other results may flow from the assassination of President McKinley,
let us hope that that object-lesson may be sufficient to put an
end to our national habit of promiscuous handshaking in public.
It is hard to conceive of a spectacle more fatuous and less edifying
than that of a horde of country bumpkins, criminals, cranks, idlers,
and curiosity-mongers standing in line waiting for a chance to grab
and squeeze the hand of the unhappy Chief Executive of this country.
This habit, springing from a primitive desire on the part of the
multitude to touch the person or garment of a sovereign ruler, and
fortified by the commonly held belief that all men, in America at
least, are really equal, is clearly a superfluous anachronism in
our day and age. The clasping of hands, a custom sanctioned by usage
from times immemorial, signifies, among intelligent beings at least,
primarily mutual acquaintance, esteem, and friendship. Where the
parties are absolute strangers to each other, as was the case at
Buffalo, the ceremony is meaningless, obviously dangerous, and unworthy
the high office of President of the United States. We owe much in
this respect to Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson which it is
doubtful if we can ever pay back in this world.
Popular regard for ancient traditions
of “republican simplicity,” and a well-grounded fear that the unprincipled
scoundrels of modern journalism might make capital out of it, have
undoubtedly deterred high public officials from putting an end to
this silly and dangerous habit of promiscuous handshaking in public
places. Whether Mr. Roosevelt, who has a reputation for enjoying
personal encounters with bears and mountain lions as well as with
Spaniards, will have the moral courage and appreciation of his public
duty to protect the lives of himself and his successors by refusing,
while holding the office of President, to submit to close and intimate
personal contact with hordes of unvouched-for strangers, even if
presumably friendly, is a matter of vital importance to all admirers
of republican institutions. The psychological moment for abating
a notorious public nuisance has evidently arrived.
E. L. C. M.