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Source: Saturday Evening Post
Source type: magazine
Document type: editorial
Document title: “Stamping Out Anarchy by Police Powers”
Author(s): O’Neill, Francis
Date of publication: 28 September 1901
Volume number: 174
Issue number: 13
Pagination: 12

O’Neill, Francis. “Stamping Out Anarchy by Police Powers.” Saturday Evening Post 28 Sept. 1901 v174n13: p. 12.
full text
anarchism (government response); anarchism (dealing with).
Named persons
William McKinley.
“Francis O’Neill, General Superintendent of Police, Chicago” [p. 12].


Stamping Out Anarchy by Police Powers

AT THE present pitch of public excitement the conscientious police official who is called upon to deal practically with the suppression of potential anarchy finds himself in a most difficult position. On the one hand he feels the force of a tremendous public sentiment against the murderous enemies of the law; on the other, the sobering weight of direct responsibility and a sense of the inadequacy of the agencies at his command. He is in sympathy with the righteous indignation of a people outraged by the act of an assassin, and the popular clamor that this hidden reptile, which menaces the lives of the representatives of the law, must be stamped out, meets with a response in his own heart. But he also realizes that he is hedged about with inflexible limitations.
     First and foremost of these is the knowledge that he must keep within the law. For him to exceed the law would be to resort to the very means and methods advocated by the anarchists themselves and thus furnish strength to their own arguments and doctrines. Such a course would inevitably intensify the hatred against the law which is held by those of anarchistic tendencies and thereby bring the law into shameful disrepute. The logic of this is so self-evident that the statement of the principle might seem wholly superfluous and uncalled for; but a review of the public statements made by good citizens under the stress of passion provoked by the lamentable tragedy at Buffalo will indicate that there is good reason for the reminder that all efforts for the suppression of anarchy must be strictly within the law.
     It only remains, therefore, to be said that the law itself should be so strengthened and fortified that it will be powerful and comprehensive enough to enable the properly constituted authorities to deal effectively with anarchists and every other class of persons who scheme to overthrow the Government by violent means.


     Of course the commission of an overt act makes the way of the police power clear and open, so far as those connected with that particular crime are concerned. This, however, is not the most perplexing problem which confronts the police executive in a crisis like the present. He faces the question: What can the police do to suppress incipient anarchy before it takes form in open crime?
     There is but one answer to make to this inquiry, and it is this: Keep all persons who may reasonably be suspected of anarchistic tendencies under a strict, constant and unremitting surveillance; give them to know that they are always under the eye of the police, that their doings and utterances are carefully watched, and that the police know at any moment where to put hands upon them when trouble occurs. This is the most effective discourager of anarchy at present within the power of any police force in America. That this will be more consistently, persistently and generally done in the future than it has been done in the past cannot be doubted. Continuous and unflagging effort in this line is, it seems to me, the key to the whole situation, so far as the police are concerned.


     The first and main effect of such a line of procedure will be the deterrent influence upon the anarchists themselves. Every human being shrinks instinctively from the thought of being “shadowed,” and anarchists, practical or theoretical, are no exceptions to this rule. Then, in case of an actual outbreak, this surveillance is likely to enable the police authorities to catch suspects before they are able to get out of the way and to gain clews useful in uncovering proof of conspiracy.
     So far as Chicago is concerned, it should be said that its anarchists have not yet forgotten the lesson instilled by the Haymarket convictions and they still cherish a wholesome dread of that word “conspiracy.” Although the person who actually threw the bomb which sacrificed the lives of eleven police officers and injured fifty-five other policemen was not captured, swift punishment was dealt to the conspirators, a number of whom were hanged and other sent to the penitentiary.
     Since then the anarchists of Chicago have had no large meetings; they have indulged in no outbreaks, no public appeals to violence and no open denunciation of government. Their old-time cry of “Down with the government!” has been effectively stilled, for they know that they are watched and that the law will be rigidly enforced. Also it is due to Chicago to say that the most searching police investigation has failed (up to the time of this writing) to bring out any evidence that the plot against the life of President McKinley—if plot existed—was hatched in this city. I have found nothing to indicate that the anarchists of Chicago had any direct connection with the awful tragedy at Buffalo. But my information does indicate that the hotbeds of anarchists having murderous tendencies are located east of Chicago.


     Suppression of open meetings where free discussion within the limitations of the statutes is heard invariably has a tendency to embitter and intensify the hatred of the law held by those who would overthrow the Government or make government impossible. This, too, has a tendency to cause such persons to operate through secret meetings. Too stringent a repression of “free speech” furnishes these persons with new weapons and new arguments by which to appeal to the passions of those who harbor latent anarchistic tendencies, and adds fresh fuel to the fires of their hatred for law and order. So long as their utterances are within the law they must be allowed; if the law is at fault, then let it be remedied. And in any event it is plain that police powers must, in this province, be exercised with great discretion and in a manner not to aggravate the very offense against which it is desired to protect the public.



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