Eric Rauchway’s Murdering McKinley: The Making of Theodore Roosevelt’s America is an examination of the events, social conditions and dramatic political changes taking place in America immediately prior to and during the birth of the 20th century that led to the assassination of William McKinley and the rise of progressivism. It is furthermore an investigation of the motives behind the assassination, and an analysis of the events leading up to what made possible “Roosevelt’s America,” arguably the first recognizably modern period in American history from a 21st century perspective: the progressive era.
Using Leon Czolgosz as a platform from which to examine the ills of 1900’s society, Rauchway expounds upon their implications for America’s immediate future, and how they, in combination with McKinley’s murder, helped set the stage for Theodore Roosevelt and his administration. Why would a man like Leon Czolgosz have assassinated the president? How did this reflect and affect public sentiment, and how did the tier of American society that Czolgosz represented– the unhappy, alienated and downtrodden working class– provide Roosevelt with the opportunities he needed to make drastic change? Rauchway offers answers to each of these questions, while illustrating along the way that Czolgosz was neither insane nor truly an anarchist, Roosevelt was not quite the spontaneous, apolitical figure he pretended to be, and McKinley’s murder, tragic though it was, was in some ways a necessary evil.
Opening with the event of McKinley’s shooting and the man who shot him, Rauchway quickly zooms out, distancing us from the scene, reflecting on the political status of the President, who “in the instant before he was shot” had “stood at the peak of his power.” The scene fades to an overview of the man– in every possible sense an anchor in a time of turmoil– and the time period he lived in and represented. The book then summarizes Theodore Roosevelt– his dissatisfaction with the vice presidency, and the situation in which he now found himself– then flashes to Czolgosz in a similar manner, finally moving to an overview of “the alienists,” doctors for assessing mental health. The chapter concludes with the details of McKinley’s unexpected death (largely the result of improper care), and the mention of Roosevelt’s upcoming presidency.
The book, broken into chapters and subchapters, follows the course of events leading up to and during McKinley’s assassination, Czolgosz’s execution, and Roosevelt’s presidency– often through the eyes of Roosevelt, Czolgosz or Lloyd Briggs. In this way, we are presented with the journeys of these three men, and the places and ways in which their lives overlapped– Briggs, through his search for information on Czolgosz, and Roosevelt through his use of the assassination in his politics… as well as his encounter with the kind of world the assassin had lived in. The assassination, in addition to the obvious fact that it “vaulted Roosevelt into...