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The McKinley Assassination: A Turning Point in National Politics

On September 5, 1901, President William McKinley delivered a speech at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. He informed the audience of fairgoers that he was reconsidering his views on Tariff policy. Also in attendance that day was Leon Czolgosz (pronounced “cholgosh”), a Detroit-born anarchist of Polish parents, who was prevented by Secret Service agents from approaching the stage where McKinley was speaking. The following day, the president appeared at a public reception in the Temple of Music on the Exposition grounds. A large crowd had assembled to shake hands with the president and exchange a few words. Czolgosz stood near the front of the line with his right hand wrapped in a handkerchief to make it appear as if he were protecting an injured hand from infection. When his turn came, Czolgosz extended his left hand toward the president while firing two rapid shots from a .32 caliber revolver concealed behind the covering. McKinley fell backward, a pool of blood forming on his chest. Secret service agents and police immediately disarmed the assassin and began to inflict a near fatal beating. McKinley was still conscious and pleaded that the assault on Czolgosz stop. The president also asked that care be taken when informing his chronically ill wife of the event. McKinley was taken to a local hospital where he underwent surgery for his gunshot wounds. It at first appeared that he would recover, but complications set in and the president died on September 14, 1901. Czolgosz received a hasty trial, was found guilty of murder and was electrocuted in the state prison at Auburn, New York on October 29.