Source: Saturday Evening Post
Source type: magazine
Document type: article
Document title: “The Safety of the President”
Author(s): Cleveland, Grover
Date of publication: 5 October 1901
Volume number: 174
Issue number: 14
|Cleveland, Grover. “The Safety of the President.” Saturday Evening Post 5 Oct. 1901 v174n14: pp. 3-4.|
|McKinley assassination (personal response); presidents (protection); presidents (public access to); anarchism (personal response); society (criticism).|
|This article is accompanied on page 3 by a photograph with the caption, “Mr. Cleveland in His Library.”|
The Safety of the President
THE dastardly and now thrice-repeated assassination of a President of the
United States, and the terrible circumstances attending the crime, have filled
the popular mind with shock and trepidation. This has given rise to a universal
demand among our citizens that at this late day something more shall be done
by way of protecting the life of our Chief Executive than is accomplished by
the deterrent effect of the conviction and execution of the miserable and loathsome
creatures who strike the fatal blow. This demand is intensified by the fact
that even the restraint that follows this exhibition of stern retributive justice
is lost if the foul deed happens to be committed within the jurisdiction of
a State whose laws do not denounce the crime of murder with the punishment of
death. Thus the chance is by no means remote that our Chief Executive may be
assassinated and a great nation be staggered by direful fear and apprehension,
and yet that the foul life of the murderer may be saved, to heroize assassination
in the imagination of the enemies of social order and to become a centre of
sympathy and pity among those who disseminate vicious discontent. It is at this
time a perfectly natural and justifiable cause of satisfaction that the hopeless
and self-convicted perpetrator of the infamous crime which now darkens with
mourning every honest American household can anticipate nothing more gratifying
to his brutal self-conceit, and nothing more heroically notorious or sensational,
than a shameful death under the law.
Our people have not forgotten that hardly more than a year ago a plot was hatched on American soil which culminated in the assassination of a European King; and now that the continuance of such plotting has forced the poisoned chalice to our own lips, it is insisted on all sides with an earnestness that will not subside with the present acute excitement, that not only should such terrible crimes be adequately and certainly punished in all their branches of execution, instigation and encouragement, but that the opportunity for murderous conference should be prevented, and the bloody counsels of assassination be placed under the ban and watchfulness of the law. It is hardly conceivable that our countrymen will long condone a failure on the part of those intrusted with national interests to take such steps in this direction as will indicate the solicitous care of our people for their constituted Government, and express their determination that the faithful discharge of the highest public duty shall not provoke the peril of violent death.
It is suggested that the safety of the President can be much increased by curtailing his accessibility to the public. It is even said that the custom which has always permitted to the people large latitude in meeting and greeting their Chief Executive, by taking him by the hand, is absurdly dangerous.
A radical diminution of the popular enjoyment of those privileges would be much more difficult of accomplishment than at first blush is apparent. The relations between all the decent people of the land and the President are very close. On the part of the people this situation is the outgrowth of their feeling that they have a more direct proprietary interest in the Presidential office than in any other instrumentality of their Government. They have determined by their united and simultaneous suffrages who the President shall be. In his high office they regard him as the representative of their sovereignty and self-government; and, as the administrator of laws made for their welfare and advantage, they look upon him as their near friend—alive to their needs and anxious for their prosperity and happiness. Closely allied to these sentiments and perhaps directly resulting from them there is an immensely strong band of attachment between all good citizens and their President which, though difficult to define, is nevertheless unmistakably real and distinctively American. In the minds of all law-abiding people, excepting an insignificant minority whose love of country is selfish or who make party scheming an occupation, this attachment overreached party affiliations and crowds out of memory the exciting incidents of party strife. It may be said to rest upon a feeling of sincere and generous good-fellowship or comradeship which includes the idea that, though the President has been clothed with high honor by his fellow-countrymen, he is still one of the people, that he still needs their support and approbation, and that he is still in sympathy with them in every condition of their daily life.
This attachment and affection of our plain and honest people for their President is not only manifested by their desire to see, hear and greet him, but these kindly sentiments are stimulated and strengthened by every indulgence of this desire. When danger is charged against this indulgence let us remember that, while only one of our three Presidential assassinations can be in any way related to a public opportunity for the people to greet the President, such opportunity has in many millions of honest hearts rekindled wholesome Americanism, and made more deep and warm patriotic impulse. Against one miscreant who, with a desperate foolhardiness that can hardly be again anticipated, has through access to the head of our Nation accomplished a murderous purpose, we should not forget the countless numbers of those who in the privilege of like access would prevent such accomplishment with their lives. All things considered it is a serious question, even at a time when all are aroused to the need of better protection of the President, whether a serious limitation of the people’s public access to him is justified as either necessary or effective.
