Source: Truth Seeker
Source type: magazine
Document type: article
Document title: “Interview with an Assassin”
Author(s): Macdonald, George E.
Date of publication: 2 November 1901
Volume number: 28
Issue number: 44
|Macdonald, George E. “Interview with an Assassin.” Truth Seeker 2 Nov. 1901 v28n44: p. 691.|
|McKinley assassination (public response); McKinley assassination (government response); McKinley assassination (religious response); McKinley assassination (personal response); Leon Czolgosz (incarceration: visitations: fictionalization); Leon Czolgosz (fictionalization); Leon Czolgosz (confession: fictionalization); McKinley assassination (motive: fictionalization); Leon Czolgosz (religion: fictionalization); assassinations (comparison).|
|Agag; Ahaziah; Thomas Henry Burke; Frederick Cavendish; Gaspard de Coligny; Eglon; Ehud; Guy Fawkes; Henry IV (France); Jehoram; Jehu; Jesus Christ; Jezebel; Abraham Lincoln; Moses; Charles de Quellenec [identified as Soubise below]; François Ravaillac; Samuel; Voltaire.|
|In the original source, a replicated typographical error resulted in the misspelling of over thirty words in the article. This problem has been corrected below.|
Interview with an Assassin
An assassination shocking to the civilized world
has been committed. It was the third atrocity of its character in the history
of the republic where it occurred, and people were asking themselves and one
another what measures could be adopted to prevent a repetition of the calamity
so threatening to the stability of the government, so abhorrent to the principles
of order and the better nature of mankind.
Naturally the first appeal of the public for protection against assassins was addressed to the lawmaking powers; and members of the legal profession, of which legislative bodies were largely composed, responded by framing amendments to the law which they proposed to offer at the next meeting of the national and state congresses. It needed only a glance at these remedies to convince the most thoughtless that they not only offered no relief, but threatened the foundation of the republic’s most cherished institutions. The statute books already provided for the punishment of the crime by death; the assassin had been taken red-handed, the formality of a trial observed, and the day fixed by the court for the execution of the law. What more could be done? It is true that refinements of torture were proposed, prominent among these being suspension over a slow fire which should insure at least twelve hours of mortal agony for the criminal, but here humanity revolted and the Constitution of the country intervened. Besides, it could be seen with half an eye that going outside the law to do away with a murderer was but following the lead of the man who had taken that course for the removal of a president. The inadequacy of the law seemed apparent, but the best thinkers agreed that the statute could not be improved by amendment. Any law, they said, that had been made for the government of men was bound to fail when applied to mad dogs, for whom its penalties had no terrors. They were outside the pale of humanity; yet civilization forbade that we should seek their level in order to punish them.
So the people turned from the lawyers and legislators and had recourse to the priests and ministers. This class declared that the crime was a direct and legitimate ontcome [sic] of an educational system wherein learning was divorced from religion, and that the school committeeman who voted against the Bible in the schools charged, cocked, and aimed the weapon that slew the president, leaving nothing for other influences to do but pull the trigger. The public did not stop to inquire into the truth of the accusation, and within a short time hundreds of school boards had adopted a rule setting up Bible-reading, praying, and other forms of worship in the common schools. It was notable that members of such school boards in no case read the Bible themselves, or conducted worship in their own families.
While affairs were in this shape it occurred to a skeptical citizen that there had been a good deal of jumping to conclusions in this matter. In his mind the assassination presented itself as a wholly purposeless act. To be sure, the public prints quoted the prisoner as referring his incitement to the deed to the teachings of a certain exponent of revolutionary principles, but on inquiry the skeptical citizen could find nobody who had ever heard assassination advocated in that quarter, and moreover the exponent hastened to repudiate the doctrine of violence altogether. Friends of the misguided man who were interviewed protested their ignorance of his motive, and when at his trial he denied that he had been influenced as stated in the public prints, the fact raised a suspicion that the statement of the press originated with some reporter and was untrue.
Nothing was left to be done, therefore, but to procure information from original sources—namely, from the prisoner himself. How the citizen gained access to the cell of the condemned it is not necessary to tell, but no confidence is betrayed in reporting the conversation which there took place.
The visitor described to the prisoner, who had been kept in ignorance of what was going on in the outer world, the effect which his act had produced, as above set forth; detailed the motives to which it was ascribed, and repeated the statements that had appeared in the press as coming from him. When the condemned man had put all this aside as foundationless and untrue,
“Now,” said the visitor, “will you tell me why you killed the president?”
“Yes,” answered the prisoner collectedly, “I will give you my reasons for the act. They may not appear strong enough to justify me in your mind, as you say you are a skeptic, but to one like myself, educated to believe that God has spoken to us through the Bible and by the examples of pious churchmen in all ages, they are quite sufficient. I did the thing from the same motive that has inspired other men to perform great deeds. There are the applause of men, the approval of one’s own conscience, and the blessing of God to be gained.—People are praising me, aren’t they?” he paused to inquire. “No? Well, that will come later. Of course, as I could not hear them any way [sic], shut up here, it makes no difference to me whether they shout now, after awhile, or not at all. Thoughts are always pleasantest when there are no realities about to interrupt them. When the Turk dreamed that ‘through camp and court he bore the trophies of a conqueror,’ he was just as happy as he would have been if it were not a fact that before morning a Greek killed him. So I shall die full of faith that my praises will be sung by the next generation and the next after that, and so on. It may not happen, but I believe it will; that thought thrills me; the enjoyment of it has become a part of my experience, and I cannot be robbed of it by the inappreciation [sic] of the present or the future. So I am easy on the applause question.”
