McKinley, the Forgiving
STANDING at the very heart of the great exposition
in Buffalo, where the commercial and political communion of all
the Americas was celebrated in a city of fairy loveliness, President
McKinley was shaking hands with the pouring, babbling crowd—the
supreme moment of his triumphant life. As he stood there among his
countrymen, crowned with success, garlanded with praise, he seemed
the master-spirit of his continent, the archtype of its modem victories.
He had raised the American flag beyond the seas, and had seen his
country enter upon the leadership of nations. Only the day before
he had announced a new national policy, broad, high, and far-reaching.
A slender man, a mere youth, pushed
eagerly forward in the line that moved before the President. In
his hand he carried a cheap revolver covered with a white handkerchief.
As he  reached the President
he raised his masked hand and fired two shots. A roar like the sound
of the sea in a storm ascended from the swaying crowd. Then there
How frail beyond measurement are the
plans of nations! The greatest of free nations had chosen William
McKinley to be its leader; and the meanest, the most obscure, of
its teeming millions—a wretched, blind failure in life, a human
derelict drifting miserably in a land abounding in freedom and prosperity—had
power enough to turn a national triumph into ashes—not in hatred,
not in the service of some great cause, but even as a wanton urchin
might set fire to some priceless library.
There were many among
us standing in the quiet street before the house where the twenty-fifth
President of the United States lay dying who had written bitter
things of him in the stormy times of his public service, but none
who knew him save as a man who forgave his enemies And after all
the years of pelting political criticism and ridicule, the crack
of an  assassin’s pistol
had called us together to witness the most beautiful death-bed in
history. For a week we paced the pavement about that hushed place
of pain, watching the guardian bayonets of the sentries and listening
to the telegraph instruments in the huddled white tents ticking
out the story to the ends of the earth or bringing messages from
kings and emperors; and when the end came, it was like a strain
of Christian music, to be heard for all time. Our little daily pen-pricks
were lost in the grandeur of that matchless death—forgotten and
Hardly had the bullets pierced his
body, when the President leaned forward and looked into the eyes
of the assassin. It was a look of astonishment and reproach. Then,
remembering the dignity befitting the President of the United States
in the presence of a great audience, he walked steadily to a chair
and sat down. The murderer writhed on the floor beneath his infuriate
captors. The President looked at him again.
“Did—did he shoot me?” he asked.
“Don’t hurt him.” His voice was full
The passionate multitude drew back
“My wife,” he faltered. “Be careful
how you tell her—oh, be careful.”
When the dying President was carried
into the little hospital of the Pan-American Exposition, he turned
to Mr. Cortelyou, his secretary, and said:—
“It must have been some poor misguided
He seemed to be filled with amazement
by the thought that any man in free America could have found a motive
for seeking his death. His every word expressed this bewilderment.
And when the surgeons pressed around him in that first terrible
hour he turned his thoughts heavenward and bore himself like a Christian
“Mr. President,” said Dr. Mann, the
operating surgeon, “we intend to cut in at once. We lost one President
by delay, and we do not intend to lose you.”
“I am in your hands,” murmured the
He was prepared for the ordeal and
lifted upon the operating table. The surgeons were ready to administer
ether. He opened his eyes and saw that he was about to enter a sleep
from which he might never awaken. Then the lids closed flutteringly.
The white face was suddenly lit by a tender smile. All the angel
there was in him came to his face. The wan lips stirred, and the
“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.”
His voice was soft and clear. Tears
rolled down the faces of the listeners. The President raised his
chest and sighed. His lips moved again.
“Thy will be done.”
Dr. Mann stood with the keen knife
in his hand—dread symbol of human science. There was a lump in his
“For Thine is the kingdom and the
power and the glory.”
The eyelids fluttered gently, beads
of cold moisture stood on the bloodless brow. There was silence.
So he entered the darkness; and if there is a loftier scene in the
history  of Christian statesmen
and rulers, there is no record of it.
