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Pan-American Exposition of 1901

The Legal Aftermath of the Assassination of William McKinley

President William McKinley

Portrait of William McKinley. Photographer: Francis B. Johnston. Source: The Life of William McKinley, Including a Genealogical Record of the McKinley Family and Copious Extracts From the Late President's Public Speeches, Messages to Congress, Proclamations, and Other State Papers. New York, P. F. Collier & Sons, 1901.

On September 5, 1901, Leon Czolgosz unsuccessfully sought an opportunity to assassinate President McKinley at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo. His second attempt on September 6 was successful. At the Temple of Music, while McKinley was in a greeting line, Leon Czolgosz fired two shots into the President.

James Parker

James Parker

Czolgosz was wrestled to the ground by an Exposition attendee, African-American waiter James Parker, who was credited with having prevented Czolgosz from firing a third round. [See a related essay on James Parker by Daryl Rasuli.] Soldiers of the U.S. Artillery descended upon Czolgosz and began to beat him. From where he lay wounded, President McKinley was heard to have said, "Go easy on him boys."

At police headquarters the assassin was interrogated by District Attorney Thomas Penney. Czolgosz confessed that he killed the President because, "I killed President McKinley because I done my duty. I didn't believe one man should have so much service and another man shoud have none."

confession note

"The Confession of Leon Czolgosz". Source: Photocopy kindly reproduced by the Karapela's Manuscript Museum.

Surgery was performed on President McKinley by Dr. Matthew Mann. The operation began at 5:20 p.m., one hour and 20 minutes after the President was shot. The highly regarded surgeon, Roswell Park, was unavailable, so Mann, an obstetrician and gynecologist, performed the operation. In addition to Mann, the attending physicians were P.M. Rixey, Eugene Wasdin, (later) Roswell Park, and Herman Mynter.

Matthew D. Mann, M.D. Physician and Surgeon; Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Universty 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. 377.

Dr. Roswell Park

Herman Mynter, M.D. Professor of Operative Surgery, University of Buffalo; Surgeon to German and German Deaconess Hospitals. 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. 390.

On September 14, 1901 President McKinley died of gangrene at the home of John G. Milburn, president of the Pan-American Exposition. After the final funeral service in Washington, D.C. on September 17th, McKinley's body was returned to his home of Canton, Ohio and entombed at the Westlawn Cemetery.

By the time the body had been laid to rest, the Erie County Bar Association had assigned two honorable defense attorneys to what they termed the "distasteful task" of providing counsel to the assassin. Members of the local bar who were involved with the trial were presiding Judge Truman C. White, District Attorney Thomas Penney, as well as defense attorneys Hon. Loran Lewis and the Hon. Robert Titus. The jurors reached a verdict in little more than 30 minutes. On September 26, 1901 at 2:00 p.m. Judge White sentenced Leon Czolgosz to death by electric chair at Auburn State Prison. He was executed October 29, 1901.

Police Photograph of Leon Czolgosz

Police Photograph and Report of Leon Czolgosz. Photographer: Unidentified. Source: Facsimile of the Police Report filed September 6, 1901. Department of Police, Buffalo N.Y., Bureau of Identification. Facsimile courtesy of the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society.

The assassination of President McKinley by an avowed anarchist, only compounded Americans' fears, already stirred by such recent events as the assassinations of King Humberto of Italy and Empress Elizabeth of Austria and the Haymarket and Homestead riots in the United States. The focus of this fear was the anarchist movement, and the relationship of this ideology to immigrants. State and federal legislation began to target anarchists, with bills being introduced almost immediately to expel avowed anarchists from the country and to prohibit their entry into the United States from other countries. One such statute, the Alien Immigration Act of 1903, is discussed in Anarchy at the Turn of the Century.

See the following pages: