Publication information
view printer-friendly version
Source: The Authentic Life of William McKinley
Source type: book
Document type: book chapter
Document title: “The President’s Last Speech” [chapter 18]
Author(s): McClure, Alexander K.; Morris, Charles
Edition: Memorial edition
Publisher: none given
Place of publication: none given
Year of publication: 1901
Pagination: 302-14

McClure, Alexander K., and Charles Morris. “The President’s Last Speech” [chapter 18]. The Authentic Life of William McKinley. Memorial ed. [n.p.]: [n.p.], 1901: pp. 302-14.
full text of chapter; excerpt of book
William McKinley (last public address); William McKinley (last public address: full text); William McKinley (last public address: public response); William McKinley (last public address: quotations about).
Named persons
James G. Blaine; William I. Buchanan; Pascual Cervera y Topete; Kate Louise Hamlin; Andrew Jackson; Ida McKinley; William McKinley; John G. Milburn; Nelson A. Miles; Theodore Roosevelt; George Washington; Samuel M. Welch.
The format and/or content of this speech sometimes differ slightly from one printed source to the next.

From title page: The Authentic Life of William McKinley, Our Third Martyr President: Together with a Life Sketch of Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States; Also Memorial Tributes by Statesmen, Ministers, Orators and Rulers of All Countries; Profusely Illustrated with Reproductions from Original Photographs, Original Drawings and Special Pictures of the Family by Express Permission from the Owners.

From title page: Introduction and Biography by Alexander K. McClure, Author of the “Life and Times of Abraham Lincoln.”

From title page: The Life and Public Career by Charles Morris, LL.D., Author of the “Life of Queen Victoria.”


The President’s Last Speech

THE Pan-American Exposition which was formally opened at Buffalo May 1, 1901, had, from the first, President McKinley’s earnest support and enthusiastic encouragement. He truly saw that this great exposition would weld together more closely the peoples of North and South America by facilitating trade and commerce and making known to each the resources of the other. It was fitting, therefore, that there should be a President’s Day and that he should honor the Exposition with his presence. Therefore he journeyed from his beautiful home at Canton to Buffalo accompanied by his wife, relatives and friends.
     President’s Day, September 5, 1901, at the Pan-American Exposition, dawned bright and clear, with the temperature sufficiently low to make the day all that could be desired. Business houses and private residences were gayly decorated with flags and bunting, and banners were stretched from windows and across streets, bearing words of welcome to the President and expressive of the sentiment which the great fair was designed to foster, “Peace to Pan-America.”
     The time announced for the departure of the President from the house of Mr. Milburn, in Delaware Avenue, where he made his home and was most hospitably entertained in Buffalo, was 10 o’clock. Crowds had already begun to assemble in front of the house as early as 9 o’clock. A detail of police kept the crowd back from the sidewalk in front of the house; but those most eager to catch a glimpse of the President and Mrs. McKinley indiscriminately invaded the beautiful lawns of the adjoining residences, and some even went so far as to climb upon the verandas. [302][303]
     Promptly at 10 o’clock the President emerged from the home of Mr. Milburn, Mrs. McKinley accompanying him, walking by his side without assistance. A great burst of cheers greeted them, which the President acknowledged by bowing and raising his hat. The President and Mrs. McKinley entered the first carriage, and Mr. Milburn, President of the Exposition, and Mrs. William Hamlin, of the Board of Women Managers, the second.


     An escort of twenty mounted police and twenty members of the Signal Corps surrounded the two carriages, and the cavalcade set out at a brisk trot for the Lincoln Parkway entrance to the Exposition grounds. The two carriages were followed by a number of other carriages and tallyhos, their occupants blowing fanfares and adding animation to the scene.
     At the entrance to the Exposition grounds the President was met by detachments of the United States Marines and the Sea Coast Artillery, and the 65th and 74th N. G. S. N. Y. Regiments under General S. M. Welch. A President’s salute of twenty-one guns was fired. The President was escorted to the stand erected in the esplanade, where probably the greatest crowd ever assembled there greeted him with ringing cheers. The vast assemblage overflowed to the Court of Fountains. In the stands on each side of the President were seated many distinguished men and women, among them representatives of most of the South American Republics.
     There was a most absolute quiet when President Milburn arose and introduced the President as follows:
     “Ladies and Gentlemen: The President.”


