Q&A with Scott Miller
BRIAN LAMB, HOST, Q&A: Scott Miller, why did you decide to do a book on the assassination of William McKinley?
SCOTT MILLER, AUTHOR, ”THE PRESIDENT AND THE ASSASSIN”: You know, I had been interested in this period in the 1880’s and 1890’s. I think it’s just a really fascinating and important, really turning point in American history.
Before then, you had a United States that really would have been recognized by the Founding Fathers. After this date, by the turn of the century, it’s the America that we would know today.
And there’s just a tremendous zeitgeist and enthusiasm and patriotism in this period. I think it all makes it very romantic. I mean, you just look right the way through American society, and you see it in industry.
You know, of course, we think of the tycoons and the trusts. But there was just a proliferation of new products. I mean, you’d be hard-pressed to go to a grocery store now where you didn’t see products on the aisles that came from this period Pillsbury and Armour Meats, and Coke and Ivory soap, and right on down the line.
The same could be said about the arts really reflected this period as well. You know, John Philip Sousa, who was busy writing and capturing this period. ”Stars and Stripes Forever” became kind of the mantra.
LAMB: Who was Leon Czolgosz? And why did he use an alias, or a different name, a pseudonym?
MILLER: Leon Czolgosz was the assassin. And he had worked in a steel factory in the early 1890’s in the Cleveland area. And the economy had tanked in 1893, and was really the worst depression in American history.
And his company, his steel company, decided that they were going to try and reduce wages. This was the pattern for companies in those days. When they were hit with something, they told the employees, wage cuts across the board.
His union probably wasn’t the most sophisticated in the world, and they decided they were going to go on strike, which didn’t seem like a particularly good idea. And they were all sacked and put on a black list.
So, all these workers were out of work. And remember, this is a time there was no unemployment insurance, there was no help from the union, and they were just out on the street.
Czolgosz was out for about six months until he realized that pretty much everybody at his company had been let go, and all they needed to do was to go back and give a false name he chose Fred Nieman and, you know, there was no ID, or anything like that. And so, he was rehired under the alias of Fred Nieman.
And it was an alias that he continued to use throughout the rest of his life. And it kind of became confusing as the years went on about who was Fred Nieman and who was Leon Czolgosz.
LAMB: We’ll come back to him as an individual. But what day did he actually assassinate President McKinley?
MILLER: The assassination took place on September 6, 1901. This was at the at an exposition in Buffalo, New York.
Now, McKinley had gone there a couple of days previous, and he was just concluding a summer vacation in Canton. And he was intending to go up to this exposition in Buffalo the Pan-American Exposition, it was called. And it was kind of a working vacation.
He was going to deliver a big speech, but he also went up to Niagara Falls. And it was a bit of a victory lap. His presidency had been quite a success to that point.
Well, Czolgosz had decided several days really, only several days before McKinley arrived, that he was going to kill him. He had gone out, and he bought a pistol. And he followed McKinley’s whereabouts in the newspapers, which reported in great detail where the president was going to be, and he began tracking him throughout the fair.
LAMB: Let me stop you a second and ask you, where did he come from to? Where did he live when this happened in Buffalo?
MILLER: He was this was part of the mystery of Leon Czolgosz. He had left his he was living with his family on a farm in Ohio and just lazing about, not doing very much.
He’d finally left around summertime in 1901. And where he had gone was a bit of a mystery. He told his family various stories. And he would kind of surface and offer some explanations about where he was going, but it was a bit unclear.
We do know that, for some reason, he decided to go to Buffalo, the Buffalo area, maybe just to see the fair. He didn’t have it in his head at this point to kill the president, although he had these sorts of ideas. And so, he had been in Buffalo for several days before he decided that he was going to kill the president, and began to track him throughout the fair.
LAMB: How did the president get to Buffalo? Where did he come from?
MILLER: He took a train from Canton, where he had spent the summer.
MILLER: Yes, Canton, Ohio. His wife was, throughout her adult life had been, a bit of an invalid and was subject to all sorts of attacks and seizures, and it kind of felt like they needed to get her to Canton where she could relax. And she was making quite good progress.
So, they came to the fair just really at the end of their summer vacation.
LAMB: Where did he stay in the Buffalo area?
MILLER: He stayed at the home of the organizer of the fair the Milburn house, it was called which apparently was a beautiful house. It was on Delaware Street in Buffalo, a beautiful, stately street.
And McKinley enjoyed just going out for walks up and down the streets underneath the shade trees. And so, he was just staying at this private home, attending the fair, and then going back to a private residence.
LAMB: Where did Czolgosz stay?
MILLER: He was staying at a hotel it was kind of a boarding house and gave a different name. I think he introduced himself as Fred Nieman there.
And the people in the hotel kind of thought he was a bit of a curious guy. He would disappear during the day. Nobody really knew where.
He didn’t interact with the people around the hotel bar. I think once he was known to have had a whiskey, or something. But kind of just stayed in his room, read the newspapers.
Once he woke up a German army officer when Czolgosz was rooting around in the middle of the night, or something. But he was planning his attack. He’d gone to a local hardware store, or a local shop to buy the gun.
And he had practiced wrapping his hand in a white handkerchief, and he was going to conceal the gun in the handkerchief and stick it in his pocket. And that’s how he planned to approach the president with it hidden.
LAMB: What kind of a gun was it?
MILLER: I think it was a .45.
LAMB: Where is it now? Do you know?
MILLER: I believe it’s in a museum in Buffalo.
LAMB: And so, how did he know where the president was going to be? And you mentioned the Niagara Falls trip. How far is Niagara Falls from Buffalo?
