The Life of William McKinley. 2 Vols. By Charles S.
Olcott, New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1916. Pp. xii + 795.
President McKinley has
not lacked numerous biographers. The works brought out by Fallows,
Porter, Halstead, Corning, Ellis, McClure, Roe and many others have
made the facts of his career familiar. But the present volumes contain
the first satisfactory treatment of the subject that has appeared.
The superiority of Mr. Olcott’s work lies possibly more in his handling
of the matter than in any new facts he makes known.
A short account of McKinley’s ancestry
leads up to the story of his life. Born in 1843 in humble surroundings
and in an environment that promised little for his future, William
McKinley manifested qualities that slowly pushed him forward. The
honesty, manliness, and industry of his boyhood gave earnest of
the sterling character which was later to win the confidence of
the nation. From the school bench he passed to the teacher’s chair
in a little District school and then to the position of clerk in
the post office. He was eighteen when he responded to Lincoln’s
call for volunteers. This step was the first momentous one of his
career. A very interesting chapter describes McKinley’s life as
a soldier and closes with the young man a major at twenty-two. After
the Civil War, McKinley took up the profession of the law and here,
too, he was successful.
His interest in political questions
and his acquaintance with some of the leaders of the day ushered
him into politics, first as a political orator, later as a candidate
for Congress. A prominent figure in Washington when tariff and currency
were the great issue, then Governor of Ohio, he loomed larger and
larger in the public eye till at length he became the Republican
nominee for the Presidency in 1896. The administration of McKinley
is well  known to our generation.
To the ever-recurring matters of tariff and currency were added
those of Civil Service Reform, the Isthmian Canal, Hawaii, Cuba,
the Spanish War, the Philippines, China, and a host of minor problems.
All of these the President handled admirably. He developed with
each new responsibility. Of course his policy, like any other, was
open to criticism and did not meet with unanimous approval but both
in motives and results it reflected high qualities of integrity
and statesmanship which earned him a reëlection in 1900. In the
last days of his life President McKinley could find gratification
in the splendid fruits of his work and in the trust of the people,
and he looked forward to plans for the increased development and
prosperity of the American Nation. The tragedy of September 6, 1901,
ends Mr. Olcott’s narrative and the book closes with an appreciation
of the martyred president and an appendix containing the Buffalo
speech, an account of the trial of Czolgosz, and a description of
some McKinley monuments.
The writer is very frankly a panegyrist
of McKinley, but his admiration is supported by well presented facts.
The biography is based on the material collected by Mr. Cortelyou,
the Secretary to McKinley, and on letters, diaries, and reminiscences
of numerous associates and friends of the President in his public
and private life. It is therefore a very intimate picture, rich
in details which many biographers cannot obtain. This mass of sources
Mr. Olcott has fashioned into a very valuable and a very readable
book. He is not content with a mere chronicling of events but approaches
the discussion of McKinley’s policies with brief sketches of the
questions at issue. While the chief interest of the book centers
about McKinley as a public figure, McKinley the man, the loyal friend,
the devoted husband, the Christian of a lofty idealism is revealed
with sympathetic insight. That the book is, consciously or not,
a plea for the principles of the Republican party need not detract
from its value. An enthusiastic description of McKinley cannot but
defend his policies and those of his party. But the work can be
recommended none the less heartily to every reader.
The thirty-two illustrations are a
pleasing addition to the text, and the publishers have given Mr.
Olcott’s volumes a most acceptable form.