In the sordid history of American assassins, the name Leon F. Czolgosz may be less well known precisely because of that F between his first and last names. Think about the infamous assassins that this nation has produced and you quickly grasp that you know most of them by three names: John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, Mark David Chapman. Yes, there is John Hinckley, but then he was merely a would-be assassin, wasn’t he. Leon Czolgosz has two other problems: his name is difficult to pronounce and his victim was hardly a household name himself. This is rather odd, of course, because William McKinley was actually one of the most beloved and popular Presidents in American history. He was, in many, many ways, the Ronald Reagan of his time. But Leon Czolgosz was no lovesick puppy who confused himself with a movie character in an attempt to impress a girl.
Leon Czolgosz would no doubt have been just as sickened by John Hinckley as by Ronald Reagan. He was the son of Polish immigrants who, like most other assassins, had a reputation-if his presence was acknowledged at all-as a loner. A loner given to fits of temper. Czolgosz got work as a blacksmith during a time when workers and owners were at loggerheads (as opposed to today’s environment where it seems workers will put up with anything as long as they can qualify for a credit card to buy stuff they can’t really afford) and it often seemed as there just might be a glimmer of hope that one day the guys who actually did all the real work might share in the profits. A glimmer of hope, I said. During 1890s Leon Czolgosz started showing up at meetings of anarchists. This was the golden age of the anarchist, perhaps the most misunderstood of all political ideologies. Often confused with Marxism, Communism and Socialism, true anarchists began where those ideologies ended.
William McKinley was, to put it mildly, little more than a tool of the rich industrialists who saw the anarchist and Marxist movements of the time as the single most dangerous entity facing the country. Men like Czolgosz who believed that it was patently unfair for workers to do 90% of the work while seeing only 10% of the profits were considered more dangerous than any threat from outside the borders. And William McKinley, who was twice elected due in great part to the propaganda forwarded by this base of the elite, was pretty much nothing more than a puppet whose strings were being pulled by those captains of industry.
Anarchism was born in the middle of the 19th century in Europe as a response to the growth of unfettered capitalism and all its attendant abuses. The anarchists-like the Marxists-viewed the myth of private ownership as the wellspring from which the evils of the world spewed forth. What kind of evil? Well, let’s just say that compared to the miners and most other laborers of the time, those unfortunate miners who were killed in Utah possibly as a result of the mine owner’s negligence were treated like Paris Hilton in comparison. The central argument of the anarchists was that this system could only be undone and improved by taking out those government officials who conspired and colluded with the owners of industry to continue the exploitation of workers.,
William McKinley may have been a tool, but he was no fool. He had received death threats throughout his administration, many from members of the anarchist movement. As a result, when McKinley showed up at the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, NY to shake hands with a huge throng of supporters, extra security had been hired. Nevertheless, the situation was ideal for Leon Czolgosz. The hands that were outstretched in an attempt to shake McKinley’s palm acted like zebra stripes confusing a lion. On September 6, 1901, Leon Czolgosz put what would eventually become a fatal bullet into President William McKinley. Justice was swift in those days; Leon Czolgosz was fried to death in the electric chair at Auburn, New York, on October 29, 1901. A fascinating and incidental, if not ironic, side note of this moment in American history is that Thomas Edison-one of the biggest frauds the United States ever produced-filmed an allegedly faithful re-creation of Czolgosz’s execution. Surprisingly, Edison didn’t try to pass himself as the inventor of the execution; one of the few things he didn’t falsely claim to invent.