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Source: Marcus Alonzo Hanna: His Life and Work
Source type: book
Document type: book chapter
Document title: “The Death of President McKinley” [chapter 23]
Author(s): Croly, Herbert
Publisher: Macmillan Company
Place of publication: New York, New York
Year of publication: 1912
Pagination: 355-68 (excerpt below includes only pages 358-68)

Croly, Herbert. “The Death of President McKinley” [chapter 23]. Marcus Alonzo Hanna: His Life and Work. New York: Macmillan, 1912: pp. 355-68.
excerpt of chapter
William McKinley (last public address); McKinley assassination; Marcus Hanna; Marcus Hanna (at Buffalo, NY); William McKinley (death); William McKinley (death: personal response); William McKinley (death: persons present in Milburn residence); Theodore Roosevelt (public statements); Theodore Roosevelt (relations with Marcus Hanna); Marcus Hanna (quotations about); William McKinley (relations with Marcus Hanna); Marcus Hanna (public statements); William McKinley (quotations about); William McKinley (personal character); William McKinley (political character).
Named persons
George B. Cortelyou; William R. Day; Elmer Dover; Marcus Hanna; Myron T. Herrick; Abner McKinley; Ida McKinley; William McKinley; John G. Milburn; Henry Codman Potter; Theodore Roosevelt; Ansley Wilcox.


The Death of President McKinley [excerpt]

     During the summer a very good-looking and gay little exposition was being held in Buffalo for the sake ostensibly of celebrating the great fact or cause of Pan-Americanism. President McKinley had been scheduled to pay Buffalo a visit early in September, and he decided to take the opportunity of making a speech which would outline the future policy of the administration. The recent increase in the American exports of manufactured goods had convinced him that the country should enter upon a more liberal commercial policy—one which would promote exports from this country by allowing other countries increasing opportunities of trading in the markets of the United States. According to his usual habit he carefully prepared a speech along the foregoing lines; and just before going to Buffalo he met Mr. Hanna by appointment and they discussed fully the text of the proposed address. The speech was delivered on September 5, and was received with an outburst of approval from practically the entire country.
     About four o’clock on the afternoon of the following day, during a popular reception held in one of the Exposition buildings, President McKinley was shot by a demented anarchist. The wound was serious, and all of Mr. McKinley’s friends and official family hurried to Buffalo. Among them was Mr. Hanna. There was, of course, nothing to do but wait; and it looked, in the beginning, as if the waiting would not be in vain. The wounded man appeared to be recovering. After several days of apparently uninterrupted progress on the part of the patient, the group of secretaries and friends assembled in Buffalo began to disperse. Mr. Hanna finally decided that he himself could risk a brief absence. The national encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic was being held in Cleveland during the coming week. His attendance had been promised. He wanted to keep his engagement, because he had just been elected a member of the organization, and a political leader always desires to stand well with the Grand Army. [358][359]
     After making up his mind to risk a short absence, he went to the doctors in attendance on the President, and told them that he was going over to Cleveland to keep an engagement with the Grand Army. He asked them for their very best judgment as to Mr. McKinley’s condition so that he could give to his audience absolutely authentic news about their President’s and comrade’s chances of life. The doctors authorized him to say that Mr. McKinley had passed the critical point of his illness and would live. So he went to Cleveland with a light heart and made his speech, part of which has already been quoted in another connection. Before going on the platform he received by telegraph from the President’s secretary, Mr. Cortelyou, a final confirmation of the news—which was announced to the audience and which was received with the liveliest expressions of relief and joy. Few Presidents of the United States have been more sincerely and generally liked than was Mr. McKinley. A committee of Cleveland citizens was formed, which organized and held a meeting of thanksgiving for the President’s promised recovery.
     That same night, however, Mr. Hanna, who had been exhausted by the strain and fatigues of the last week, was awakened at 2 A. M. by a message from Buffalo that Mr. McKinley’s condition had suddenly taken a turn for the worse. By four o’clock he was on his way back to Buffalo in a special train, and when he reached there he found the President’s condition actually critical. On the evening of that same day, when the doctors realized that death was a matter only of a few hours, a number of relatives and friends, who were waiting in Mr. John G. Milburn’s house, were allowed to have a last look at the dying man. First Mrs. McKinley was shown in, then Abner McKinley, Justice Day and Mr. Hanna. The President was unconscious and barely alive. On no other occasion during the illness was Mr. Hanna allowed to see him. Some days before, the President had inquired: “Is Mark there?” and had been told of his friend’s attendance but of the impossibility of any interview. Mr. Hanna was very much touched by this evidence of the sufferer’s interest. Although a self-contained man, he utterly broke down after his visit to the sick room and cried like a child. [359][360]
     With almost a dozen other relatives and friends, Mr. Hanna waited in the Milburn library from seven o’clock in the evening until the President’s death was announced, almost seven hours later. Early in the night he called to him his secretary, Mr. Dover, Colonel Myron T. Herrick and one or two others, and discussed with them the necessary arrangements for the care and transportation of the body and the funeral. The different parts of the work were divided up among the different members of the party, the necessary coöperation of the railroad officials secured, and all the other details planned. Under such circumstances any action was a relief, and even such painful preparations diminished the distress of the dreadful suspense. About 2 A. M. Mr. Cortelyou announced to the group that death had finally come. Not a word was spoken. They all left the room silently and soon afterwards the house.
     The next morning Mr. Hanna arose early, and drove down to the business section of the city. There he interviewed the railroad company’s officers, and attended to his share of the necessary arrangements. While returning from the undertaker’s he passed the house of Mr. Ansley Wilcox, and noticed in its immediate vicinity an unusual commotion. A number of soldiers, policemen, attendants and by-standers were gathered around the entrance. Suddenly he realized that Mr. Roosevelt had been staying in the house, and that the new President must have been taking the oath of office. Mr. Hanna decided to call. As soon as his presence was announced Mr. Roosevelt invited him in and repeated to him the promise of future policy and behavior which had just been made to the members of the Cabinet. The new President, realizing that he had been elected under the shadow of the dead man, had declared that he proposed to continue unbroken his predecessor’s policy and Cabinet. What followed can best be narrated in Mr. Roosevelt’s own words.
     “In the evening Senator Hanna by arrangement came to call. The dead man had been his closest friend as well as the political leader whom he idolized and whose right hand he himself was. He had been occupying a position of power and influence, because of his joint relationship to the President and Senate, such as no other man in our history whom I can recall ever occupied. [360][361]
     “He had never been very close to me, although of course we had worked heartily together when I was a candidate for Vice-President and he was managing the campaign. But we had never been closely associated, and I do not think that he had at that time felt particularly drawn to me.
     “The situation was one in which any small man, any man to whom petty motives appealed, would have been sure to do something which would tend to bring about just such a rift as had always divided from the party leaders in Congress any man coming to the Presidency as I came to it. But Senator Hanna had not a single small trait in his nature. As soon as he called on me, without any beating about the bush, he told me that he had come to say that he would do all in his power to make my administration a success, and that, subject, of course, to my acting as my past career and my words that afternoon gave him the right to expect, he would in all ways endeavor to strengthen and uphold my hands. There was not in his speech a particle of subserviency, no worship of the rising sun. On the contrary, he stated that he wished me to understand that he was in no sense committing himself to favor my nomination when the next Presidential election came on; for that was something the future must decide; but that he would do all he could to make my administration a success and that his own counsel and support within and without the Senate should be mine in the effort to carry out the policies which had been so well begun. I, of course, thanked him and told him that I understood his position perfectly and was grateful for what he had said.