MILLER: Not very far. McKinley had gone up there earlier that day. He’d looked around. And as I said, it was something of a working holiday for him.
He’d kind of clambered around, taking in the falls and the countryside. And he’d had a very nice lunch at a hotel. And the organizers had allowed time for him to have a cigar. He was a great cigar smoker.
And so, he and his wife had returned from Niagara Falls. His wife had gone home, had gone to the Milburn house to relax. And McKinley had just one official stop that day. He was going to the fair at four o’clock, at a big music auditorium called the Temple of Music.
And there he was going to do a meet-and-greet for really about 10 minutes was all. Members of the public had lined up hours ahead. They’d been warned that this was going to happen. And, you know, this was a real treat to be able to shake the hand of the president.
So, McKinley was there waiting for them. It was a very quiet setting. There was a Bach sonata was playing in the background when they let the people in. And there was also a fair bit of security around.
LAMB: Had he been had he given a speech?
MILLER: He had given a speech the day before to over 100,000 people, a huge crowd. And people thought that it was really one of the best speeches that he ever gave. He kind of outlined his agenda for going forward and the importance of the United States continuing to focus on improving the economy and commerce.
Czolgosz had tracked him there, and had actually got a place in the front row and was standing relatively near the president. He told the police after he was arrested that he was debating about whether to try and shoot him then. But it was a huge crowd, and he was worried that he wouldn’t be able to draw his pistol, that it was on the outer edge of his range.
He had some marksmanship experience as a hunter back on his parents’ farm in Ohio, but he was worried that maybe somebody would jump once they saw the pistol drawn. And so, he was debating this with himself when the speech ended and McKinley disappeared.
LAMB: McKinley, President McKinley was how old on that day?
MILLER: Fifty-four, I believe.
LAMB: And Czolgosz was how old?
MILLER: He was in his mid-20s.
LAMB: And how about Secret Service in those days? We’d already had two presidents killed, Garfield and Lincoln. This would have been the third president.
Was there Secret Service?
MILLER: There were a couple of Secret Service agents. They had local Buffalo police that were tracking McKinley’s movements around town.
And in this Temple of Music, visitors had to go along or kind of through a cordon of army officers or not officers, but army soldiers. There were several Secret Service officers and some police, and then also, just organizers of the fair who were there to keep an eye on things. And they were meant to watch the crowd.
LAMB: This is a small point, but when he gave his speech the day before, did they have electronic did they have sound systems then? Do you know?
MILLER: I don’t think so. I don’t know about that.
LAMB: A hundred thousand people were there listening to him.
MILLER: Yes, I don’t know what voice amplification was used.
LAMB: OK. Go back to the day that he was shot. And how did Czolgosz get up to the front of the line?
MILLER: He got there early in the day. And it was a very hot day. It was a very late summer day in Buffalo, when
LAMB: September 6th.
MILLER: Yes, September 6th. People were dabbing their brows, which also kind of lent credence to his idea of wrapping the pistol in a handkerchief. So, he was there in line, waited some time.
When the doors were opened, there was a gentleman in front of him that really kind of captured the attention of the police. This guy was kind of a dark complexioned, Southern European. And the police thought, for some reason, he looked a little suspicious.
And so, apparently, they were quite focused on this guy. When he got up to McKinley and they went to shake hands, this visitor took an inordinate amount of time to release the president’s hand. And so, the people right around McKinley were a bit concerned. They were moving forward to kind of shuffle him along when Czolgosz stepped forward.
LAMB: What was President McKinley’s reputation when it came to being in public arenas and shaking hands with people?
MILLER: He was a terrific person when it came to one-on-one visits. He loved it.
In fact, he had his own handshake called the ”McKinley grip,” where he could grab somebody’s fingers and not allow them to squeeze too hard back. And then he would kind of shuffle them along. And he was actually clocked in how quickly he could move people through a receiving line. And he said he loved this sort of thing, much better than delivering speeches.
So, when he did this meet-and-greet, he was actually warned twice. You know, maybe we should take it off the agenda, because there were some lingering security concerns. But he said, don’t worry about it. He said, ”Nobody wants to hurt me.”
And he just enjoyed meeting people one-on-one so much.
LAMB: What time in the afternoon was it?
MILLER: It was shortly after four o’clock when he was shot.
LAMB: So, how was the actual assassination attempt done?
MILLER: Czolgosz stepped forward. He was point-blank range, really. He withdrew the pistol, which was wrapped in a handkerchief, stuck it in McKinley’s chest. And McKinley even then didn’t know what was in this handkerchief.
The first shot apparently or one of the two shots hit a button, or hit the president in the breastplate. And that bullet actually fell out on the way to the or in the operating theater.
The other bullet, the second one, went deep into his stomach, or through his stomach, and lodged apparently in the muscles in his back. It was never found, even in the autopsy. To this day, people can never locate the bullet.
When the shot when the second shot occurred, people just people in line, soldiers, Secret Service all dived on Czolgosz. There was quite a powerful man just behind him who was working at the fair, but had some police training. He jumped on him. The police did.
People were hitting him with rifle butts. They pulled him to his feet a couple of times, smacked him in the face, and he’d fall down again. And they probably could have just killed him right there. They were just enraged that this could happen.
McKinley, who was always a terrific guy, urged his police to take it easy on Czolgosz, and then they gave up on their attack and pulled him into a back room, kind of dazed and bleeding.
LAMB: What did Czolgosz say after he shot him?
MILLER: He didn’t say anything right away. He was taken into police custody and gave a confession that evening. And even his it was always a bit of a mystery. You could never really understand what he was saying. He gave various accounts.
His most famous quote was, ”I done my duty.”
