Source: Mother Earth
Source type: magazine
Document type: article
Document title: “A Reminiscence”
Author(s): Havel, Hippolyte
Date of publication: October 1908
Volume number: 3
Issue number: 8
|Havel, Hippolyte. “A Reminiscence.” Mother Earth Oct. 1908 v3n8: pp. 320-24.|
|society (criticism); McKinley assassination (personal response: anarchists); Leon Czolgosz.|
|Nelson W. Aldrich; Joseph Weldon Bailey; Leon Czolgosz; Chauncey M. Depew; John Fairfield Dryden; Stephen B. Elkins; Ralph Waldo Emerson; Joseph B. Foraker; Emma Goldman; Marcus Hanna; George F. Hoar; Tadeusz Kosciuszko [variant spelling below]; Henry Cabot Lodge; Abner McKinley; William McKinley; Adam Mickiewicz; John Tyler Morgan; Edmund Winston Pettus; Thomas Collier Platt; Kazimierz Pulaski; Matthew Stanley Quay; John Coit Spooner.|
— Ralph Waldo Emerson.
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 and superfluity.
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!
— Adam Mickiewicz.
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 simple grandeur.
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 of America.”
But for his act pious corruption were still enthroned unmasked.