Source: Harper’s Weekly
Source type: magazine
Document type: article
Document title: “The Shooting of the President”
Date of publication: 14 September 1901
Volume number: 45
Issue number: 2334
|“The Shooting of the President.” Harper’s Weekly 14 Sept. 1901 v45n2334: p. 908.|
|McKinley assassination; William McKinley (personal character); McKinley assassination (personal response); anarchism (personal response).|
|Emma Goldman; Humbert I; Ida McKinley; William McKinley; Montesquieu.|
The Shooting of the President
THE President is shot by an anarchist. This was the startling and sobering
announcement made to the country last Friday as the day was drawing to a close
and men and women were in happy anticipation of a peaceful and quiet evening.
As the sudden revelation of the stupendous events recurs, the picture of the
happy republic on the approach of the serene evening plunged into gloom by the
pistol-shot of an assassin is most impressive. The President was spending a
happy day at the great fair. He was surrounded by a group of charming and kindly
people. Throngs of sight-seers greeted his approach and cheered him as he walked
through the buildings. There seemed to be nothing to mar his enjoyment of a
beautiful scene, of welcoming friendship, of a great enterprise whose importance
he had himself advanced by his speech of the day before—a speech whose echoes
were even yet stimulating respectful and approving comment in two hemispheres.
Throughout the country there prevailed the carelessness of the hour following
the end of the business day. If the people thought at all of their President
it was to wish him enjoyment of his holiday. No dream of danger on his account
invaded their contentment, for was he not among his countrymen who loved him,
who had chosen him to be their Chief Magistrate, who loved peace also, and law
and order? Was he not the guest and comrade, at one of its best communities,
of the democracy whose law is supreme and the guardian of its liberty? But who
can foresee what a moment will bring forth? Who can reckon with chance? Who
can count on the vagaries of a mind overturned by long brooding upon criminal
visions and intentions?
In a moment, the anarchist, approaching the President under the guise of friendship, has sped his treacherous bullet into the body of the head of the republic. At once the personal equation of the victim occurs to every sympathetic American. In the long line of Presidents who have held this high office, no one of them was so popular as Mr. M K is. There are Presidents in the list, some of whom we look back to with a feeling of reverence for their greatness, or of admiration for their astuteness, or of sincere regard for their courage and independence, but not one of them all, especially during his term of office, has enjoyed so completely the affection of his fellow-countrymen. Whether men believed with him or opposed his views, they liked him personally. He was possessed of a singular power of winning affection. His amiability was never ruffled. One who knew him well, and who was opposed to one of the President’s policies, said one day, impatiently, “His amiability is his strong point.” Not altogether true, because it was exaggerated, this remark had the heart of the truth in it, for the graciousness of the President won strong men to his way of thinking; it obtained for him and for the cause which he advocated a considerate and a friendly hearing. It nearly always inspired those who came in contact with him a desire to please him. Aiding his amiability, the President has always been captivating and persuasive in argument, and thus it is true that his amiability has been strength. But aside from the power of it, his amiability has been the index of a lovable nature. There is no man who ever had much intercourse with him who has not felt that Mr. M K was tender and affectionate—a man to whom hatred and revenge were strangers, in whose expansive heart there was room for all mankind. To parade domestic affections and to display the virtues of the home is something from which a sensitive man shrinks, but we must allude to the President’s devotion to his wife, for the unhappy circumstances of her invalidism have necessarily made the country familiar with a phase of his character, the special virtue of which he would doubtless be the first to disclaim. For many years the invalid has been the first in the husband’s thoughts, and after he was shot, it was of her that his first thought and first words were. “Break it carefully to Mrs. M K ,” is his first reported sentence.
The personal virtues of Mr. M K are those dear to the American people. A kindly people themselves, they are quick to respond warmly to an amiable and lovable man. In no country in the world are the domestic virtues more highly esteemed and honored than here. The man who lives up to the high standard of the American home is a knight of the order of modern chivalry compared with whom the armored knights of old fade out of poetry and sink into the social marshes of the Middle Ages. To say that W M K has enjoyed the love of men in a singular degree is to express mildly a truth which cannot be fully appreciated except by a personal experience, or by observation of the attitude towards him of those habitually nearest to him. But beyond and even richer than the affection of men like the members of his cabinet were the love and kindly feeling for him of the great masses of his countrymen, many of whom had never seen him, while most of those who had seen him had merely looked at him from a distance, or had listened to him as he spoke from a platform. So it was the common friend of all his countrymen that the anarchist struck down, and the solemn silence of the land betrayed the personal character of the grief which was felt by all. There is no blow more dastardly than that which is struck at the kindly heart.
