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Source: A Few More Words
Source type: book
Document type: book chapter
Document title: “Assassination of President McKinley” [chapter 8]
Author(s): Browning, William Garritson
Publisher: none given
Place of publication: Poughkeepsie, New York
Year of publication:
Pagination: 122-35

Browning, William Garritson. “Assassination of President McKinley” [chapter 8]. A Few More Words. Poughkeepsie: [n.p.], 1902: pp. 122-35.
full text of chapter; excerpt of book
McKinley assassination; William McKinley (death); William McKinley (death: public response); McKinley assassination (personal response); McKinley assassination (religious response); William McKinley (political character); William McKinley (public statements); McKinley assassination (lessons learned); William McKinley (religious character).
Named persons
James A. Garfield; Jesus Christ; Abraham Lincoln; William McKinley; Paul; Stephen.
From title page: By William Garritson Browning, a Member of the New York Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church since 1848.

From title page: Printed for the Author by A. V. Haight.


Assassination of President McKinley



     IN the chapter on “Life as an Itinerant” in Grace Magnified, sundry references to the terrible strife of 1860-4, came naturally in for mention; and a brief statement of the murder of President Lincoln was made on page 96, as occurring when I was pastor at Chester, N. Y. It might have been in place to insert among these Few More Words, in the chapter on “New Facts,” some reference to the late war with Spain, and the very serious trouble in China, growing out of the rising of the Boxer movement against all the foreigners among them, and involving, in horrible massacre, many devoted missionaries of the cross, because among the hated foreign element. To attempt, however, any specific reference to these matters would be altogether beyond the purpose of this writing. They will occupy the thoughts of historians in the years to come, and fill volumes, and it is too soon to come to fixed conclusions as to many things that must be discussed as the facts of current history come, more and more, to be made clear and canvassed.
     The outcome calls for the greatest wisdom possible upon the part of our rulers that the complications involved may not result in wrong doing, and that they may be turned for the welfare of all men, and the advancement of the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. For, whatever else may be said, and about which honest men may really have their different opinions, it seems [122][123] to me that all ought to discover that by these means, walls of divisions have been, and are being, broken down, and the whole world is being opened, as never before, for the proclamation of the gospel. Missionary fields have been spread out where they had not been discovered sooner, and the command “go and preach!” is more emphatic than ever.
     There is one event, however, that has so startled the world that it seems to demand, even in an intended brief treatise, at least one short chapter.

The Assassination.

