Publication information

American Journal of Insanity
Source type: journal
Document type: article
Document title: “William McKinley”
Author(s): R., A. B.
Date of publication: October 1901
Volume number: 58
Issue number: 2
Pagination: 325-29

R., A. B. “William McKinley.” American Journal of Insanity Oct. 1901 v58n2: pp. 325-29.
full text
William McKinley; William McKinley (personal history); William McKinley (personal character); William McKinley (political character).
Named persons
Abraham Lincoln; William McKinley.

William McKinley

     To the student of psychiatry the character, life and tragic dying of William McKinley present much of interest. It is true that the exalted position to which he had been called, and the sense of martyrdom, inseparably connected with his cruel fate, throw a halo about his memory which tend to make dispassionate judgment of his qualities, a difficult task. At this early period after his loss, we may well doubt whether the American people can properly estimate his true position in relation to those who have preceded him, and to those to come after. He is still, and will long remain, the beloved President of a worshiping people, a sacrifice, whose character is too sacred for analysis. Our emotions are still too much wrought upon for the use of calm deliberation and reason.
     Yet he has gone in and out before us for so many years, his work was for so long a period pursued in the fierce glare of political publicity, that much has been shown us of those principles which guided him in safety through one of the most wonderful careers which this country has seen, and which upheld him in the supreme trial with a fortitude as marvelous as it was inspiring. Like some of the knights of ancient tradition, his character seemed to bear a charmed existence. Through all the vicissitudes, trials and allurements of an environment which we may well believe expose all the weak points of any character, his emerged without taint or blemish. Every experience through which he passed seemed only to broaden, chasten and purify it. It has been said of him by one, that he ever moved with such calm deliberation and such a lofty ideal before him, that it would seem that he felt himself chosen for a sacred work. And may we not say with truth, that in this his judgment erred not? Not since the character of Lincoln came before us, has one [325][326] appeared that in its unfolding and in its final sacrifice has so deeply stirred the life of the nation.
     William McKinley’s inheritance was fortuitous. His ancestry was simple, unaffected, strong and vigorous. His childhood was neither stunted by want nor endangered by luxurious inaction. Of the essentials for its full development he had all that was required. His sturdy parentage gave him a well developed, fully rounded and well equipped physical organization. His environment, though unpretentious, had in it all the essentials for the best growth and evolution. Its limitations were just such as would call forth and strengthen all the tendencies of independent activity and self-reliance. His boyhood was passed in the simple environment of the village and among working men and women. He was a good boy. He was by no means perfect, but he was never bad, in any sense. He never did violence either to his body or to his mind. He came to early manhood at the stirring period of the civil war. He promptly answered his country’s call. Among the added temptations of army life he held steadily to those rules of conduct which later marked him as a type of true manhood. Filial in his affections, correct in his life, when in the circle of his family,—when removed from these influences, his strong sense of right and his steadfast adherence to principle, still protected him. He did his duty as it was presented, without ostentation. His conduct brought him the commendation of his superiors in rank and a steady promotion.
     When the war closed, he took up his preparation for his profession with the same quiet determination and steadfastness of purpose. He was self-reliant, because his inheritance and his condition in life helped him toward it and compelled him to it. He made friends universally. The commencement of his professional career was modest. The help which came to him as he progressed was such as was attracted by his upright and manly conduct. That in his nature which made him a good and loyal son, early attracted him toward the service of his country. It was natural that it should be so. His intense patriotism was the legitimate outgrowth and expansion of his affection for his parents and his devotion to home. He was, during his after years, a politician of the nobler type. Tactful and resourceful in an unusual degree, he used these qualities and the [326][327] advancement they brought him, for his country’s good. He became, in the best sense, the representative of his fellow countrymen. He studied to represent them, but always to represent them for their good. In this he was remarkably successful. It has been said sometimes by way of criticism in this respect, that he followed, but did not lead. He followed, however, always only that which was good in the aspirations of his