The Day Leon Czolgosz Robbed The U.S. of President McKinley
On September 6, 1901, President William McKinley joined Abraham Lincoln, and James A. Garfield on the short list of U.S. presidents who’d suffered an assassin’s bullet.
Eight days later he would join them in another way when he died from his wounds.
William McKinley was one of the best-loved presidents, a dedicated patriot, spouse, and clean politician who didn’t deserve to die the way he did. The people didn’t deserve to lose him so soon.
Born in Niles, Ohio, in 1843, McKinley served in the Union Army during the Civil War. Prior to that, he’d been a school teacher.
When the war ended, McKinley returned to Ohio to study law and opened a practice post graduation. He married a woman named Ida Saxton, who would later fall so ill she would become an invalid.
McKinley cared for his wife at the same time as he developed his political career. In 1869, he joined the Republican party then won a congressional seat in 1876.
When, after 14 years in Congress, he lost his seat, he returned again to Ohio to run for Governor. He won serving two terms as Ohio’s governor.
It was that experience that prepared him to run for the presidency or so thought the Republicans. They nominated him in 1896. He ran against William Jennings Bryan and won both the popular and electoral vote.
History remembers President McKinley for more than his assassination. He was the sitting president during the acquisition of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines.
When McKinley moved into the Oval Office, he inherited a conflict boiling with Spain. They still controlled Cuba, but the Islanders intended to end the Spanish imperialism, the same way the U.S. revolutionaries ousted the Brits. They would rise up in violent revolt.
The U.S. balked at the bloodshed in Cuba, urging the White House to intervene, but McKinley resisted. Then, in February 1898, a U.S. ship, the U.S.S. Maine, sank in the Havana harbor. The U.S. blamed Spain, incorrectly as it would turn after the fact.
McKinley petitioned Congress to intervene in Cuba, and the U.S. declared war on April 25, 1898. By August, the U.S. had defeated Spain in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Manila, and the Philippines.
The U.S. would gain Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines in the Treaty of Paris in 1898. Cuba gained their independence.
McKinley’s critics would accuse him of being an imperialist. They called it expansionism back then, but he had more fans than critics. His first term was shaping up to be a win.
The people were also happy with McKinley’s first term. In 1900, he ran against Bryan again and won with an even higher percentage than the first time.
When McKinley attended the Pan-American conference in Buffalo, New York, he went as the most popular U.S. presidents in history. His presence at the conference upstaged much of the attractions, drawing 116,000 people on September 5th to hear him speak.
The next day, McKinley attended a small gathering at the Temple of Music, where he was to meet people up close and personal. His support team didn’t not like this idea.
At the time, the secret service was still only focused on catching counterfeiters, not on protecting the president. In fact, it was what happened to McKinley that would change all that.
Standing in the Temple, McKinley stood to meet a line of guests, who waited in sweltering heat in a long line to shake his hand. At the front, a 28-year-old man, Leon Czolgosz, stepped forward to shake the president’s hand.
In his pocket, Czolgosz had concealed a .32 caliber revolver, which he unloaded twice into McKinley.
“There was an instant of almost complete silence, like the hush that follows a clap of thunder,” said the New York Times of the event. “The president stood stock still, a look of hesitancy, almost of bewilderment, on his face. Then he retreated a step while a pallor began to steal over his features.”
A man in line punched Czolgosz before he could fire a third shot. They whisked McKinley to the hospital, where it seemed he would recover.
McKinley appeared to recover in the days after the shooting but succumbed to gangrene and blood poisoning after a week. In a matter of hours, on the 14th, he passed. At his side was Ida, his wife, the unfortunate victim.
Leon Czolgosz would die in the electric chair within two months of the attack.