     The great audience then broke out with a mighty cheer, which continued as President McKinley rose, and it was some minutes before he was able to proceed. When quiet was restored the President spoke as follows: [303][304]
     “President Milburn, Director-General Buchanan, commissioners, ladies and gentlemen:
     “I am glad to be again in the city of Buffalo and exchange greetings with her people, to whose generous hospitality I am not a stranger and with whose good will I have been repeatedly and signally honored. To-day I have additional satisfaction in meeting and giving welcome to the foreign representatives assembled here, whose presence and participation in this Exposition have contributed in so marked a degree to its interest and success.
     “To the Commissioners of the Dominion of Canada and the British Colonies, the French Colonies, the Republics of Mexico and of Central and South America, and the Commissioners of Cuba and Porto Rico, who share with us in this undertaking, we give the hand of fellowship, and felicitate with them upon the triumphs of art, science, education and manufacture which the old has bequeathed to the new century.


     “Expositions are the timekeepers of progress. They record the world’s advancement. They stimulate the energy, enterprise and intellect of the people, and quicken human genius. They go into the home. They broaden and brighten the daily life of the people. They open mighty storehouses of information to the student. Every exposition, great or small, has helped to some onward step. Comparison of ideas is always educational, and as such instructs the brain and hand of man. Friendly rivalry follows, which is the spur to industrial improvement, the inspiration to useful invention and to high endeavor in all departments of human activity. It exacts a study of the wants, comforts, and even the whims of the people, and recognizes the efficacy of high quality and new prices to win their favor.
     “The quest for trade is an incentive to men of business to devise, invent, improve and economize in the cost of production. Business life, whether among ourselves, or with other people, is [304][305] ever a sharp struggle for success. It will be none the less so in the future. Without competition we would be clinging to the clumsy and antiquated processes of farming and manufacture and the methods of business of long ago, and the twentieth would be no further advanced than the eighteenth century. But, though commercial competitors we are, commercial enemies we must not be.


     “The Pan-American Exposition has done its work thoroughly, presenting in its exhibits evidences of the highest skill and illustrating the progress of the human family in the Western Hemisphere. This portion of the earth has no cause for humiliation for the part it has performed in the march of civilization. It has not accomplished everything; far from it. It has simply done its best, and without vanity or boastfulness, and recognizing the manifold achievements of others, it invites the friendly rivalry of all the powers in the peaceful pursuits of trade and commerce, and will co-operate with all in advancing the highest and best interests of humanity. The wisdom and energy of all the nations are none too great for the world’s work. The success of art, science, industry and invention is an international asset and a common glory.
     “After all, how near one to the other is every part of the world. Modern inventions have brought into close relation widely separated peoples and made them better acquainted. Geographic and political divisions will continue to exist but distances have been effaced. Swift ships and fast trains are becoming cosmopolitan. They invade fields which a few years ago were impenetrable. The world’s products are exchanged as never before, and with increasing transportation facilities come increasing knowledge and larger trade. Prices are fixed with mathematical precision by supply and demand. The world’s selling prices are regulated by market and crop reports. We travel greater distances in a shorter space of time, and with more ease, than was ever dreamed of by the fathers. [305][306]
     “Isolation is no longer possible or desirable. The same important news is read, though in different languages, the same day in all Christendom. The telegraph keeps us advised of what is occurring everywhere and the press fore-shadows, with more or less accuracy, the plans and purposes of the nations. Market prices of products and of securities are hourly known in every commercial mart, and the investments of the people extend beyond their own national boundaries into the remotest parts of the earth. Vast transactions are conducted and international exchanges are made by the tick of the cable. Every event of interest is immediately bulletined.
     “The quick gathering and transmission of news, like rapid transit, are of recent origin, and are only made possible by the genius of the inventor and the courage of the investor. It took a special messenger of the Government, with every facility known at the time for rapid travel, nineteen days to go from the city of Washington to New Orleans with a message to General Jackson that the war with England had ceased and a treaty of peace had been signed. How different now!