But awful and inexplicable as is the crime against the individual, there is a sterner and a higher point of view from which to regard this anarchist’s act. It was not only W M K that was struck; it was the President. It was not only the President; it was the Presidency. It was not only the headship of the republic; it was the sacred majesty of the law. The blow of the mad deed was aimed not only at the law, but at the liberty which the law shelters and maintains. This makes the crime larger and blacker than the crime against the man, or his office, or against the government, for it becomes a crime against humanity. This government was established in order that, under it, men might rule themselves and enjoy that more abundant liberty which a hundred years ago, and now, has been held to be only possible under a democracy. The essential purpose of the government is the establishment and maintenance of liberty, and this purpose it seeks to accomplish by law—law under which, as M said, no one can be constrained by an individual’s will or whim; under which there can be no tyranny, on the one hand, or license on the other. The attack upon the President was not directed against W M K , not so much against him as was the murder of the King of Italy an assault upon H , not nearly so much as the murder of the Russian Czar was a hostile act against the house of R , for the Czar is the state itself, and the President is but the servant of the state. The President stands not only for our government, not only for our social system, not only for the law whose machinery is in daily operation before us, but for liberty and the right of self-government, the right to prescribe the rules which shall guarantee to every man dwelling in the land that complete freedom of action which is consistent with his duty to his neighbor, and which shall protect him against the passions and lawlessness of criminals, and the irresponsible fury of the insane. At the head of the institutions which guard these human rights is the President, and it was because he was President that Mr. M K was shot, and the end sought was confessedly the destruction of the Presidency and the republic. There is no blow more treacherous than that which is aimed at the head of a democratic state. This shot was fired against our chosen trustee, and, therefore, against the country.
Anarchists are the common enemies of humanity. Their theory is that laws must be overturned, and that government must cease to exist. Astonishment is expressed that the Pole, coming from a country where the people are oppressed, should extend the hostility which he has felt for emperors to the President of a republic; but there is nothing wonderful in the attitude of this anarchist, or of his fellows who, for several years, have been plotting against the republic as if it were a despotism, a cruel and unjust despotism. The anarchist is not only the vermin of the human race, but he is guided, if it is proper to speak of guidance in respect of one so wholly unrestrained as he, by the same moods, passions, whims, caprices, vanities, and poor ambitions that govern despots and all absolute rulers who are not of the impossible good kind of which modern political philosophers are wont to talk. The anarchist thinks that he wants liberty; but he really wants what the tyrant wants—license for his own passions and desires, a community where he and his kind may live as they please, unhampered by any government, or by their fellows, even to the offence of those fellows whom they would constrain to adopt and follow their notions, and to obey their decrees. It is said that there is no place for anarchists in a republic, but this is only true if we assume that there is a place for anarchists anywhere. In such a republic as our own there is, it is true, no place for revolutionists who want a larger liberty, for their is ample liberty already, and laws for the protection of liberty. But anarchy is insanity. The belief that liberty is possible without law is a delusion, and anarchists will continue to be found here as elsewhere, as long as law reigns, and is therefore an offence to their disordered minds. These minds breed their criminal delusions in other minds. The man who shot the President, and whose name, at this writing, is uncertain, confesses that his inspiration came from the works of E G . This form of insane delusion can be inculcated, and therefore the anarchist becomes a pest, a constant menace of danger, a standing threat to the head of the state, and the state, consequently, owes it to itself, as well as to its faithful servants, that the pest of anarchy be stamped out; that anarchists be treated like dangerous insane persons, but not with that leniency, when murder is committed by them, that is shown to ordinary insane murderers; for, while an anarchist is insane enough to be confined, he is not irresponsible for his criminal acts. According to the laws of this State, the President’s assailant may be punished at the utmost by imprisonment for ten years. It is not enough. He should be confined for life; and all who believe with him, and whose beliefs are made public, should be confined with him. There is no place for anarchists anywhere, but least of all should a republic tolerate them. Disregard of them, neglect of them, lack of precaution against them, have made W M K the victim of a murderous assault, because he is our President, and so long as anarchists are permitted their liberty, every President will be in danger from them.