Publication information
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Source: Modern Culture
Source type: magazine
Document type: article
Document title: “Emma Goldman and the Cleveland Anarchists”
Author(s): Dennis, Howard
Date of publication: November 1901
Volume number: 14
Issue number: 3
Pagination: 180-82

Dennis, Howard. “Emma Goldman and the Cleveland Anarchists.” Modern Culture Nov. 1901 v14n3: pp. 180-82.
full text
anarchism (Cleveland, OH); Emma Goldman (public addresses); Franklin Club (Cleveland, OH); Liberty Club (Cleveland, OH); Emma Goldman (impact on Czolgosz).
Named persons
Leon Czolgosz; Emma Goldman; James Martin; William McKinley.
A drawing of the author appears on page 180 of this article.


Emma Goldman and the Cleveland Anarchists

     The confession of Leon Czolgosz in which he states that his “brain was fired” by a speech of Emma Goldman’s which he heard in Cleveland last May lends interest to the meeting of the “Liberty Club,” at which her speech was delivered and which the writer attended in the interest of law and order. For several years much of my time has been given to political work among the workingmen of Cleveland. Observing the rapid growth of anarchistic sentiment and violent utterance among certain cliques of laboring men, I fell into the habit of attending the meetings of the “Franklin Club,” an association of radical thinkers whose proceedings and speeches were much quoted in the newspapers and were often on the lips of the men whom I was trying to influence politically. I occasionally spoke at these meetings in opposition to the radical sentiments expressed by members of the club, and several times was forced to apply for police protection while my speech was being delivered. As far back as the spring of 1898 this club was addressed by Emma Goldman in a speech, full of fiery denunciation of law, morality, and the church, and seasoned with treasonable references to the Spanish War, then in progress.

     The capitalists of this country have no business to involve us in a war with Spain. The common people do not want war. The blowing up of the Maine is no excuse. It is no crime to blow up warships. All of them belong at the bottom of the sea. So-called patriotism is nothing more than idiocy or slavery.

     These were only diversions, however, from her main theme, which was an assault on morality, whether its basis was the teaching of the Bible, the statute book, public opinion, or something else.

     In no country save America is there a thinking man or woman who will admit a belief in the God of the Bible. The church has been succeeded by the law, but the law is as criminal as the church. If we take the laws of society or the statute books for our guidance we shall be as corrupt as if we followed the teachings of the Bible. It makes no difference whether the law is made by the majority or not, it is equally vicious. The only true standard of morality is that established by the [180][181] individual. I do not favor killing but we are human and cannot help being desperate when we hear of such things as the acquittal of Sheriff Martin and his deputies. Under such circumstances no one can be blamed for taking the law into his own hands, not from an ethical standpoint, perhaps, but in self-defense.

     After Miss Goldman had finished, the Chair announced that five minute speeches would be in order and I secured the floor, replying to her with more heat, perhaps, than persuasiveness, and said in part:

     When I first saw Emma Goldman this afternoon there came over me a feeling of pity and sympathy for the little woman who was booked to speak to the rough and ungodly crowd here assembled; but after listening to her for over an hour advocating her infamous doctrines of anarchy and free love, my feeling of pity and sympathy is turned into one of utter loathing and contempt. Truly we have witnessed this afternoon the spectacle of a ‘woman’s eloquence skilled in grace, a devil’s purpose with an angel’s face!’ Poor, misguided woman! Would to God that your feet had been engaged in rocking the cradle of an innocent babe and your voice had been lifted in the sweet song of a lullaby instead of preaching anarchy to the American people. I blush for the fair name and Christian fame of the city of Cleveland where such a crowd can be gathered on God’s holy day to listen to, cheer, and applaud such unlawful, treasonable, and immoral sentiments.