     “We reached General Miles in Porto Rico by cable, and he was able through the military telegraph to stop his army on the firing line with the message that the United States and Spain had signed a protocol suspending hostilities. We knew almost instantly of the first shots fired at Santiago, and the subsequent surrender of the Spanish forces was known at Washington within less than an hour of its consummation.
     “The first ship of Cervera’s fleet had hardly emerged from that historic harbor when the fact was flashed to our capital, and the swift destruction that followed was announced immediately through the wonderful medium of telegraphy.
     “So accustomed are we to safe and easy communication with distant lands that its temporary interruption, even in ordinary [306][307] times, results in loss and inconvenience. We shall never forget the days of anxious waiting and awful suspense when no information was permitted to be sent from Peking, and the diplomatic representatives of the nations in China, cut off from all communication, inside and outside of the walled capital, were surrounded by an angry and misguided mob that threatened their lives, nor the joy thrilled the world when a single message from the Government of the United States brought through our Minister the first news of the safety of the besieged diplomats.


     “At the beginning of the nineteenth century there was not a mile of steam railroad on the globe. Now there are enough miles to make its circuit many times. Then there was not a line of electric telegraph; now we have a vast mileage traversing all lands and all seas. God and man have linked the nations together. No nation can longer be indifferent to any other. And, as we are brought more and more in touch with each other, the less occasion is there for misunderstanding and the stronger the disposition when we have differences to adjust them in the court of arbitration, the noblest form for the settlement of international disputes.
     “My fellow-citizens, trade statistics indicate that this country is in a state of unexampled prosperity. The figures are almost appalling. They show that we are utilizing our fields and forests and mines, and that we are furnishing profitable employment to the millions of workingmen throughout the United States, bringing comfort and happiness to their homes and making it possible to lay by savings for old age and disability.
     “That all the people are participating in this great prosperity is seen in every American community, and shown by the enormous and unprecedented deposits in our savings banks. Our duty is the care and security of these deposits, and their safe investment demands the highest integrity and the best business capacity of those in charge of these depositories of the people’s earnings. [307][308]
     “We have a vast and intricate business, built up through years of toil and struggle, in which every part of the country has its stake, which will not permit of either neglect or undue selfishness. No narrow, sordid policy will subserve it. The greatest skill and wisdom on the part of manufacturers and producers will be required to hold and increase it. Our industrial enterprises, which have grown to such great proportions, affect the homes and occupations of the people and the welfare of the country.
     “Our capacity to produce has developed so enormously, and our products have so multiplied, that the problem of more markets requires our urgent and immediate attention. Only a broad and enlightened policy will keep what we have. No other policy will get more. In these times of marvelous business energy and gain we ought to be looking to the future, strengthening the weak places in our industrial and commercial systems, that we may be ready for any storm or strain.


     “By sensible trade arrangements which will not interrupt our home production we shall extend the outlet for our increasing surplus. A system which provides a mutual exchange of commodities is manifestly essential to the continued and healthful growth of our export trade. We must not repose in fancied security that we can forever sell everything and buy little or nothing. If such a thing were possible it would not be best for us, or for those with whom we deal. We should take from our customers such of their products as we can use without harm to our industries and labor.
     “Reciprocity is the natural outgrowth of our wonderful industrial development under the domestic policy now firmly established. What we produce beyond our domestic consumption must have a vent abroad. The excess must be relieved through a foreign outlet, and we should sell everywhere we can and buy wherever the buying will enlarge our sales and productions, and thereby make a greater demand for home labor. [308][309]
     “The period of exclusiveness is past. The expansion of our trade and commerce is the pressing problem. Commercial wars are unprofitable. A policy of good will and friendly trade relations will prevent reprisals. Reciprocity treaties are in harmony with the spirit of the times measures of retaliation are not.


