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Leon Frank Czolgosz is known as the assassin who killed President William McKinley.
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Leon Frank Czolgosz was born in 1873 in Detroit, Michigan. He came from a poor immigrant family and started working when he was only 10, later suffering a mental breakdown. In September 1901, he shot President William McKinley with a concealed revolver at the Pan-American Exposition. After a brief trial, he was sentenced to death. On October 29, 1901, Czolgosz was executed at Auburn State Prison.
"I killed the President because he was the enemy of the good people—the good working people... I am not sorry for my crime."
Born in 1873 in Detroit, Michigan, Leon Frank Czolgosz was the assassin of President William McKinley. He grew up poor as one of seven children born to immigrant parents. Czolgosz moved around a lot with his family between different Midwestern cities. He started working at the age of 10. A short time later, he lost his mother when she died in childbirth.
In Cleveland, Ohio, Czolgosz worked in the wire mills. He was known as a good employee and even received a merit-based pay raise. But Czolgosz eventually lost that job as the wire mill owners sought to cut workers' wages. During the 1880s and 1890s, tensions ran high between workers and business owners over fair pay and working conditions. Czolgosz witnessed several violent strikes at large factories where he and his brothers worked. He also observed the disparity between the rich and the poor, which deeply angered him, and thus turned to socialist and anarchist teachings.
Czolgosz reportedly tried to join several anarchist groups, but wasn’t accepted by any of them. He suffered a nervous breakdown in 1898. Czolgosz then continued to pursue his interest in radical politics on his own. He found inspiration for his future crime in the newspaper. On July 29, 1900, King Umberto I of Italy was assassinated by anarchist Gaetano Bresci.
When did Czolgosz decide to reenact Bresci’s crime on American soil? That remains unclear. What is known is that he went to Buffalo, New York, in August 1901. Sometime before making this journey, Czolgosz attended a lecture by leading anarchist Emma Goldman. He was already in Buffalo when it was announced that President William McKinley would visit the Pan-American Exposition being held there.
On September 6, 1901, Czolgosz waited for hours to meet President William McKinley. He stood in line with countless others as McKinley greeted his constituents in the Temple of Music at the exposition. As soon as it was his turn with McKinley, Czolgosz pulled out a concealed revolver and shot the president twice. Members of the crowd quickly pounced on Czolgosz. According to American History magazine, the injured president asked for mercy for his assassin.
When he was taken into custody, Czolgosz told the Buffalo police that he was "Fred Nieman." ("Niemand" actually means "nobody" in German.) He soon confessed to his crime and wrote the following statement: "I killed President McKinley because I done my duty. I didn’t believe one man should have so much service and another man should have none." When he wrote his confession, he didn’t know that the president was still alive.
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