And he had taken it upon himself to he felt that the president had attained too much power. I don’t think he harbored a personal hatred of McKinley, but he hated the position that the president had attained and what it represented.
So, he was in jail for some weeks and was constantly interrogated about what his motives had been. And he basically said he thought the president was too powerful, and that he needed to strike a blow for the working man.
LAMB: What did they do with the president after he was shot?
MILLER: He was taken, interestingly, in a small, electric-powered vehicle to a hospital that was on the fair grounds.
Now, the hospital was really better equipped for people with upset stomachs and sunburns and bruised knees. And they certainly didn’t expect to have a presidential assassination on their hands. They did the best they could, the nurses that were there, and they put out a call for surgeons at the fairgrounds or around Buffalo.
They eventually found someone, quite a renowned surgeon, although he had no experience with gunshot wounds. He rushed there. He had been at the barber, and his hair was half clipped when he showed up. And they probed the president’s wounds.
But the circumstances, they didn’t have very good they didn’t have the equipment. Even for those days, they didn’t have all the equipment they would like. The lighting was very poor. Someone actually had to use a mirror and angle the sun’s rays into the wound, so that they could see what was going on.
There was an x-ray machine that was on display at the fairgrounds, and just a very preliminary, experimental one. They decided against using it. I think it was probably too new for them. They were worried that the president would go into shock, so they wanted to get the surgery over as quickly as possible.
So, they actually did the cutting right there at the fairgrounds, rather than going to the hospital. This is something that was sort of controversial after the president died when they were trying to decide what might have been done.
After that, he was stitched up, and he was taken to the Milburn house, where he could be with his wife.
LAMB: You talked about his wife having illness problems. How did they deal with her? And she wasn’t there when this happened.
MILLER: Right. She had suffered from all sorts of epileptic attacks and fits since, I think, pretty much her mid-20s when she had lost both of her children and her mother to disease and illness.
And the president was very concerned about her. That was one of the first words that he said after he was shot was, be careful how you break this to my wife.
They waited until they didn’t tell her right away. They did the surgery and took him to the house before they informed Ida, his wife, what had happened. She took the initial news with remarkable calm and strength. And it helped that McKinley initially seemed to be improving.
LAMB: So, he was shot on September the 6th. When did he die, and why did he die of what happened to him?
MILLER: He died about a week later. And he was well on his way to recovery. He was sitting up in bed. He was starting to have some solid foods. He was reading the newspapers and asking about current events.
At the time of the shooting, all the senior political figures in the country rushed to Buffalo, where they comforted him and Ida. And it appeared that he was well enough that a lot of them left.
In fact, Theodore Roosevelt, who was vice president, and was quite concerned, felt that things were stable enough for him to go on vacation. And he’d gone off, up high into the mountains, and figured that everything was fine.
The president deteriorated very quickly. He was apparently some blood poisoning and gangrene from the wound set in. And in the space of about 24 hours, he passed. It was quite a shock to everyone.
LAMB: Theodore Roosevelt our youngest president ever, 42 years old at that time was sworn in. Where? And how did he find out about it, the death?
MILLER: Roosevelt, as I said, was in the mountains. He was having his lunch on a lake when members of his party saw a ranger come running up the trail with a telegram in his hand. And I think at that point, everybody knew that there was bad news.
Roosevelt rushed to Buffalo, took a train through a stormy night, and arrive there to find the president had died. And he was sworn in right away, in Buffalo.
LAMB: What happened to Leon Czolgosz?
MILLER: He spent some time in jail. And it was a little bit awkward. People didn’t know quite what to charge him with at first.
He had shot the president, but, of course, he hadn’t committed an assassination. It was only once the president died that they knew exactly what he was going to be charged with.
His trial I think at that point everybody just wanted to have the trial over with as quickly as possible. It lasted all of two days, including the formation of the jury.
Czolgosz admitted his guilt. They had to go through a trial anyway for a crime of this significance.
He said basically nothing during his trial. He refused to help the defense counsel that was provided for him.
The defense counsel two ex-judges they wanted nothing to do with it. They didn’t want to defend the murderer of the president, and they did it kind of grudgingly.
So, his defense was perfunctory. But he didn’t Czolgosz was not really interested in helping. So, after two days, he was found guilty, sentenced to death and, sometime thereafter, was sent to the electric chair.
LAMB: I think I counted only 40-some days between the actual bullet shot until the time he was killed.
LAMB: I mean, we couldn’t have anything close to that these days.
MILLER: It was remarkable. And especially considering that the how quickly the trial began. And once they knew that they were going to try the murderer of the president, it all proceeded with incredible speed.
And I think the thinking was that they just wanted to get it over with. It was a sick and sorrow chapter in American history. There was no doubt about what had happened. The guy admitted to it. So, there was really no point in keeping him around.
It’s too bad that he wasn’t interviewed further. The record of his interviews is not as rich as you might like. And Czolgosz did clam up, and at various times refused to talk to anybody, to reporters or to the police. And so, it was a bit sort of sketchy, you know, how he spent his time those final days in jail.
LAMB: I read your bibliography in the back and noticed there are a lot of books that have been written about the McKinley assassination or the McKinley presidency.
Where did you go to get this account? And what makes this different than any other book you’ve seen?
MILLER: I did a lot of research at the McKinley Presidential Library in Canton, Ohio. They have a great collection of materials, and I did some work there.
What I tried to do with the assassination was really look at both characters. And throughout the book, it’s kind of built on two pillars one McKinley, and one the assassin and trying to explain the assassin in the context of the anarchist philosophy that he believed in.
LAMB: Now, you have spent 20 years overseas, if I understand your biography right. How did you find your way where do you live today?
MILLER: I live in Seattle.
