Publication information

Source:
Public
Source type: magazine
Document type: editorial
Document title: none
Author(s): anonymous
Date of publication: 14 September 1901
Volume number: 4
Issue number: 180
Pagination: 353-55

 
Citation
[untitled]. Public 14 Sept. 1901 v4n180: pp. 353-55.
 
Transcription
full text
 
Keywords
McKinley assassination (personal response); McKinley assassination (public response: criticism); society (criticism); presidents (protection).
 
Named persons
Herbert S. Bigelow; James A. Garfield; Benjamin Harrison; Philander C. Knox; Abraham Lincoln; William McKinley; Walter Wellman.
 
Document


[untitled]

     Sober men will reflect upon the tragedy of the past week with conflicting emotions. The attempted murder of President McKinley they will recognize as an outrage upon the republic itself. He is its regularly chosen chief servant. In that office he personifies its laws and its liberty. A murderous blow, therefore, directed at him in this capacity cannot but be keenly felt by all of us who, believing in liberty secured by law, love the free institutions of our country and have faith in the triumph of its ideals. Mr. McKinley, together with his family and immediate friends, should have and will have universal sympathy. For the crime that brought him to the open door of another world no palliation is possible; and for the criminal the most charitable thought is that he may have been irresponsibly mad. But upon these thoughts, with all the sad and bitter emotions they arouse, other thoughts obtrude. In the lawless spirit which this crime has excited, sober-minded men will see more to deplore and more for the republic to fear, even than in the crime itself.

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     When the assassin痴 shots were fired and President McKinley fell, the spectators and the great crowds surrounding them became a revengeful mob. It was not unnatural. The first impulse of most men who witness the perpetration of a crime they abhor is to tear the criminal to pieces, just as it is the first impulse of women to weep. Neither was it unnatural in the futile detective, set as a guard for the president, to strike the assassin in the face, though the blow came too late to stop the murderous assault. Uncontrollable anger at being frustrated in the object of his employment would be enough to account for him. Even the powerful Negro who seized the frail assassin after the shot, and would have mangled him to death but for police interference, is not to be condemned for the savage act. His lawless impulse may be attributed to the unwonted and overpowering excitement of the moment. Things like these are within the category of panic, and panic knows no law. But they are temporary outbursts, which, as a rule, speedily give way to better emotions.

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     These manifestations need give no one concern for the future of the republic. Not so, however, with much that has happened since. Christian preachers have intimated that they would welcome lynch law. Reputable citizens have coolly urged criminal acts against prisoners charged with crime and argue that our institutions allow too much liberty. One distinguished senator has given an interview to the press saturated with the spirit of lawlessness, and other public men have imitated him. Enactments of laws modeled after the infamous alien and sedition laws of a century ago are deliberately advised. The newspapers, instead of trying to calm popular excitement, to hold possible mobs in check, to foster a law-abiding and orderly public spirit, have, with a few honorable exceptions, endeavored to fan every spark of popular indignation into a flame of lawlessness. Instead of demanding that all the safeguards with which the law defends liberty and shields innocence be observed, they applaud the police and spur them on when in a futile search for mythical accomplices of the assassin the police contemptuously ignore these safeguards. The police have made domiciliary visits; they have seized persons and papers without warrant; they have subjected prisoners to secret cross-examination after the manner of 田ourts of first instance in continental Europe, but without the protection which those courts throw around the innocent. Beyond this official lawlessness, cabinet officers and congressmen, forgetful of the historic motives for limiting treason to making war upon the republic, are gravely proposing to include assaults upon the president among acts of treason; and even the cabinet is reported to have agreed upon measures to be pressed upon congress, which, if enacted, would dangerously augment the central power. For those reactionary measures also the press is raising a hue and cry. These are things which make one wonder if popular fears may indeed be played upon to the extent of causing the American people to throw away what has been gained for freedom during centuries of heroic struggle.

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     If this un-American behavior were but an impulsive expression of true patriotic sentiment, if it were only a temporarily distorted manifestation of affection for the spirit of liberty under law that we have been trying for more than a century to foster in this country, then it might be encouraging. In that case, abhorrent as it would still be to all sanely patriotic minds, we should know that the old affection for the American ideals is still alive, even though for the moment they are discarded. But no such interpretation is possible. The best possible interpretation is that it is inspired directly or indirectly by personal or partisan affection for Mr. McKinley as an individual. Lower mo- [353][354] tives intermingle. That is the best one. We shall study in vain such manifestations of excitement as have occurred and such preventive and punitive legislation as has been proposed, to find even a sickly germ of affection for the democratic institutions of our republic.

