Source: Mother Earth
Source type: magazine
Document type: article
Document title: “October Twenty-Ninth, 1901”
Author(s): Goldman, Emma
Date of publication: October 1911
Volume number: 6
Issue number: 8
|Goldman, Emma. “October Twenty-Ninth, 1901.” Mother Earth Oct. 1911 v6n8: pp. 232-35.|
|Emma Goldman; McKinley assassination (personal response: anarchists); society (criticism); Leon Czolgosz (trial: criticism); Leon Czolgosz (trial: comparison); Leon Czolgosz; Leon Czolgosz (execution: personal response).|
|William Archer; Leon Czolgosz; Francisco Ferrer Guardia; Emma Goldman; Jesus Christ; William McKinley.|
|The table of contents in this issue of the magazine gives the title of this article as “October the Twenty-Ninth, 1901.”|
October Twenty-Ninth, 1901
IT was in St. Louis, the 6th of September, 1901. I was just entering a street
car, after a day’s hard work soliciting orders for a firm. Suddenly my ears
caught the sound, “Extra, extra, the President shot!” I was too fatigued and
miserable to heed the cry; besides, one is so used to newspaper “extras,” one
rarely stops to investigate.
At dinner in a friend’s house I learned that President McKinley had been shot by a man by the name of Nieman. One of our company remarked jokingly, “I should not be surprised if they will connect you with the act.” The man spoke more prophetically than he realized.
The following morning I started on my day’s task, which promised to be particularly hard, as I had to employ my skill to induce a business house to close a large order. It took all morning to settle the matter  and left me even more dejected than the previous day. I dragged myself to the nearest restaurant and, while waiting to be served, I looked at the papers. There it was, in large black headlines, “President McKinley shot by an Anarchist, Leon Czolgosz—the man confessed to having been incited by Emma Goldman—the house of the publisher of the Anarchist paper Free Society raided—8 Anarchists arrested to be held until Emma Goldman is found—detectives sent to all parts of the country to arrest the dangerous woman.”
The whole thing seemed so absolutely preposterous that it took me some time to realize its significance; but after an hour’s reflection, while I sat in the restaurant with people discussing E. G. around me, I decided to make for Chicago that very evening. It was not easy to get away, without arousing suspicion. My St. Louis friends had arranged a small dinner party for me on that same date, the 7th. To leave abruptly would have caused an inquiry as to my whereabouts, which under the circumstances had to be avoided. I therefore went through with the affair, and then made the night train for Chicago.
Ten years have passed since that terrible time,—terrible, because it disclosed, as in a flash, the savagery, the blind fury, the yellow human soul. Not only the knavish soul of the newspaper clique, nor yet the brutal soul of the police; nor even the mob soul, so appalling in its massiveness. But more than all else, it was the soul of the so-called radicals, manifesting itself in such contemptible cowardice and moral weakness, that impressed me with never-to-be-forgotten vividness. They, more than the yellow Hearsts, more than the prostitute press, more than the mad public, proved the loudest defamers of the boy who had dared to strike the blow.
But for them Leon Czolgosz would not have been dragged to the block, like a sheep to slaughter. But for them, his last moment would not have been agonized by the consciousness of being deserted, betrayed, forsaken by his own brothers, even like Christ.
“All men are equal before the law,” is one of our slogans. What a farce, what hypocrisy! The case of Leon Czolgosz has stamped this American boast as a lie. Indeed, there is no parallel in the annals of this  country, where a human being has received less equality, less justice, less fair play, less humanity, than did this truest American child, Leon Czolgosz. From the very moment when he was nearly beaten to death on the Exposition grounds by a fury-drunk mob and the police, until he was dragged to the “trial,” this modern Christ was forced to go through a thousand Golgothas. Not a kind word, not a human touch, during all those awful days between September 6th and October 29th, when in the name of a “merciful God” and a “just law” he was done to death.
True, the law was observed,—Leon Czolgosz was assigned two lawyers to “defend” his case. This farce must have made the angels weep. As if even a child did not know that the victim would be denied the simplest human rights. And the lawyers! What a disgrace to the human species, how despicably, how cringingly they acted! A defence, indeed! Ferocious beasts might have shown more humanity. What pigmies these worthy disciples of Justice represent compared with the man who defended Francisco Ferrer!
Spain is an autocracy ruled by the military and clerical rod. In 1909 anti-military uprising ran high, creating the same excitement, the same fury, the same savage craving for victims as with us in September, 1901. More,—there was the blood-thirsty monster of 1,800 years, the Catholic Church, ready to devour its prey. Ferrer’s lawyer had everything to lose and nothing to gain. Yet, how daring, how sympathetic was that man!
William Archer in his “Life of Ferrer,” tells how the man disliked taking the case, because of his antagonism to his client. But Ferrer had chosen him,—one more example of the superior sense of justice even of an autocracy to our free country. The former grants the privilege to choose your defender, the latter imposes legal aid, which by its very dependency upon the court must be partial and unfair. He came, unprejudiced, big and fine, with the sublime mission of pleading for a human life as the sole consideration. With earnestness and devotion this man pleaded for his client as if for his own life, carrying everyone with him in the soul-stirring appeal.
True, Francisco Ferrer was innocent of the charge  for which he was tried; Czolgosz was not. But, as far as the court and his accusers were concerned, Ferrer was as guilty as his American comrade. Then, too, he was before a military court, subject to absolute methods of procedure. Not so the court that tried Leon Czolgosz. It pretends fair play, impartiality, justice, democracy. Yet it remained for this court to sit in judgment over a man morally and physically bound, blindfolded and gagged, a pitifully helpless human prey, turned over to the block. Were America glorious with a thousand noble deeds, her brutal inhumanity to the boy in Buffalo would forever condemn her as the most savage and cruel nation of the world.
Ten years have passed since the hideous hour
of October 29th, but the spirit of Leon Czolgosz is not dead. How could it be,
with its roots in the depths of the ever-growing conflict between the disinherited
millions and the possessors of the earth?
“I did it for the good of the people,” were the last words of the solitary youth in the death-chair of Auburn prison. But the people knew him not, the people passed him by in blind hatred. Yet with all that, he was flesh of their flesh and blood of their blood. He suffered for them, endured humiliation for them, gave his life for them. His tragedy consisted in his great and intense love for the people, but unlike many of his brother slaves he could neither submit nor bow his neck. Thus he had to die.
It is said that I inspired the act. I repudiate the charge. Not because I would not take my stand with this victim of our time, but because I know that he whose hatred of injustice and tyranny burns at white heat is beyond external influences. And Leon Czolgosz must have hated tyranny, else he could never have died such an heroic death. No, he could not have remained so serene, so wonderfully oblivious to all the trivialities of his surroundings.
It is this death, solitary and sublime, that will always stand out as the great symbol in my recollection of that sombre figure of October 29th, 1901.