Anarchy at the Turn of the Century
Leon Czolgosz, the assassin of President William McKinley, professed to being an anarchist. Inspired by Emma Goldman, he stated in his confession, "I killed President McKinley because I done my duty. I didn't believe one man should have so much service, and another man should have none." With the role of anarchists and the violence of the Haymarket Square Riot on the minds of many Americans, the death of McKinley at the hands of the anarchist son of immigrants was significant. While the idea that it enhanced the link between immigrant laborers and anarchists in the minds of civic leaders may be speculation, Czolgosz's deed and the attitude towards anarchism was most certainly an integral part of the passing of the Alien Immigration Act in 1903.
- Emma Goldman
- The Haymarket Square Riot
- Anti-Anarchist/Anti-Immigrant Political Commentary
- Legislation and the Courts Target Anarchists
- Buffalo - a Labor Town Where Anarchists Failed
Born on June 27, 1869, in Kovno (now Kaunas), Lithuania, Emma Goldman grew up there, in Königsberg, East Prussia (now Kaliningrad, Russia) and in St. Petersburg. Her formal education was limited, but she read widely and in St. Petersburg, associated with a radical student circle. In 1885 she emigrated to the United States and settled in Rochester, New York. There, and later in New Haven, Connecticut, she worked in clothing factories and came into contact with socialist and anarchist groups among her fellow workers.
Leon Czolgosz claimed to have been "an Anarchist--a disciple of Emma Goldman."1 He had been inspired by her, having seen her speak in Cleveland before the Franklin Liberal Club on May 6, 1901. Here she "laid down the principles by which she expected universal Anarchy to prevail...."2 While she no longer condoned violence, preferring education as the vehicle of social change, she did speak highly of the violent measures enacted by anarchists, calling their motives high and noble and praising them because they "could not stand aside while workers suffered."3
There is no evidence to show that Goldman was ever directly involved in Czolgosz's scheme. In fact he was scorned as too revolutionary by the anarchists with which Goldman associated, including Emil Schilling of Cleveland's Liberty Club and Abraham Isaak, editor of Free Society. Despite this, Goldman sympathized with the President's assassin. In "The Tragedy at Buffalo, " she wrote:
I did not know the man [Czolgosz]; no one as far as I am aware seems to have known him, but from his attitude and behavior so far (I hope that no reader of "Free Society" has believed the newspaper lies), I feel that he was a soul in pain, a soul that could find no abode in this cruel world of ours, ....
... As I write this, my thoughts wander to the death-cell at Auburn, to the young man with the girlish face, about to be put to death by the coarse, brutal hands of the law, walking up and down the narrow cell, with cold, cruel eyes following him,
"Who watch him when he tries to weep
And when he tries to pray;
Who watch him lest himself should rob
The prison of its prey."
And my heart goes out to him in deep sympathy, and to all the victims of a system of inequality, and the many who will die the forerunners of a better, nobler, grander life.4
The Haymarket Square Riot, depicted by a contemporary illustrator. Illustrator: unidentified. Source: George N. McLean. The Rise and Fall of Anarchy in America. Chicago: R.G. Badoux & Co., 1890, p. .
Early in 1886 labor unions in Chicago were beginning the fight for an eight-hour day. Serious trouble was anticipated and on May 1st many workers struck for shorter hours. An active group of radicals and anarchists became involved in the campaign. Two days later, one death occurred during a riot at the McCormick Harvester plant when police tangled with the strikers.
On May 4, events reached a tragic climax at Haymarket Square, where a protest meeting had been called to denounce the events of the preceding day. At this meeting, while police were attempting to disperse the crowd, a bomb exploded. Policeman Mathias J. Degan was killed almost instantly and seven other officers died later. While the bomber was never identified, eight men were finally brought to trial. Judge Joseph E. Gary imposed the death sentence on seven of them and sentenced the eighth to fifteen years in prison. Four were hanged, one committed suicide and the sentences of the remaining two were commuted from death to imprisonment for life. On June 26, 1893, Governor John P. Altgeld granted pardons to those three in the penitentiary.4
The Haymarket Riots did have direct bearing on reaction to McKinley's Assassination some fifteen years later. The Buffalo Express pointed out to its readers that the person who threw the bomb in 1886 was never caught. The four men hanged were in fact charged as accomplices, giving the state precedence to charge any accomplices that Czolgosz may have had. Emma Goldman and eleven of her anarchist friends were accused of complicity in what was then the attempt on the President's life (McKinley had not yet died.) None of the Anarchists, including Goldman, was ever charged. 5
Emma Goldman - Arrested in Chicago, Sept. 10, 1901
Anti-Anarchist/Anti-Immigrant Political Commentary
Political Cartoons reflect the "Evils of Anarchy". Source: Public Opinion, v. 13, no. 12 (September 19, 1901)
Political Cartoons reflect "Anarchy and Immigrants". Source: Public Opinion, v. 13, no. 12 (September 19, 1901)
In response to the September 6, 1901 shooting of the president and his subsequent death eight days later, publications printed much commentary denouncing the actions of anarchists. One such publication, the weekly Public Opinion, reprinted the opinions and statements made in many of the nation's newspapers and journals. Below are excerpts from Public Opinion's September 12th and September 19th issues.
