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"Hello, I'm William McKinley."
partial cover image from "American Boys' Life of William McKinley"                                              
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Traditionally, historians see McKinley’s death as finally making way for political modernization, a terrible but effective way of clearing the decks. Students of American history take guilty pleasure in McKinley’s end: at the dawn of the twentieth century in the United States, all forces sloshed aimlessly at a grim doldrums. [. . . ] Suddenly a wild-eyed anarchist bearing an unpronounceable name chockablock with consonants looms out of a crowd and strikes McKinley down. Theodore Roosevelt takes the helm and off shoots the ship of state in five directions at once, leaving the nineteenth century far astern, and it is not till 1921 that Harding Republicans can begin to restore normalcy [. . .]. In a sense, therefore, William McKinley had two killers: the man who shot him and destroyed his body, and the man who succeeded him and erased his legacy.

— Eric Rauchway, Murdering McKinley (2003)

 

The recent consensus of historians has pegged [McKinley] somewhere in the ho-hum midsection of presidential ratings, and small wonder. Too many dismissive paragraphs, thoughtless sentences, and inaccurate descriptions still nurture the false public impression of a cultural and intellectual mediocrity, however popular, who toadied to business as a puppet of Wall Street. Biographers like Lewis Gould, H. Wayne Thompson, and Margaret Leech have had the matter largely right: that too many of their colleagues have indeed had it largely wrong.

— Kevin Phillips, William McKinley (2003)

 

If there is a United States president whose legacy is in need of rehabilitation, William McKinley is that president. More often than not, he rates in the minds of Americans as a nameless, all-but-forgotten member in a crowd of spiritless, dusty, dour-faced nineteenth-century chief executives. John Tyler, James K. Polk, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Chester A. Arthur, William McKinley—presidents all, yet scarcely any more famous for their respective stints in the White House. Among these seeming presidential nonentities, McKinley arguably commands more attention if only as a colorful and curious historical footnote for having been struck down while in office (only the third U.S. president to be assassinated) and thereby making way for the nation’s most striking presidential character in the person of Theodore Roosevelt. Yet historian Kevin Phillips, in his 2003 study of McKinley, makes a compelling argument in favor of plucking William McKinley from the ranks of his lackluster brethren and rightfully relocating him among the “near great” presidents.

McKinley Assassination Ink (MAI) is not a resource designed to further any particular agenda with respect to the legacy of William McKinley. It is, however, a means for examining America’s first president of the twentieth century—a man who, at the height of his political powers and popularity, was unexpectedly removed from office by a quietly determined American-born self-described anarchist, Leon Czolgosz (pronounced CHOL-gosh). The assassination of William McKinley, adjudged something of a non sequitur even by the assassin’s fellow anarchists, represents America’s first crisis of the twentieth century, an event that occasioned nationwide grief and catapulted Theodore Roosevelt to the forefront of American politics. Yet for all its emotional potency and front-page newsworthiness, the assassination resulted in virtually no political instability. If anything, as contemporary writers were keen to observe, the assassination provided an object lesson in the inherent stability of the federal government and its regulated and otherwise noncontentious provision for presidential succession. Such a sentiment is echoed in an October 1901 Chautauquan editorial: “Killing a president does not kill the presidency; this institution of government goes right on. Three times in less than forty years has the ghastly futility of assassination been proven in this republic.” “God reigns,” the same author summarizes, “and government by the people still lives.” Despite this dearth of political upheaval, the McKinley assassination and its immediate aftermath provide much grist for the mill of scholars and enthusiasts wishing to explore the dynamics of American history and culture at the outset of the twentieth century.

MAI is not a resource designed exclusively for McKinley studies or even, more broadly, American politics. Rather, MAI is a resource for exploring American history and culture, only a part of which includes politics. The items reproduced herein—book chapters, articles, essays, editorials, letters to the editor, sermons, poems, public addresses, photographs, illustrations, editorial cartoons, &c—provide an increasingly full-bodied historical record of the times. Much of the matter concerns William McKinley himself, naturally, but there is much here touching on other subjects as well, both directly and indirectly. For instance, it is possible through these documents to also explore:

  • journalism
  • freedom of speech
  • popular culture
  • criminal psychology
  • medical practices and technologies
  • death penalty
  • American jurisprudence
  • police procedures
  • mob violence
  • race relations
  • immigration
  • anarchism
  • economics
  • religion
  • international relations
  • Pan-American Exposition
  • U. S. Secret Service
  • American history
  • Theodore Roosevelt
  • presidential succession
  • American presidency
  • American politics

While contemporary and latter-day historians effectively distill the essence of what transpired in September 1901 and the succeeding months, they cannot but fail to provide readers with an undiscriminating panoramic portrait of the times. (History texts ultimately succeed in obscuring far more by omission than what they reveal through admission.) Full-text documents are nowadays available online and, thankfully, are increasingly freely available to the general public, but they are neither conveniently aggregated nor methodically indexed in order to facilitate research. Indeed, primary source materials relating to the McKinley assassination are plentiful yet remain largely unplumbed despite their ready accessibility. MAI is designed therefore as a means for providing individuals—scholars and school children, professionals and lay folk—with free, unfettered, organized access to such documents.

MAI primarily consists of transcriptions of original published documents dating from 1901 to 1922. Some of these documents are presented only as excerpts, but most of the documents are included as full text. Each document (comprising its own webpage) includes publication information, keywords, and a listing of “named persons.” The site also includes: 1) a set of seven browsing indexes, complete with links to the individual documents; 2) a selected listing of quotations culled from the documents; 3) a selected bibliography; 4) a timeline of events; 5) a “who’s who” identifying pertinent individuals; and 6) a set of links to relevant external online sources.

The goal of MAI is simply this: to gather the largest possible selection of primary and secondary source documents relating to the assassination of William McKinley and the immediate aftermath of that event, including the succession of Theodore Roosevelt to the presidency and the incarceration, trial, and execution of assassin Leon Czolgosz. As stated above, there is no agenda with respect to the subject matter. MAI endeavors, in a wholly nondiscriminatory manner, to gather as many documents as possible—period. In selecting and assembling documents, MAI’s editorial staff is concerned solely with providing unparalleled breadth and depth of coverage from available newspapers, magazines, journals, books, and government documents.

This resource serves merely as a repository for information. Analysis is the exclusive province of the reader.

As of 15 March 2017, McKinley Assassination Ink features:

  • Over 3,000 individual documents (textual items, photographs, illustrations, editorial cartoons, etc.);
  • Over 960 different sources (newspapers, magazines, journals, books, government documents);
  • Over 735 different authors (plus over 2,075 anonymously authored documents);
  • Over 2,145 indexed keywords;
  • Over 2,605 indexed personal names.

 


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