Against the background of the Past
Three figures loom,
Unneedful of encomiast,
Unheedful of iconoclast;
Fixed as the dooms.
Though sculptors, painters, poets strive,
And statesmen plan,
There is no art that can contrive
A monument which will survive
These simple men.
Let but the truthful tale be told,
And far above
The reach of Time’s obscuring mold
A grateful world will ever hold
The names we love;
Let Truth the purposes proclaim
Of them, her sons,
And man will bid his servant Fame
To keep forever bright the names
Of Lincoln, McKinley and Washington.
Thus has the name of
McKinley been made, by perhaps universal approval, the third and
last link in a chain which comprises a trio of statesmen, rulers
and liberators, which civilization will ever hold in perpetual honor.
Three men who proved themselves the signal benefactors of posterity.
In the course of human events these three men have been, at stated
intervals of time, the three leading field-marshals of Almighty
God in this western world, for they all had faith in the eternal
justice and truth and the boundless mercy of Providence and made
the golden rule of Jesus Christ the practical creed of their lives.
Let us consider, briefly, what it
means to link a name with those of Washington and Lincoln. No man
ever trod the globe who was the equal of Washington, with the single
exception of “Him whose blessed feet were nailed for our advantage
to the bitter cross.” Washington was declared in his own day to
be “First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his
countrymen.” One hundred years after his death he is even more than
that, for he now ranks first in the hearts of all mankind. On the
temple of human greatness his name is engraved above every other
name. Underneath is inscribed the name of Abraham Lincoln—a man
born and reared in a cabin; as he himself stated, of defective education—less
than one year’s schooling; a hired hand on the boats of the Mississippi;
and yet chosen of God, because of his sublime qualities, to guide
the nation through a great civil strife, whose war darkness for
four transcendent years he lit up by his genius, from horizon to
zenith, and then suddenly departed at the dawn of peace, at once
the martyr and the miracle of American history.
And when William McKinley issued the
edict, in the name of suffering humanity, which released white and
black slaves alike, from foreign shackles and thralldom, in the
Island of Cuba, he moulded the third link of this chain, which he
cemented for all time to the other two 
links of this highly honored trio, by his stainless public and private
character and life, combined with the pathetic yet hallowed grandeur
of his death, in the heaven-born exhibition he displayed while a
week at death’s door, of a submissive and sweet Christian spirit.
Thus we have before us these three
great benefactors of mankind: Washington, the founder of liberty;
Lincoln, who, through the abolition of slavery, gave to liberty
a higher and nobler interpretation; and McKinley, whose name will
endure the test of Time with theirs, because through him, and by
him, was wrought that “more perfect union,” of which the preamble
of the constitution spoke, as framed by our wisest men more than
a hundred years ago. With a love for humanity as great as theirs
in his heart, and with the grace of God ever upon his lips, the
wise and noble fruits of his world-wide labors accomplished, William
McKinley died as he lived, the crowning glory of his time—the ornament
of the opening 20th century.
All three of these men were truly
great, for their successes were never won at the expense of honor,
justice, integrity; or by the sacrifice of a single principle.
Not long since some of us, peering
through the portals of the 20th century city of light, gazed in
spell-bound admiration and awe upon man’s greatest work, and then
journeying to Niagara Falls, nearby, looked upward into the soul-inspiring
face at Nature’s greatest wonder. However, we could but admit that
the great glory of Niagara was the practical utilization by man
of its “thundering sides” in the electrical illumination of the
Pan-American Exposition. Little did we dream that that magnificent
illumination was set to be the funeral pyre of William McKinley.
Thus do the unforeseen and the invisible mysteries unravel, though
we never seem to learn the true import of their warning lessons.
But William McKinley did, and as he
lay on the brink of eternity he could sing in deathless song, with
the poet Whittier:
I hear the solemn monotone
Of waters calling unto me;
I know from whence the airs have blown
That whisper of the Eternal Sea.
As low my fires of driftwood burn,
I hear that Sea’s deep sounds
And, fair in sunset light, discern
Its mirage-lifted Isles of Peace.
The world has laid our
beloved Chief Magistrate away in the tomb this day, and as we mentally
turn away from the darkness and gloom of that grave to-night I can
only say, in the language of Shakespeare—and not for the sake of
poetic fancy do I say it, but sincerer words I never spoke:
Good-night, sweet prince, good-night,
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.