LAMB: So, how did you find your way, after all the experience you had as a reporter, to this story?
MILLER: I was really interested in this time period. It’s just such a magical time in American history. And I wanted to find a good story that would illustrate a lot of the currents that were flowing in American society then. There were the economic currents and kind of the mood of the people.
I think, you know, for the first time, Americans were starting to look beyond their own borders. The census of 1890 declared the western frontier to be closed. And this was a tremendous shock to the American psyche. This had been part of our myth since the days of the Pilgrims, this constantly expanding frontier.
And people began to think, OK, if we’re filling up North America, we’re going what’s next? Let’s look at the Pacific and China, in particular, the vast market there.
So, I was looking for a story that would show all these events that were going on. And I became interested in McKinley as a way of doing that. He’s a bit overshadowed, I think, by Theodore Roosevelt, who, of course, is this landmark figure, very charismatic.
But if you look at McKinley’s presidency, it’s very fascinating. He led the U.S. into war with Spain. He annexed Hawaii, took over Puerto Rico. He started a war in the Philippines. American troops were there, and it was a horrific war in the Philippines. He sent the Marines to China to put down the Boxer Rebellion. So, tremendous amounts of drama.
And then, the other part of the book that attracted me was his assassin. And in my research, I discovered that a couple of psychologists had decided after Czolgosz was executed, these two psychologists they were called ”alienists” then believed that maybe he had been insane.
And so, what they tried to do was reconstruct his life as much as they could. They interviewed people he had worked with, family members. And this was really an invaluable resource in kind of painting the picture of the assassin.
And what really clinched it for me were the anarchist leanings of the assassin, of Czolgosz, and being able to explain that and where that came from and how this entered his thinking.
LAMB: How did he become an anarchist?
MILLER: It was an evolving process. I think it probably began around 1893, 1894, when he was laid off from his job in the steel mill. And he was, as his brother said, he was quite unhappy during that time about what had happened. And I think he felt that companies had acquired too much power, because he had done everything right. He worked hard, felt like he deserved better.
And so, he began attending meetings of social revolutionaries, of anarchists. He sent away to New York for books.
He tried he was raised in a Catholic family. He was of Polish origin. And he tried, looked for guidance from the Bible or from priests. He didn’t find any. He just led to confrontation.
And this, even after he got his job back, these sorts of ideas stuck in his head, and he still kept on attending meetings. And he was always kind of a curious figure at some of these social revolutionary meetings he would go to. For some he would sit in the back and not say a word. Everybody kind of wondered what he was doing there. And other times there’s reports that he would just kind of spout off and talk endlessly.
And he was just kind of a strange character and very much kept to himself.
LAMB: Where was he when he started attending these meetings?
MILLER: That was in Cleveland.
LAMB: Who were the first people that he followed?
MILLER: I think he kind of immersed himself in the overall ideology. It was only during this time he would have learned probably about the two most famous anarchists to this period.
The first was a guy named Albert Parsons, who had grown up in Texas. He was a bit of a dandy. The typical sort of anarchist in the U.S. in the 1860’s was usually German. They had been kicked out of the country there by the government. The typical anarchist was sort of heavy-set, rumpled suit, scruffy beard.
Parsons was a bit of a dandy. He died his hair black, always wore nice clothes. And he kind of became the leader of the anarchist community in Chicago and created a whole subculture of anarchists and social revolutionaries there. They had their own picnics, their own concerts, their own sporting events.
LAMB: What did they believe?
MILLER: All sorts of things. I mean, it was kind of various stripes of anarchism.
And, you know, there were, even among people who called themselves anarchist, there was various views about the best way to proceed, about whether anarchists should vote or not, to what extent they should participate in the system, reform it from within or just push back against it all. So, it was a fairly eclectic group of people that he had gathered around him.
And it was at one of his speeches in 1896 or 1886, rather in the Haymarket Square in Chicago, that he had finished speaking. It was kind of a rainy and stormy night, and he had finished his speech, gathered up his wife and children. They had left to go to a bar to get out of the rain, when a cordon of policeman arrived.
And someone on the sidewalk and we don’t know who to this day lit a device it looks just like a bomb from a Roadrunner cartoon, I’ve seen reconstructions of it with a fuse and tossed it into the police. One policeman was killed and a number of others were wounded right away.
The police just panicked and began shooting wildly into the crowd. Unfortunately, they ended up probably hitting each other more than the crowd. Eight policemen died in all, although most were from friendly fire.
The city and the country this was a sensational attack. It was a devastating attack on the country. And there were rumors that anarchists were going to take over city hall, take over the city. Maybe this was the first attack in a take-over of the entire nation.
And so, there was a massive witch-hunt, a manhunt, to round up people. They finally charged eight anarchists with the murder of the policemen, and four were hanged for it one of them being Parsons.
LAMB: When did Leon Czolgosz meet Emma Goldman?
MILLER: That was in May 1901. Goldman was on a speaking tour. She was a terrific speaker and crisscrossed the country delivering speeches about anarchism. And
LAMB: Where was she from?
MILLER: She was originally from Russia. She was a Russian immigrant who had come to New York looking for a job, I think in the textile mills or as a seamstress.
And she had left there, gone to New York, where she had kind of fallen in with other anarchists and kind of the New York group of anarchists.
And she had made a name for herself when her boyfriend, Alexander Berkman, had attempted to murder a steel executive, and the executive survived. Henry Clay Frick survived the attack, but Berkman was sent to prison for a long time.
And Goldman really kind of basked in the glory of the trial that followed, and she became something of a famous figure after that. She was able to gather large crowds. She traveled the country and delivered speeches. And she was always arrested and thrown in jail, but whatever city that she was in, the police would usher her to the city lines and kick her out of town.
