Publication information
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Source: Truth Seeker
Source type: magazine
Document type: editorial column
Document title: “Observations”
Author(s): Macdonald, George E.
Date of publication: 16 November 1901
Volume number: 28
Issue number: 46
Pagination: 728

Macdonald, George E. “Observations.” Truth Seeker 16 Nov. 1901 v28n46: p. 728.
anarchists; Leon Czolgosz (last words); Leon Czolgosz (religion); Morrison I. Swift; William McKinley (criticism); Theodore Roosevelt.
Named persons
Henry Addis; John Wilkes Booth; Marcus Junius Brutus; Julius Caesar; Charles I (Great Britain and Ireland); Oliver Cromwell; Leon Czolgosz; John Falstaff; James A. Garfield; George III; H. L. Green; Charles J. Guiteau; Patrick Henry; Abraham Lincoln; Francis B. Livesey; William McKinley; Carrie Nation; Thomas Paine; Nell Quickly; Theodore Roosevelt; William Shakespeare [variant spelling below]; Morrison I. Swift.
Click here to view the letter to the editor by Henry Addis that Macdonald responds to below.

Click here to view the letter to the editor by Francis B. Livesey alluded to below.

The excerpt below comprises two nonconsecutive portions of the column. Omission of text within the excerpt is denoted with a bracketed indicator (e.g., [omit]).


Observations [excerpt]

     Henry Addis would correct the impression, which is strangely prevalent, that there are two kinds of Anarchists—the Philosophical and the Red. Mr. Addis tells us that all Anarchists are philosophical, but some are more so than others. The difference is in degree, not in kind. A man completely possessed by the philosophy will not commit deeds of violence; when one professing to be an Anarchist commits such a deed, we must attribute it to the old archic Adam that is still in him—the survival from former times of belief in force and oppression. The reason men do wrong is that they are not genuinely converted to Anarchistic principles. All which sounds plausible enough, but is fallacious. The line drawn by Livesey is no imaginary thing; a professed Anarchist either believes in assassination or he does not, and his belief on that subject naturally puts him on the other side of the line from those who take the opposite view. When people differ about methods, there is all the difference in the world between them; other differences are minor. As to Anarchists, I should imagine that the item of murder, concerning which they are not agreed (some being so squeamish as to deprecate assassination), would be important enough to be called divisive. Even the temperance people are divided, some being for force and some not. Carrie Nation, I understand, has not the approval of all who are on the sober list. In a very particular sense the propagandists by deed belong to the same class as the Kansas joint-smasher, and their claim to affiliation with the Philosophicals is defective. They are Carrienationalists.


     It is reported by persons who witnessed the execution that as the headgear of the electrical apparatus was adjusted, the forepart covering his face, the voice of Czolgosz was heard saying something construed to be: “I am sorry I did not see father.” The regret was rather a strange one to be expressed under the circumstances, but the press accepted it as the only indication of natural feeling the murderer had shown. However, it is to be suspected that the father had in mind by the wretch was not his earthly parent but his spiritual father, the Polish priest who visited him in his cell, and who, for some reason, was not present at the time. The man whom Czolgosz slew had passed away without ghostly counsel. There may have been a grim determination on the part of the prison officials that the murderer should have no advantage over his victim at the start on the long journey. One born and reared a Catholic would in the presence of death be more likely to think of his priest than of his family, and would inevitably refer to him as “the father.”
     These last inarticulate words should be understood in the light of probability. When Sir John Falstaff made what Mrs. Quickly declared to be “a finer end, and went away, an it had been any christom child,” the lady noted that he “babbled of green fields.” From this it has been thought that Falstaff’s mind was occupied with his childhood’s happy home; but the Higher Criticism as applied to Shakspere reaches the conclusion that Sir John, knowing he was a goner, essayed to repeat something that would be quoted to show he had died as a Christian should. “Nearer, my God, to Thee,” was not then available, so he fell upon something he had learned from the psalter: “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters.” The “green fields” Falstaff babbled of were the pastures of the prayer book. The father that Czolgosz babbled about was the priest.


     It is sometimes a matter of luck whether what a person has to say gives him immortality or six months in jail. When Patrick Henry, arising to make a few remarks for the benefit of the king of England, said that “Cæsar had his Brutus, Charles I. his Cromwell, and George III.—might profit by their example,” he owed it to his environment that he was not hanged. This will be plainly seen if we imagine some speaker on or about the first of last September declaiming as follows: “Lincoln had his Booth, Garfield his Guiteau, and William McKinley—should take warning from their fate.” That speaker would now be doing time. This shows how the merit of an observation is modified by circumstances.
     The best rule when talking for the good of those in high places is to avoid allusion to the misfortunes of their predecessors. Nobody believes in your warnings, and as a prophet you take no stock in your own predictions, but if anything happens your remarks will be recalled to your disadvantage. Two years ago a Californian named Morrison I. Swift wrote a book abusing McKinley. Probably the President never saw the work, and, if he had seen it, would have found it uninteresting. There is nothing to show that anybody was benefited by the work except the author, whose mind it relieved, or that any person regarded its admonitions as worth heeding; nevertheless, following the death of the President, Mr. Swift was arrested for “slandering the memory of William McKinley.”
     The case raises the question whether the memory of a distinguished person can be slandered in advance, or at least whether we can be certain that any living person is going to leave a memory; and it complicates the situation a good deal. When Mr. Swift wrote his book, Mr. McKinley belonged to the present and did not have to be recalled, and he had not yet achieved a memory. Can that be slandered which does not exist? Of course it is hard to distinguish in words between the man himself and his memory, but undoubtedly there is a difference. You cannot perpetuate a man as you can his memory; he does not grow brighter as the eons roll on. On the other hand, his memory can not bring an action for slander, as can the man himself: it is not hurt in its business by being talked about. If you can slander a man’s memory before the close of the career that is going to determine what sort of a memory he shall leave behind him, then you can desecrate his grave before it is dug; and that, I fancy, is absurd.
     But admitting that a man’s memory can be slandered either before or after he has one, shall it be criminal for a citizen to attack the memory of a President, and yet guiltless for a President to attack the memory of a citizen? That is to say, for example, is Mr. Swift, for his assault on President McKinley’s memory, more deserving of punishment that [sic] is President Roosevelt for libeling the memory of Thomas Paine? I admit a trifling difference in the circumstances, for it is undeniable that while the offense against McKinley was committed after he was President but before he had a memory, on the other hand Roosevelt perpetrated the outrage against Paine after Paine had a memory but before Roosevelt was President; but I believe Mr. H. L. Green or any other lawyer will agree with me that this distinction cannot hold good in law. Hence I repeat the question, Is Swift more guilty than Roosevelt? and I pause for a reply.



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