A great silence has
fallen upon the land. The wheels of the mills are still. The oxen
stand with the plough in the unfinished furrows. The counting house
is empty. Buyers and sellers have ceased from their business. A
solemn hush rests upon the country, and every heart is subdued.
A dead President is being laid in his tomb.
The people have assembled
at the summons of the Chief Magistrate, the governors and mayors,
to assist at the solemn rites. Probably it would be best if orator
and preacher should remain silent save as they join their voices
in psalm and dirge. The highest eloquence is in the occasion itself.
Spoken words are like to mar its solemnity. But custom bids that
some words be spoken, and we yield to its imperious decree.
The people have probably
never before been so deeply moved, or, at any rate, moved by the
same emotions. Some will remember the sullen, savage boding silence
which fell upon the people when they heard of the great Lincoln’s
assassination. The public mind was then set upon vengeance, but
was confused and thrown back upon itself by the feeling of uncertainty
as to whom or where to strike. There was grief for a greatly loved
President, but it was grief charged with anger and foreboding. More
still will call to mind the consternation and surprise when another
President was struck down by the hand of a venomous fool. But the
emotion to-day differs from these. It is deeper and nobler, more
intelligent and more discriminating, more tender and less despairing.
The grief is universal.
Thousands of good citizens dissented earnestly from some of the
late President’s economic and political policies while he lived.
They had the right to disagree. I say this all the more readily
because I have been in hearty sympathy, in the main, with the positions
which he maintained in regard to the great question which confronted
him so unexpectedly  and
so swiftly. But grief is a cruel emotion, and sometimes while under
its sway men are prone to charge honest disagreement with the one
lamented as an offense to be resented. President McKinley would
have been the last American to judge in this unworthy way, for he
was one of the best Americans. No; the grief is universal, and is
sincere. All loyal Americans mourn the President of them all, and
more than willingly pay their tribute to the memory of a good man.
Nor do they forget the manner
of his taking off. For the first time in the one hundred and twenty-five
years of our national life an assault has come from that especial
bodyguard of Beelzebub the lawless one, who abhor law because they
hate mankind and detest God. The assault was unexpected, and its
deadliness has produced something like consternation. I think the
terror is unwarranted. We have been thus far singularly exempt from
a danger which has disturbed every other nation. During the many
years, while we have never even considered such a peril, the rulers
of other countries have gone daily in fear of their lives, while
the actual attempts upon them have to be counted by the score. Why
have we been unthreatened, while they have been assaulted? For two
reasons: first, because, in spite of all that demagogues may say,
the conditions of life here are, upon the whole, so just and equitable
that the monstrous feeling of hatred for all established order has
languished for lack of food, and second, because we have, both as
a matter of right and of policy, adhered to the principle of freedom
of speech and freedom of the press. I believe that even in the presence
of this dread calamity experience has vindicated the American way.
And I say this without abating one jot of horror at the diabolic
deed which has caused us all to mourn. But surely at the side of
the bier of a Christian statesman is the place to speak soberly
and in the fear of God. If every wound of the dead man had a tongue
I am persuaded that they would unite to say: “Let not my death be
the occasion to reverse and turn backward the progress of liberty.
In liberty is justice, and in liberty is safety.”
Much there is which can be
done to safeguard the future, but much depends upon who shall do
it. When liberty of speech goes beyond mere mouthing and rant- 
ing, and becomes specific incitement to a particular form of criminal
action, then, and not until then, is the time for the law to silence
it with a stern hand. When the liberty of the press passes beyond
mere vulgarity and becomes an offense to decency or against the
dignity of the people who have elected the men who are abused, let
it be punished by the only penalty which it really dreads—the penalty
of being left unbought and unread. But let us beware of the danger
of invoking the enginery of law prematurely.
We have much to blame ourselves
with. We have been prone to the sin of lese majesty, which is an
offense just as possible in a democracy as in an empire. We have
smiled at unseemly jests concerning the magistrates which are ordained
of God. In the heat of political controversies we have been less
mindful than we should have been of the dignity and good fame of
the state. Please God we will correct these things in the future.
But we will be careful not to correct them by drastic and repressive
legislation of a kind which has a thousand times shown its tendency
to create the very evils which it seeks to kill. I say these things
here and now, as where could they be more fittingly said than by
the grave of one who was the very embodiment of the spirit of Americanism?
I think I knew President McKinley well enough to warrant me in saying
that he would have refused to purchase a single day of continued
life at the price of jeopardizing or abridging any rightful portion
of the liberty with which God has made this people free. Speaking
for him, any orator may safely say to-day that we wish not vengeance
but righteousness. We are in no danger. The majesty of law has already
nobly asserted itself. Nothing could be finer or more prophetic
of good for the future than the manner in which justice is being
meted out to the malefactor in the city of the assassination. Without
haste, but sternly, without ruth as without cruelty, with consideration
but without emotion, the trial proceeds. One can but believe that
the late President would have had it so. Not that he would have
taken pleasure in the death of a sinner, but that it might be evident
to all men that justice is sufficiently sure of herself to mete
out penalty without danger to any innocent man. 
We are a better people,
thank God, than we were a week ago. We are better for a good man’s
life, but, as so often that strange law of sacrifice shows itself,
the lesson of his life required his death to make it fruitful. We
bow in unfeigned grief. We pay our tribute to a clean soul. He has
left a legacy, priceless, and which will be abiding. Men may hold
what opinions they choose as to the wisdom of this policy or that
which he championed. His bequest is not this political act or that—though
even in these his sagacity and statesmanship are likely to stand
the criticism of time. He left the heritage of a very noble life.
He was an idealized American. He spent a lifetime exposed to the
fierce light which shines upon the public man without any deed being
shown which he might have cared to hide. He died poor in the midst
of opportunities to make himself rich. He died without enemies in
the midst of a career which by its very nature breeds antagonisms.
The men who knew him best loved him best. He was an avowed servant
and follower of Christ in the midst of a world where the precepts
of the Divine Man get but scant recognition. He died in the fullness
of his life, and already crowned with honor. His lamented taking
off has but shown the world the stability of the nation of which
he was the chosen head, and the impotence of the weapons which anarchy
and misrule raise against it.