LAMB: For a minute, go back the Emma Goldman story and her boyfriend who attacked Henry Ford Frick.
MILLER: Henry Clay Frick.
LAMB: Henry Clay Frick. Where was Frick what was his job? And how did he attack him? You tell that story in the book.
MILLER: Sure. Frick was one of the leading steel executives in the country. And Berkman was unhappy with how he was treating his workforce and had planned to attack him in his office.
So, he and Emma had attempted to raise money to buy a gun, and possibly a bomb, to do this with. Berkman was very keen that he could maybe blow himself up and Frick up in the manner of another anarchist who had died.
And so, Berkman was able to get an appointment with Frick. Berkman claimed that he was a representative of a labor company that would help him find workers.
So, he gained access to his office. And incredibly, he pulled out a gun, shot Frick twice in the neck, one on each side. Frick was with another executive, and some sort of scuffle ensued between the three of them. They were wrestling around on the floor.
Berkman stabbed him several times in the leg with a knife that he had concealed stabbed Frick. A carpenter who was working nearby finally heard what was going on, rushed in and hit Berkman on the head with a hammer, which subdued him momentarily.
As they were laying there, they noticed that Berkman had some sort of he was chewing on something. They reached in his mouth and discovered that he had an explosive cartridge in his mouth, which they quickly removed. He was hoping to blow himself up.
But Frick was an amazing guy. After the attack, he refused anesthesia while a doctor probed around, removed the bullets, and went back to his office, completed a bank loan, wrote a couple of letters. And in fact, he lived quite a long time after that.
LAMB: You say 28 years.
MILLER: Yes, incredible.
LAMB: Well, you know, when I was reading your book, I kept thinking, this sounds an awful lot like today.
What was the 1893 whatever you want to call it Great Depression all about?
MILLER: That was it was a financial panic. And the U.S., since the early 1870’s, had been subject to one economic spasm after another. They were usually financial panics. A bank would collapse. Companies that were depending on the banks for loans would collapse. And these things happened with agonizing regularity.
And the 1893 one was typical sort of cause, but just the depths of it were much more severe. And people were really scratching their heads about what had caused it all. You know, economics then was sort of an even more difficult-to-understand science than it is now. And there were all sorts of theories about money supply and various ideas, but nobody quite knew what the solution to these things was.
LAMB: No Social Security in those days, and no income tax
in those days.
LAMB: Let me ask you about yourself for a moment. We’ll come back to this.
Where were you born?
MILLER: I was born in Seattle and spent about 20 years overseas as a journalist for Reuters News Agency and the Wall Street Journal, in Asia and in Europe.
LAMB: Where in those countries, or those areas?
MILLER: I was in Tokyo for five years. I was in the U.K. for a little over a year, in Germany for eight or nine years, I think. And I was in Brussels for four years.
LAMB: Why did you get out of that business?
MILLER: Well, I enjoyed journalism. I think I was kind of looking for something new. My wife and I were trying to decide what our next posting would be, and we had sort of personal reasons for wanting to go to Seattle at that time where we both were from. And it just kind of made sense that this was a good time to move back home.
LAMB: So, how do you make your living, other than writing these books?
MILLER: I write the books fortunately, my wife has a real job, which is always handy when you’re writing books.
LAMB: What does she do?
MILLER: She works for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
LAMB: And this book is what for you? How many have you done?
MILLER: That’s the first one.
LAMB: First one.
And do you miss the daily journalism?
MILLER: I do. I miss the adventures of it. Journalism gives you entree to all sorts of activities and events that you don’t really get to do in other walks of life, to just go and attach yourself to somebody for a couple of days in an exotic or, you know, an interesting location. And I miss that sort of thing.
And I miss the colleagues, of course, of working in a busy newsroom.
Writing books certainly has its own pleasures, but it’s definitely a different pace, and you have to get used to the life style.
LAMB: How long did it take you to do this book, from research to end?
MILLER: About from the time that we sold the idea until it was probably about three-and-a-half, four years.
LAMB: You mentioned earlier the value of the presidential library there, McKinley’s, in Canton, Ohio. If you had to name something else that made the most impact on you as you went about finding this information, what would you say it is?
MILLER: The Massachusetts Historical Society had they have papers that were prepared, as I mentioned, the psychologists who had studied the life of Czolgosz they had these papers on file, and they were very helpful in tracking that down.
There were a lot of things before I did this book that influenced me. I would say Barbara Tuchman’s ”The Proud Tower.” I remember reading that years and years ago. And she’s got a section in there about the anarchists. And that was really about the first time I had ever heard of this philosophy as it pertained to, you know, actual practiced in the 1880’s and 1890’s.
LAMB: Over the last hundred years or so, how much has been wrong about what’s been written about the assassination itself? Much?
MILLER: I think it’s generally been fairly correct. There is it was difficult at the time.
Newspapers rushed there was probably a lot of misinformation right off the bat. And I think it was eventually sorted out. You know, newspapers were rushing to get to print, and there were various accounts of what happened, who had done what. And the trial itself helped clear that up a little bit.
Probably McKinley’s life and his presidency have been the subject of a fair bit of study in the decades that followed, and revision. But the assassination itself, I think once kind of the dust cleared, the historians got it pretty well right and agreed on the details.
LAMB: A couple of weeks ago when Jim Grant was here talking about his book on Thomas Reed, the Speaker of the House, he was also talking about William McKinley running against him and didn’t make it, didn’t for that job.
How long did William McKinley spend in the House of Representatives?
MILLER: A fair bit of time. He climbed from being just a junior congressman. And he really made a name for himself in Congress on the subject of tariffs, which are, even now, a fairly arcane topic. They were a huge issue in the United States at this time.
