When compared with the suppression of anarchy, every other question sinks into insignificance… Theodore Roosevelt


Czolgosz shoots President McKinley with a concealed revolver, at Pan-American Exposition reception, Sept. 6th, 1901.

Czolgosz shoots President McKinley with a concealed revolver, at Pan-American Exposition reception, Sept. 6th, 1901.

It was September and America was shocked by a brutal act of terrorism – it was not September 11th it was September 6th and the year was 1901 and the act was the assassination of President McKinley. The title of this entry is the first public utterance of Theodore Roosevelt after his swearing in on the subject. The problem then – as now – was an international one. Inspired by the Russian emigre anarchist writer, Emma Goldman, and the Italian anarchist assassin, Gaetano Bresci, the son of immigrants, Leon F. Czolgosz killed the man – ostensibly because he loved mankind.

Crowds at the Temple of Music where President McKinley was assassinated, Pan American Exposition

Crowds at the Temple of Music where President McKinley was assassinated, Pan American Exposition

The mare mature nations of Europe reacted to terror and anarchy with a variety of methods from attempted brutal suppression to a cynical co-opting of what was a new weapon and thus the German would deliver Lenin back to Russia to subvert what was left of the Tsar’s empire and free their eastern front. Lenin, having learned the lesson well, would help birth a new state that was and is the progenitor of a large share of world terrorism today. Who needs the expense of a battalion when 19 men can fly airplanes into buildings?

Emma Goldman 1869-1940

Emma Goldman 1869-1940

The United States took a different approach. Czolgosz was charged with first degree murder. His only possible defense was an insanity plea – and he was legally insane only if he was unable to understand what he was doing – and even though the judge entered a not guilty plea in his behalf and his lawyers argued that no sane man would have acted as he did he was found guilty. Forty-five days after McKinley died Czolgosz was put to death by New York state for the murder.

Reproduction of first photograph of Leon F. Czolgosz, the assassin of President William McKinley, in jail.

Reproduction of first photograph of Leon F. Czolgosz, the assassin of President William McKinley, in jail.

The world that never was : a true story of dreamers, schemers, anarchists and secret agents  Alex Butterworth. Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing.  xxxi, 502 p., [8] p. of plates : ill., ports. ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. [467]-482) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

The cortege leaving the White House, President McKinley's funeral, Sept. 17, 1901, Washington

The cortege leaving the White House, President McKinley’s funeral, Sept. 17, 1901, Washington

The last third of the nineteenth century saw the world in flux. Science vied with religion to represent the soul of man, and technological advances opened the possibility of new ways of living. Yet as the world sank into a long depression, untrammelled greed continued to stretch the gulf between rich and poor.

State funeral of President McKinley. The body lying in State Rotunda of the Capitol

State funeral of President McKinley. The body lying in State Rotunda of the Capitol

From Russia to America, across Western Europe and beyond, governments already unsettled by major shifts in geopolitical power were threatened by growing social unrest and the rise of socialism. And looming over them was the spectre of the Anarchist and the shadow of international terrorism. A Tsar and an Empress, Presidents and plutocrats were all vulnerable to the assassin’s bombs and bullets, but so too was bourgeois society in its cafes and opera houses.

The Arrival of William McKinley's remains at the courthouse, Sept. 18, 1901, Canton, Ohio

The Arrival of William McKinley’s remains at the courthouse, Sept. 18, 1901, Canton, Ohio

It was a new kind of Terror that could strike anywhere and that permeated deep into the imagination of the times. Its true weapon, though, was not dynamite but fear itself: a fact quickly grasped by those whose job it was to protect the powerful. Yet in a credulous age, when hoaxers and forgers thrived, the fictions spun by police chiefs and their agent provocateurs were often no less beguiling. And out of the short-term actions of these forgotten individuals grew the noxious delusions of worldwide conspiracy that would poison the century to come.

In loving remembrance, President William McKinley, born January 29, 1843, died September 14, 1901

In loving remembrance, President William McKinley, born January 29, 1843, died September 14, 1901

A masterly exploration of the strange twists and turns of history, The World That Never Was follows the interweaving lives of several key anarchists, and of the secret police who tracked them. Framed by the Paris Commune of 1871 and the 1905 revolution in St Petersburg, and spread across five continents, theirs is the story of a generation that saw the dream of Utopia crumble, to be replaced by a dangerous desperation. Here is a revelatory portrait of an era with uncanny echoes of our own.

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