     “He made his words good. There were points on which we afterwards differed; but he never permitted himself, as many men even of great strength and high character do permit themselves, to allow his personal disapproval of some one point of the President’s policy to lead him into trying to avenge himself by seeking to bring the whole policy to naught. Any one who has had experience in politics knows what a common failing this is. The fact that Senator Hanna never showed the slightest trace of it, and never treated his disagreement with me on some difficult point as any reason for withholding his hearty support on other points, is something which I shall not soon forget. [361][362]
     “Throughout my term as President, until the time of his death, I was in very close relations with him. He was continually at the White House and I frequently went over to breakfast and dinner at his house; while there was no important feature of any of my policies which I did not carefully discuss with him. In the great majority of instances we were able to come to an agreement. I always found that together with his ruggedness, his fearlessness and efficiency he combined entire straightforwardness of character. I never needed to be in doubt as to whether he would carry through a fight or in any way go back on his word. He was emphatically a big man of strong aggressive generous nature.”
     Because of Mr. Roosevelt’s fine pledge to continue the policy of his predecessor, the death of Mr. McKinley and the accession of a new President made at the moment a smaller alteration in the political situation than might have been anticipated. But there remained the terrible wound dealt to Mr. Hanna’s personal feelings by the loss of his friend. The strength of his attachment to Mr. McKinley received a striking testimonial, when after his visit to the dying man, he broke down and burst into tears. He was a man of intense feelings, which were rarely, if ever, betrayed in public. Indeed, it seemed almost like a point of honor with him, as with so many men of strong will, not to permit any outward expression of his personal affections. After long separation from relatives, to whom he was and had shown himself to be devotedly attached, he would after their return greet them in a very casual way or not greet them at all. He shrank instinctively from revealing his affections in the ordinary way, not because he was callous or indifferent, but because, perhaps, they were so lively that he could not risk their expression in words. He allowed his actions to speak for him.
     His attachment to Mr. McKinley was peculiarly deep and strong, because it was compounded, as Mr. Roosevelt has suggested above, of two elements—each of which was fundamental in his disposition. He had in the first place a veritable gift for friendship. His personal relations with other men constituted the very core and substance of his life. He had served Mr. McKinley, as he had served so many others, because of [362][363] disinterested personal devotion; but in the case of Mr. McKinley the personal devotion was heightened by feelings derived from another source. This particular friendship had awakened his aspirations. His general disposition was such that an ideal could make a peculiarly strong appeal to him only when it was embodied in a human being. Mr. McKinley’s finer qualities aroused in him the utmost admiration. He was profoundly impressed by the unfailing patience, consideration and devotion which his friend had lavished on an ailing and difficult wife. He was, perhaps, even more impressed by Mr. McKinley’s repeated refusals to obtain any political advantage by compromises with conscience. As he himself has said, Mr. McKinley’s declaration that there were some things which a Presidential candidate must not do even to be President had made a better man of him. And undoubtedly his friend’s influence upon his life and career was really elevating. His own personal standards of behavior in politics steadily improved, partly because he was fully capable of rising to a responsibility, as well as to an opportunity, but also partly because of the leavening effect of his association with his friend. This association had meant to Mr. Hanna more than his fame, his career and his public achievements. It had meant as well the increase of public usefulness and personal self-respect which a man can obtain only by remaining true to a certain standard of public behavior.
     Towards the end of his life Mr. Hanna became increasingly aware of a difference between himself and Mr. McKinley in their respective attitudes towards personal ties and responsibilities. He never gave explicit expression to this difference, but he was glancing at it in the following passage in the National Magazine on “McKinley as I knew Him.” “We were both,” he says, “of Scotch-Irish descent, but opposite in disposition. He was of more direct descent than I, but it was thought from our dispositions that he had the Scotch and I had the Irish of the combination.” What he means by this is probably that personal relationships were not so vital to Mr. McKinley as they were to himself. Mr. McKinley acted less than he did on the prompting of instinct and affection. The mere fact that the President was the more conscientious man of the two [363][364] tended also to make him more conscious and less consistent in his feelings. Mr. McKinley was solicitous of the appearance which he was making to the world and posterity, and this quality might sometimes give his behavior at least the appearance of selfishness. I am not implying that he was not a loyal and in his way a sincere man; but loyalty was not to him as fundamental a virtue as it was to Mr. Hanna. He might have considered the possibility of breaking with his friend under conditions which would in Mr. Hanna’s eyes have wholly failed to justify the rupture. In point of fact the latent and actual differences between the two men never gathered to a head. I have told the story of their few important disagreements; but the wonder is, not that they were there to tell, but that they were not more frequent and more serious. They do not in any way invalidate the popular impression that the association between the two men was, perhaps, the most loyal friendship which has become a part of American political history.