They were an important source of revenue for a government that didn’t have a lot of other means of supporting itself. And they were also seen as a way, maybe as an instrument, for the U.S. to gain access to foreign markets.
And McKinley, he was from an area that depended on foreign trade to some extent. The steel industry was very big in Ohio at that time. And so, it was something that he felt he could deliver for his constituents.
And it also suited him personally. He was as a student, he was a harder worker than he was bright, I think. He was a bright guy, no doubt. But what he really brought to the party was just a willingness to really get down to it.
And so, going over these lengthy tables was something that really appealed to him.
And also, there was a lot of, a tremendous amount of negotiating over tariff tables and what industry, and all the industries wanted some sort of protection. And there was lots of horse trading and deal-making.
And this really appealed to McKinley, and it was something that he excelled at.
LAMB: Given what you know about William McKinley, and if he were here today, a Republican like he was then, would he fit in the party?
MILLER: That’s a really good question. I don’t think so, because his personality was such that he was a very modest guy who liked to work behind the scenes.
I don’t think anybody can produce a tantalizing McKinley quote. He didn’t give great speeches. He could deliver them, but there was no great wordsmithing.
He liked to work behind the scenes, kind of pull the strings of the different actors. He was a little bit of a yes-man, told people what they liked to hear. But he was very pragmatic.
He wasn’t particularly ideological extremely religious, but he just wanted to get good policy done a lot of times. And I think maybe he was, I think, a little too pragmatic and a little too behind-the-scenes for today.
LAMB: Karl Rove, who is well known as one of the top aides to George W. Bush, used to talk about William McKinley. But there was also a lot of copies (ph) suggesting that Karl Rove was the Mark Hanna to George Bush, Mark Hanna to William McKinley.
Who was Mark Hanna? And do you agree with that comparison?
MILLER: There’s probably something to it. Mark Hanna was one of McKinley’s lifelong friends. He was an industrialist. He was one of the few major business figures that McKinley spent considerable time with. He was from Ohio, and he kind of discovered McKinley when he was governor of Ohio, when McKinley was.
And Hanna had many different business interests. He was a tremendous businessman. And he was interested in politics, but he just didn’t want to climb the ladder.
And so, I think he kind of picked McKinley out as maybe somebody he could mentor and somebody he could connect to the right people, and really helped hold McKinley’s hand when he ran in 1896. And McKinley repaid the favor by helping him get in the Senate when he was elected. Hanna was desperate to become a senator, which McKinley helped him achieve.
And they remained good friends throughout McKinley’s years in the White House.
LAMB: How did William McKinley get into the Spanish-American War? And what was it?
MILLER: This is kind of one of the hard things to figure out about McKinley, the war and how he reacted to it.
When he entered the White House, he was very aware that there was a revolution going on down in Cuba. There were Cuban revolutionaries who wanted to kick the Spanish out. Spain had ruled it for 400 years.
And normally, this might not have been such a big deal. There were revolutions and things happening all the time that the U.S. didn’t pay a lot of attention to.
But I think because it was close 90 miles off the tip of Florida and also because of the thinking of the time, Americans were becoming more interested in asserting themselves in what was happening overseas. And the American public really seized on this revolution. And really, there was a tremendous groundswell of support for the revolutionaries.
There were speeches and rallies, and petitions were signed and sent to Congress pleading for Congress and the president to support the revolutionaries.
There was one little boy who was 10 years old got his hands on a pistol and took off marching down some railroad tracks to Cuba. He was going to take on the Spanish by himself. So, there was just tremendous support for helping the revolutionaries.
When McKinley entered the White House, he was he had fought in the Civil War and said he’d seen enough bloodshed, and wasn’t really anxious he was concerned about where all this was going. He didn’t want the U.S. to get involved in a military action there. I think he privately sided with the revolutionaries, but he wanted to keep it at arm’s length.
Of course, he made the decision to send the USS Maine to Havana, which mysteriously exploded, sank with a couple hundred deaths. And the feeling throughout the country was certainly that the Spanish had done this terrible act, which was probably the understandable conclusion.
McKinley felt like, jeez there’s really not enough evidence. He waited for the Navy to prepare a report on it. Even then, he thought he might be able to negotiate a solution with the Spanish, and finally declared war. He decided that he was going to send the troops down.
And we know about Teddy Roosevelt, who was assistant secretary of the Navy, immediately resigned and formed the Rough Riders. And, you know, we all know about their running up San Juan Hill from our history books.
LAMB: Did he get any resistance when they got up to the top of the hill?
MILLER: It was quite a bloody battle. It wasn’t particularly well planned. The slopes of the battlefield were quite exposed, and the American troops were forced to line up at the base of the San Juan Heights, which were actually two hills. And they had to wait for orders before they could rush, make their advance.
And the Spanish just sat up on these hills and picked them off one at a time. It was ghastly.
LAMB: Did we lose many Americans?
MILLER: Yes. It was from a percentage standpoint, it was quite a costly charge.
And Roosevelt remained on his horse. I mean, it was a suicide run for Roosevelt to stay on his horse as he went up this hill. And there’s one story of him stopping, and a soldier was hiding in the bush. And Roosevelt said, ”Come on. Get up. Let’s get going.”
And just then a bullet struck the soldier and dropped him dead. And, you know, it was miraculous that Roosevelt would survive that.
LAMB: Well, William McKinley lost his vice president, who died during the first term. Did that role that T.R. played down in Cuba have anything to do with him being picked for vice president in McKinley’s second term?
MILLER: I think it certainly helped. It gave Roosevelt a tremendous amount of profile.
