Cowardly Murder—McKinley and Czolgosz
To kick or strike a man when he is
down and disarmed, even though an enemy, is always considered a
mean act, a cowardly act—an act that no honorable or brave man will
be guilty of.
To kick or strike an unarmed, unresisting
or surrendered enemy, so hard that he dies from the effect of the
blow, is usually considered murder, cowardly murder, and punished
On the sixth of last month, at the
Buffalo Exposition, a murder was committed. It was a treacherous
act, a stupid, idiotic crime, but it was not a cowardly murder.
McKinley was not down, and though himself unarmed he was closely
guarded by armed men—an instructive commentary, by the way, upon
our costly police service when these well-paid guardians of the
official head of the national government allowed their charge to
be approached by an unknown man with his right hand muffled in a
handkerchief, and this hand tucked away under the lappel [sic] of
Yes, it was a treacherous murder,
because, like unto Ehud, Joab, Jael and other Bible heroes and heroines,
Czolgosz approached his victim under the guise of friendship, and
without giving warning of his murderous intent; but it was not a
cowardly murder. The assailant knew full well, if not wholly demented,
that if he succeeded in his purpose his own life would be forfeited
to the Christian’s code of justice. To do that which will bring
certain death to the doer is not commonly called a cowardly act.
* * *
But what of the electrocution that
is to take place Oct. 31, within the silent walls of the Auburn
The victim in this case will be down;
he will be unarmed and helpless. He has long since surrendered to
superior force. He has long since acknowledged his mistake—provided
reports do not lie; says he does not know why he fired the fatal
shot, and is sorry he did it. His assailant, the executioner, will
not meet him on equal terms, but will be armed with the means to
kill. And not one assailant alone, but the entire force of the prison
guards, and these backed by the armies and navies of a nation numbering
more than seventy millions of people, will do the killing.
Under such very unequal conditions,
will not the killing of the helpless prisoner Czolgosz be ?
C murder? Murder such as the “roughs”
and “toughs” of frontier life would scorn to be guilty of?
Yes, the killing of the man McKinley
was a crime, one of the very worst of the calendar. A crime because
it was committed against a
against a ; for mark you! the ruler
was not hurt at all. Rulership went on all the same as before, and
would have gone on if Roosevelt and all the officers of the national
government had been slain. Rulership would have gone on if the ,
as such, had been slain, for the nation means simply the officials
of the artificial machine called the national government. The people
would have remained, but with their present superstitious notions
about government they would at once have elected a new set of rulers.
Like the frogs in the fable they must have rulers if for no other
purpose than to be devoured by them.
Yes, the act of Czolgosz was a crime,
not against McKinley alone—to whom as a man life was probably as
sweet as to any other man; as sweet, perhaps, as to the overworked
and underpaid father of a numerous family, such as McKinley did
not have—but a crime against the cause of the working man and woman,
a crime against the cause of human liberty and justice, in whose
behalf it is supposed the deed was committed. Hence it was
than a crime, it was a political ,
which, as can easily be shown, is worse than an ordinary crime,
because it has the power of multiplying itself manifold.
Czolgosz had seen and felt, doubtless,
the utter powerlessness of the working people as against the monopolistic
trusts. He had seen, perhaps, the cartoons, “Willie and his Papa,”
in the daily papers, representing McKinley as the product or child
of the trusts, and imagined, illogically imagined, that if he could
kill the child the parent would die; which is simply another way
of saying that if he could kill a ruler he would kill rulership—with
the result that while the man McKinley is dead rulership still lives;
rulership is more alive, much more alive than ever before. The trusts
are much more firmly established than ever before, because now they
have their !
* * *
It was the martyrdom of the Nazarene
reformer and of his apostles that made creedal Christianity a success.
It was the martyrdom of Abraham Lincoln, more than any other one
thing, that made nationalism a success in this country. It was the
martyrdom of Julius Cæsar that made Roman imperialism a success,
and no event in our political history has given such impetus to
the drift towards imperialism as has the assassination, the martyrization
of William McKinley by Leon Czolgosz.
And what is imperialism? What but
the concentration of irresponsible power in the hands of one man
or of a few men. In former times power meant militarism, mainly.
Now it means , mainly, with
the military arm to enforce its behests.
What is this but Mark Hannaism, J.
Pierpont Morganism, Schwabism, Rockefellerism, behind the national
Yes, the crown of martyrdom placed
upon the head of William McKinley was all that was needed, two months
ago, to establish imperialistic commercialism as the recognized
policy of our national government. The pocket pistol of Leon Czolgosz
supplied the long-felt want, and now, henceforth and forever, he
who says a word or writes 
a line against the , or against
the figure-heads that they may set up, shall be deemed guilty of
treason, and dealt with as a traitor against the national government,
the plutocratic empire.
* * *
But just here there comes a suggestion
that perhaps the martyr business may be
There is a proverb which says, it is a poor rule that wont [sic]
work both ways. If the pistol of Czolgosz set the crown of martyrdom
upon the head of William McKinley, may not the electric bolt of
a New York sheriff do the same thing for Leon Czolgosz; and may
not the canonization of McKinley’s assassin lead to other assassinations?
If McKinley’s name will go down to
posterity as the martyr of and for capitalistic imperialism, will
not that of Czolgosz be regarded by many as fit company for Leonidas,
the immortal Spartan; of Arnold Winkelreid, the deliverer of Switzerland;
of Joan of Arc, and of thousands more who in all the ages have bravely
thrown their lives away in the forlorn hope that humanity, the larger
self-hood, would profit by the sacrifice?
* * *
Let me not be misunderstood. Most
sincerely do I desire to do no injustice to the memory of these
two men. Regarding the earthly career of both as now run, I would
say that neither did anything in life to merit the canonization
of martyrdom. Neither was a hero, a philanthropist or benefactor
of his race, in any large sense or degree, and yet it is probable
if not certain that each did what he thought to be right and best
under the circumstances. Neither was exceptionally good or exceptionally
bad. With like heredity and environment I myself would have done
as McKinley did, and with like heredity and environment I would
have done as Czolgosz did. Each was probably the slave of “duty,”
as each understood that much used and much abused term.
What more can be said?
Praise and blame are alike irrational,
illogical, unphilosophical. McKinley was an opportunist; a very
capable man, a very practical man, with instincts that led him to
side with the rich and powerful few, rather than with the poor and
oppressed masses. Hence he easily persuaded himself that a strong
centralized government in the hands of a few strong and capable
rulers was better for all concerned than any attempt at self-government
by the poor, the ignorant, the incapable. In his youth he
took the sword—to invade the people of the south,—and in his riper
years he sent his armies to invade the people of the Philippines,
and in his case is now fulfilled the saying, “He that taketh the
sword shall be slain by the sword”—figuratively speaking.
Czolgosz was in most things the counterpart
or exact opposite of the man whose life he cut short—he and the
medical doctors! Czolgosz was impractical—a dreamer, as I take it—incapable
of adapting himself to his environment. Had he been capable of becoming
a monopolist, he too might have been found among the oppressors
of the poor and the weak.
But why go on! To sum up:
Our irrational, artificial, anti-natural,
conventional, tradition-ruled human society will continue giving
birth to McKinleys and Czolgoszes, especially the latter, until
awakes to a sense of its responsibility,
and demands the conditions necessary to create a better race of
human beings. Then and not till then, will rulers cease to rule,
and assassins cease to kill rulers.