     I was interrupted at this point, as my time had expired; but it was clear that the sympathy of the audience was with her, and not with me, and I left the hall heartsick over the influence of such a woman and such a speech as I had listened to upon the base passions and excited imaginations of her misguided followers.
     This meeting took place March 13, 1898, more than three years ago. Since then this high priestess of anarchy has visited Cleveland three times, speaking twice each time to crowded houses. The last occasion was on Sunday, the fifth of last May, when Leon Czolgosz was present. This was under the auspices of the “Liberty Club,” made up of the more radical members of the old “Franklin Club,” before which the first address was delivered. Through some misrepresentation this club of anarchists had secured the use of Memorial Hall, the meeting place of Memorial Post, G. A. R., on Superior street. Here, where grizzled veterans of the Civil War were wont to gather in loving commemoration of comrades whose lives had been laid on the altar of their country, was launched the thunderbolt which, taking lodgment in the weak and cowardly brain of Leon Czolgosz, set fire to the tinder of his Slavonic nature, steeled his muscles and nerved his arm to the terrible deed we all lament. The bullet was the assassin’s, but the powder behind the bullet was exploded by the criminal suggestion of a woman whose every word was calculated to do the utmost mischief, with the least possible danger to herself.
     The police were present at the meeting, but, although the whole harangue was an incitement to vice and crime, an arraignment of all restraint, all decency, all law and order, they, in the name of “free speech,” refrained from interference. We value greatly the right to the free utterance of our opinions in this country; but it may be questioned whether “free speech” should carry with it liberty to attack in public places the foundations of society, marriage, the family, government, the Church, and religion. Emma Goldman said:

     It was the Church that made marriage sacred. It was the Church that instituted the dog’s license that man buys and places about a woman’s neck. Without marriage and without marriage vows and contracts there would be no vice. The only marriage contract that should be recognized should be where love on the part of man is acknowledged on the part of woman and the two should separate as soon as they tire of the agreement.

     Although a score or more of young girls, who had every appearance of respectability, were in attendance on the meeting, she endorsed the most repellent vices, and compelled those present to blush from time to time, for shame and mortification. Miss Goldman attacked the Church with especial virulence. She branded all preachers as “human leeches and parasites” and said that people who supported churches were leagued together to destroy human liberty and freedom.

     Before true liberty and freedom come to the human race all churches and governments must be destroyed and it is my mission to take part in the work. All men who enlist in armies and navies and fight to uphold the government in this country or any other are fools. I do not believe in violence or in taking human life; but desperate evils require desperate remedies, and in this country things [181][182] are getting desperate. We are being robbed of our freedom by churches, religion, and government. Capital is grinding the working classes into the dust, and men are standing it until they can stand it no longer. Then they will take the matter into their own hands and use the only means at their disposal for redress. We hear of the assassination of emperors and kings—the King of Italy falls, the President of France falls, and the hand that strikes the blow strikes in the name of outraged justice. Then all so-called civilization holds up its hands and cries a great crime has been committed. I do not approve of violence or assassination; but when it does take place the man who strikes the blow is a hero. He has done what others who are suffering from oppression have not the courage to do.

     I felt at the time that the intention of the speaker was to inflame the minds of some of her hearers to the commission of acts of violence of which she professed in one breath not to approve, and on which in the next she set the seal of her highest approval by calling the perpetrator a hero; but I little dreamed of the terrible crime which was to spring from the seed she there let fall into the brain of a man I saw watching her with the fascinated eyes of a hypnotic subject. If ever the power of a criminal suggestion over a mind that yields to mesmeric influence was clearly revealed, it was in the influence which this speech by Emma Goldman exercised upon the brain of Leon Czolgosz, impelling him to the assassination of William McKinley.
     For my part I was most impressed with the dishonor which the speech cast upon the old soldiers whose hall was pressed into such treasonable service, and in my reply I defended the honor, patriotism, and intelligence of the men who had fought in the Civil War, and contrasted them and their sacrifice for country, with the selfishness, cowardice, and brutality which are the distinguishing features of anarchists everywhere. I fear, however, that my words were lost on that audience. The jeers and cat-calls which greeted and interrupted me showed too plainly where its sympathies lay. In the city of Cleveland there are at least three thousand or four thousand men, or about one per cent of the population, who have listened to the doctrine of Emma Goldman and who may be classed as anarchists.
     What a magazine of dangerous combustibles they form has been shown in the case of Czolgosz. Must we, in the name of free speech, permit the spark to be applied to this collection of giant powder, whenever it suits the purposes of some ranting radical to harangue them on the tyranny of government? This it seems to me would be to sacrifice the substance of our liberties to an empty show and must certainly lead to disaster.




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