     On Friday afternoon, September 6th, 1901, there flashed along the telegraph wires of the civilized world and over the sub-marine cables that connect different parts of this and other nations the startling intelligence: “President William McKinley has been seriously wounded by a bullet from an assassin’s pistol while engaged in shaking hands with all comers at a reception given by him at the Pan-American Exhibition in Buffalo, N. Y.”
     This statement seemed almost incredible, and many exclaimed: “It cannot be believed!” But alas! it was true. The immediate sympathy and excitement baffles all description. It extended everywhere where the news was proclaimed. Multitudes beyond number flocked to the nearest source of intelligence for further information, and long after nightfall the reports were watched and waited for. The cry of “Extras” was responded to as long as it and they continued.
     After the first shock had partially subsided a gleam of hope sprang up, the bulletins giving some assurance that the wound was not necessarily fatal, that the [123][124] President had passed safely a most perfect surgical operation, and would probably recover.
     This assurance gave further promise of realization as the anxious days past [sic], until nearly a week had transpired of gradually increasing expectation that the distinguished patient would soon rally sufficiently to resume the duties of his great office.
     It was announced on Thursday, September 12th, that he had been able to take and relish solid food, and had even asked for a cigar, in the use of which he had been accustomed for years to freely indulge. Then a few hours of greater rejoicing passed while the belief gained strength: “The danger line is passed, and with a few weeks rest William McKinley will be back in Washington and the wheels of government, under his administration, be moving regularly again.” So largely was this state of things confided in that some of the immediate attendants, who had been summoned to the seat of this visitation, left for their homes and dismissed their fears.
     Some public rejoicings had been already indulged, and the authorities of the Exhibition in progress in Buffalo had designated a day of thanksgiving for this welcomed recovery. Many were extolling modern surgery as compared with former times, and to the especial belittlement of the effort to save the life of President Garfield when he was smitten down by the half-witted advocate of the spoils system on July 2nd, 1884.
     But alas for human wisdom and foresight!
     On Friday morning, September 13th, 1901, the dark cloud that seemed to be so certainly lifting, and admitting these rays of recognized light, suddenly settled again, and the word went forth: “The President has had a [124][125] sinking spell and complained of being tired, and the case is now regarded critical.” I do not profess to fix the exact words of these messages that came from the sick room, but condense their substance.
     Friday—all day—was a sad one. A loyal people, joined most heartily by all lovers of law and order in every part of the known world, waited in sorrow, and prayers went up from many lips not accustomed to recognize their dependence upon the Almighty Ruler.
     Millions also of devout souls, who fully committed themselves and all their desires in believing supplication prayed that: “If it might be God’s will, this dreaded cup might pass away and not be drunk.”
     The hours went slowly by, and the frequently repeated messages were scanned, with no real ground for confidence that this prayer could be answered to meet the wishes of so many of its offerers.
     The shades of night fell upon the scene and the suspense, and all who could, retired to their beds with oppressing forebodings.
     At 2:15 A. M., on Saturday morning, Sept. 14th, as the time was marked at the immediate scene of the expiring ruler over the greatest Republic on earth, the short sentence: “The President is dead!” announced the climax of this terrible crime, and with bowed heads, thousands and tens of thousands, yea millions, gave vent to their pent up grief, and tears flowed from many eyes unused to weep.
     The bells tolled through the darkness of the still night, and the saying: “It is all over!” went forth from the watchers everywhere.
     The writer of these lines arose from his bed, and kneeling at the “Throne of Grace” wept and prayed both for himself and for the lone widow, the nation im- [125][126] mediately affected, and all who might, in any way, be reached by this dispensation.
     Perhaps there has scarcely ever been an event that called forth so wide an expression of sympathy as the brutal murder of this man who had so many qualities to be admired, and who was at the head of a nation of freemen, a very large majority of whom gave him their most loyal support, and regarded him as the embodiment of virtues rarely found in men who have been exalted to any such honor as had come to him. The days of mourning and services that followed were probably beyond precedent in this or any other land. From Buffalo, N. Y., to Washington, D. C., and from Washington to Canton, Ohio, the demonstrations along the line of the funeral train were so marked and abundant, that the public highways and the largest buildings were insufficient to furnish even comfortable standing room for those who pressed forward to get even one glimpse of the casket that contained the silent remains of him who was so suddenly and so ruthlessly snatched from the highest position in this life by the grim monster death.
     But this demonstration was not confined to the vicinity of the sleeping form as it was carried reverently to its final resting place.
     Proclamations went forth from the new President into whose hands the reins of government had been at once committed, and from Governors of States, Mayors of Cities, and other officers to whom such prerogatives belonged, and also from Emperors and Kings of other lands. All were called upon to recognize this great sorrow, and to express their honest sympathy with an afflicted nation.
     At the hour of the final funeral services in the modest home of this noble husband, where his stricken widow [126][127] was the most fully remembered of all, churches and halls all over this and other lands, were crowded and overcrowded with rapt assemblies that almost vied with each other in giving expression to sentiments appropriate to the occasion.
     A most unparalleled condition prevailed at the exact time of the interment, as nearly as this time could be calculated in different parts of this extended nation, and even elsewhere. For a few minutes, by preconcerted arrangement, railroad trains and steamboats stood still. Great factories ceased to move their machinery. Street cars stopped in their places; workmen laid down their tools and looked solemn; children were awed into silence, and it almost seemed that the operations of nature had been commanded to put on brakes and do homage to the general sadness. The silence was fairly oppressive, and could not have been endured longer than the short time alloted [sic] it.
     It is enough to say that: The peculiar circumstances of this dispensation, as well as the real love for the martyred President, ministered to this remarkable state of things. The sorrow became contagious and spread rapidly.
     It is no part of this writer’s intention to add to the words of eulogy that have been given expression by so many in better language probably than could be recorded here.
     History will do justice to this prominent American; and coming generations will have their attention called to his life in all particulars in which it can and ought to be commended.
     My real desire in taking part in this history in my humble way, is to gather, if I may, some useful lessons, both for myself and for those who may read these words [127][128] long after the names of all mere eulogists have been numbered with departing generations.
     My first thought when this life went out was: “Alas for human greatness!” It is doubtful whether William McKinley could have reached a higher pinnacle of human applause than he occupied at the moment when the cruel hand of a pretended friend sent the death dealing missile into and well through his body.
     He had been advanced from one position of distinction to another from his early public life. Twice he had been chosen by large majorities to the head of this nation. Largely by his distinguished statesmanship and policy of government, these United States had come to exercise a world wide influence as never before. He had just made a speech that probably met more universal commendation than any of his former efforts in that line. He was lauded and applauded as but few mortals have been. Just when the applause was the loudest, and the air was fairly ringing with the expressions of joy, as the coveted opportunity was being given for the assembled throng of all classes, to clasp his hand, suddenly, as a lightning flash from an almost cloudless sky, the click of a concealed weapon strikes the cheering throats into momentary silence, only to break out into almost uncontrollable anger and desire for immediate vengence [sic]; and this almost idolized figure is a helpless victim, to be carried forth from the scene of gayety to be ministered unto as a wounded and probably dying man. Can we help crying out: “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity?”
     Perhaps my second thought was: “O that I may improve my opportunities while life lasts!”
     The words of the wise man: “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no [128][129] work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave whither thou goest,” have been with me much in this connection. They by no means intimate that “death ends all,” but rather that life affords opportunities, that if not improved, will soon be gone. Delays are dangerous. God has a work, undoubtedly, for us all to do. O how important that we seek to ascertain what it is, and that we be about it before we vacate our place among men, and go out into the great future to render our account to Him who intrusts us with all we have in time with which to mould our future, and the future of those over whom we exercise influence here.
     William McKinley has been severely criticised for not being more outspoken after he became President, in opposition to the liquor traffic. He seemed to be influenced as many officials of a lesser grade often are, by a desire to hold the votes of every class so far as possible. I have often thought that too much was sometimes said, and too severe judgment pronounced upon the hesitation of President McKinley to avow his Prohibition sentiments, or to act in accordance with them.
     That he was a Prohibitionist at heart—i. e., that he desired the overthrow of the licensed liquor traffic—I cannot doubt.
     In the campaign of 1874, in Ohio, for the proposed new feature in the Constitution that would prohibit license of this traffic, Mr. McKinley took an active part as chairman of the committee in Stark County opposed to license.
     In connection with that struggle he is on record as having said:

