Source type: magazine
Document type: editorial
Document title: “The Mourning”
Date of publication: 26 September 1901
Volume number: 73
Issue number: 1891
|“The Mourning.” Nation 26 Sept. 1901 v73n1891: p. 238.|
|McKinley assassination (public response); anarchism (public response); William McKinley (detractors); lawlessness (mob rule: Cape Cod, MA).|
|Michael Conway; Leon Czolgosz; Frederick Douglass; Patrick Henry; Thomas Jefferson; William McKinley; Richard Olney; George Washington.|
The impressiveness of the latest proof that one
touch of nature makes the whole world kin, was in some ways unexampled. The
popular and official mourning abroad for President McKinley was on such a scale
as to imply a solidarity of nations like that dreamed of by the revolutionists
of 1848. It was, however, displayed by an England momentarily drawn to us by
Imperialistic filibustering; and by France in the midst of a reception of the
Tsar designed to convince her hereditary foes on either side that the shadowy
“alliance” with Russia is a powder-and-shot reality. In the formal give-and-take
of potentates we are simply getting our share; and as we multiply our political
points of contact with foreign Powers, exchanges of felicitations and condolences
are liable at any time to be put to the test of situations in which the “natural
man” habitually asserts himself.
Similar reflections suggest themselves on analyzing the domestic expression of sorrow and respect for the murdered Chief Magistrate. It might be interpreted as a solemn protest against the lawlessness which is the badge of the assassin and his kind. We have heard, however, ministers of the gospel, while certifying to Mr. McKinley’s Christian character, regret that Czolgosz was not torn to pieces on the spot; and it has been painfully evident that the mob spirit has everywhere been aroused in resentment at the crime of September 6. Thousands, it is true, have entertained this spirit in thought, or breathed it in words, to one who has joined in giving it practical effect; but, in far too many instances, petty persecution or brutal violence, even to tarring and feathering and expulsion, has been visited on the unfeeling creatures who exulted in the President’s death. We have, in fact, witnessed throughout the country a measurable reflection of the treatment accorded to Tories during the Revolution, over which the decent apologist of the Fathers seeks to draw a veil. A certain portion of the press has barely refrained from exciting violence, as well as odium, against those who, in times past, have, in other journals, in public addresses, or through any of the recognized avenues of free speech, judged President McKinley unfavorably; and this is an ominous sign of the times. There was a period when slavery, and again the Union, were the sacred objects to be protected by such terrorizing, but that was when both were in peril. Now, death, like a despot, has closed and locked the doors and set seals on a finished public character, and rage is vented on those who furnished that current criticism on which the historian depends for a just understanding of the man and his epoch.
In all these truly anarchistic manifestations, we do not say that the hideous Southern lynchings find their explanation; but can any thoughtful mind fail to discern in them a reason for the growing indifference to these lynchings which is more dangerous than they? It was characteristic of the cruelties of slavery that the master’s punishment bore no necessary proportion to the offence. How could it when passion might be gratified without fear of public opinion or of legal consequences? The moment unpopular opinion and expression are permitted to be dealt with otherwise than according to law, the penalty is again certain to be unrelated in severity to the offence. Outrage upon national feeling may by any mob be placed among capital crimes, and it makes no difference whether that feeling is idolatry for institutions, or sorrow and resentment for the assassin’s disturbance of the body politic. The abolitionists experienced this to the full, pure as were their aims, and their instrumentalities only moral. When Frederick Douglass, at Syracuse, in 1850, declared Washington, Jefferson, and Patrick Henry (slaveholders all) “strangers to any just idea of Liberty,” a journal of the day marvelled that “no hand was raised to fell the speaker to the earth”; and a New York contemporary, anticipating Douglass’s presence at an anti-slavery meeting in this city, warned him that if he “shall reproclaim his Syracuse treason here, and any man shall arrest him in his diabolical career, and not injure him, thousands will exclaim, in language of patriotic love for the Constitution and the rights of the South, ‘Did he not strike the villain dead?’”
We recently commented on some statistics collected
by the Chicago Tribune regarding illegal executions throughout the Union.
Massachusetts was among the four States free from the blot of lynchings during
the past sixteen years. How accidental this was, appears from what happened
on Cape Cod on the day of the funeral ceremonies at Washington for the dead
President. The coachman of ex-Secretary Olney was overheard to say that the
shooting was a good thing, and that President McKinley should have been shot
long ago. Some one made affidavit to this effect. There was an indignation movement
among the citizens; Mr. Olney was informed of the matter, and it was reported
that the man had been discharged. As there was no affidavit to this, however,
“one hundred citizens, representing about one-third of the voting population”
of the village, “determined to give Conway [the coachman] a coat of tar and
feathers” on Wednesday night. Not finding him at large, they proceeded to Mr.
Olney’s house to ascertain his whereabouts, but Mr. Olney refused to take any
notice of them, even by so much as showing himself when they called him out.
Now they might, by mob law, have considered this incivility worthy of the treatment
intended for Conway, and perhaps in their hearts they did. Still, wishing to
see what persuasion would do, “the crowd sang ‘Nearer, My God, to Thee’ and
‘America,’ and made repeated but fruitless efforts to bring a response from
Mr. Olney.” They then repaired to the town hall and resolved that Mr. Olney’s
course was “an insult to American citizenship,” and finally hung an effigy to
We do not think this needs much comment even from some pulpits we could name. Massachusetts escaped once more the lynching black-list; but if Mr. Olney was really secreting his servant, or refused to betray him to an evil-disposed body of citizens who had no guarantee to give that they would stop short with tarring and feathering the man, we can only say he got off more lightly than he would have done south of Mason and Dixon’s line, where mobs are not content with hymn-singing and effigies. Some blushing will perhaps begin now that such scenes are possible in a Massachusetts town. The coachman—granting that he was not traduced or drunk—was akin to Czolgosz to the extent of his heartless remark. But how much removed from either were “the hundred citizens, representing about one-third of the voting population” of the town, who had a chance to resolve against him as well as against Mr. Olney and still remain law-abiding? As it is, they have brought both law and religion into contempt.