Source: The Authentic Life of William McKinley
Source type: book
Document type: introduction
Document title: “Opening Words to the Story of a Martyr” [introduction]
Author(s): McClure, Alexander K.; Morris, Charles
Edition: Memorial Edition
Publisher: none given
Place of publication: none given
Year of publication: 1901
|McClure, Alexander K., and Charles Morris. “Opening Words to the Story of a Martyr” [introduction]. The Authentic Life of William McKinley. Memorial ed. [n.p.]: [n.p.], 1901: pp. vii-xii.|
|full text of introduction; excerpt of book|
|McKinley assassination; William McKinley (personal history).|
|Duncan I; James A. Garfield; Rutherford B. Hayes; Abraham Lincoln; Macbeth; William McKinley; William Shakespeare [misspelled below].|
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.”
Opening Words to the Story of a Martyr
“A GREAT and good man lies dead,
and the nation mourns.” Such was the sentiment felt in millions of hearts of
citizens of the United States of America when, on the morning of Saturday, the
14th of September, 1901, the sad tidings were flashed from end to end of the
country that their revered and honored President was no more. During the days
of that terrible week which succeeded the treacherous assault upon the life
of the National Executive, when trusting himself most fully to the honor and
good-will of his people, hope wrestled with dread in the hearts of Americans
of every type of political faith, every sentiment of national policy. The opponents
as well as the supporters of the President stood in spirit by that bedside where
the life of one of their noblest was ebbing away, and if silent prayer could
ever change the course of nature, it would have been changed in these fateful
Hope for a time triumphed over despair, and the hearts of the people throbbed with gladness when it seemed as if the fell purpose of the assassin was about to be foiled, and our President restored to health and vigor to finish the work which he had been chosen by the voice of the nation to fulfil. Alas! no one knew that dark disease was even then mining deep within, that death had set his lurid seal upon that noble brow, and that minutes, instead of months or years, marked the term of the President’s future life.
Hence, when the shock at length came, it was a terrible one. An universal spasm of grief passed from end to end of the land. From far eastern Maine to the western land of gold, from the [vii][viii] great lakes of the north to the great gulf of the south, the sentiment of deep regret, the feeling of intense sadness, filled every soul. Never was a man more deeply and widely mourned, not even the sainted Lincoln, nor the warmly esteemed Garfield, America’s two former martyrs to integrity and high-mindedness in the Presidential chair. The shock fell with sudden and irresistible force, and for an interval the whole nation swung downward into the vale of grief, only slowly to rise again from under the force of that dread blow.
Never was there a crime more without purpose, more without possible good effect. William McKinley was no oppressor of the people, no irresponsible and cruel autocrat. No act of his had ever, from evil intent, taken the bread from one man’s hand, the hope from one man’s heart. He was the representative of the people’s will, not their master. Chosen by the votes of a majority of the citizens to execute their laws and administer their affairs, he had devoted himself seriously and conscientiously to this purpose, and no one, not even those who most opposed his policy, ever in their hearts accused him of self-seeking, of a disregard for the obligations of his oath of office, of anything other than an earnest desire to do what in his judgment seemed the best thing for the good of the people as a whole.
There was no benefit conceivable to be gained by his cruel taking off; nothing but evil—evil, deep-dyed evil—in the act. Even the opponents of his policy could not hope but that this policy would be pursued by the strong and able man who would succeed him in the Presidential chair. Only the counsels of insensate anarchy, the whisperings of a demon viler than Satan, could have inspired such a deed; and for the man, if it is just to call him man, that struck the blow, only a single excuse exists, that his brain had been turned by the dark conspiracies in which he was involved, and that it was at the instigation of a fanaticism excited to the pitch of insanity that the deed was done. [viii][ix]
Anarchy has nothing to gain, it has all to lose, by acts like this. It has been tolerated; it may be, and deserves to be, proscribed. If there is to be no security, for either good man or bad, from its fatalistic hand, the time will surely come when the anarchist will be hunted with the implacable resentment that the man-eating tiger is now followed, the hunt being unremitting until the last assassin of them all is swept from the earth.
The thought of deeds like these inspire us to quote Shakspeare’s words:
“In these cases
We still have judgment here; and we but teach
Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return
To plague the inventor; this even-handed justice
Commends the ingredients of our poisoned chalice
To our own lips.”