fellows, and, in doing this, led them forward so gently, with so little display of leadership and with so little antagonism, that to those who are attracted by the brilliancy of radical positions and extreme views, he sometimes appeared weak. Is it weakness to strengthen the good, to discourage the evil, and to develop in a practical, effectual and sensible degree that which is best in every one, and to eschew an extremism, which, while fascinating, is always of doubtful safety? For a quarter of a century, he has been a national character in many of the most trying periods of the country’s history. He was never inconspicuous, not because he pushed himself forward, but because he naturally won this position from his fellows. Looking back, how many mistakes can we note in his course of conduct? Who can point to fewer in any public servant who has been so long before us? And is this not the ideal of statesmanship? He led only where it was right to lead, safely, conservatively, courageously, and often with that courage which is seen in self-restraint rather than aggressiveness. Moral courage is often manifested by holding in check impulses which seem to appeal to the sentiment of the masses. It is often easier to go with the tide which seems to lead to danger, rather than to oppose it in the direction of safety by unattractive conservatism.
     A few characteristics of William McKinley thus stand out most conspicuous. He was a dutiful, loyal and devoted son. His affection for his parents and his devotion to their care were so constant and zealous that a few thought them an affectation. Would that there were more such;—his was a loving devotion, manifest in his youth, as in his maturity; in private as in public, and that never forgot. Likewise he was a tender husband; kind, sympathetic, patient. He cheered, sustained and soothed with a most helpful courage and wonderful thoughtfulness, his invalid wife. He never forgot the wishes and preferences of the woman [327][328] who, by her illness, had become dependent upon him for almost every thought.
     His conduct was marked by an adherence to principle that was really marvelous. Through the most varied scenes, with temptations of all degrees and kinds about him, he was never found wanting. What he considered his duty he adhered to inflexibly. There was no courage lacking here. In dealing with principles there was no yielding, no thought of sacrifice, but with men a different view of his character was seen. He was by nature most lovable. He dreaded to give pain or to say that which was unpleasant. He was never better pleased than to be the bearer of good fortune to others. He did not ask a return. It was a pleasure for him to assist, and he was so anxious to avoid causing distress that it sometimes raised false hopes in those who sought his aid. To be just, it is said that it is sometimes necessary to be cruel. Certainly it is necessary at least to disappoint, and here, if anywhere, was William McKinley’s lack. To judge aright, it was often necessary to consider not only what he said, but what he left unsaid. His delicate tact and his lovable nature led him sometimes to keep back what he felt would bring pain.
     In all public affairs, however, he was a wise counsellor. His capacity to catch the trend of public sentiment and to turn it to the good of the country was wonderful. Few have excelled him in ability to read aright the portents of the future and to make wise use of the tendencies that he saw in his fellow men.
     As governor and president he took an intelligent interest in all charitable institutions. Particularly, as Governor of Ohio, he had a thorough knowledge of the hospitals for the insane of that State and gave them ever a watchful care. He knew thoroughly the personnel of their management and was a friend and strong supporter of a liberal and progressive system of treatment. His training and surroundings, however, and his experience as a representative of the people in national affairs, fitted him more particularly for the solution of national economic problems, and in this work he was unexcelled. By this must he be judged, and in his actions here we see the broad philanthropy and the patriotic spirit which made him so lovable a son and husband: His work was constantly to upbuild his country and his fellows, by adding to the resources of the one and by giving to the other a generous compensation for their toil. [328][329]
     What an irony of fate that such a man should be struck down on the plea that he was an enemy of the people, he, whose whole life was given to them, and who had scarcely an enemy among them. Truly the ways of Providence are inscrutable. “God’s ways are not our way,” and we cannot believe that his unspeakably sad end is lost upon his fellows. Seldom has the great heart of the nation been so stirred. The crucial test of his character came in his cruel and apparently useless sacrifice. Calmly, bravely, nobly, he met his fate, prepared by his long years of faithful devotion to his ideas of right. He did not flinch when put to the test, and in such a calm and holy faith he sealed the influence of his life to the upbuilding of a sorrow-stricken nation.