The President and the Assassin by Scott Miller

At the beginning of the Twentieth century, the United States enjoyed an economic boom along with a rise in the anarchy movement leading to the assassination of a President.

Scott Miller—in The President and the Assassin: McKinley, Terror, and Empire at the Dawn of the American Century—looks at the assassination of President William McKinley as it relates to the events of his presidency. Parallel to the account of the McKinley murder is the life story of Leon Czolgosz who killed the President. The two met on a September afternoon in 1901 at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York to disastrous ends. McKinley had spent a couple of days at the fair and on the last day held a gathering to visit with the general public.

The narrative looks at the United States during the McKinley administration. At the end of the Gilded Age, the country's economic fortunes were improving after the Panic of 1893. The President set a course to encourage growth. Many workers labored for long hours in factories, but saw their pay reduced. Strikes had become common.

During the same time period, the United States had become involved with Spain over Cuba. This dispute led to the Spanish-American War with the result that Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines were added as U.S. territories. The war led the United States to become a major player on the world stage for the first time in its history. The success of the war helped McKinley win re-election in 1900.

The author delves into the life of Leon Czolgosz, anarchist and son of Polish immigrants, who was convicted of the assassination. Czolgosz became interested in the growing anarchist movement of the late Nineteenth century. These agitators thought the best way to bring about change would be to disrupt government. They were also the ones behind much of the labor unrest including the Haymarket riot in Chicago in 1886. Several in the anarchist movement are profiled as well including Emma Goldman and Albert Parsons. Czolgosz read widely the literature published by these revolutionaries, but other anarchists wanted nothing to do with him.

After Czolgosz shot McKinley, the crowd pounced on him while others whisked the President off to the hospital. At first, it appeared that the President would recover from his gunshot wounds. However, infection set in which the doctors could not treat, and McKinley died in the early morning of September 14, 1901. His assassin faced jail and trial in very short order. Czolgosz did not cooperate in his defense and said very little after the assassination. He soon faced the electric chair ending an era of American history. Theodore Roosevelt assumed the presidency vowing to continue policies McKinley had set in place. The nation mourned the third American president to be murdered while in office. The assassination shook the United States but paved the way for its rise as a world power.

This is a good book about American history at the start of the Twentieth century. I felt there were parallels with recent history and the Occupy movement in the labor unrest of the time. The story about the assassination of President McKinley took me back to reading about the murder of President James Garfield in Destiny of the Republic. Both murdered leaders have not been covered to the extent that assassinated Presidents Kennedy and Lincoln have been, even though both left their marks on United States history. The United States was coming into its own and this books helps set the stage for future events of history in the Twentieth century.

About the Author

Judy Klamm is a reference librarian in Central Reference. She has written book reviews for Library Journal and various Presbyterian publications.

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