That was the beginning of eight days
of national agony. The President was carried to a room in the house
of his host, John G. Milburn, and all human power was called upon
to save him. As he lay there, teaching the world how a good man
can die, thoughts of his great responsibilities as a leader pressed
It is no exaggeration to say that
the speech delivered by the President on the day before he was struck
down was the greatest act of statesmanship of his life. His plea
for a policy of commercial reciprocity was an appeal for peace with
the world, an effort to avert a tariff war by united Europe against
the United States. He had recognized the signs of approaching conflict
and he had felt the stubborn opposition of men in his own party
to his policy of conciliation. There was but one thing to do—appeal
to the people. All through his summer rest from official routine
in Ohio he had worked out his last great utterance. It was to be
at once a message of  warning
to America and a signal of peace to Europe.
“God and man have linked the nations
together,” he said to the mighty crowd stretched out before him.
“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 misunderstandings, and the stronger the disposition,
when we have differences, to adjust them in the court of arbitration,
which is the noblest forum for the settlement of international disputes.
. . . 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. . . .
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.”
These were the President’s last words
as a statesman and leader. How had the world 
received them? Even in his dying hours he longed to hear the answer.
When the first agony of his wounds was over, he sent for his faithful
secretary. Mr. Cortelyou entered the room and stood beside the stricken
“It’s mighty lonesome in here,” said
“I know it is.”
The President’s eyes brightened, and
the old familiar wrinkles appeared in his face as he turned eagerly
to his assistant.
“How did they like my speech?” he
“It is regarded as one of the greatest
you have ever made, and has attracted more attention than anything
you have said for years.”
The President smiled and looked earnestly
into Mr. Cortelyou’s eyes.
“How did they like it abroad?”
“It has attracted considerable attention
abroad, and everywhere the comment is favorable.”
“Isn’t that good?” And he spoke no
more of things political, having heard the echo of his cry for peace.
In the afternoon of his last day on
earth the President began to realize that his life was slipping
away and that the efforts of science could not save him. He asked
Dr. Rixey to bring the surgeons in. One by one the surgeons entered
and approached the bedside. When they were gathered about him the
President opened his eyes and said:—
“It is useless, gentlemen; I think
we ought to have prayer.”
The dying man crossed his hands on
his breast and half-closed his eyes. There was a beautiful smile
on his countenance. The surgeons bowed their heads. Tears streamed
from the eyes of the white-clad nurses on either side of the bed.
The yellow radiance of the sun shone softly in the room.
“Our Father, which art in Heaven,”
said the President, in a clear, steady voice.
The lips of the surgeons moved.
“Hallowed be thy name. Thy Kingdom
come. Thy will be done—”
The sobbing of a nurse disturbed the
still air. The President opened his eyes and closed them again.
“Thy will be done in earth as it is
A long sigh. The sands of life were
running swiftly. The sunlight died out and raindrops dashed against
“Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors; and lead us
not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
Another silence. The surgeons looked
at the dying face and the trembling lips.
“For Thine is the kingdom, the power,
and the glory, forever. Amen.”
“Amen,” whispered the surgeons.
Outside, an army of newspaper writers
moved silently about the tents of the telegraph operators, and the
bayonets of the sentries pacing slowly on all sides glittered in
the afternoon light. Beyond the clear spaces of roped-off streets
were the awed crowds. Even the policemen spoke in hushed voices.
As the surgeons or Cabinet officers or other friends of the dying
President appeared, they were engulfed by the eager seekers for
news. Vice-President Roosevelt—he who was soon to wear the awful
 mantle of authority—was
summoned from his distant hunting camp in the mountains. Tender
words of sympathy from the rulers of all nations came flashing over
Darkness descended on the scene. The
President was conscious again. He asked for his wife. Presently
she came to him, leaning feebly on the arm of Mr. Cortelyou. As
she reached the side of her husband and lover,—who had read to her
every day at twilight for years from the Bible,—she sank into a
chair, and leaning her frail form over the white counterpane, she
took his hands in hers and kissed them. There was a group of friends
in the room, and they drew away from the sacred spectacle. The light
of the two candles behind the screen was reflected faintly on the
white ceiling and tinted walls. It sparkled on the wedding ring.