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     There is in all this something peculiarly sad to Americans who, descended from revolutionary patriots, have inherited the democratic spirit of the revolution. They do not regard this republic as perfect. But they do regard it as the beginning of what has every possibility of becoming as perfect a republic as man is capable of developing. It is with no lightness of heart, therefore, that they reflect upon attempts on the one hand at assassinating their chief public servant, and observe upon the other a foreboding tendency to stamp out such crimes by turning the republic into a despotism. They cannot view with satisfaction the disposition to wreak ignoble vengeance upon the assassin, rather than subject him with dignity to the processes and penalties of regularly administered law; they cannot remain silent while policemen display contempt for laws they are appointed to execute, especially when the public tolerates this most dangerous species of anarchy; they cannot but deplore the apparent willingness of a large class of their fellow citizens to discard the safeguards of liberty for which their fathers fought. If it be true, as some say, that foreigners who have not learned our theory of government take advantage of its exceptional freedom to plot assassination, it is also true that Americans who have forgotten our theory of government are urging us on, not vainly either, to the acceptance of European models which our fathers cast away.

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     Let us not be deceived to the undoing of our republic, by appeals to rabid emotion. Let us consider the situation with sane minds. The question which the attempt upon President McKinley痴 life should bring home to everyone is not how to protect presidents lives especially, but how to protect human life. It is human life, not the lives of public men merely, that we of this country hold sacred. 滴ow can we make life inviolate? asked Rev. Herbert S. Bigelow, at a labor meeting in New York last Saturday, alluding to the assault upon Mr. McKinley. His own answer to this incisive question was: 釘y cultivating in the community a sense of the sacredness of life, not only in the white house, but also in the mines and mills. One voice interrupted him with a cry of 鉄hame! That must have been the voice either of a destructive anarchist or a monarchist. Destructive anarchists might object to Mr. Bigelow痴 sentiment, because respect for all human life would be a deterrent to the assassination of rulers; monarchists might object because in their estimation workers in mines and mills are men of inferior blood. But clearly the only guarantee of safety to public servants is, as Mr. Bigelow said, universal recognition of the sanctity of all human life, the lives of the humble as well as the lives of the great. So long as human life in mine and mill, in tenement and slum, is cheaply held, to the end that a privileged few may revel in luxuries they do not produce, so long will victims of this injustice breed insane lusts for revengeful murder. But more than that and beyond that. So long as war is advocated by men in high places as a desirable mode of discipline for a strenuous national life, and the masses of men are looked upon as food providentially provided for powder, so long will conspicuous characters be shining marks for the assassin. In a moral atmosphere, redolent of blood and foul with the miasma of death, the unbalanced minds of strenuous lunatics naturally foster a passion for the blood of rulers. The only preventive of tragedies such as that at Buffalo is the one which Mr. Bigelow recommends. Instead of cultivating a privileged leisure class at the expense of a working class plundered to the door of death, instead of cultivating a national strenuous life at the expense of a grim procession of individual lives marching through pools of blood to kill and be killed擁nstead of these violations of all that is holy in our religions and all that is truly noble in our national ideals, let us take Mr. Bigelow痴 advice and cultivate in the community a sense of the sacredness of all human life.

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     Yet there was more involved in this attempted assassination than the taking of an individual life from individual malice. Mr. McKinley was shot because he was president, by a man who had conceived the possibility of thereby assailing the republic. For that reason the assault becomes a matter of political concern to everyone who believes in our republican institutions. It is in this sense that the murderous assault upon Mr. McKinley is a public calamity. Not because he is a better president than we have ever had. That isn稚 true. Not because he is an exceptionally good man. There are many men as good as he. Not because the place he holds cannot be filled by another. It can be and will be over and over again. These are not the reasons. What makes the assault a public calamity, and all that can make it so, except as every murder is a public calamity, is the fact that it is in the nature of an attack upon republican government.