But McKinley really didn’t choose him. You know, bizarrely, when his vice president died, McKinley said to the Republican Party, ”I’ll let you decide who the vice president will be.”
And Roosevelt, strangely, went around the country saying, or at least around the eastern seaboard, saying, ”I don’t want to be vice president. The job’s beneath me.”
And he began to do this so loudly, that people began to wonder if maybe he had just the opposite in mind. There’s a story of him going down to Washington and going to John Hay, secretary of state, and saying, ”I don’t want to be vice president.”
And Hay kind of snickering. You know, what game is he playing?
And Roosevelt turned up at the Republican Convention wearing a hat that looked like a Rough Rider’s hat. And I think he was quite pleased when he was actually named to be vice president.
LAMB: What was the what was the result of the war in Cuba?
MILLER: The Americans, they won two battles, the Battle of San Juan Hill. And then the Spanish fleet that the Americans were after, which was at the harbor in Santiago, shortly thereafter tried to make a run for it. And the U.S. fleet that was waiting for them that had blockaded them, sunk them.
And that effectively ended the resistance in Cuba itself. There were some other Spanish soldiers, but at that point, they had no means of resupply from Spain. A large chunk of the army had been defeated. And after those two battles, the war in Cuba was effectively over.
Of course, there had been a battle in the far-off Philippines, which was kind of the other major battle of the war.
LAMB: Did Spain own the Philippines then?
MILLER: Yes, they did. It was their primary colony in the Pacific.
It was somewhat strange that McKinley would decide that we needed to launch an attack in the Philippines. Our dispute was very much centered about Cuba.
The Navy had included attack in the Philippines as part of its war plans from early on. And they decided that Commodore Dewey would lead the American fleet into Manila Harbor. And it was one of the most lop-sided naval battles in American history.
The U.S. lost a single sailor from heat exhaustion. I think we killed over 400 Spaniards, sent their entire fleet to the bottom. Our ships suffered nothing but superficial damage.
And that was actually the first engagement of the war, and excited the American public tremendously.
LAMB: How did we annex, or why did we annex or both Hawaii?
MILLER: Hawaii was seen as an important stop on the way to the Pacific, particularly after we had destroyed their fleet. McKinley’s thinking had been evolving a little bit, and he was thinking at this time, it would be nice to hold a port in the Philippines not so much so that we would have a foothold on the Philippines itself, but because of China.
This was seen as an American Hong Kong, just a couple of days’ sailing from the Chinese coast. And China was for a lot of people, it was almost a panacea for the economic ills that faced the country, all these consumers that were there. But we needed to have a port in the Philippines where our merchant ships and naval ships could repair and take on fuel. But you needed stepping stones in those days.
So, Hawaii had been eager to become part of the United States for some time. McKinley obliged, particularly when it looked like the Japanese maybe were sniffing around it. So, he took Hawaii.
And then also took Guam, which was also a Spanish colony, in just a comical little battle. The poor Spaniards there didn’t even know that a war was on when a U.S. Navy ship turned up in Guam and fired a couple of shots into a fort. The Spaniards rode out in a little boat and said, ”We’re sorry, but we can’t return your salute.”
And the American captain said, ”We weren’t saluting you. We were shelling you.”
And the Spanish were, ”Why are you shelling us?”
And then, they were quickly informed that the countries were at war and, in fact, they were American prisoners, much to their astonishment. And so, we captured Guam with just a couple of shots.
LAMB: Philosophically, why did we want all of this? And what made us think that the Philippines, Guam, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Cuba all these places should have something to do with us?
MILLER: I think McKinley was not he was not interested in foreign conquest when he entered the White House. In his inaugural speech, he talked about any sort of take-over of a country is an act of criminal aggression. He told an important member of or an important politician, that there would be ”no jingo nonsense in my administration.”
But he was also very worried about the economy. And we were talking about these horrible fluctuations that the economy had been going through during these 20 years. And the idea began to develop that American industry could just produce too much stuff, that there had been such a concentration of industry, and companies had become so efficient, that there was just a surplus of goods.
In fact, it’s really interesting reading the comments from executives at this time saying, you know, the laws of supply and demand were true a couple hundred years ago, or a hundred years ago, but not now. Nobody could have seen how much investment is required now.
And when there was an economic downturn, companies didn’t ratchet back production. They just produced even more, trying to force their competitors out of business by attacking them on price.
And so, we had this tremendous surplus of goods. And it terrified economists and ordinary people. But what are we going to do with all of this?
And foreign markets were really seen as maybe the one way out of it and, in particular, China with its vast population. This was and it was untapped. Europe had only got into it a little bit. There weren’t great inroads of manufactured goods like America could offer.
And there were all sorts of calculations about how, if we could just capture a certain percent of the China market, that it would solve all of our trouble. So, that was the interest in the Pacific.
In Cuba, we kept troops there after the war. This was something that astonished a lot of people about McKinley, who had been so reluctant about war. He kept soldiers there. We had more troops in Cuba after the war than we did during the battle to take it over.
And I think there were some security issues. He was concerned about the revolutionaries, about how organized they were, how educated they were. And he was afraid that maybe they couldn’t govern the country adequately, and that maybe a European power would intercede, there would be some sort of vacuum.
But he was also very interested in the wealth of Cuba, which is a tremendously wealthy country in natural resources, in agriculture. And almost as soon as the peace treaty was signed, American businessmen got on ships, and they just descended on Cuba. There’s all sorts of great stories of Cubans watching all these Yankees descend with map in hand and looking for things to invest in.
And I think that’s what McKinley wanted, that Cuba could be an important economic engine for the United States, or a contributor to our economy.
LAMB: The anarchists sound like terrorists when you read your stories about them. Was there any connection to a foreign country?
