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Source: Outlook
Source type: magazine
Document type: editorial
Document title: “The Assault Upon the President”
Author(s): anonymous
Date of publication: 14 September 1901
Volume number: 69
Issue number: 2
Pagination: 106-08

“The Assault Upon the President.” Outlook 14 Sept. 1901 v69n2: pp. 106-08.
full text
McKinley assassination (personal response); presidential assassinations (comparison); William McKinley (presidential character); McKinley assassination (motive); anarchism.
Named persons
Napoléon Bonaparte; William Jennings Bryan; James A. Garfield; Rutherford B. Hayes; Abraham Lincoln; William McKinley; Francis H. Nichols; Theodore Roosevelt.


The Assault Upon the President

     The careless use of the English language, depriving its most solemn words of their true solemnity, makes it impossible to find language in which to express the commingled sentiments of horror and apprehension awakened in the hearts of the American people by the attempted assassination of President McKinley. It is truly terrifying to reflect that in less than half a century two Presidents have been assassinated and a third dangerously if not mortally wounded, and each of them without having given, by any act or speech, justification, excuse, or even palliation for the assault. Mr. Lincoln was [106][107] one of the best friends the South ever had; Mr. Garfield was a chivalrous representative of the best sentiments in American politics; and Mr. McKinley enjoys the respect of political opponents as well as of political friends, and has done nothing to arouse personal enmity in either. Nor is it materially reassuring to remember that the assassin of President Lincoln was unbalanced, of President Garfield half crazy, and of President McKinley possibly not of strong intellect. The fact remains, on the one hand, that there are forces at work in our boasted civilization which breed assassins, and, on the other, that no excellence of character and no device of guardianship suffice to protect the Chief Magistrate of the Nation from any man whose mania takes the form of a passion for perpetrating public murder.
     The assassinations of President Lincoln and of President Garfield are at least comprehensible; we can understand how the passions of the Civil War, inflamed by defeat, should have excited to the one, and how the factional strife within the Republican party should have aroused sufficient venom in a disappointed adventurer to cause the other. But it is more difficult to understand this attempt at the assassination of President McKinley. His democratic sympathies, his sincere good will toward all men whether political supporters or political opponents, his readiness to give public credit to public rivals, his native urbanity of manner, his perhaps too compliant temper, and his tact in all public and private relations, have combined to give him probably fewer enemies than any other man who ever occupied the Presidential office, not excepting even President Hayes. It is true that the policy which he has represented has been bitterly opposed, and occasionally some one, who knew no other way to be strong than by being bitter, has assailed him as an American Napoleon who was attempting to build up an imperialistic government on the ruins of the Republic. But a characteristic sense of humor has prevented the American people from taking such oratorical invectives seriously. The weighty opponents of the policy of expansion—and it has some weighty opponents—have recognized that it was the policy of the people, and have made their attacks upon the spirit of the age, not upon the man who chanced to be its representative and executive. So cautious has Mr. McKinley been in every successive step hat he has been accused of being a follower rather than a leader of public opinion, and there is good reason for saying that he has rather been its embodiment than either. The murderous assault upon him cannot be charged to the account of either personal or political animosity. It is also unlikely that it is due to any distinct Anarchistic conspiracy. It is true that there is a body of Anarchists in this country who have brought their Old World hatreds with them, and whose acts and utterances are so wholly irrational as to suggest that they should be classified among the intellectually degenerate if not absolutely among the insane. It is also true that the statements of President McKinley’s assailant show that he belongs to this class of assassins. But it is also true that both the acts and the utterances of the Anarchists indicate that they have sufficient method in their madness to avoid depriving themselves of the only two asylums, England and America, in which they can live and proclaim their principles—if Anarchism can be called a principle—without interference from the Government. Our readers may remember the striking article by Mr. Francis H. Nichols on “The Anarchists in America” in The Outlook for August 10; and we recall to their remembrance the following quotation, made in that article, from an Anarchist paper in San Francisco: “The Anarchists are treated with sufficiently gross injustice even in this country. But they are at least allowed the right of conducting a peaceful propaganda; and the consequence is that McKinley, hated and despised though he is, needs no bodyguard to protect him from the attacks of revolutionists.” We have no doubt that this truly expresses the policy of the Anarchists in America, in so far as they can be said to have a policy; and probably it will be found that this irresponsible Pole was acting on his own initiative, not under the specific commands of any society of assassins, although he was undoubtedly incited to crime by the violent utterances of Anarchist speakers and writers.
     But this fact, if it be a fact, only adds to the difficulty of the situation. If neither [107][108] a policy of rigorous repression nor one of absolute freedom of expression can do anything effectual to prevent murder, if assassination of public men thrives equally in Russia and in America, it is evident that the time has fully come for thoughtful men to consider afresh the question, How in this twentieth century can life be preserved? This is a fundamental question, but one apparently not so simple as it has been deemed. Murder as the product of covetousness and accompanied by robbery we know; murder as an act of malignancy inspired by personal revenge we know; murder by a fanatic rendered desperate by a despotism from which he foolishly expects relief by the assassination of the despot we know; but the attempted assassination of President McKinley falls into none of these categories. So far as we can judge, this attempted murder is the act of a man chiefly inspired by that most inexplicable and most despicable of ambitions, the desire for notoriety; the most despicable, and yet, in a democratic community, with its characteristic passion for publicity, liable to become more common in the future than in the past.
     This is not the time to attempt any estimate of President McKinley’s character and career. It is enough to say that his political opponents have rated his abilities more highly than his political supporters, and that European observers have rated them more highly than have Americans. We believe that posterity will ratify the higher judgment, and that history will rank President McKinley more highly than his contemporaries have done, not only as an astute politician, but also as a popular leader and a broad-minded and cautiously progressive statesman. His death would be felt as a personal loss by thousands who know him only through his public life, and by the entire Nation as a great public calamity. But it is not probable that it would affect in the slightest degree our National policy. Mr. McKinley is by nature a diplomat; Mr. Roosevelt is by nature a soldier; but in their political principles, in their National and international policies, in their practical opportunism, in their high ethical standards, and, above all, in their subordination of personal ambition to National welfare, they are alike. Not even Mr. Bryan could, were he President, turn the Nation back from the goal toward which Mr. McKinley has been leading it as a world power; Mr. Roosevelt neither would nor could materially expedite its movement. But the whole American people will pray that Mr. McKinley may live to carry his policy forward to the completion of its present stage, in the perfected emancipation of Cuba, Porto Rico, and the Philippines, and to initiate that further movement toward industrial and commercial internationalism to which he pointed in his prophetic speech at the Pan-American Exposition the day before the assault.



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