Cheryl Gatling's Reviews > The President and the Assassin: McKinley, Terror, and Empire at the Dawn of the American Century

The President and the Assassin by Scott  Miller
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's review
Jan 15, 12

bookshelves: the-one-thing-and-the-other-thing
Read from January 12 to 14, 2012

This book begins with President McKinley's reception at the Pan-American Exposition, and Leon Czolgosz walking up to him and pulling a gun. I thought, well, that's it. That's the assassination of the President. What is the rest of the book going to be about? The rest of the book backs up and looks into all the political, economic, and military events shaping the American of 1901, and into the lives of McKinley and Czolgosz. McKinley was an affable, somewhat bland man who hated conflict. He was elected as the representative of business interests. There was at the time a great divide between the wealthy few, and the laboring many. At first I thought, naturally, hey, that sounds like today. It was, in that captains of industry did not really care that factory conditions were dangerous, hours long, and wages so low that whole families, including children, could work full time, and barely subsist. But it was also totally different because production was booming. Manufacturers were cranking out more goods than anyone could buy. The idea of empire enters the story because American businesses wanted to find new countries to sell stuff to. China, with its huge population, seemed like a good place, so America began acquiring Pacific islands, as places to refuel on its trading mission to Asia. At home there was bitter labor unrest. Desperate workers would strike, and company men would put the strikes down with violence. Both sides became more and more violent, so that strikes were marred by fires, beatings, shootings, and bombs, with death sentences following for workers "inciting to riot." In this environment, the idea of anarchy began to look good to some people. If no one had power, and if everyone had freedom, then everyone would live in perfect peace, said anarchist theory, a philosophy of childish naivete, in my opinion, for failing to take into account human nature. But it had followers then, and still has a few today. Leon Czolgosz identifies himself as an anarchist, and said that he had killed the President for the sake of the working man, because it was his duty to remove men of power. But Leon Czolgosz was a very strange man, and a man working alone. All his life he was a loner, socially awkward, rootless, and restless. He had held factory jobs, but ended up being a couch potato on the family farm, refusing to come down to dinner, and refusing to work. He seemed to think that one grand gesture would give his life meaning. All it got him was universally despised. There is much more of interest in this wide-ranging book. The mysterious illness of the President's wife, war in Cuba, and in the Philippines, political assassinations around the globe, and many aspects of a period of history that deserves to be better known.
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