… Czolgosz says that his deed was prompted by the teachings of anarchy; he asserts that he has only done his duty as he understands it. He is a Pole, but was born in this country, speaks English well, and is, presumably, familiar with the system of government under which he lived. If so, he knew that his deed was not only brutal and criminal, but senseless as well. ... p.323
Excerpts from Public Opinion, September 12th, 1901
"Whether President McKinley lives or dies, the American people should learn certain lessons at his bedside," says the Boston Transcript: "That anarchy is hating as it is hateful; that it will strike as readily at the freely chosen executive of a republic as at a king ruling by 'divine right'; that anarchism must be suppressed here ...
... "This is a land of freedom, but it is not an asylum for assassins. Those who are banded together for the commission of murder are outlaws, and the most sacred human right-that of self-protection-demands that they be suppressed. Their presence in this country is a cancerous growth upon our republican form of government, and the most drastic measures used to remove them will not be too severe," says the Baltimore Herald. ... p.324
Excerpts from Public Opinion, September 19th, 1901
... NATURALLY the avoidance of a repetition of crimes of the kind which have deprived the nation of three of its presidents is the subject of most earnest consideration, but no practicable suggestions have yet been made. It is to be presumed that the assailant expects to accomplish the death of his victim; what then is to be gained by making an attempt upon the president's life punishable by death without regard to the actual outcome of the attempt? Probably nothing can be done to preclude the possibility of such attacks upon the heads of nations, but the preaching if not the mad practise of anarchy can be stopped, and it doubtless will be until we again grow careless of the safety of our highest state officials. ... p.355
[From the Chicago Journal] ... Who is it that makes the Goldmans and the Mosts, the Spieses and the Parsonses whose writings and speeches thus incite men to assassination? From whom do these teachers get their best encouragement in this country? Whose teaching is it that anarchists think they only carry to its logical conclusion when they advise and commit murder? Deliberately and without hesitation we say the "yellow journals" and the men behind them. ... p. 361.
[From the New York World] ... The response of the governors of many states to the inquiry of the World shows that the one point of emphatic agreement is that a change alike in our law and practise regarding avowed anarchists is necessary. ... Now that public opinion has been sharply called to the deterrent inadequacy of the punishment provided for a man who unsuccessfully tries to kill the nation's chief magistrate, some such federal law will no doubt be enacted. ... p.359
Legislation and the Courts Target Anarchists
Legislators and the Courts were not at all tolerant of anarchists and their teachings, in part because of the Haymarket Square riots and the seemingly endless growth in influence and power of the labor unions. The assassination of President McKinley by a professed anarchist who was also the son of immigrants contributed to the anti-anarchist fervor in Congress and the courts. The supposed ties between anarchists and immigrants was addressed most effectively with the passing of the Alien Immigration Act in 1903 ( 32 STAT 1213, ch.1012).
... SEC. 2.That the following classes of aliens shall be excluded from admission into the United States: All idiots, insane persons, epileptics, and persons who have been insane within five years previous; persons who have had two or more attacks of insanity at any time previously; paupers; persons likely to become a public charge; professional beggars; persons afflicted with a loathsome or with a dangerous contagious disease- persons who have been convicted of a felony or other crime or misdemeanor involving moral turpitude; polygamists,anarchists, or persons who believe in or advocate the overthrow by force or violence of the Government of the United States or of all government or of all forms of law, or the assassination of public officials; prostitutes, and persons who procure or attempt to bring in prostitutes or women for the purpose of prostitution; … .
In addition to excluding anarchist immigrants from entry, the Act also allowed for the deportation of those immigrants already in the United States who were found to be anarchists. John Turner, a British national, was the first to be deported under the Alien Immigration Act. He appealed the decision to the Supreme Court in 1904. The Fuller court upheld the earlier decision.
The People v. Most
Shortly after the shooting of President McKinley, John Most was charged with a misdemeanor for "Publication of an anarchical article" ... "an act endangering the peace and outraging public decency, within Penal Code, § 675." Most was the publisher of the German language newspaper die Freiheit, and had reprinted an article which advocated the use of murder as a proper remedy to be applied against rulers or "enemies of the people." The article, "Murder vs. Murder," was originally written by Carl Heinzen fifty years prior, but reprinted by Most in the September 7, 1901 issue of Die Freiheit.
