The Making of Theodore Roosevelt’s America
By Eric Rauchway
Who can determine if a person is insane, a doctor, a lawyer, a judge, or a jury of your peers? Does any one person really know why someone acts the way they do? Legal insanity is not knowing whether the act you committed was wrong or right. Leon Czolgosz assassinated President William McKinley. Of all the Presidential assassinations, McKinley’s had the most dangerously political movement. This assassination was followed by Theodore Roosevelt taking over the Presidency of the United States. In the 1900’s, the emergence of medicine and law had just began. It was not until the late 1880’s that courts even considered expert witness and expert testimony. Courts began to allow doctors to testify on their medical opinions of defendants they did not treat until after the crimes were committed. The alienist (as mental doctors were called during this time) wanted Leon Czologsz to be criminally insane. His insanity would have made for an easier trial.
Leon Czolgosz willing and knowingly went to the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, NY on September 6, 1901 hiding a .32 caliber pistol under a white bandage. He made his way up to the front of the crown where President McKinley was standing. He then fired the pistol twice into President McKinley, hitting him in the stomach and chest. (3) He was taken down saying, “I did my duty.” Three doctors came in to evaluate to mental health of Czolgosz. Dr. Joesph Fowler was the first alienist on the case. He called in two experts on sanity and crime, Dr. Floyd Crego and Dr. James Putnam. These three men became devoted with documenting Czolgosz mental health. (20) Their conclusion summarized states, “He is the product of Anarchy, sane and responsible.”
During this period in time, courts had just began to except the testimony of Doctors on witnesses. Doctors were also concluding that debt, stress, desire, and disease could play a part in whether a person was sane or not. Judges and doctors grew even more uneasy about who could be held responsible for their actions. If everyone could find a reason to be insane such as job loss, stress, debt, etc., then people could go on to commit crimes freely without punishment. (116) In Czolgosz case, the District Attorney Penney believed he chose Anarchy. Czolgosz chose to corrupt his life and allowed himself to be seduced by anarchical leaders and their beliefs. Even if he was crazy, he made a choice knowingly and willingly.
This did not rest well with the defense attorney for Czologosz. He argues how could he possible be charged with murder when his circumstances drove him mad. He could not have chosen a better lifestyle. Besides wouldn’t American sleep better knowing he was crazy rather than there were people in America that could kill leaders in the Government in cold blood. These statements disturbed people so much that these issues continued on past Czolgosz conviction and death. This also encouraged the prosecution to carry out the trial in a speedy fashion.(20-25)
Another set of Doctors arrived in New York the Friday before the trial. Dr. MacDonald and Dr. Hurd examined the defendant over the weekend. They first agreed he appeared “well nourished, rather good-looking, mild mannered young man.” They came to the same conclusion as the previous doctors that Czolgosz may be delusional but he was sane. (42-43)
After the death of the defendant, Dr. Channing and Dr. Briggs questioned Czolgosz sanity. Channing sent Briggs to investigate the findings of the other doctors who evaluated the defendant. (55)Briggs evaluated Czolgosz family, visited the jail he was housed in, and read the findings of the doctors who evaluated him. He had conducted almost fifty to sixty interviews of people who new the assassin. Summarizing all that Briggs investigated, he did find sufficient evidence that Czolgosz was insane based on his opinion. He...