The Assassination of President William McKinley
William McKinley served as the 25th President of the United States, and on September 6, 1901, he would become the third president to be assassinated.
On a victory high after the Spanish-American War, President McKinley paid a visit to the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. The two-day visit from the sitting president sparked quite the excitement and brought in record numbers of crowds to meet him. McKinley’s speech on the night September 5th had over 116,000 in attendance.
The following day, September 6, McKinley attended a meet-and-greet opportunity at the Temple of Music. Here, visitors were given the chance to shake hands with the President. Constituents and close allies of the President feared a potential assassination attempt and warned against the event. They believed that a public event in an open auditorium like the Temple of Music was too dangerous for such close encounters. However, McKinley insisted the event go on as planned, and, in a compromise, the presidential staff added additional police and soldiers on top of the usual Secret Service detail.
Among the crowd of eager visitors was 28-year-old factory worker, Leon Czolgosz. Czolgosz was an avowed anarchist who, as later told in a police confession, came to New York for the sole purpose of killing McKinley. As Czolgosz prepared to meet the President, he wrapped his revolver in a white handkerchief and made it look as though he was simply holding a sweat towel on the hot day.
At approximately 4:07 p.m., McKinley and Czolgosz met face-to-face. The president extended his hand with a smile on his face as Czolgosz raised his pistol and fired two gunshots in point-blank range. One bullet hit McKinley’s coat button and struck his sternum, while the other cleared straight through his stomach.
It is said that moments after the shots were fired, a silence fell over the crowd as McKinley stood still in shock. The silence was broken when another attendee, James “Big Jim” Parker, punched Czolgosz to stop a third shot. Soon after, soldiers and policemen pounced on the assassin and beat him down. It wasn’t until McKinley, bleeding from his wounds, ordered the brawl to stop.
McKinley was rushed out of the Temple of Music and straight to the Pan-American Exposition’s hospital. Once there, he underwent emergency surgery. The surgeon was able to suture the wound to the stomach, but was unable to locate the bullet.
Days after the attack, McKinley seemed to be recovering from the event. Vice President Theodore Roosevelt was so confident in the President’s condition that he even went on a camping trip to the Adirondack Mountains. However, on September 13, McKinley’s condition became critical, as the bullet’s remains caused gangrene to develop on the inside walls of President McKinley’s stomach.
At approximately 2:15 a.m. on September 14, the blood poisoning had fully consumed President McKinley, and he died with his wife by his side.
Before McKinley had even died, Leon Czolgosz had been in custody in a Buffalo jail undergoing interrogation by New York police and detectives. He claimed to have fired the shots in support of the anarchist cause. In his confession he claimed, “I don’t believe in the Republican form of government, and I don’t believe we should have any rules.”
Czolgosz claims to have stalked President McKinley across Buffalo, and he attempted to assassinate him two other times before the fatal event on September 6. Czolgosz claims to have been at the train station upon McKinley’s arrival on September 4, but failed to pulled the trigger there due to an abundance of security. He also claimed to have considered acting at the speech from the previous night.
“I killed the president for the good of the laboring people,” said Czolgosz. “I am not sorry for my crime.”
Much faster than today’s standards, Czolgosz’s trial began on September 23, 1901. After only 30 minutes of deliberation, the jury found him to be guilty of the murder of President William McKinley and sentenced him to death by electric chair. On September 29, 1901, Czolgosz was executed at New York’s Auburn Prison.
Vice President Theodore Roosevelt would go on to take office upon McKinley’s passing, and later experience attempted assassinations of his own.