The President’s eyes were closed.
His breath came slowly. As he felt the touch of his wife’s lips,
he smiled. It was to be their last meeting.
“Good-by! Good-by, all!”
Mrs. McKinley gazed into the white
face of the martyr, and struggled for strength to bear it. 
“It is God’s way; His will, not ours,
The President turned his face slightly
toward his wife. A look of ineffable love shone in the haggard features.
She held his hands as a child clings to its mother. The ticking
of the clock in the next room could be heard. Once more the President
“Nearer my God—to—Thee—”
His soul was on his lips. His face
“E’en tho’ it be a cross—”
There was a moment of utter silence.
“That has been my inextinguishable
His voice was almost inaudible.
It was the last thought and the last
word of the gentle President.
As the night wore on, the signs of
life grew fainter. One by one the members of the Cabinet, the relatives,
and the intimate friends of the dying statesman were brought into
the room by Mr. Cortelyou. One by one they stood at the bedside
and took farewell of the 
still form,—grave senators, old schoolmates, young men who had followed
him in the fierce struggles of politics, statesmen who had sat with
him in council, men and women of his blood. They moved like shadows.
He neither saw them nor heard them. Midnight came, and yet he gave
Hope brooded in the waiting crowds.
It was known that Dr. Janeway, the famous specialist, was on his
way from New York. Who could tell but that the skill and knowledge
of the great physician might turn back the force of death, and give
the President to his people again? Oh, the agony of that hour! Men
walked in the streets as softly as though they were in the sickroom.
Suddenly the stillness was broken
by a distant sound of a galloping horse’s feet. Nearer and nearer
it came through the darkness. The ropes stretched across the street
were dropped, and the voiceless multitude parted as an open carriage
drawn by a foam-covered, smoking steed swept madly up to the house
of sorrow. A man leaped from the carriage and ran to the house at
the top of his speed. It 
was Dr. Janeway. The hundreds of newspaper correspondents swarmed
eagerly against the ropes, and waited for a word of hope. So great
was the stillness that the noise of the telegraph instruments in
the tents tortured the nerves.
Alas! no. The President was beyond
the help of human hands. Not all the doctors in all the schools
could call him back from the shadows.
At a quarter after two o’clock in
the morning Dr. Rixey sat at the bedside holding the President’s
wrist in one hand and an open watch in the other. Tick! tick! tick!
The breath stirred the white nostrils. Tick! tick! tick! The smiling
face was rigid. Dr. Rixey laid the President’s hand down gently
and closed his watch.
“The President is dead,” he said.
Within thirty seconds the telegraph
wires were carrying the news to a thousand centres of civilization;
and the tired newspaper men went to their beds for rest before beginning
the history of a new President; for the hand of the assassin might
slay a beloved President, but 
it was powerless to interrupt the story of the nation.
God’s own might
We gird us for the coming fight,
And, strong in Him, whose cause is ours
In conflict with unholy powers,
We grasp the weapons He has given,—
The Light, the Truth, and Love of Heaven.”
Whatever else history
may say of William McKinley, those who knew him will bear witness
to the forgiveness that shone through his character. It was the
crown of his life, the virtue that distinguished him among American
statesmen. He died without an enemy, forgiving the hand that shed
“My one ambition is to be known as
the President of the whole people,” he said to me when I last saw
him in the White House. “I have no other desire than to win that
name. After all, no American can harm his country without harming
himself. This government was created by the people for themselves,
and, night or day, that thought is always in my 
mind. We are all together in this great political experiment. Some
hard things have been written and said of me, but that sort of thing
is a necessary incident of popular government. It must always be
so. My plan is to forget the evil and remember only the good. I
never despair of converting an opponent into a supporter. The bitterest
critic I have can come to see me, and he will find a warm hand to
greet him. It is the only way for an American to live.”
So he lived and so he died. Men of
all parties will remember him as McKinley, the Forgiving.
“Let us ever remember,” he said in
his last speech, “that our interest is in concord, not conflict;
and that our real eminence rests in the victories of peace, not
those of war.”