It is not amiss to add that in discussing the curtailment of the privileges long accorded to the public in this regard the President himself must be reckoned with. We shall never have a President who is not fond of the great mass of his countrymen and who is not willing to trust them. His close contact with them is inspiring and encouraging. Their friendly greeting and hearty grasp of his hand, with no favors to ask and no selfish cause to urge, bring pleasant relief from official perplexities and annoying importunities. The people have enjoyed a generous access to their President for more than a hundred years. Weighing the remote chance of harm against the benefit and gratification of such access both to himself and the people, it can hardly be predicted that a project for its abolition would be sanctioned by any incumbents of the Presidential office.
It is by no means intended to suggest that this access should be unregulated and entirely free from all precaution. Those charged with care for the President on such occasions should never in the least degree tolerate the idea that there can be a harmless person of unsound mind; nor should they relax their watch for such persons and for all others that may properly be suspected of a liability to do harm. Every doubtful case should be determined on the side of safety and all suspicious movements or conduct should challenge prompt and effective caution. Such precautions can be taken quietly and  unostentatiously. It may be safely said, however, that among the millions interested in having such precautions for Presidential safety adopted, the President himself will be the least anxious concerning them. This will always be so.
The fact is not overlooked that we have fallen upon a time when the danger of Presidential assassination, growing out of conditions and causes to which our thoughts have been somewhat accustomed, is nearly forgotten as we are confronted face to face with another menace more dreadful in intent, more secret in machination, and more cunning and unrelenting in execution than any other. We can no longer doubt the existence and growth of a spirit of anarchy in our midst. It seems to need no especial exciting cause to rouse it to deadly activity, but deliberately plans murder in high places—senseless and useless except to indulge its love for blood and its hatred of every agency of human government. Though of foreign parentage it has been permitted to pass our gates, and has been too long allowed to construe American freedom of speech and action as meaning unbridled and destructive license to disseminate the doctrines of hate and social disorder, and to teach assassination.
Our people in their grief and indignation are asking why this should continue; and they are inquiring whether their belief in free institutions compels them to tolerate the deadly infection of anarchy. They have been taught that nations, like individuals, possess inherently the right of self-defense. They see this right exercised by the exclusion from our country of diseased persons and of criminals and persons under contract to labor here to the detriment of our workingmen. They have seen substantially the entire Chinese race excluded from our shores upon grounds that seem almost trivial in comparison with the reasons that cry out against the admission of anarchists. It appears to them perfectly palpable that when the personal character and behavior of aliens seeking to mingle with our population may involve our peace and security, it would be only a wise safeguard to exact evidence of their previous decent life and orderly disposition as a condition of their reception.
Nor will these questioners be satisfied with mere relief from the future importation of the dangers of anarchy. They are asking if our popular Government would be subjected to monarchical taint if strong and effective remedies were applied to the suppression of the machinations of anarchists who have already a foothold among us. They see vagrants, common gamblers, suspected criminals and disorderly persons in the hands of the law for the harm they may do of a feeble kind and within narrow limits; and they cannot understand why anarchists, whose diabolical character and teachings are or ought to be well known, are allowed to plot and conspire until bloody assassination strikes down the embodiment of beneficent rules and shakes the foundations of lawful authority. Our people love liberty and are devoted to every guaranty of freedom to which their Government is pledged. In dealing with anarchy, however, they impatiently chafe under the restraint which bids them to wait for the tragedy it prepares, and to content themselves with visiting retribution upon its worthless and miserable tools. If to suppress and punish those who directly or by suggestion incite assassination savors of monarchy, they are prepared to take the departure.
A serious and thorough consideration of the peril which has so shockingly broken in upon the peace of our national life would be incomplete in its lesson and warning if it failed to lead to an honest self-examination and a frank inquiry whether there are not causes other than anarchistic teachings, and perhaps near our own doors, whose tendency, to say the least, is in the wrong direction. Have not some of our public journals, under the guise of wholesome criticism of official conduct, descended to such mendacious and scandalous personal abuse as might well suggest hatred of those holding public place? Has not the ridicule of the coarse and indecent cartoon indicated to those of low instincts that no respect is due to official station? Have not lying accusations on the stump and even in the halls of Congress, charging executive dishonesty, given a hint to those of warped judgment and weak intellect that the President is an enemy to the well-being of the people?
Many good men who are tearful now, and who sincerely mourn the cruel murder of a kindly, faithful and honest President, have perhaps from partisan feeling or through heedless disregard of responsibility supported and encouraged such things. They may recall it now and realize the fact that the agents of assassination are incited to their work by suggestion, and this suggestion need not necessarily be confined to the dark councils of anarchy.
Not the least among the safeguards against Presidential peril is that which would follow a revival of genuine American love for fairness, decency and unsensational truth.