Source: Catholic Historical Review
Source type: journal
Document type: book review
Document title: none
Date of publication: July 1916
Volume number: 2
Issue number: 2
|Rev. of The Life of William McKinley, by Charles S. Olcott. Catholic Historical Review July 1916 v2n2: pp. 217-18.|
|book reviews (The Life of William McKinley).|
|A. Elwood Corning; George B. Cortelyou; Leon Czolgosz; Edward S. Ellis; Samuel Fallows; Murat Halstead; Abraham Lincoln; Alexander K. McClure; William McKinley; Charles S. Olcott; Robert P. Porter; Edward T. Roe.|
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.