     “We need scarcely remind you that the liquor traffic which is sought to be legalized by the license section, is one that deeply concerns not only the honor of this great State, but also the [129][130] material, moral and social interests of all the people. There is not a home or hamlet in the State that is beyond its influence. Its evils are widespread and far-reaching.”

And further, he argued:

     “Consider what the consequences will be if the license section carries:
     “1. We will legalize this great wrong. We will give the sanction of the constitution and the laws of this great free and intelligent State to this most degrading and ruinous of all human pursuits so that the men who are spreading ruin and death may say to all protesters: ‘Stand aside; my business has received the sacred sanction of the law and is, therefore, legal and right.’ Can we afford thus legally to sanction a great wrong?
     “2. By legalizing this traffic we agree to share with the liquor seller the responsibilities and evils of his baseness. Every man who votes for license becomes of necessity a partner to the liquor traffic and all its consequences.”

     In his final appeal to the voters Mr. McKinley declared that the only way “to preserve the honor of the State and to protect the truth and right” lay in defeating the license proposition and putting the traffic under the ban of Prohibition.
     I do not know that it has been claimed that these words, or sentiments, were ever repudiated at a later period in the life of this illustrious man.
     I do know that some of his most intimate and warm friends and supporters did anticipate that he would yet re-avow them, and make his great influence felt for the overthrow of that which he so dreaded within the domain of his own beloved State. But death has sealed his lips on this and all other subjects.

