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America 1900 | Article

Rise of Anarchism

The dawning of the 20th century was viewed differently by different people. Some saw the coming of a technological age where people would be freed from the drudgery of manual labor. Others saw the potential for a great shared prosperity through increased international trade. And then there were those who saw a convergence of economic and political forces determined to silence the voice of the individual. For these individuals-a loose affiliation called anarchists-only the complete elimination of the state would pave the way for a more just world. In 1900, the anger and zealotry of several so-called anarchists would lead to bloodshed. 

In April, the Prince of Wales, while visiting Brussels, sustained two gunshot wounds from a 16-year-old assailant who claimed to be avenging "...the thousands of men...slaughtered in South Africa." The prince's would-be assassin was later said to be carrying anarchistic literature. Three months later, King Hubert I of Italy was killed by Gaetano Bresci. Bresci, a silk weaver and former resident of Paterson, New Jersey, was also said to be an anarchist. This murder apparently fascinated Leon Czolgosz who lived on a family farm just outside of Canton, Ohio. Family members recounted how Leon poured over the details of the crime every night for weeks. Czolgosz was plotting an anarchistic statement of his own. 

In the US, as disputes between labor and management escalated throughout 1900, anarchists were often blamed when tensions erupted into violence. Interestingly, anarchists were mostly anti-union. They had little desire to reform the system. Their preoccupation was with the elimination of the system. 

On September 6, 1901 throngs of people crowded to greet President William McKinley as he toured the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. Among those who pressed forward to greet the president was Leon Czolgosz. Czolgosz fired two shots into McKinley. The president died eight days later. Once again, an anarchist emerged from out of the shadows to capture the world's attention. 

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