MILLER: Not really, although a lot of them came from Europe
LAMB: Czolgosz, by the way, was from what was his family background?
MILLER: He was from Prussia, although his family was of Polish ancestry. They spoke Polish at home. He spoke Polish, he read Polish. So, they probably would have considered them Poles. And I think they spoke German, as well. But
LAMB: Was he born here?
MILLER: He was born a month after his mother arrived in Detroit, and had grown up around Michigan. He lived near Pittsburgh and Cleveland.
LAMB: How big a movement was the anarchist movement?
MILLER: It had been growing. This was one of the things that was that I learned about in my research, that I didn’t know that much about the anarchist movement in the United States in the mid and late 1800’s. But it wasn’t a huge number of people, but Americans certainly knew of them and feared them.
You know, there was you know, anarchism as an ideology dates back to the Greeks and before. And, you know, it’s very appealing that there should be no authority, and everybody should be able to pursue their own interests. And the early philosophers describe something that was quite magical.
In the 1840’s and ’50s in Europe, and particularly in Europe, people began to look at it as a possible solution to the economic ills of that time of the Industrial Revolution. You know, there was a lot of thinking about how to make society more fair, and anarchism was one of those.
LAMB: Emma Goldman did what happened to her? I mean, where was she on the day of the assassination attempt? And it turned out to be successful. But did she know about this? And had she been close to Leon Czolgosz?
MILLER: They had met only once. She delivered a speech, which he heard, in May 1901. And they had met only once after that. Czolgosz had tracked her down. She was in Chicago. Just turned up on her doorstep and introduced himself and said, ”I want to learn more about anarchism.”
She happened to be on the way to the train station that day, and she rode with him to the train station. They talked a little bit. And there’s varying accounts of what she thought of him. I think she felt a little bit of sympathy for him. Also thought maybe he was a bit strange, didn’t know quite what to make of him.
And at the train station she kind of handed him off to some friends of hers and said, you know, can you look after this guy? We don’t know very much about him, but he seems interested in learning more about anarchism.
On the day she knew nothing, apparently, about the assassination in advance. She said that she only learned of it she was actually she had got a job selling paper and was on a sales call when she looked down at it. And she had learned the president had been assassinated, but she didn’t know who had done it.
And she looked down at a newspaper on a desk and saw a picture of Czolgosz, who had introduced himself under a different name. And she recognized him. That’s the guy who had come and introduced himself.
And then, she began to read the newspapers and learned that the police were looking for her, and that they had arrested a number of anarchists.
So, she quickly went to Chicago, and decided that she would need that she probably needed some money for her legal defense. So, she was going to sell a newspaper interview. She didn’t turn herself in right away. She said that she was going to, but she didn’t do it right away. She wanted to give a newspaper interview that she would charge for.
And she was actually apprehended she was in the bathtub of a friend when the police learned where she was. They came barging into the apartment, found her there. She had put on a little kimono when she heard what was going on.
And they said, you know, ”We’re looking for Emma Goldman.”
And she at first thought she could get away with it. She said, ”Oh, I’m just a Swedish maid,” or a nanny, or something. And the police scoured the apartment, not knowing that it was her.
This is her account, I should say. Finally, she was convinced that she should give herself up, and she did. And she was arrested. She was never implicated in playing a part in the assassination.
LAMB: Did anybody pay her for the interview?
MILLER: I don’t know if she she never gave the interview, so I don’t think she got paid.
LAMB: Did they pay for interviews back in those days?
MILLER: I think sometimes they did.
LAMB: Everything in the book about 100 years ago sounds an awful lot like today.
MILLER: That was kind of one of the things, when I started the book, I was really looking for an interesting story in an interesting time. And it was really only in the process of doing the research that I began to see these parallels. One newspaper that reviewed the book called I think referred to these eerie parallels with what’s going on.
And you see it with the anarchists of that time. And they had decided, actually at a meeting in the 1880s, that maybe violence would be required in order to advance their philosophy. They called it ”propaganda of the deed.”
So, there was just a you kind of hear them talking in those days, and it does sound very modern. And they felt that maybe violence was required, because society was treating them unfairly, that the powers and business and government had conspired against them and were arresting them and executing them. So, for them to resort to violence was really only leveling the playing field.
LAMB: Where would you put, out of our 44 presidencies, where would you put William McKinley?
MILLER: You know, that’s a great parlor game for historians. I think most agree he wasn’t a great president, certainly, on the order with Lincoln and Roosevelt. And I think part of it is because, as admirable as he was in a lot of ways, he probably wasn’t a great leader. He didn’t get out in front.
He was effective working behind the scenes, but you can read about his time in office, and you don’t really see a president that is out there charting a course.
In the end, it happened, and it happened in a way that he wanted. But you don’t see a clear ideological path from his presidency.
And so, for that also, I think he got himself into some predicaments he didn’t really want to be in. The war in the Philippines against the Filipinos that was something that was out of character for him that he wouldn’t have wanted to have done.
LAMB: We’re out of time, but I want to ask you if you’ve got another book that you’re working on.
MILLER: I do.
LAMB: What’s the subject matter?
MILLER: I’ll tell you later.
LAMB: Is it history?
MILLER: It is history. It’s more a narrative history. I love this subject. I think that history is so fascinating, because it really happened. It’s a great story, and it also explains a lot about ourselves today.
LAMB: One quick question about that. What part of the what year, what years?
MILLER: Am I interested in?
MILLER: I’m interested in the 1930’s.
LAMB: The book is called is called ”The President and the Assassin,” and our guest is Seattle-based Scott Miller. Thank you very much.
MILLER: Thanks so much for having me.