IT was a glorious time. The twentieth century was ushered in under
the most favorable auspices. The era of prosperity reached its highest
zenith, and the sons of the Plymouth Fathers revelled in ecstasy
Uncle Mark Hanna, the great Alonzo,
was at the helm of the American commonwealth. He had splendidly
organized the machinery of government. Calmly and quietly he now
attended to the business affairs of plutocracy.
The parts were well distributed. Aldrich,
Quay, Spooner, Foraker, Platt, and Dryden were in the inner circle.
The Honorable Henry Cabot Lodge represented the dignity of the statesman.
Old Senator Hoar played the incorruptible tribune of the people.
And the irrepressible rogue, Chauncey M. Depew, acted as drummer
at public functions. While Elkins, Pettus, Morgan, Bailey, and consorts
formed the chorus.
The presidential chair was occupied
by puritanical sanctimony,—his Excellency William McKinley. To preserve
for a short time so conspicuous an appearance before the world,
he was content to eat the dust before the real masters who stood
erect behind the throne.
In the background the heir presumptive
was a-hunting. And some one was busy fishing in muddy waters—Abner
McKinley, the worthy brother of William. He had charge of affairs
that could not be reconciled with the dignity of the President.
Everything was in perfect order. Dignity
had to be maintained at all costs. Mud-raking vocabulary was not
tolerated. Terms like mollycoddle, milksop, fourflusher, liar, and
rascal were not in vogue. Hanna liked patriarchal ways.
Like the Rattenfänger von Hameln,
the full dinner pail lured the disinherited children of Europe to
the golden  shores of limitless
possibilities. Bankrupt aristocrats were doing a flourishing business.
The daughters of Columbia joyfully exchanged the millions, coined
from the flesh and blood of their wage slaves, for titles of nobility.
All had signed their souls to his
Majesty, Satan Get-Rich-Quick.
The little victims of the cotton mills
in the South cried to deaf ears; no one heard the groans of the
haggard workers in the sweat-shops; in vain, too, the curses of
the men in the bowels of the earth; in vain the cry of despair of
the disinherited. No one heard, all were deaf.
The air was heavily charged with the
odor of hypocritical respectability. It was a glorious time.
Suddenly the lightning struck. Avenging
justice made its mighty voice heard.
“Nearer my God to Thee.”
What a change since the tragedy at
Buffalo! The cancer of social corruption has since burst. The highly
respectable representatives of the system are unmasked as thieves,
swindlers, and robbers. The pillars of society stand in the public
pillory. What a sight for the Gods!
Who was the youth chosen by destiny
to shatter the bulwarks of the ruling class?
July 12th, 1901, a young man called
to see me at the office of Free Society, an Anarchist weekly,
then published at Chicago. As I was not in, he was requested to
call again. He returned towards dusk the same day, and I invited
him to my room. 
My visitor began the conversation
in Polish, saying that his name was Niemann, that he had come from
Cleveland, and that he desired to inform himself about the Anarchists
and their activity. He had seen my name in the Anarchist papers
and decided to look me up on his arrival in Chicago.
I remember vividly the change in his
face when I told him that my knowledge of the Polish language was
too limited to converse in it. The Slavonian sound was soft and
melodious, but his voice displayed a hard ring when he began to
speak English. His entire demeanor became more rigid.
His features were fine and sympathetic,
and his eyes, of a beautiful blue, rested with a shy and melancholy
gaze on the things about him. Though born and reared in America,
his Slavic descent was apparent. He spoke of his longings and experiences.
It was the story of the typical proletarian.
Born in Detroit, the child of poor
parents, Niemann was compelled at a very early age to take up the
struggle for existence. Oh, for the bitter cup of that struggle,
which he had to drink to the very last drop. Nothing but wretchedness,
want, misery, and dull despair all his life. His spirit rebelled
against the gloom and oppression of his surroundings. He sought
for some relief, some deliverance from our social slavery. His fellow
workers in the shop and union, however, had very little understanding
for his longings. Later he joined a Local of the Socialist Labor
Party in Cleveland. But there, too, disappointment awaited him.
He had hoped to find ideals, enthusiasm, and earnest endeavor for
human liberation. Instead he found nothing but indifference, political
compromise, and efforts directed toward vote catching. Disgusted
and dissatisfied, he now turned to the Anarchists. He was anxious
to learn their aims and how they proposed to bring about the downfall
of the capitalist system.
He had but a vague idea of Anarchism;
his questions as to Anarchist organization were naïve. All this
became clear to me only later. At the time of Niemann’s visit I
was preoccupied with other matters. I regret with all my soul not
to have had the chance to know him better, to become more intimate.
I was obliged to discontinue the conversation.
Comrade Emma Goldman, on her way East
from a lecture tour, was leaving Chicago that day, and I had arranged
to accompany her to the station. I invited the young man to come
with us that he might meet Comrade Goldman. On our way downtown
we exchanged but few words. Having to meet another engagement, I
left him with some friends at the station.
Two weeks later a letter arrived from
Cleveland, denouncing my visitor as a police spy. A terrible blunder
of blockheads! I know not whether he ever became cognizant of this
denunciation. If he did, it must have gripped him terribly. Again
he had sought for understanding and kindred souls—in vain.
On September sixth the Associated
Press reported the attempt on the life of President McKinley, the
assailant’s name being given as Niemann. An hour later the office
of Free Society was raided by the police, and every one present,
including myself, arrested. The same evening we learned that the
name of the young man at Buffalo was—Leon Czolgosz.
Those were exciting days. The capitalist
press raved madly and demanded victims. Plutocracy was deeply wounded.
One life did not satisfy its blood-thirsty clamor. Emma Goldman
was chosen as a special target. In her person plutocracy hoped to
stifle the revolutionary movement in this country.
The pistol shot at Buffalo has demonstrated
the lie of the contentment of the American people. It has unveiled
the terrible contrast of classes. The shrill voice of the oppressed
and the exploited re-echoed all over the world.
The apologists for capitalism made
frantic efforts to stamp Leon Czolgosz’ act as that of a foreigner.
But in vain. He was a true type of the native American workingman.
The patriots of this Republic gladly
accepted the aid of Kosciusko and Pulaski in their fight for American
independence. Why should their descendants protest against a native
American with Polish blood in his veins? He, too, gave his life
in the battle of independence—the independence of the American proletariat.
Leon Czolgosz presents a unique figure
in the annals of revolutionary history. Never before did a fighter
for  freedom go to his death
so absolutely alone and forsaken. What he suffered before the act,
the horrors he endured in Auburn prison,—these remain untold.
He met his executioners with haughty
contempt, he walked to the death chamber with quiet dignity and
October 29th, 1901, Leon Czolgosz’s
heart, so full of human sympathy, was brought to a standstill. His
last words were: “I did it for the people, for the good of the workers
But for his act pious corruption were
still enthroned unmasked.