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     But such attacks cannot be guarded against. Neither can they in themselves menace the republic. Assassinations of public servants from political motives can no more overturn a government of the people than assassination of private citizens from private malice can. Both are to be deplored. Both kinds of assassins, together with their abettors, must be punished. But no more in the one case than in the other can arbitrary measures for their prevention be even partially effectual without producing [354][355] greater evils than they are designed to cure. If we are to have Russian security for our officials, we must establish Russian absolutism. Even then the assassin will now and again accomplish his end. Simplicity of life and confidence in the public are better armor for American officials against assassination than Russian methods. It is true that Lincoln trusted to these and was murdered. But that was at a time of fierce passions, when even a Russian bodyguard might not have saved him. It is true also that Garfield trusted himself in like manner. But he was killed by a maniac. Harrison was absolutely confiding, surrounding himself with no guard, traveling as unostentatiously as a private citizen, declaring that no one would hurt him but a madman, and that no possible precaution could avert that danger, and not a hand was raised against him. But President McKinley, protected by a double line of soldiers forming a lane through which the people passed to greet him, and guarded by two secret service officers close at hand, falls a victim to an assassin痴 pistol. What else can be done but lawfully to punish the offender and his accessories, if by lawful means it can be proved that he had accessories? Nothing more, unless we follow the dangerous advice of evil counselors and imitate the autocratic example of Germany and Russia.

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     Just here is the greatest menace of destructive anarchy. It is the danger that the popular fears it excites may cause the people to tolerate what is nominally for 鍍he suppression of anarchy, but which in fact, be it so intended or not, will abolish traditional safeguards of liberty and open the way to that imperialistic era at home which our crown colony venture abroad has foreshadowed. Even now it is reported from Washington that Attorney General Knox is preparing a bill to be recommended to congress next winter, and of course pushed through if possible, making conspiracies against a president, wherever committed, triable and punishable by the federal courts. The distinguished correspondent, Mr. Wellman, who tells his paper about this measure, describes it as one that

will not be a statute of lese majesty, but it will be the republican counterpart thereof, in so far as our constitution and form of government will permit.

This is but an indication of the assaults upon the underlying principles of our government that will be quickly made if popular fears of anarchists can be effectually played upon.

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     It ought to be evident to well-balanced men that the schemes proposed for 田rushing anarchy cannot crush what those who propose these schemes profess to fear. Nothing in the way of penalties can prevent one man from killing another, if he determines to do it and is willing to die himself. Such a man cannot be intimidated by penalties. Nor can anything restrain madmen. All that laws for the 都uppression of anarchy can accomplish is to interfere with the legitimate activities of persons who are not assassins, and have nothing in common with them.

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     It would be both misleading and unjust to close this discussion without a word for the brighter side. The question before us fortunately does not present a choice between one kind of anarchy threatening the lives of public servants and a second kind of anarchy threatening the liberties of the republic. There is another and hopeful alternative. A wholesome sentiment is plainly observable which appears to be gaining headway. If some preachers have made advances toward lynch law, others stand firmly for liberty and order. If some prominent citizens would make the calamity the opportunity for a stride backward toward the despotism from which we have emerged, others with clearer vision and steadier purpose warn us gravely and wisely to maintain our institutions and preserve our liberties. If some newspapers riotously raise a hue and cry, inflaming public passion and disturbing orderly procedure, there are others that strike a different and more cheering note. In the latter category, in Chicago alone, there are three at least葉wo of them Republican and one Democratic葉he Evening Post, the Record-Herald and the Chronicle. As an illustration of this better spirit, here is an extract from an editorial in the Post of the 11th:

     Every enlightened citizen should urge, above al [sic] things, scrupulous obedience to the law on the part of its official guardians. There should be no manufacturing of evidence, no straining of statutes, no violation of the letter or spirit of the fundamental principles of American justice, American liberty and American jurisprudence. Let our practice conform to our preaching. Hysteria and intemperance of speech on the part of public men lead to disregard by the authorities of the very safeguards which protect our form of government from violence and successful attack. We must do justice justly, and beware of committing the folly of combating lawlessness in a lawless way.

So long as there is even a minority sentiment so sound, so sane, so reasonable as that, a sentiment so keenly sensitive to the vital principles of American polity, we need have no more than a passing fear of anarchy of any kind傭e it the destructive form of anarchy that would assassinate public servants, or the worse form of anarchy that would assassinate public liberty.