William McKinley was the 25th President of the United States was shot on the grounds of the Pan-American Exposition at the Temple of Music in Buffalo, New York in 1901 after having spent just six months into his second term. He was shot by Leon Czolgosz twice in the abdomen while he was shaking hands with the public.
As a result, McKinley died on September 14 succumbing to his wounds. This made, McKinley the third President to be assassinated, following Abraham Lincoln and James A. Garfield. Let’s revisit history and try to unfold the events that led to the assassination and how it once again shook America to its core.
The year 1901 saw William McKinley at the peak of his Presidency as he was elected in 1896. This was a time when the country was going through a serious economic depression due to the Panic of 1893. He had defeated his rival, William Jennings Bryan, by a long margin.
McKinley was credited for leading the country towards prosperity and victory in the Spanish-American War in 1898. As a result, he took possession of Spanish colonies such as Puerto Rico and the Philippines.
On the other hand, Leon Czolgosz was born in 1873 in Detroit, Michigan, and was a son to Polish immigrants. The Czolgosz family had to move several times since Leon’s father Paul had to find work throughout the Midwest.
In 1893, Leon was working in Cleveland factory until he lost his job due to a dispute. This left him with enough time to attend political and religious meetings to understand the reasons for the economic turmoil of the Panic of 1893.
As a result, he became interested in being an anarchist. At the time, in 1901, this movement was feared in America and the New York’s highest court had ruled that anyone labeling him/herself as anarchist infront of the public was a breach of peace.
Meanwhile, McKinley was amongst those who did not like security personnel interfering with his meetings with the public. Therefore, he mostly traveled without security and would often be spotted in church or business districts without any protection.
Presidential Visit: Plans and Arrivals
On March 4, 1901, McKinley gave a short speech at his second inauguration ceremony. He was a huge advocate of protective tariffs and the Dingley Tariff, which helped shift the country’s path to prosperity in his first term. He had planned a long trip months after his inauguration and intended to promote the plan by making major speeches until finally ending the trip at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo on June 13.
Meanwhile, Czolgosz in 1898 was living with his parents on a farm near Cleveland and thought to have suffered a nervous breakdown. He is known to have attended speeches by anarchists like Emma Goldman in 1901 in Cleveland.
Czolgosz then approached Emma and asked her to recommend books on anarchism to which she obliged. Although the books suggested by her did not advocate violence but only those who were driven towards the concept could understand it.
However, the words of Emma greatly influenced Czolgosz and his actions. He even once followed Emma to her Chicago home and approached her while she was leaving with her daughter to see the fair. Both rode together to the train station, while Emma expressed the concern to another radical that Czolgosz was following her. He was using the name Fred Nieman to hide his actual identity. However, soon after, Czolgosz left Chicago.
According to a worker at a park in Canton, he had witnessed an individual resembling Czolgosz while the President was mostly staying home or visiting the park. Upon being reminded that firearms were not allowed since he was carrying two at the time, he responded dismissively. Even though the police were called but the man was never found.
Czolgosz then moved to Buffalo and the reasons are not known. Some say he might have chosen Buffalo due to its large Polish population. Then, he left for Cleveland, and yet again, the reasons for doing so are not known.
Historians believe that he might have picked up more literature on anarchy and managed to procure more money. On September 3, Czolgosz purchased a .32-caliber Iver Johnson revolver from Walbridge’s Hardware Store. As of yet, he had no clear intentions or plans of killing him.
The following day, William and Ida McKinley arrived by train. The canons set to salute the President were set too close to train. Upon firing, the windows of the train blew, unnerving the Lady. As McKinley stepped out of the train to greet the public, Czolgosz shoved his way forward into the crowd but found the President too heavily guarded to make an attempt on his life.
Shooting and Death of McKinley: The Temple of Music
The Temple of Music was selected by fair organizers as the perfect venue for holding a public reception of the President. Several modifications and arrangements were made for the President to stand safely and securely while performing his speech. The members of the public were allowed to shake hands with the President while an American flag was draped behind him.
The President arrived just on time and told the management to open the doors and let the people come in who were waiting to greet him. This was his favorite part of the job and McKinley was an expert in meeting people. He could meet 50 people at a time by shaking hands and preventing his fingers from being squeezed.
While the public was greeting the President, the usual act of approaching the President with hands open and empty was not being enforced. Therefore, people would carry handkerchiefs. While Czolgosz approached the President, he hid his hand underneath a handkerchief as he was injured. As a result, McKinley went for his left hand and was shot twice by the Czolgosz in the abdomen. He was aiming for the third shot as well but was stopped by a citizen named James Parker standing behind Czolgosz in line.
The assassination of president mckinley spread horror in the hall while he was carried to a hospital where he was treated for the wounds. While being taken away in the ambulance, McKinley felt something in his clothing and came out with a bullet saying “I believe that is a bullet”.
However, the First Lady had not been informed about the assassination of William mckinley. Once the surgery was complete and he was awakened, only then she was told about the incident. While he recovered, only a few people were allowed to meet him. His diet was under strict supervision and when he was doing good, they would allow coffee, toast, and chicken broth.
One early morning of September 13, McKinley collapsed. The reason being that his stomach wounds had not been properly cleaned and stitched. This caused gangrene to develop on the walls of his stomach and toxins being passed into his blood. As a result, McKinley drifted in and out of consciousness all day before realizing that he would not survive. The next day, on September 14, 1901, at 2:15 a.m. President McKinley passed away.
The effects of mckinley assassination led to a severe backlash against the anarchists. Anti-Anarchists laws were passed and several anarchists including Emma Goldman leading to her arrest. However, she along with others thought to have conspired with Czolgosz were released without any charge.
McKinley’s autopsy stated that he was suffering from fatty degeneration of the heart muscle. He was overweight, which reduced his chances of recovery. In addition to that, the doctor and nurses at the time were neither skilled enough nor was gangrene a known disease. Above all, McKinley died as a President who not only helped the country through its toughest time but also genuinely loved interacting with the public.