     “If, perchance, some of our tariffs are no longer needed for revenue or to encourage and protect our industries at home, why should they not be employed to extend and promote our markets abroad? Then, too, we have inadequate steamship service. New lines of steamers have already been put in commission between the Pacific Coast ports of the United States and those on the western coasts of Mexico and Central and South America. These should be followed up with direct steamship lines between the eastern coast of the United States and South American ports.
     “One of the needs of the times is direct commercial lines from our vast fields of production to the fields of consumption that we have but barely touched. Next in advantage to having the thing to sell is to have the convenience to carry it to the buyer. We must encourage our merchant marine. We must have more ships. They must be under the American flag, built and manned and owned by Americans. These will not only be profitable in a commercial sense; they will be messengers of peace and amity wherever they go.
     “We must build the Isthmian Canal, which will unite the two oceans and give a straight line of water communication with the western coasts of Central and South America and Mexico. The construction of a Pacific cable cannot be longer postponed.


     “In the furtherance of these objects of national interest and concern, you are performing an important part. This Exposition would have touched the heart of that American statesman whose [309][310] mind was ever alert and thought ever constant for a larger commerce and a truer fraternity of the republics of the New World.
     “His broad American spirit is felt and manifested here. He needs no identification to an assemblage of Americans anywhere, for the name of Blaine is inseparably associated with the Pan-American movement which finds this practical and substantial expression, and which we all hope will be firmly advanced by the Pan-American Congress that assembles this Autumn in the capital of Mexico. The good work will go on. It cannot be stopped. These buildings will disappear; this creation of art and beauty and industry will perish from sight, but their influence will remain to

“‘Make it live beyond its too short living,
“ With praises and thanksgiving.


     “Who can tell the new thoughts that have been awakened, the ambitions fired and the high achievements that will be wrought through this Exposition? Gentlemen, let us ever remember that our interest is in accord, not conflict, and that our real eminence rests in the victories of peace, not those of war. We hope that all who are represented here may be moved to higher and nobler effort for their own and the world’s good, and that out of this city may come, not only greater commerce and trade for us all, but, more essential than these, relations of mutual respect, confidence and friendship which will deepen and endure.
     “Our earnest prayer is that God will graciously vouchsafe prosperity, happiness and peace to all our neighbors, and like blessings to all the peoples and powers of earth.”


