. We may be sure that the record will be bright.  .  .  .  There are two factors in statesmanship. One is the faculty of knowing what ought to be done; the other is the faculty of knowing how to do it. Some have one and not the other. These are one-sided and only partially successful. McKinley acquired both.  .  .  .  Power was like sunshine to him; it brought out all that was best in his mind.  .  .  .  The president will occupy a niche of his own—not quite on a level with those occupied by Washington, the father of his country, and Lincoln, its Savior, but high enough to keep him forever in our minds and hearts.”

     This appeared in the New York Evening Journal, on the very page where for two or three years, up to the very time of the tragedy, has appeared a series of cartoons representing Mr. McKinley as a contemptible object of ridicule, fathered by the combined trusts and nursed by a corrupt political boss. It was left for an anarchist, the notorious John Most, to make probably the most pointed of all comments on this sort of abomination. Most is reported as saying, in an interview:

     “Look at the caricatures where your president is portrayed in a way that would make even a bootblack ashamed. Is it a wonder that this Czolgosz permits himself to be incited? These pictures daily show the president as a foolish little man. Such ridicule affects the ignorant mind.”

     On the Monday before the assassination, Mr. Bryan appeared before what are described as “two enormous audiences” in Kansas City, the keynote of his addresses being the declaration that “each decade of our history shows greater production of wealth, and the men who produce it have less to show for it.” If this were true, and the process were destined to go on indefinitely, the outcome of course would be universal starvation, a prospect quite sufficient to incite anarchistic uprising against all kinds of existing institutions, governmental or industrial. The Journals and Bryans, and all of similar [306][307] type who have indulged in this indiscriminate and bitter railing, probably do not realize the extent of their share of responsibility for the activity of the anarchist propaganda, but the responsibility is there none the less. Once convince the masses that the hand of the rich and of the government is immovably against them, and that their lot is growing more and more desperate every year, and out of this hotbed of misinformed hatred some one is sure to emerge with a revolutionary or murderous remedy which, to his brutal mind at least, will alone give reparation and revenge.
     The anarchist movement is not a single-handed, unsupported thing in American life. It has a background, furnished by the literature of envy and the language of demagogy, upon which it feeds and from which it draws encouragement and reckless determination. Anarchism is the concentrated expression and outcome of this inflamed public sentiment, in quite the same way that Czolgosz in turn is the still further concentrated expression and outcome of the anarchist movement. The propaganda and its tools come to us from Europe, but the background and encouragement for its operations have been furnished here at home,—furnished through pandering to the lowest passions and playing upon ignorance in the hope of gain or of political preferment. This had become so patent a fact that when the Buffalo tragedy occurred these sensation mongers, as if by one accord, seemed to realize the extent of public indignation that would break upon them, and sought safety in a lightning face-about and utterly disgusting pretence [sic] of profound veneration for the suffering victim, both as a statesman and a man. The contemptible spectacle will deceive no one; and if the result could be such a revulsion of public feeling as would discredit everywhere the influence of this type of political hypocrisy and incipient anarchism in our public [307][308] affairs, a long step would be taken towards checking the revolutionary tendencies it has helped create.



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