(Stray Leaves in Commemoration of the 29th October,
When I think of Leon Czolgosz I reproach
myself for having indifferently passed by, without a kind and tender
word, an outraged and deeply-wounded soul.
It happened thus.
On the 12th of July, 1901, a party
of friends met at the Chicago railroad station to bid adieu to our
departing comrade Emma Goldman.
As the train left, a friend remarked
to me, “There is a fellow from Cleveland here who asks very peculiar
questions. If we do not wish to be bored by him, we must make our
escape.” We went our way without taking leave of the rest.
The man from Cleveland was Leon Czolgosz.
He had just arrived in Chicago and called upon the publishers of
“Free Society” at the very moment when they were leaving for the
railroad station. Czolgosz was invited to accompany them.
I had but a casual glance at the man.
His picture, however, revealed to me a soul out of harmony with
the world about it, shrinking from the coarse touch of life and
finding shelter in its own seclusion.
His was a face with childlike eyes,
full of eager questioning. Confronted with the cruel complexities
of life they would express shyness and helplessness. It was a face
that indicated a singular combination of tenderness and extreme
daring. His was a composite character that reminded me of Souvarin
in Zola’s “Germinal.”
The latter shed tears of anguish over
the death of his beloved squirrel; but the sight of slavish submission
of the striking miners, driven back to work by hunger, exasperates
him. He is so infuriated by the cowardly spirit of these slaves
that he dooms them to perish in the mines. At night he descends
into the shafts and, at the risk of his own life, he saws through
the supporting pillars. He goes about his work coolly and without
hesitation. In the morning he indifferently suffers the miners to
go down to certain death. 
The official history of revolutionary
acts of violence is absolutely bare of psychological data. It pictures
Ravachol, for instance, as an extremely cruel and heartless man;
yet there are numerous incidents which prove him to have been unusually
kind and tender.
This combination of extreme tenderness
and cruelty is only an apparent contradiction. Supersensitiveness
to suffering and injustice often is the richest soil that fertilizes
hatred of the forces that cause human suffering.
The act of Czolgosz was the explosion
of inner rebellion; it was directed against the savage authority
of the money power, and against the government that aids its mammonistic
But few characteristic incidents of
the personality and life of Leon Czolgosz are known.
Reared under the lash of poverty and
the tyranny of the home, he passed a wretched and joyless childhood.
This misery soon forced the tender youth upon the block of modern
slavery. Driven and kicked about in the industrial treadmill, unable
to adjust himself to the demands of commonplace existence, he was
often the target for the brutality and scorn of his colleagues.
It were too much to demand that the
psychological keenness of the manufacturers of public opinion should
concern itself with the motives and feelings of such an unimportant
individual. Their wonderful ingenuity was exhausted by the blood-curdling
portrayal of the man in dime novel style. These scribblers, as well
as the mentally stagnated mass, considered the Czolgosz problem
solved when the Auburn executioner had completed his horrible work.
Even the revolutionists and anarchists
of this country have added nothing that would serve to silhouette
the personality and act of the man upon the background of those
black days. He was unknown to them; he seldom frequented their gatherings.
Unaided he meditated upon our terrible social contrasts. Inevitably,
his reflections crystallized in the conviction that the social hell
in which the majority of mankind endured the agony of the damned,
must be abolished. His soul craved freedom and he longed to hear
the trumpet of the liberating battle. 
His naive questions about the existence
of secret revolutionary societies merely proved his belief in the
necessity of an uncompromising fighting organization, implacably
waging war against existing conditions. He sought spiritual companionship,
yet found nothing but disruption, animosity and pettiness—lack of
courage and initiative.
His vague, indefinite yearnings gradually
ripened into the quiet determination to carry out an independent
act—an act to bring relief to his own oppressed soul and possibly
disturb the lethargy of the masses.
For various reasons the motives and
character of Czolgosz were ignored. Peter, the most jealous disciple
of Christ, at the critical moment denied his master, vowing that
he knew not this law-breaker. Such is the historical fate of him
that stakes his life for an ideal. The experience with the “human,
all-too-human” found a repetition after the shot at Buffalo. But
few sought the explanation within the spirit of our times; the rest
failed to realize that it was the bursting of a human heart, quivering
under the pressure of an unbearable life.
It required neither judgment nor wit
to prate about the “normality” or “insanity” of the man. I know
of no instance in the revolutionary annals where a man faced a condemning
world so absolutely alone and forsaken,—a world of cold, cruel judges
flippantly passing the sentence of death. But lo! the contrast between
the executioners and the simple grandeur of their victim.
