Source: Oratory of the South
Source type: book
Document type: public address
Document title: “Upon the Death of William McKinley”
Author(s): Davis, Marcellus L.
Editor(s): Shurter, Edwin DuBois
Publisher: Neale Publishing Company
Place of publication: New York, New York
Year of publication: 1908
|Davis, Marcellus L. “Upon the Death of William McKinley.” Oratory of the South. Ed. Edwin DuBois Shurter. New York: Neale, 1908: pp. 72-75.|
|full text of excerpted address as given in book; excerpt of book|
|Marcellus L. Davis (public addresses); William McKinley (memorial addresses); McKinley assassination (personal response).|
From page 72: Marcellus L. Davis, of the Dardanelle (Ark.) Bar.
From title page: Oratory of the South: From the Civil War to the Present Time.
From title page: By Edwin DuBois Shurter, Associate Professor of Public Speaking in the University of Texas, Editor of “The Modern Speaker” and “Masterpieces of Modern Oratory.” Author of “Science and Art of Debate,” “Public Speaking,” and “Extempore Speaking.”
Upon the Death of William McKinley
The assassination of President McKinley,
a strong man, in the very prime and vigor of the most exalted position of public
usefulness possible to the human race, resting upon the very summit of American
honor, in the full of enjoyment of the profound respect of universal civilization,
upon a mission of perfect peace, and standing, as it seemed to all, solid and
secure upon the devotion, the love, and the loyalty of a great and mighty people,
and in the very midst of a multitude of friends,—why he should be so stricken
down, at such a time; why such a man, at such an hour and at such ignoble hands
should fall, is to me a thing so monstrous, so incomprehensible, a question
so utterly beyond the compass of any conception of either mine or yours, that
I believe that no finite mind can even imagine why it should have happened so.
And it was a question, too, that seemed to have puzzled much the troubled brain
of the suffering President during the last hours of his life, if not to its
very end. For to a heart so free from malice as his, to a nature so gentle,
so knightly, and so noble, to a mind so lofty and so pure, a character so clean,
so chaste and kind, and so filled with charity to all his race, it must have
seemed incredible that any creature in human form or otherwise should seek to
take his life. We might moralize, theorize, or philosophize upon the causes,
remote or near, that could produce conditions to render such a tragedy 
possible; but after all, perhaps, it is well enough, at least for the present,
to leave this great question and its answer just where he left it, who was its
victim—for among the last, if not the very last, words that he uttered as he
died was the simple single sentence that solved it all: “It was God’s way.”
That settled it as it settles all great questions, especially the supreme question,
as to how or why or when a man shall die. It was the answer of a Christian,
a philosopher, a brave man, who could “calmly lay his burdens down, and seek
his rest, with all his country’s honors blest.”
Concerning the assassin, here is no place to speak of that. The personal mention of a monster of malice, a fiend so foul, so cruel and so cowardly should never mar a presence so sacred and so holy as this. We may safely leave the fate of this moral deformity to the future. Our brethren of the North will deal with him according to the laws of the land. They are cooler under crises, more dispassionate, more long-suffering and patient than we of the hot-blooded South, and equally just in the end. But one opinion I will venture to assert—an humble one of my own, ’tis true, and, for aught I know, hitherto wholly unexpressed, and that is: Had this thing been done on Southern soil, had a deed so dastardly, a crime so cruel, so cowardly and so causeless been committed in a crowd of Southern men like the mighty multitude where this thing happened, aye, even in the intensely Southern State of Arkansas, not all the cordons of all the police of all the municipalities of the combined Commonwealth, backed by armies and banked with siege guns, could for one moment have stayed the storm of righteous wrath and just indignation that would have seized the assassin on the spot and ripped him limb from limb, and sent his blood-stained soul to judgment before the smoke had ceased  to curl from his pistol’s mouth—and in less time than I have taken to tell it. But let that pass. It is to be regretted, perhaps, that we have let too many things pass in this government. I shall pause to mention only one, but it is the saddest, I think, of all. It is yet within the memory of living man, scarce more than a generation gone by, when it was the proudest boast of American citizenship that we lived in a land where the earth was absolutely free to all, where every man, rich or poor, or high or low, or weak or strong, or what not, be he President or pauper, could pursue his path in peace along the public highway, or wander through the fields or wend his way among the woods, or walk the crowded streets at will, by midday or by moonlight, whenever, wherever, and however he chose, and none there be who dare molest or make him afraid; and we used to smile with amusement when we’d read of the armed troops that thronged and tramped at the heels of kings, of the pampered soldiery that sentineled the palaces of power, and the mailed warriors and squadrons of cavalry that thundered beside the chariots of czars and queens and princes and potentates, to guard their royal persons from the vengeance of the despot-ridden subjects of the Old World; but we can now no longer boast, no longer smile. We have let that pass. Those good old, grand old golden days have gone, we fear, forever.
But to recur to the President. The little time allotted here will not allow even an attempt to trace this bright career that has just been blotted out in blood, nor may we sketch anew the royal path of life along which he never failed to tread. He wore the highest honors that his country could confer, and wore them well and worthily. He had achieved the most exalted station of political power in this government, the loftiest eminence, the very keystone of the  tallest arch of American honor that ever sprung from the basic foundations of our Constitution. Other men before him had occupied that high position, had risen, reigned, and fallen. Other men had reached those towering heights and returned again to the walks of private life, to pass their days in peace among their families and friends. But not so with him. He came down no more. The departure of this spirit from this proudest pinnacle of earthly honor and power to realms yet higher still may be likened to the eagle’s flight, as standing upon the peak of some splintered crag, lifted above the storm-swept summit of some lonely mountain height, he plumes his pinions in the sun, unfurls his mighty wings, then boldly launching upwards to the sky, he cleaves his gallant way beyond the clouds of earth. It was enough. “Come up higher.” He hath gone. But in a lowly humble way, in a simple personal way, as a friend or father, husband, son, or brother, we can only weep with those who weep, and mourn with those who mourn, and tenderly sympathize with those whom his death hath personally bereft. It is all that we can do. We can only hope that the song birds that warble in springtime shall sweetly sound above his sleeping dust; that the sunlit leaves of summer shall softly whisper hope to the dull, cold ear of death, and that the sheeted snows of winter with love shall lay their pure white pall above the bosom of the dead, true type, fit emblem, of the record of spotless honor that his noble name hath borne.