Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Assassination of President William McKinley

Anarchy and Emma Goldman

To most people, anarchy means violence, but it was not always that way. Although widely believed to endorse a violent overthrow of existing authority, anarchism in its basic form is opposed to violence. Anarchism, as a philosophical doctrine, is the belief that man can only achieve his highest calling by being free from all governmental authority. Derived from a principle of strict independence, anarchy was considered the highest form of human endeavor, unbridled by the restrictions of government and law. Anarchists believe that man is destined to be free and that all government, no matter how democratic, is socially repressive and therefore, anti-human. The birth of modern anarchism is usually traced to the 19th century French writer, Pierre Joseph Proudhon, who believed that the individual is central to society and his independence should be the primary concern of all men.

During the late 19th century, especially in Europe, the ideas of anarchism took hold in labor unions and grew quickly within the socialist movement. But soon, the anarchists broke away from the socialists who they saw as being supportive of more government control, although both groups were opposed to capitalism. However, within the anarchist movement, a violent sect took hold. These disciples were of the opinion that true change could only be achieved through violence and assassination. They believed that capitalists would never change of their own volition. They had to be dragged into a new world where every man would be free and bureaucratic laws that stifle independence would be smashed.

A series of killings took place during this era that was attributed to the violent anarchists. In 1881, Czar Alexander II of Russia and 21 bystanders were killed by an anarchist's bomb. In Chicago in 1886, during the Haymarket Square Riot, a demonstrator tossed a bomb into the crowd and killed seven police officers. An anarchist stabbed French President Marie Francois Sadi Carnot to death in 1894. And in 1901, an Italian-American anarchist from New Jersey assassinated Humbert I, the King of Italy. These terrorist acts helped the public see the anarchist cause as an attempt to subvert existing authority by violence. And soon, all anarchists were assumed to be potential killers. The newspapers of the time are filled with stories about anarchists and their bloody attacks. In America, especially in the larger cities like Chicago, New York and Cleveland, there was a sort of hysterical fear of anarchists, fueled by a freewheeling, speculative press that knew no bounds to their sensationalized reporting. The New York Journal summarized what it thought to be anarchists' beliefs in an editorial in April, 1901: "If bad institutions and bad men can be got rid of only by killing, then the killing must be done!"

In 1885, a Lithuanian-born radical named Emma Goldman came to the United States. She originally settled in Rochester, New York where she worked as a seamstress in a clothing factory. Goldman had a lifelong interest in politics and abhorred the evils of capitalism and class structure. She began giving speeches in Cleveland and Chicago praising the anarchist movement. After she gave an emotional lecture in New York City denouncing the Government, Goldman was arrested for inciting a riot. When she was released the following year, she toured Europe giving speeches to aid the Anarchist cause. In America during 1900 and 1901, she gained a reputation as the voice of anarchy and traveled across the country organizing rallies.

On May 6, 1901, Emma Goldman gave a speech in Cleveland. She said to the Chicago Daily Tribune, "Under the galling yoke of government, ecclesiasticism, and a bond of custom and prejudice, it is impossible for the individual to work out his own career as he could wish." She went on to denounce the present form of government and outlined her vision of the future. "Anarchism aims at a new and complete freedom. It strives to bring about the freedom which is not only the freedom from within but a freedom from without...we demand the fullest and most complete liberty for each and every person to work out his own salvation..." she said. These words are hardly drastic ideas in today's world. But to a young man in 1901, who spent his entire existence in the iron grip of poverty, who never realized the promise of the American Dream and knew nothing but suffering in his brief life, the words were intoxicating. Leon Czolgosz sat in the Cleveland audience mesmerized by Goldman's speech. "My head nearly split with the pain...She set me on fire!" Czolgosz said later. He left the lecture hall that day convinced that it was up to him to bring social change to America.

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