Assassination of William McKinley

Assassination of William McKinley
Leon Czolgosz shoots President McKinley with a revolver concealed under a cloth rag. Clipping of a wash drawing by T. Dart Walker.
LocationTemple of Music, on grounds of Pan-American Exposition, Buffalo, New York
Coordinates42°56′19″N 78°52′25″W / 42°56′19″N 78°52′25″W / 42.9386859; -78.8735908
4:07 p.m.
TargetWilliam McKinley
Weapons.32 caliber Iver Johnson revolver
Deaths1 (McKinley; died on September 14, 1901 as a result of initial injury and subsequent infection)
Non-fatal injuries
PerpetratorLeon Czolgosz
MotiveTo advance anarchism

On September 6, 1901, William McKinley, the 25th President of the United States, was shot on the grounds of the Pan-American Exposition at the Temple of Music in Buffalo, New York. He was shaking hands with the public when Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist, shot him twice in the abdomen. McKinley died eight days later on September 14 of gangrene caused by the gunshot wounds. He was the third American president to have been assassinated, following Abraham Lincoln in 1865 and James A. Garfield in 1881.

McKinley had been elected for a second term in 1900. He enjoyed meeting the public, and was reluctant to accept the security available to his office. Secretary to the President George B. Cortelyou feared that an assassination attempt would take place during a visit to the Temple of Music and took it off the schedule twice. McKinley restored it each time.

Czolgosz had lost his job during the economic Panic of 1893 and turned to anarchism, a political philosophy adhered to by recent killers of foreign leaders. Regarding McKinley as a symbol of oppression, Czolgosz was convinced that it was his duty as an anarchist to kill him. Unable to get near the President during the presidential visit earlier, Czolgosz shot McKinley twice as the President reached to shake his hand in the reception line at the temple. One bullet grazed McKinley; the other entered his abdomen and was never found.

McKinley initially appeared to be recovering, but took a turn for the worse on September 13 as his wounds became gangrenous, and died early the next morning; Vice President Theodore Roosevelt succeeded him. After McKinley's assassination, for which Czolgosz was sentenced to death in the electric chair, Congress passed legislation to officially charge the Secret Service with the responsibility for protecting the President.


In September 1901, William McKinley was at the height of his power as president. Elected in 1896, during the serious economic depression resulting from the Panic of 1893, he had defeated his Democratic rival, William Jennings Bryan. McKinley led the nation both to a return to prosperity and to victory in the Spanish–American War in 1898, taking possession of such Spanish colonies as Puerto Rico and the Philippines. Re-elected handily in a rematch against Bryan in 1900, according to historical writer Eric Rauchway, "it looked as if the McKinley Administration would continue peaceably unbroken for another four years, a government devoted to prosperity".[1]

McKinley's original vice president, Garret Hobart, had died in 1899, and McKinley left the choice of a running mate to the 1900 Republican National Convention. In advance of the convention, New York's Republican political boss, Senator Thomas C. Platt, saw an opportunity to politically sideline his state's governor, former Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt, by pushing for his nomination as vice president. Roosevelt accepted the nomination and was elected on McKinley's ticket.[2][3]

Leon Czolgosz

Leon Czolgosz was born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1873, the son of Polish immigrants.[4] The Czolgosz family moved several times as Paul Czolgosz, Leon's father, sought work throughout the Midwest.[5] As an adult, Leon Czolgosz worked in a Cleveland factory until he lost his job in a labor dispute in 1893. Thereafter, he worked irregularly and attended political and religious meetings, trying to understand the reasons for the economic turmoil of the Panic of 1893. In doing so, he became interested in anarchism.[6] By 1901, this movement was feared in the United StatesNew York's highest court had ruled that the act of identifying oneself as an anarchist in front of an audience was a breach of the peace. Anarchists had taken a toll in Europe by assassinating or attempting assassinations of a half-dozen officials and members of royal houses,[7] and had been blamed for the 1886 Haymarket bombing in Chicago.[8]

Two American presidents had been assassinated in the 19th century—Abraham Lincoln in 1865 and James A. Garfield in 1881.[9] Even considering this history, McKinley did not like security personnel to come between him and the people. When in his hometown, Canton, Ohio, he often walked to church or the business district without protection, and in Washington went on drives with his wife without any guard in the carriage.[10]