CHAPTER SIXTEEN. ANARCHISM
"BULLETINS FROM THE CHAMBER OF DEATH"
During these days the President was dying in Buffalo, though the country did not know it until Friday.
Wednesday and Thursday the reports were so assuring that all danger seemed past; but, as it turned out afterwards, there was not a moment from the hour of the shooting when the fatal processes of dissolution were not going on. Not only did the resources of surgery and medicine fail most miserably, but their gifted prophets were unable to foretell the end. Bulletins of the most reassuring character turned out absolutely false. After it was all over, there was a great deal of explanation how it occurred and that it was inevitable from the beginning; but the public did not, and does not, understand how the learned doctors could have been so mistaken Wednesday and so wise Friday; and yet the explanation is simple, - medicine is an art and surgery far from an exact science. No one so well as the doctors knows how impossible it is to predict anything with any degree of assurance; how uncertain the outcome of simple troubles and wounds to say nothing of serious; how much nature will do if left to herself, how obstinate she often proves when all the skill of man is brought to her assistance.
On Friday evening, and far into the night, Herald Square was filled with a surging throng watching the bulletins from the chamber of death. It was a dignified end. There must have been a good deal of innate nobility in William McKinley. With all his vacillation and infirmity of political purpose, he must have been a man whose mind was saturated with fine thoughts, for to the very last, in those hours of weakness when the will no longer sways and each word is the half-unconscious muttering of the true self, he shone forth with unexpected grandeur and died a hero.
Late in the evening a bulletin announced that when the message of death came the bells would toll. In the midst of the night the city was roused by the solemn pealing of great bells, and from the streets below there came the sounds of flying horses, of moving feet, of cries and voices. It seemed as if the city had been held in check and was now released to express itself in its own characteristic way. The wave of sound radiated from each newspaper office and penetrated the most deserted street, the most secret alley, telling the people of the death of their President.
Anarchy achieved its greatest crime in the murder of President McKinley while he held the hand of his assassin in friendly grasp.
Little wonder this country was roused as never before, and at this moment the civilized world is discussing measures for the suppression, the obliteration, of anarchists, but we must take heed lest we overshoot the mark.
Three Presidents - Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley - have been assassinated, but only the last as the result of anarchistic teachings. The crime of Booth had nothing to do with anarchy; the crime of half-witted Guiteau had nothing to do with anarchy; but the deliberate crime of the cool and self-possessed Czolgoscz was the direct outcome of the "propaganda of action."
Because, therefore, three Presidents have been assassinated, we must not link the crimes together and unduly magnify the dangers of anarchy. At most the two early crimes could only serve to demonstrate how easy it is to reach and kill a President of the United States, and therefore the necessity for greater safeguards about his person is trebly demonstrated. The habit of handshaking, at best, has little to recommend it; with public men it is a custom without excuse. The notion that men in public life must receive and mingle with great masses of people, or run the risk of being called undemocratic, is a relic of the political dark ages. The President of the United States is an executive official, not a spectacle; he ought to be a very busy man, just a plain, hard-working servant of the people, - that is the real democratic idea. There is not the slightest need for him to expose himself to assault. In the proper performance of his duties he ought to keep somewhat aloof. The people have the right to expect that in their interest he will take good care of himself.
As for anarchism, that is a political theory that possesses the minds of a certain number of men, some of them entirely inoffensive dreamers, and anarchism as a theory can no more be suppressed by law than can any other political or religious theory. The law is efficacious against acts, but powerless against notions. But anarchism in the abstract is one thing and anarchism in the concrete is another. It is one thing to preach anarchy as the final outcome of progress, it is quite another thing to preach anarchy as a present rule of conduct. The distinction must be observed, for while the law is helpless against theories, it is potent against the practical application of theories.
In a little book called "Politics for Young Americans," written with most pious and orthodox intent by the late Charles Nordhoff, the discussion of government begins with the epigram, - by no means original with Nordhoff, - "Governments are necessary evils."
Therein lurks the germ of anarchism, - for if evil, why should governments be necessary? The anarchist is quick to admit the evil, but denies the necessity; and, in sooth, if government is an evil, then the sooner it is dispensed with the better.