The President and the Assassin: McKinley, Terror, and Empire at the Dawn of the American Century

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The President and the Assassin: McKinley, Terror, and Empire at the Dawn of the American Century

Author: Scott Miller
Publisher: Random House
Copyright: 2011
Pages: 423
Cover Price: $ 28.00

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In 1901, as America tallied its gains from a period of unprecedented imperial expansion, an assassin’s bullet shattered the nation’s confidence. The shocking murder of President William McKinley threw into stark relief the emerging new world order of what would come to be known as the American Century. The President and the Assassin is the story of the momentous years leading up to that event, and of the very different paths that brought together two of the most compelling figures of the era: President William McKinley and Leon Czolgosz, the anarchist who murdered him.

The two men seemed to live in eerily parallel Americas. McKinley was to his contemporaries an enigma, a president whose conflicted feelings about imperialism reflected the country’s own. Under its popular Republican commander-in-chief, the United States was undergoing an uneasy transition from a simple agrarian society to an industrial powerhouse spreading its influence overseas by force of arms. Czolgosz was on the losing end of the economic changes taking place—a first-generation Polish immigrant and factory worker sickened by a government that seemed focused solely on making the rich richer. With a deft narrative hand, journalist Scott Miller chronicles how these two men, each pursuing what he considered the right and honorable path, collided in violence at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York.

Along the way, readers meet a veritable who’s who of turn-of-the-century America: John Hay, McKinley’s visionary secretary of state, whose diplomatic efforts paved the way for a half century of Western exploitation of China; Emma Goldman, the radical anarchist whose incendiary rhetoric inspired Czolgosz to dare the unthinkable; and Theodore Roosevelt, the vainglorious vice president whose 1898 charge up San Juan Hill in Cuba is but one of many thrilling military adventures recounted here.

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Background Information

In 1896, William McKinley restored Republican control of the White House after the second administration of Grover Cleveland but, shortly after hs re-election to a second term, he was assassinated. Buffalo, the westernmost large city in New York State, owes its economic development primarily to the opening of the Erie Canal. John Hay was an eminent writer in the period after the American Revolution as a diplomat negotiated a number of treaties that include his name. Teddy Roosevelt left civilian life to organize the Rough Riders and led them in the charge up San Juan Hill in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. Theodore Roosevelt was a progressive political leader, conservationist, war hero and adventurer. The assassination of William McKinley in 1901 catapulted Teddy Roosevelt from the obscurity of the vice-presidency into the White House.