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Source: North American Review
Source type: magazine
Document type: article
Document title: “How the United States Curtails Freedom of Thought”
Author(s): Crosby, Ernest Howard
Date of publication: April 1904
Volume number: 178
Issue number: 569
Pagination: 605-16 (excerpt below includes only pages 613-16)

Crosby, Ernest Howard. “How the United States Curtails Freedom of Thought.” North American Review Apr. 1904 v178n569: pp. 605-16.
assassination; presidential assassinations (comparison); anarchism (dealing with); United States (government: criticism); anarchism (compared with war); anarchism (personal response); McKinley assassination (personal response); Leon Czolgosz; society (impact on Czolgosz); society (criticism); society (mental health).
Named persons
John Wilkes Booth; Leon Czolgosz; Charles J. Guiteau; John Turner.
“By Ernest Crosby” (p. 605).


How the United States Curtails Freedom of Thought [excerpt]

     It is a fact that an unusual number of atrocious crimes against the persons of kings and rulers have been committed in recent years, and that many of them were committed by anarchists. Not all, however, by any means. Such crimes have been most frequent in Russia, and there the assailants have usually been merely democrats or constitutionalists. In England, these crimes have been confined to Irish nationalists, whose only political creed was separation from England. In the United States, three Presidents have been assassinated—the first by a Democrat and Confederate, the second by a Republican, and the third only by an anarchist. Each of these assassins was an American born, and educated in our schools,—a fact which might induce us to judge more leniently of foreign immigrants. But, after making allowance for the many crimes of this nature attributable to non-anarchists, there remain a number of peculiarly shocking ones committed by adherents of anarchism. It becomes, then, a matter of importance to determine how best to prevent such crimes in future. To shut out “beliefs” is not only unjust, undesirable and inexpedient, but it is impossible. Beliefs spring up uncen- [613][614] sored and uncensorable in the mind of every one of our eighty millions of population, and most Americans do not arrive by way of Ellis Island. Booth and Guiteau and Czolgosz were native products, and could not be deported whence they came. Then, again, beliefs travel by mail more effectively than by steerage, and unless you examine every letter, book and newspaper that enters our ports, you cannot shut out the beliefs which they express. You may, however, by passing rigid statutes against idealists, tempt cranks who sympathize with them to perform some overt act of violence, for nothing makes a class so dangerous as to proscribe it. The large meeting held at Cooper Union in New York to protest against the deportation of Turner has been widely criticised as tending to encourage violence. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The deportation itself was calculated to suggest violence in reprisal, but the establishment of the fact that there were a considerable number of “respectable” citizens ready to consider the wrongs even of anarchists,—nothing, surely, could do more than that to restore to an equilibrium the unbalanced minds of some members of that fraternity.
     We are face to face with a peculiar symptom of an obscure public distemper, and it cannot be cured by such crude methods as deportation. The subject calls for the most careful study of statesmen, penologists, economists and educators. What is it that produces crimes against rulers? We seem to understand the matter clearly in Russia, and there we ascribe the trouble directly to the governing class. Abolish autocracy and absolutism, we say, and say rightly, and the revolutionist’s bomb will disappear. In Ireland, we have no great difficulty in forming a diagnosis either. England has misruled that country for centuries, we declare, and she has only reaped what she has sown. Here, again, we trace the disorder back to a national wrong. What was the cause of the three American assassinations? Booth’s crime was clearly one of the results of the Civil War. It was the war-spirit, which we took no pains to exorcise, that turned him into a murderer. Guiteau was an extreme expression of political strife and hatred, the direct offspring of Stalwart and Half-Breed rivalry. Czolgosz was no less truly the product of his times. The war-spirit was abroad again. Revenge had been preached as a public virtue, and war deliberately chosen by the nation in preference to diplomacy as the proper instrument of progress. Again the awful crimes of [614][615] individuals seem to hark back to a national cause; they are sporadic expressions of a general infection. And our rulers are preaching the same doctrines in our name to-day, and, so far as we support them, we are responsible for the results. A government which assassinates one sister-republic in the Philippines and vivisects another in South America, which bombards defenceless villages in Samoa, killing women and children, in a cause afterwards pronounced by an impartial tribunal to be absolutely unjust, such a government is setting an example of anarchy in the worst sense of the word.
     Political crimes, then, appear in some way to arise from national pathological conditions; they are exhibitions of individual lunacy growing out of a popular craze. The anarchist assassin is, to all intents and purposes, insane, and he is doing all he can to injure his own cause. Longing for a world good enough to dispense with policemen, prisons and electric chairs, he does his best to prove by his act the impracticability of his dream. It is really Czolgosz who is shutting Turner out of America, and if he had been in control of his senses he might have foreseen the consequences of his act, by which he made government stronger and discredited his own beliefs. His act was an insane one, but no man can be insane alone, for none of us lives to himself, and every man is, and must be, a social symptom. There is a public madness of the war-spirit, a delirium of national pride and power, a general fever of money-getting, which in some peculiarly distorted mind may take the form of unreasoning revolt against all these things. The strenuous life has many shapes, and it may be practised by devils as well as angels.
     If there is any truth in this reasoning, the proper cure for criminal anarchism lies in the direction of the cultivation of national sanity. The European countries which produce the greatest number of assassins are military-mad. They are busy pauperizing themselves and exhausting the healthy blood of their people in the insane rivalry of armaments. The Italian statesman who would send three-fourths of the army back to their homes and sink nine-tenths of their men-of-war in the Mediterranean, would go a long way toward stopping the production of political criminals. Our national disease shows the greatest congestion and inflammation in the region of the dollar. The mad race to increase wealth beyond all possibility of enjoyment, the crazy antics of [615][616] the Stock Exchange,—we must study these things, before we can prescribe for the nation. Our lunatic asylums are ever growing; more and more men and women commit suicide each year; nervous prostration is becoming the rule rather than the exception. How far is the dollar-cult responsible for all this? Excessive wealth must find an outlet for investment, and hence the craving for the isles of the sea, and for armies and navies and bloodshed; and who can wonder if here and there a distracted individual goes off, like a stray revolver, the wrong way, and kills a fellow citizen instead of a foreign foe?



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