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

     But, without multiplying words, and so making them many instead of “few,” I notice that the lessons that [130][131] come out of the consideration of William McKinley as a Christian are, by far, of the greatest importance to us.
     To say that “he was a perfect man,” would be almost blasphemy, and would not be accepted by any who are in their right mind. This world has only seen one perfect man, and it will never see another. That was the God man—“God manifest in the flesh.”
     To say that: “President McKinley had no weaknesses” would only be saying, in another way, that he was perfect. All mere men have their weaknesses! With much consideration since this assassination, I feel constrained to say that his weaknesses seem to have been rather of the negative than of the positive kind. He evidently had a most kindly disposition as a part of his natural and inherited attributes, and consequently he was liable to err in a desire to please, even when his own convictions were not fully met.
     William McKinley made an open profession of his faith in our Lord Jesus as his Saviour, for many years; and frequently, on public occasions and in more private assemblies, “confessed Christ before men,” and identified himself with missionary efforts to convert the world and establish the Redeemer’s kingdom in the earth.
     I want therefore to note particularly, what it seems to me Christianity has gained in some of the impressive facts connected with the tragic death of this truly remarkable man.
     When the deluded wretch had been emboldened to smite this ruler, just as their hands were meeting in an expression of true friendship, and when this misled child of the devil lay at his feet in the hands of those who had immediately seized him, William McKinley, [131][132] the martyr, is reported to have interceded with: “Don’t hurt him!”
     These and some other words that came from his lips ere the silver cord was altogether loosed, were more potent for good, and will ring around the world to benefit and bless humanity beyond all the marked speeches combined that this prolific orator uttered in all his former deliverances! It was so like the Christ, as he hung upon the cross to which his murderers had spiked him, when he said: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” So like the words of the sainted Stephen, when suffering and bleeding under the pelting of the stones that battered and bruised him until he bowed his head and died, when he said: “Lord lay not this sin to their charge.” That prayer of Stephen’s was answered in a most marked way, when one of the chief of his persecutors, whose presence gave courage to those of lesser intelligence who actually did the work of slaughter, even when Saul of Tarsus became Paul the great Apostle to the Gentiles.
     I hardly expect many to accord in the sentiment, when I say that the thought has come to me even during the immediate days of mourning: “O how it would magnify divine grace if this Anarchist, who at the time really seemed to think he was ‘doing his duty,’ could be reached by the gospel and become a companion in the world of light of the man whom he so cruelly sent to his death!” Who will venture to doubt, but if this might have been, that the saved William McKinley would have been among the first to extend to him the greet of welcome?
     But alas! Some cases seem beyond the reach of the gospel, and perhaps this poor fellow, by his false sentiments, belonged to this class. [132][133]
     It has been truly said that: There is something radically wrong among us that makes possible the class of men and women to which this, and all others like him, belong.
     To enlarge a little further upon the gain to Christianity as brought out in the dying words of this last—(God grant it may be our last)—of our murdered Presidents. When the sudden change came over his prospects for recovery that sent a chill through millions of hearts, and caused floods of tears to flow down faces never before bathed in weeping, he seemed to have been nerved and inspired by his Christian faith, and was enabled to act the part of comforter to those nearest to him, and through them to the many of like precious faith, in his tender “Good-by to all. It is God’s will, and it is best.”
     Nothing but a Supreme faith in the fundamentals of Christianity can bring these words to a dying man when they evidently fall from his lips as the expression of his heart’s support. All human ambitions lain down in submission to the will of God!
     He passed in holy triumph to take his place among the redeemed, where perhaps it is not an exaggeration to say: The lowest place is far in advance of the highest held by those whose exaltation consists only in human advancement and applause.
     With just one more lesson, that it has seemed to me is of great importance to us as a people, I close this chapter that has already become longer than intended. As a people we are too prone to speak lightly of those in authority over us.
     Among the “General Rules” in the Book of Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal church, it is inserted, among other things expected of its members, that they [133][134] avoid “uncharitable or unprofitable conversation, particularly speaking evil of Magistrates or Ministers.” This is healthful advice, and we have not been careful enough here. To criticize what we really believe to be wrong in the actions of those who are being elevated to office, or who may have been clothed with power, may be defended, when done in a right spirit. If we do not believe them honest, or consider them incapable of the position they are being proposed for, or have been elevated to, we may, and perhaps ought, in this government “by the people,” to utter our honest views, with the single object of reaching better things.
     But, when men of believed integrity are struggling with the problems of government, we are criminal if, for party ends, we reflect upon them and seek to lower them in the esteem of their fellow citizens. I believe that leaders of the parties, and especially political editors, are in great danger of sinning against God in this matter. To represent that this great nation of ours is going to ruin if one half of its citizens differ in some policy of finance, or commercial theory from the other half, where a majority of one must settle these questions, is, as has been well said by others, a sin of no small magnitude. In other words: unhallowed party spirit has been, for a long time, one of the great curses of this Republic. It has not been confined to any one party. It has pervaded all parties, and has been most baneful in its results.
     It is time that moral questions should be recognized as the most important of all, and they should take precedence in the conduct of human affairs, all of which are subject to review by the Great Lawgiver, and He who is by right the Ruler of all, and to whom the accounts of all must be rendered. [134][135]
     Let us all do the best we can to elevate honest and good men to office among us—always refusing to support any other kind—and then let us do the best we can to encourage them to do right, judging most charitably all errors that we think they make, and resolving that we will not speak evil intentionally of any.
     If as a people we can be drawn nearer together in this regard, and the abominable caricaturing and evil speaking indulged heretofore, can be frowned down and done away with, the influence of this most terrible dispensation will not be lost upon us, and William McKinley will not have died in vain after a life of so much distinction.
     It may be added at the close of this chapter that the assassin of President McKinley, after a fair trial, was electrocuted in the State prison at Auburn, N. Y., on Tuesday morning, October 29th, 1901.
     He died without expressing any sorrow for his crime. The orderly manner of the execution and all its attendants, was a great triumph of law, and did much, it is believed, to counteract and check the spirit of Anarchy.



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