Was Czolgosz Insane?
... On unimpeachable authority it was stated yesterday that all the alienists have agreed, Drs. MacDonald, Hamilton, Hurd, Crego, Putnam and Fowler, that Czolgosz is sane and that he was fully responsible mentally for his acts when he committed the crime and since.
—Source: Buffalo Express, September 24, 1901
Although questions of his sanity were never brought up in the trial, a number of respected physicians interviewed Czolgosz in the days immediately following the shooting of president McKinley. Among them were Drs. Floyd S. Crego, Joseph Fowler and J.W. Putnam. While a year later Dr. Walter Channing, an alienist and Professor of Mental diseases at Tufts Medical School, would describe Czogolsz as being in "a physical and mental state of sickliness,"1 those physicians who examined the assassin prior to his trial made the following statements in their report:
…"We come to the conclusion that in the holding of these views Czolgosz was sane, because these opinions were formed gradually under the influence of anarchistic leaders and propagandists. In Czolgosz they found a willing and intelligent tool; one who had the courage of his convictions, regardless of personal consequences. We believe that his statement, 'I killed the President because I done my duty,' was not the expression of an insane delusion for several reasons. The most careful questioning failed to discover any hallucinations of sight or hearing. He had received no special command; he did not believe he had been especially chosen to do the deed. He always spoke as his motive for the crime as duty; he always referred to the anarchist belief that the killing of rulers was a duty. He never claimed the idea of killing the President was original with him, but the method of accomplishing his purpose was his, and that he did it alone. He is not a case of Paranoia, because he has not systematised delusions reverting to self, and because he is in exceptionally good condition, and has an unbroken record of god health. His capacity for labor has always been good, and equal to that of his fellows. These facts all tend to prove that the man has an unimpaired mind. He has false beliefs, the result of false teaching and not the result of disease. He is not to be classed as a denegerate, because we do not find the stigmata of degeneration; his skull is symmetrical; his ears do not protrude, nor are they of abnormal size, and his palate not highly arched. Psychically he has not a history of cruelty, or of perverted tastes and habits. He is the product of anarchy, sane and responsible."
—Source: From a report summarized in the Buffalo Commercial, Nov. 2, 1901.2
Floyd D. Crego, M.D., Professor of Insanity, University of Buffalo, etc. Photographer: Undetermined.Source: Men of Buffalo: A Collection of Portraits of Men Who Deserve to Rank as Typical Representatives of the Best Citizenship, Foremost Activities and Highest Aspirations of the City of Buffalo. Chicago: A.N. Marquis & Co., 1902, p. 393.
James W. Putnam, M.D., Professor of Nervous Diseases, University of Buffalo. Photographer: Undetermined. Source: Men of Buffalo: A Collection of Portraits of Men Who Deserve to Rank as Typical Representatives of the Best Citizenship, Foremost Activities and Highest Aspirations of the City of Buffalo. Chicago: A.N. Marquis & Co., 1902, p.388.
Anarchy Rather Than Insanity
It appears that the prevailing opinion among specialists was that Czolgosz was a victim of anarchy, a "social disease," rather than any kind of mental illness. Dr. Carlos F. MacDonald, professor of mental diseases and medical jurisprudence in the University-Bellevue Medical College of the City of New York had been called in by Czolgosz's counsel to determine the defendant's mental condition from both a medical and legal standpoint. While MacDonald did not testify, defense counsel Titus stated that the doctor had found Czolgosz to be sane.3
Upon his execution, another examination was made to address the sanity of the Czolgosz. On January 3, 1902, the Associated Press reported that an exhaustive report, including the details of the autopsy, was given in the New York Medical Journal for January 4th :
…The report embodies the result of much careful investigation by Dr. Carlos F. MacDonald and Edward A. Spitzka of [New York City.]
The question which these investigators set themselves to answer was: "When Czolgosz shot the President, did he know the nature and quality of the act he was doing, and that the act was wrong?"
This was from the legal viewpoint. From the viewpoint of medical science the question that framed itself was: "Was Czolgosz at the time he committed the act a victim of mental disease or mental unsoundness?"
The reply to these questions, which at the same time embodies the entire history of the case from the trial of the criminal to his execution and the disposal of his body, takes up nearly twelve pages in the journal-and divested of all technicalities, is to the effect that Czolgosz was sane and responsible under the law and punishable for the offense, though everything in his history, according to the medical experts, pointed to the existence in him of the social disease, anarchy, of which he was a victim.4
Even the Phrenologists speak.
As an interesting aside, even phrenologists and physiognometrists attempted to evaluate Czolgosz's mental condition. Upon viewing a newspaper photograph of Czolgosz, George W. Nightingale wrote that "…from the shape of his head, I conclude that to a great degree he is a coward. He would lack the quality of self-defense. The end of his chin denotes that it is that of a deep plotter and a man that could not be trusted, but a man not easily led by others. The crime he committed has been given great thought, which covered a considerable space of time."5 This countered the idea that the assassin was influenced by the anarchy movement and Emma Goldman and was thus dismissed by police.
Another phrenologist, Broughton Brandenburg wrote a detailed account of his evaluation of Czolgosz, which appeared in Buffalo Courier, November 17, 1901. The full text of this article is available.
- A. Wesley Johns, The Man Who Shot McKinley, South Brunswick, N.J. : A. S. Barnes and Co., Inc., 1970, p. 39.
- See the article "Czolgosz Report" which summarizes the physicians' report made public after Czolgosz's execution. Full text is available in .pdf
- "Czolgosz Examined." Buffalo Express, September 22, 1901. Full text is available in .pdf or .
- This Associated Press story was printed in the Buffalo Express, January 4, 1902. Full text is available in .pdf
- "Czolgosz's Face is That of a Hardened criminal, Says Physiognomist." Buffalo Courier, September 18, 1901.