The charges against Most were summed up as follows:
The publication and distribution, through the mail and to a local news company, of a German newspaper, circulated in the city and county of New York, reproducing an article, headed in display type "Murder vs. Murder", originally written by another person fifty years ago against crowned heads, teaching the doctrine of anarchy and declaring that all rulers are enemies of mankind who should be hunted and destroyed through blood and iron, poison and dynamite, make the publisher of the newspaper guilty of a misdemeanor within Penal Code, § 675, providing that "A person who willfully and wrongfully commits anyact * * * which seriously endangers the public peace * * * or which openly outrages public decency, for which no other punishment is expressly prescribed by this code, is guilty of a misdemeanor" -- and this although it be not shown that the publication of the article was followed by any overt act of physical injury to anyone.
It is unclear whether or not the timing of this article was intentional. Most's counsel maintained that "as soon as he learned of the assault upon our late President, made all possible efforts to withdraw the newspaper containing the article in question from circulation. That, with the exception of those which had been sent through the mail and delivered to the International News Company, no more copies had been sold, so far as known to the defendant."
The assault on McKinley was, however, referred to in the opinion by Judge Hultquist:
... It is the power of words that is the potent force to commit crimes and offenses in certain cases. No more striking illustration of the criminal power of words could be given, if we are to believe the murderer of our late President, than that event presents. The assassin declares that he was instigated and stimulated to consummate his foul deed by the teachings of Emma Goldman. He is now awaiting execution for the crime, while she is still at large in fancied security. ...
It is impossible to read the whole article without deducing from it the doctrine that all rulers are enemies of mankind, and are to be hunted and destroyed through "blood and iron, poison and dynamite." It is no answer to the evil and criminal nature of this article to claim that it was written for the purpose of destroying crowned heads. It inculcates and enforces the idea that murder is the proper remedy to be applied against rulers. The fact that it was published fifty years ago and again republished about fifteen years ago only emphasizes and gives added point to the criminality of republishing it at any time. It shows a deliberate intent to inculcate and promulgate the doctrine of the article. This we hold to be a criminal act. It is not necessary to trace any connection in this article with the assassination of the late President. The offense here, in the eye of the law, is precisely the same as if that event had never occurred. The murder of the President only serves to illustrate and illuminate the enormity of the crime of the defendant in teaching his diabolical doctrines...
John Most was found guilty, and sentenced to be imprisoned for 1 year in the penitentiary. He lost his appeal before the Supreme Court of New York in 1902.
Buffalo : A Labor Town where Anarchists Failed.
During the late nineteenth century strikes by labor unions and social unrest among exploited immigrant workers were common. As a growing center of industry with a large immigrant population, Buffalo was not immune to labor strikes. In fact, there numerous work stoppages by those union workers involved in constructing the Exposition. One of the more famous strikes in Buffalo history, the Grain Scoopers' Strike of 1899 occurred less than two years prior, when city leaders were planning to showcase Buffalo to the world at the Pan-American.
Fr. James Quigley
The 1899 strike was significant in that it illustrated, in part, why labor unions made up of primarily immigrant workers, the targets of socialist and anarchist ideologists, were not influenced by this group as in other U. S. cities. A key figure in the resolution of the Scooper's strike was Bishop of the Buffalo Diocese, Fr. James Quigley, who refused to allow socialism or the anarchist movement to displace the influence of the Catholic Church. Quigley sided with the mostly Irish scoopers in their dispute with saloon bosses but wanted the teachings of the church to form the basis of the workers' ideology. Consider the influence of the Catholic church in the lives of Buffalo's labor force. Most were Poles and some Germans from the East Side, Italians from the West Side and Black Rock and the Irish of the First Ward (and later, the West Side.) In general, the Catholic Church was the center of social, spiritual and cultural life in these ethnic communities. If Buffalo's bishop condemned socialism and anarchy, certainly the laborers would be listening. Quigley's opposition was vehement and amplified by the assassination of McKinley. He worked intensely to keep socialist and anarchist ideologies out of the church and out of the unions. Fr. Quigley's work was obviously noticed and in 1903 he was appointed the Archbisop of Chicago.
- Leon Czolgosz; quoted in A. Wesley Johns, The Man Who Shot McKinley. South Brunswick and New York : A. S. Barnes and Co., 1970, p. 123.
- Ibid., p. 35.
- Emma Goldman, "The Tragedy at Buffalo" Free Society, October, 1901. From the microform collection of the Emma Goldman Papers held by the University of California. See also Emma Goldman Papers. University of California. Online. URL: http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/Goldman/
- Johns, p. 146. "Emma Goldman." Anarchy Archives: An Online Research Center on the History and Theory of Anarchism. Online. URL: http://dwardmac.pitzer.edu/Anarchist_Archives/goldman/Goldmanarchive.html