One there was that dared to voice
human sentiments in an article published in “Free Society,” October
As the governmental and press flunkies
strenuously endeavored to associate the author with the Buffalo
tragedy, such an expression of sympathy, at such a time, was courageous
The act of September 6th still affects
me like the lifting of a veil designed to hide a dangerous truth.
For years we are maintaining the illusion that no social question
exists in this country; that our republic has no place for
the struggle of poor and rich. The voices of the deep, crying of
human misery and distress, were 
thought to be silenced by the formula, “We are free and equal in
this country; we have no social problems here.” The empty phrase
of political liberty has been made to serve as a panacea for all
social ills. Those that dare to suggest that political freedom is
but a farce, so long as social and economic slavery exists, are
branded criminals. Mere declarations of independence and political
rights dissolve into nothing if the few may monopolize the earth,
control the sources of subsistence, and thus force mankind to a
life of poverty and servitude. Under such conditions alleged political
liberty is but a means to blind the masses to the real necessities
of the times, and to create artificial campaign issues, the solution
of which is in reality of little consequence to the general welfare.
All this was echoed to me by the Buffalo
shot. McKinley fell as the first and chief representative of a republic,
the main mission of which is to protect by force the wealth stolen
from the people.
This mission of government—the violent
suppression of every human right—becomes more accentuated with the
growing intensity of commercial and industrial exploitation.
In the 80’s, the labor movement for
an eight-hour workday was forcibly subdued, and five men judicially
killed at Chicago. Under the régime of President Cleveland the Federal
forces are employed as the executioners of striking workingmen.
Capitalists wire for soldiers and their demand is readily complied
with at the White House. The last true Democrat, John. P. Altgeld,
protests as Governor of Illinois against this arbitrary invasion
of State rights. For this crime he later pays with his political
life. What? Shall the government not serve monopolists à la Pullman?
What else is it here for?!
The régime of McKinley proved even
more servile. It lost no opportunity in aiding capitalism in mercilessly
crushing the aspirations of labor. The use of Federal troops during
strikes becomes a daily occurrence. Thus the mask slowly falls from
the lying Goddess. Her chief priest, however, proudly carries his
starched dignity and pretended piety. 
McKinley personified at once social
corruption and political servility. Indeed, he was the ideal President
of the secret kings of the republic; both in character and appearance
a Jesuit, he was eminently fitted to shield the traitors of the
country. He always reminded me of the typical porter, whose severe,
dignified appearance proclaims his master’s gilded respectability,
veneering a rotten core.
Such were the environments that prompted
Czolgosz’s act. Many felt this; few dared to express it. The amazement
that such a thing should happen in America really had something
artificial about it. To the close observer there exists but an insignificant
difference between the social conditions in this country and that
of European monarchies, upon whose horizon revolutionary flashes
had been playing for years. There, as well as here, the governments
are the willing gendarmes and sheriffs of the possessing class;
we, however, still cling to the superstition of political liberty.
Pure in aspiration and motive, the
personality of Leon Czolgosz towers above our stifling social existence.
Purer, indeed, than his accusers and judges wished. They have left
nothing undone to make him appear a low, vile creature, since it
was necessary to lull the nation into the belief that only the basest
of men could be guilty of such a deed.
In vain unscrupulous torturers attempted
to defile the sensitive soul—no confession, unworthy of the man,
could be forced. His alleged statement, that a lecture of Emma Goldman
inspired his act, emanated from a lying press.
The State of New York employed 200
detectives and spent 30,000 dollars to trump up evidence to convict
Emma Goldman as the intellectual instigator of McKinley’s death.
Is it reasonable to suppose, then, that such efforts and means would
have been used had Czolgosz been induced to make statements in the
Even the peace of death was denied
him. His last moments were poisoned by the Christian kindness of
the prison warden. To the last he was tortured by insinuations reflecting
on his character; in the hope of 
obtaining a confession the dying man was annoyed; he was told, among
other things, that Emma Goldman had denounced him as tramp and beggar.
But even such brutality failed to touch his lofty spirit. “I care
not what Emma Goldman or others say about me. I had no accomplices.
I did it for the dear people, and I am ready to die.”
These were the only words Leon Czolgosz
uttered during all those terrible weeks. Not even at his trial,
which mocked every conception of justice, could he be induced to
The only decent reporter present at
the trial—a woman—relates that she was so overcome by the farcical
proceedings that she was unfitted to do newspaper work for months.
Czolgosz impressed her, she says, as a visionary, totally oblivious
to his surroundings.
His large, dreamy eyes must have beheld
in the distance the rising dawn, heralding a new and glorious day.
Five years have since rolled into
eternity. His spirit still hovers over me. In tender love I lay
these immortelles on his grave.