We may quote still further from Macbeth’s famous soliloquy, since the qualities ascribed by Shakspeare to the slaughtered Duncan apply with equal or even greater force to a far later victim of the murderer’s hand, the martyred McKinley.
Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been
So clear in his great office, that his virtues
Will plead like angels trumpet-tongued against
The deep damnation of his taking off;
And pity, like a naked new-born babe,
Striding the blast, or heaven’s cherubim, horsed
Upon the sightless couriers of the air,
Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye,
That tears shall drown the wind.”
“The deep damnation of his taking-off,”
applies with the closest significance to the assassination of William McKinley,
for no President before him was more “clear in his great office.” It is, [ix][x]
indeed, a singular circumstance that the three Presidents marked for death by
the assassin were among the noblest and best of the whole Presidential family;
Lincoln, who was loved as no President before his time; Garfield, who was warmly
esteemed for his deep probity and earnest desire to administer his high office
highly; and McKinley, whose genial nature, warm heart, and rare devotion to
his sense of duty had won him the respect and heartfelt affection of the great
mass of his countrymen.
The death of Lincoln, however, came at a time when the passions of men had been intensely roused, and when the waters of strife still rose in billows of wrath. Garfield fell at a time when political passion was similarly aroused by the approaching deposition of the policy “to the victor belongs the spoils” by the civil service or merit system. The murder of McKinley, on the other hand, came like a bolt from a clear sky, when the clouds of war had passed, prosperity reigned, and the country was settling down into security and calm. Its effects, therefore, were the more strongly felt, since it was a blow without a cause, a murder destitute of warrant.
We feel tempted to quote again; this time not from a master of expression of the past, but from one of the present, William McKinley himself. It is well first to allude to the interesting circumstance that Rutherford B. Hayes, McKinley’s old commander and warm friend in the days of war, entered the Presidential office in the same term that McKinley entered the House of Representatives; their life careers thus seeming strangely united. McKinley, who knew well the virtues and abilities of his lifelong friend, neatly set off his estimate of his character in this telling phrase: “Good in his Greatness, and Great in his Goodness.”
We quote it here with a purpose, that of its evident close applicability to the speaker himself. As he said of President Hayes, we may justly say of President McKinley, that he was “Good in his Greatness, and Great in his Goodness,” and this motto from his own lips deserves to be carved as an epitaph upon his tomb. [x][xi]
We ask no pardon from the American public for offering this biography of their late martyred ruler for their perusal; feeling that now, while he is warm in their remembrance, the story of his life will be received with gratification and read with enthusiasm. His career has been a varied and deeply interesting one. Born in humble circumstances, in a true sense “One of the People,” he engaged, while a mere boy, in the deadly struggle for the permanence of our institutions and the integrity of our territory, the Civil War. In this his story was striking, his services meritorious, his ability conspicuous, and he had the honor, shared by few besides, of rising from the position of a private soldier to the rank of Major in his regiment.
The war ended, he engaged in the practice of the law, but before many years had passed entered the halls of Congress, where his skill as an orator and his earnest and able advocacy of the principles of his party quickly won the admiration of his fellow members. As a Congressman his name became associated with one of the most prominent legislative acts of the closing century, the McKinley Tariff, which first lifted him into high prominence before the eyes of the people.
Serving subsequently as Governor of Ohio, he was in 1896 chosen as President of the United States. He succeeded to this high office at a critical period, that in which the policy of Spain in Cuba was leading inevitably to war between that country and the United States. The results and far-reaching consequences of this war rendered the administration of President McKinley the one most crowded with intricate and momentous questions after that of Lincoln. No matter what course he had chosen to pursue, one of contraction or one of expansion, he would have met with animadversion and called forth hostility. That he chose the course which seemed to him the best adapted to promote the development of his country and the interests of mankind no man can fairly doubt.
That he aroused enmity and opposition during his life must be admitted. But with his sudden death all enmity and recrimination [xi][xii] fell to the ground, the nation rose as a man to proclaim his noble character and wealth of good intent, and the world stood, in spirit, beside his bier, to lay upon it the wreath of high respect and heartfelt admiration. Peace be with him in death, as it was not always in life!
The following lines, breathed by the President in his dying moments, are fitting words with which to close this preface:
Nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer to Thee,
E’en though it be a cross
That raiseth me,
Still all my song shall be,
Nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer to Thee!
Or if on joyful wing,
Cleaving the sky,
Sun, moon and stars forgot,
Upward I fly,
Still all my song shall be,
Nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer to Thee!