Thursday, September 06, 2007

September 6, 1901:

McKinley Shot

At the beginning of the 20th century, an assassin decided who would be president for the third time in 35 years when an anarchist mortally wounded William McKinley in Buffalo, New York. A little more than a week later, President McKinley died of his wounds.

Interestingly, many years later, the Warren Report took up the subject of the previous three presidential murders in passing. On pp 509-510, it discusses what happened to McKinley: "Between 1894 and 1900, anarchists murdered the President of France, the Premier of Spain, the Empress of Austria, and the King of Italy. At the turn of the century the Secret Service thought that the strong police action taken against the anarchists in Europe was compelling them to flee and that many were coming to the United States. Concerned about the protection of the President, the Secret Service increased the number of guards and directed that a guard accompany him on all of his trips.

"Unlike Lincoln and Garfield, President McKinley was being guarded when he was shot by Leon F. Czolgosz, an American-born 28-year-old factory worker and farmhand. On September 6, 1901, the President was holding a brief reception for the public in the Temple of Music at the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo. Long lines of people passed between two rows of policemen and soldiers to reach the President and shake his hand. In the immediate vicinity of the President were four Buffalo detectives, four soldiers, and three Secret Service agents. Two of the Secret Service men were facing the President at a distance of 3 feet. One of them stated later that it was normally his custom to stand at the side of the President on such occasions, but that he had been requested not to do so at this time in order to permit McKinley's secretary and the president of the exposition to stand on either side of McKinley. Czolgosz joined the line concealed a pistol under a handkerchief, and when he stood in front of the President shot twice through the handkerchief. McKinley fell critically wounded.

"Czolgosz, a self-styled anarchist, did not believe in rulers of any kind. There is evidence that the organized anarchists in the U.S.A. did not accept or trust him. He was not admitted as a member to any of the secret anarchist societies. No co-plotters were ever discovered, and there is no evidence that he had confided in anyone. A calm inquiry made by two eminent alienists about a year after Czolgosz was executed found that Czolgosz had for some time been suffering from delusions. One was that he was an anarchist; another was that it was his duty to assassinate the President.

"The assassin said he had no grudge against the President personally but did not believe in the republican form of government or in rulers of any kind. In his written confession he included the words, 'I don't believe one man should have so much service and another man should have none.' As he was strapped to the chair to be electrocuted, he said: 'I killed the President because he was the enemy of the good people--the good working people. I am not sorry for my crime.'

"McKinley lingered on for 8 days before he died... on the morning of September 14. Czolgosz, who had been captured immediately, was swiftly tried, convicted, and condemned to death. Although it seemed to some contemporaries that Czolgosz was incompetent, the defense made no effort to plead insanity. Czolgosz was executed 45 days after the President's death. Investigations by the Buffalo police and the Secret Service revealed no accomplices and no plot of any kind."

Could he have survived? Maybe. Dr. Zebra notes that "there was intense controversy about McKinley's medical care. Some thought that McKinley could have been saved had renowned surgeon Roswell Park performed the operation [he was delayed in getting to Buffalo from Niagra Falls]. More recent commentators believe, however, that McKinley died from pancreatic necrosis, a condition which is still difficult to treat today, and which the surgeons of McKinley's time could not have treated or prevented."

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