     An honest friendship endures, not because it does not have any differences to overcome, but because it is strong enough to overcome such differences as inevitably occur. The association of Mr. Hanna and Mr. McKinley was punctuated with many trivial disputes which never became serious, partly because of the President’s tact. The two men had to reach a mutually acceptable decision about thousands of bits of official business or policy in the course of a year. Their decisions were at times bound to diverge, and when such divergence arose they might for a moment wear the appearance of being serious. Mr. Hanna was a plain-dealer, honest and fearless to a fault, brusque sometimes in manner, quick in feeling and explosive in speech. When he disagreed with another man he might say so with both heat and energy. Under such circumstances Mr. McKinley was at his best. He was too tactful and prudent to make matters worse by any contradiction or disputation. He knew that in a few minutes or hours the storm would blow over, and that Mr. Hanna would then be willing to resume the discussion with a cool head and the utmost good temper.
     These, however, were small things. What really tested the friendship was the change which gradually took place in their [364][365] respective public positions. Mr. McKinley was, as I have said, extremely solicitous of his reputation. From the day he was first elected President he was represented as being under Mr. Hanna’s control far more than was actually the case and to an extent which must have been galling. In matters of public policy he was always his own master—at least so far as Mr. Hanna was concerned; and even in the latter’s own special field of political management he by no means merely submitted to Mr. Hanna’s dictation. Mr. George B. Cortelyou, who had the best opportunities for judging, considered that Mr. McKinley was an abler politician than Mr. Hanna—and this in spite of the fact that he ranks Mr. Hanna’s ability very high. Mr. McKinley did not get the credit for being either as independent, as courageous or as self-dependent as he really was. Furthermore, as time went on, Mr. Hanna increased rather than diminished in public stature; and as he increased the President became not absolutely but relatively smaller. Comic papers like Life published cartoons, in one of which Mr. Hanna was represented as a tall robust English gentleman with Mr. McKinley at his side dressed in a short coat and knee breeches. It was entitled “Buttons.” Such a portrayal of their relationship would have been exasperating even had it been true; but it was not true.
     If there had been any truth in it, the friendship between the two men could not have lasted. Mr. McKinley was bound to overlook the occasional public perversion of their relation one to another, because as a matter of fact Mr. Hanna had always recognized in his behavior towards his friend the essential difference in their positions. Mr. McKinley was the master, Mr. Hanna was only the able and trusted Prime Minister. The latter never presumed upon his friendship with the President, upon the contribution he had made towards Mr. McKinley’s nomination or election or upon the increasing independence and stability of his own public position. Everybody most familiar with their private relations testifies that Mr. Hanna asked for nothing in the way of patronage to which he was not fully entitled. The extent of his ability or his willingness to obtain favors on merely personal grounds was very much overestimated. He was erroneously credited, for instance, with [365][366] many of Mr. McKinley’s own appointments to offices in Ohio. Of course he was more assertive in urging upon the President appointments which were in his opinion necessary for the welfare of the party, and his judgment about such matters frequently differed from that of the President. But even in this respect their peculiar relationship was mutually helpful, because each could in some measure protect the other against excessive demands on the part of Republican politicians.
