A fiery anarchist and an ambitious political boss with judicial aspirations never actually met, but their lives collided twice in the first decade of the twentieth century, with national repercussions amid changes in law, politics, and culture that heralded the new American century.
In 1887, a young Russian immigrant, Emma Goldman, arrived in Rochester to live with her sister. She eventually married Jacob Kershner, a fellow immigrant, in 1887. At the time of their marriage, Kershner had become a naturalized citizen by claiming that he had lived for more than five years in the country.
When radicals were shot in the Chicago Haymarket massacre in 1887, Goldman was called to activism and began a lifelong commitment to anarchy as a solution for the ills of unjust capitalism. When her marriage failed, Goldman left Rochester for New York City and eventually toured America giving speeches. By the spring of 1900, she was considered the “high priestess of anarchy in America.”
Meanwhile, attorney John Hazel was building his political career, first by serving as a delegate to the 1896 Republican national convention that nominated William McKinley for president. By 1898, Hazel was the boss of machine politics in Erie County and working to elect the Rough Rider hero Theodore Roosevelt as governor of New York.
In the wake of the 1898 election, a new state legislature elected Chauncey Depew, a close personal friend of Hazel’s, as a senator. In 1900, Congress, seeking to extend the federal bench in Buffalo, created the Western District of New York, a seventeen-county region from the Pennsylvania state line into New York’s central region. DePew began seeking a candidate for the district’s first judgeship. Hazel came immediately to mind.