     President McKinley’s speech was frequently interrupted with applause, his words referring to the establishment of reciprocal treaties with other countries, the necessity of the American people building an isthmian canal and a Pacific cable, and his reference to [310][311] the work of Blaine in developing the Pan-American idea bringing forth especially enthusiastic cheers. Upon the conclusion of his address a large number of persons broke through the lines around the stand and the President held an impromptu reception for fifteen minutes, shaking hands with thousands.
     Throughout the country papers of all parties editorially commented most favorably upon the speech, many predicting that it would become to the present generation what Washington’s Farewell Address was to his. It is fitting to record here a few of the many expressions which appeared immediately after the speech—as showing the tenor of all of them.
     The Philadelphia Ledger (Rep.) says:
     “Among the many able addresses the President has delivered in recent years, none will take higher rank than the one spoken yesterday at the Pan-American Exposition. The theme was inspiring and the President in a happy mood to make use of the lessons taught.
     “As ‘timekeepers of progress’ the President bore high and deserving tribute to the value of such expositions. Past experience leaves no room for doubt on that point. The friendly rivalry they bring about and the unexampled prosperity of the nation, with the increasing necessity for wider markets, led the President into some expressions of opinion that will unquestionably be the keynote of the policy of the nation for the immediate future. Above all things, he wants peace and good will—competition, but not enmity. The struggle for success will, in his opinion, be no less sharp in the future than in the past, and he hopes to see it conducted on friendly lines.
     “Our great problem is that of securing more markets for our increasing surplus of products. One way to accomplish that is by reciprocity treaties, ‘sensible trade arrangements which will not interrupt our home production.’ Reciprocity on the President’s lines should meet with no opposition in the Republican party or from any friend of the protective tariff. It would be highly [311][312] advantageous to the nation, and the sooner it can be carried into effect the better.
     “In connection with reciprocity treaties, proper encouragement to the merchant marine in the foreign trade and a broad policy of peace and amity toward all nations, the President outlines a policy under which the United States will be certain to go forward with the same unexampled prosperity and contentment that have been the distinguishing characteristics of the McKinley Administration from the beginning.”
     New York World (Dem.):
     “These are the words of a statesman and a wise party leader. They are economically sound as applied to a palpable trade condition. They are politically sagacious in responding to and leading a popular demand which is certain to extend and grow more insistent with the passing of time. They are logically and effectively supplemented by the President’s argument for more ships, for an Isthmian canal and for a Pacific cable. Mr. McKinley, always felicitous in his public addresses, has never appeared to better advantage either as an orator or a leader than he does in this admirable speech at the Pan-American Exposition.”


     Philadelphia Times (Dem.):
     “There will be some dispute as to what were the exact words last spoken by the President who yesterday morning answered to the final roll-call and was summoned from the midst of a sorrowing nation. But it may be taken to be a small matter so long as we remember the hopeful, prophetic message which he delivered to the American people only the day before he was stricken down by the assassin’s bullet. This speech has become a dying message. It should linger with us to guide our future policy.
     “Mr. McKinley earlier did not hold the liberal economic views of which he had come to be a representative just before his death. The industrial potentiality of the country has increased rapidly [312][313] within a few years. From his conning-tower at the head of the government he gained a broader outlook. With experience and greater opportunities he surveyed a wider field and was honest and manly enough to change his opinions when he was convinced that those which he had formerly held were no longer for his country’s highest good. We honor him for the truth of his character, no less than for the clearness of his sight in regard to questions upon whose correct solution depends the future prosperity of the United States.
     “Mr. McKinley has left his message to those who shall come after him. It is to cultivate friendship with all the peoples of the earth, to recognize the changes which modern invention have introduced into modern international relationships, to cast aside ancient sentiments of selfishness and sordidness, and pass out into the sunshine where the nations may buy and sell to each other much more freely. Mr. McKinley was a true friend and advocate of commercial expansion. Some sententious maxims in this farewell address must be remembered:
     “‘Our capacity to produce has developed so enormously and our products have so multiplied that the problem of more markets requires our urgent and immediate attention. Only a broad and enlightened policy will keep what we have. No other policy will get more.’
     “‘We must not repose in fancied security that we can forever sell everything and buy little or nothing.’
     “‘What we produce beyond our domestic consumption must have a vent abroad.’
     “‘The period of exclusiveness is past.’
     “‘Commercial wars are unprofitable.’
     “‘If, perchance, some of our tariffs are no longer needed for revenue or to encourage and protect our industries at home, why should they not be employed to extend and promote our markets abroad?’” [313][314]
     It is useful to recall these words in connection with President Roosevelt’s promise “to continue absolutely unbroken the policy of President McKinley for the peace and prosperity and honor of our beloved country.” We can now but echo the late President’s own words in his last speech, when he did not yet foresee the interruption of his earthly term: “The good work will go on. It cannot be stopped.” It is for us now to remember his influence as we remember his words and—

“Make it live beyond its too short living,
 With praises and thanksgiving.”



top of page