Source: William McKinley: Character Sketches of America’s Martyred Chieftain
Source type: book
Document type: public address
Document title: “Address”
Author(s): McConnell, S. D.
Compiler(s): Benedict, Charles E.
Publisher: Blanchard Press
Place of publication: New York, New York
Year of publication: [1901?]
|McConnell, S. D. “Address.” William McKinley: Character Sketches of America’s Martyred Chieftain. Comp. Charles E. Benedict. New York: Blanchard Press, [1901?]: pp. 114-17.|
|full text of address; excerpt of book|
|S. D. McConnell (public addresses); William McKinley (memorial addresses); William McKinley (mourning); McKinley assassination (religious response); William McKinley.|
|Jesus Christ; Abraham Lincoln; William McKinley.|
On page 114: Dr. McConnell’s Address.
From title page: William McKinley: Character Sketches of America’s Martyred Chieftain; Sermons and Addresses Delivered by the Pastor of St. James M. E. Church, Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, N. Y., and Addresses by Brooklyn Pastors and Other Prominent Ministers and Laymen, Portraying the Character of Our Late Lamented President.
From title page: Compiled by Charles E. Benedict.
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.