How an assassin, a dead President, and Theodore Roosevelt defined the Progressive Era.When President McKinley was murdered at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York on September 6, 1901, Americans were bereaved and frightened. Rumor ran ...
ned. Rumor ran rampant: A wild-eyed foreign anarchist with an unpronounceable name had killed the Commander-in-Chief. Eric Rauchway's brilliant Murdering McKinley re-creates Leon Czolgosz's hastily conducted trial and then traverses America as Dr. Vernon Briggs, a Boston alienist, sets out to discover why Czolgosz rose up to kill his President. While uncovering the answer that eluded Briggs and setting the historical record straight about Czolgosz, Rauchway also provides the finest portrait yet of Theodore Roosevelt at the moment of his sudden ascension to the White House.
For Czolgosz was neither a foreigner nor much of an anarchist. Born in Detroit, he was an American-made assassin of such inchoate political beliefs that Emma Goldman dismissed him as a police informant. Indeed, Brigg's search for answers---in the records of the Auburn New York State penitentiary where Czolgosz was electrocuted, in Cleveland where Leon's remaining family lived---only increased the mystery. Roosevelt, however, cared most for the meanings he could fix to this "crime against free government all over the world." For Roosevelt was every inch the calculating politician, his supposed boyish impulsiveness more feint than fact. At one moment encouraging the belief that Czolgosz's was a political crime, at the next that it was a deranged one, Roosevelt used the specter of McKinley's death to usher in Progressive Era America.
So why did Czolgosz do it? Only Rauchway's careful sifting of long-ignored evidence provides an answer: heart-broken, recently radicalized, and thinking he had only months to live, Leon decided to take the most powerful man in America with him.