     At bottom the central fact in the relationship was the disinterestedness of Mr. Hanna. He was able to maintain his friendship with the President under very trying conditions because his recommendations were made, not in his own interest but in that of the President, the party or the country. He never sought to use his existing power, from whatever source it came, for the sake merely of increasing it. His waxing personal influence was always the by-product of his actual services to some individual, organization or cause. The late Bishop Potter said of his management of the Civic Federation that he had grown up to the job; and the comment supplies the clew to all the success of his career. He had grown up to one job after another. He had grown up to the job of nominating his friend as Presidential candidate, to the job of managing a critical and strenuous national campaign, to the job of securing the personal confidence of the American business interest, to the job of making himself personally popular with the people of Ohio, to the job of becoming one of the steering committee of the Senate, and finally, as we shall see, to the job of obtaining effective influence over organized labor as well as organized capital. But in his assumption and exercise of these activities he had never planned his own personal aggrandizement. He was loyal, that is, to the proper limitations of his various official and unofficial duties; and this just estimate of the limits of his power was merely another aspect of his personal loyalty—of his disposition to allow other people a freedom of movement analogous to his own. He did not pervert his opportunities, because he would not bring pressure to bear upon his friends or demand of them excessive and unnecessary sacrifices.
     In the case of President McKinley he was the more bound to scrupulous loyalty because of his affection for the friend, [366][367] because of his reverence for the office and because of his admiration for the man. He spoke and wrote of Mr. McKinley, particularly after the latter’s death, in terms that may seem extravagant, but which are undoubtedly sincere and which really revealed his feelings at the time. “It is difficult,” he says, “for me to express the extent of the love and respect which I, in common with many others, felt for him personally. The feeling was the outgrowth of an appreciation of his noble self-sacrificing nature. My affection for him and faith and confidence in him always seemed to be reciprocated, to the extent that there was never an unpleasant word passed between us, and the history of his administration, his Cabinet and his associations with public men was entirely free from intrigue and base selfishness. I had the closest revelations of William McKinley’s character, I think, in our quiet hours of smoking and chatting when all the rest had retired. For past midnight we have sat many times talking over those matters which friends always discuss—and the closer I came to the man, the more lovable his character appeared. There was revealed the gentle growing greatness of the man who knew men, respected them and loved them. These pleasant episodes of a purely personal nature are emphasized more and more as I think of him, and it is these that I most cherish in the memory of the man. His greatness as a statesman was but the reflection of his greatness as a man.” And in an address delivered at Toledo in September, 1903, on the occasion of the unveiling of a memorial statue to Mr. McKinley, Mr. Hanna said: “The truest monument of the life of William McKinley was built and erected stone by stone as he lived his noble useful life until it touched the sky and was finished by the hands of the angels. It is the monument of a good man’s great love for his country and will forever and forever remain as an example to us all.”
     The preceding quotations must not, of course, be considered as a critical judgment on Mr. McKinley’s character and career, but as the tribute of a friend, the warmth of whose admiration had been increased by the President’s tragic death. In Mark Hanna’s life Mr. McKinley had been the personal embodiment of those qualities of unselfishness, kindness and patriotism which in the preceding quotations the Senator [367][368] celebrates with so much emotion. There was just enough difference between the ideas and standards of the two men to enable one to have a profound and edifying effect on the other. Neither of them was a political idealist or reformer. Neither of them had travelled very far ahead of the current standards of political morality and the current ideas of political and economic policy. Both of them combined in a typically American way a thoroughly realistic attitude towards practical political questions with a large infusion of traditional American patriotic aspiration. These agreements in their general attitude towards public affairs made the chief difference between them all the more influential in Mr. Hanna’s life and behavior. While not a reformer, Mr. McKinley was more sensitive to the pressure and the value of a reforming public opinion; and he was more scrupulous in considering whether the end justified the means. He had no call to eradicate American political and economic abuses, but he did not want his own success to be qualified by practices which might look dubious to posterity. He succeeded in making Mr. Hanna realize the necessity and the value of these better standards, and by so doing stimulated in the latter a higher realism, which increased with age. Each of the two friends, consequently, owed much to the other, and each of them paid his debt. Their friendship was worthy of the respect and of the renown which it inspired in their contemporaries.



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