“And your conscience?” the visitor suggested.
“As to the approval of my own conscience,” the prisoner went on glibly, “that follows as a matter of course. I do not understand the idea of people ‘suffering remorse.’ Conscience is the voice of God speaking from within, and since you can not act against the command of God it follows that what you have done in obedience to an inward voice or impulse is right, and to disapprove of yourself is to disapprove of God. What you call remorse is really fear arising from distrust of God. I have no such distrust, no remorse, only self-approval. Only the weak in faith can feel remorse.”
“Do you expect the blessing of God upon your act?” was the question which naturally followed.
“That,” said the condemned man, “is the thing I am most assured of. To question it would be to doubt that God has been with the church from the beginning. Read the history of assassination by any loyal son of the church, and you will find nowhere a hint that a Catholic like myself ever evoked divine wrath because he happened to kill a Protestant. When you hear preachers say that deeds like mine are the result of unbelief, contradict it for me. Tell them that they do me an injustice. That is the one thing I fear—that the clamor of these zealots will drown the voice of truth, and that because they are too cowardly to do as I have done they will misrepresent my belief. But a man consists of his heredity and his environment—that’s all there is of him. My parents, my people, have been Catholics for centuries, and I was so reared.
“I have not done anything inconsistent with my profession as such. Ravaillac, who removed Henry IV. of France, was an assassin because he was a Catholic. We Catholics say that Guy Fawkes was a saint, even if he did try to blow up a Protestant parliament. The woman who organized that wholesale assassination known as the massacre of St. Bartholomew was a faithful daughter of the church. She made a gala day of the slaughter of heretics. You remember with what light hearts she and the ladies of her train inspected and laughed at the naked corpses of men that lay in the courtyard, and how she improved this opportunity to gratify her curiosity regarding the body of Soubise, from whom his wife had sought to be divorced on the ground of his inability to fulfil [sic] the marriage contract. She rests in heaven. It was a good Catholic who ran his sword through the body of Admiral Coligny, an assassination that ushered in Bartholomew’s day, and there have been hundreds of others between that day and this, not counting the half dozen concerned in the killing of President Lincoln of the United States. With these and the lusty Protestant-haters who knifed Burke and Cavendish in Phenix park [sic], there will be a noble company of us in paradise.”
“So it was the example of these that you wished to emulate?”
“Not altogether. Although I have no doubt that they were raised up by God for the work they did, there is nothing authoritative on that point. I go back of them for my warrant. I go to the fountain-head, to the assassins’ hand-book, the Bible.”
“The Bible!” ejaculated the visitor.
“Nothing less,” responded the prisoner. “That book will remove the last doubt of any one who questions the divinity of assassination, especially when the person to suffer is a ruler or belongs to the ruling class. Moses murdered an Egyptian taskmaster. Jezebel, a king’s daughter, was thrown to the dogs. Samuel hewed the captive King Agag in pieces before the Lord. The kings Jehoram and Ahaziah were both assassinated by Jehu; and God said to Jehu, ‘Thou hast done well in executing that which was right in my eyes.’ They may be saying outside that to shoot a president under the guise of shaking hands with him is treacherous. Probably they do not know how Ehud killed Eglon. How distinctly I recall the passage. It is the fifteenth verse of the third chapter of Judges: ‘But when the children of Israel cried unto the Lord, the Lord raised them up a deliverer.’ Their oppressor was Eglon; the deliverer, Ehud the assassin. Can you not imagine the children of this country crying unto the Lord and the Lord raising up a deliverer? If so, why should not the latter party be myself? There is something lifting in the thought of being raised up by God to deliverer his people.”
When he had got over his exaltation the condemned man went on:
“I need not exhaust profane and sacred history in enumerating the assassins of blessed memory. I have named enough to show what a faithful company I am joining.”
“But,” observed the visitor, “these assassins whom God raised up were not seized by the bystanders and handed over to the police. They sat upon thrones, while your seat is nothing more regal than the cover of a bucket. Does not this show that you are not one of the chosen?”
“Did Christ upon the cross disprove his messiahship?” retorted the prisoner. “No, my present position does not figure in the account. In old times, before the children of God had received the promises, they had to be rewarded with the good things of this world in order to confound the wicked. Under the Christian dispensation the reward is bestowed in another world, and is eternal. Of course, in view of an eternity of happiness, we cannot complain of the stripes and wounds received here. Ought there not,” he added, “to be some rejoicing in Rome that a Protestant president has been removed?”
“Not especially,” returned the visitor, “since another Protestant takes his place.”
“Ah, you do not understand,” said the enthusiast; “you do not take into account the laws of chance. Don’t you see that in the Providence of God a Catholic will one day occupy that chair; that only a fixed number of Protestants are to intervene, and that the faster these are eliminated the sooner he will be called?”
“Will you receive the offices of a priest?”
“I have already sent for one, who will be privileged to confess me and to administer extreme unction. What a rascal that Voltaire was who compared this sacrament to greasing the axle of a wagon before starting on a journey?”
The introduction of the priest here interrupted the conference, and the visitor withdrew. His experiment—that of putting himself in the assassin’s place and answering his own questions—had prepared him to avow and maintain that the argument of the condemned man was totally unassailable from the point of view of the gentlemen who are pushing the Bible as a school text-book or recommending religion as a corrective of homicidal tendencies.