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Source: American Monthly Review of Reviews
Source type: magazine
Document type: article
Document title: “The Character of William M’Kinley”
Author(s): Macfarland, Henry B. F.
Date of publication: October 1901
Volume number: 24
Issue number: 4
Pagination: 430-32

Macfarland, Henry B. F. “The Character of William M’Kinley.” American Monthly Review of Reviews Oct. 1901 v24n4: pp. 430-32.
full text
William McKinley (personal character); William McKinley (political character).
Named persons
James G. Blaine; Henry Clay; Abraham Lincoln; William McKinley; Paul; George Washington.
This article includes a photograph of McKinley (p. 431).

About the author: President, Board of Commissioners, District of Columbia (p. 430).


The Character of William M’Kinley

DEATH in its most dramatic form has suddenly removed President McKinley as though to a century’s distance in historical perspective. But yesterday he was a man like other men; to-day, he is numbered among the immortals. One of the consolations and compensations to his friends is that he has, as in the twinkling of an eye, been placed beside Washington and Lincoln, the greatest of his predecessors. The assassin has done for him what all his friends could not do in bringing out clearly his greatness and in placing him beyond the power of enmity or accident. The arduous greatness of things done is now admitted to have been his, and the greater greatness of noble living. He has been canonized by the united love of all the people, the very thing which he in a high sense coveted most, so that in his death he realized his greatest ambition, which was to break down all sectional barriers and bring all his countrymen into sympathy. In the apparently universal chorus of praise and sorrow it seems difficult to recall the misrepresentations of the late President which have disgraced some newspapers and some public men. But it is perhaps more striking than it would otherwise be that the very newspapers and men who did these things are now joining in that chorus or keeping a respectful silence. Perhaps they feel remorse over what may have been, in some degree, incitement to his murder; perhaps they realize that moral assassination may lead to physical assassination, and is at least to be ranked with it. Perhaps their eyes have been opened to see the man as he really was, and they understand that they mistook gentleness for weakness and courtesy for artfulness. But McKinley forgave these enemies as he forgave all others who wronged him, and we need not cherish resentment against them. It is better to dwell gratefully upon the general appreciation of his virtues and graces, which testifies in itself to the soundness of the country’s thought, and is echoed by all the nations of earth in their unprecedented tributes to his memory.
     Now that he is gone, and in such a way that we can almost take the historian’s view of him, we can see the consistency of McKinley’s life through all its extraordinary experiences. He was as much a typical American as Lincoln, although born to better conditions. He came of that Scotch-Irish stock which has done so much for this country, and he had the inestimable advantage of a father and mother, who gave him a Christian home and a training and example that made him in early life a follower in their steps. It was as a true Christian that McKinley achieved his greatest success, and this is the key to all his history. He had a remarkable mind, which constantly grew in strength; he made the most of all his opportunities, and they came to him, one after another, as they did not come to other men. He rose steadily, sometimes halting, but never retreating, from the place of private in the ranks of the army of the Union until he became President of the United States and commander-in-chief of its armies and navies, its leader in the war which he tried to prevent, which he quickly ended and then turned to the best uses, and its dominant representative at the council-table of the world. He had all the kinds of success that men of ambition covet, except that of money-making, for which he had neither taste nor time. He had not only personal success, but he had official success. He showed greatness not only in domestic, but in foreign, affairs. He not only conducted the United States, as it passed from the old century into the new, into an entirely untrodden field of endeavor in the islands of the sea, but he made its greatness recognized by the nations of Europe and the peoples of Asia in his management of the affair of China. He had finished this last task in the signing of the protocol in Peking the day he was shot. His work was done when the hour struck.
     Yet throughout his career, so exceptional in its progressive success, as he rose, first to that rank of major which was his title ever after with his wife and closest friends, and then on the [430][431] ladder of politics up to the leadership of the House of Representatives, the governorship of his State, and the Presidency of the United States, he was more than all he did, and his best success was seen in his own character. All the world sees now in the light of his beautiful last days that the strength, the tenderness, the integrity, and the kindliness of that character were remarkable. Those who have known him well, especially in late years, have felt the power of his character. They have known the absurdity of the assertions that he was pliable, and even that he could be controlled by this man or that, simply because he was not given to brag or bluster, and preferred the kind to the unkind way of dealing with men. They knew that, while he would do everything in his power to conciliate and to gratify until he came to the point where he could not properly yield further, his will-power was immovable, and he could say “No” as positively as he could say it pleasantly. No one was ever able to make him do what he did not want to do, or what he did not think it was right to do, and his was the deciding mind in the very cases where he was said to have yielded most to others. The members of his cabinet and all others who came close to him knew that, with all his courtesy and consideration for them, he was the leader and commander. It was not so easy for outsiders to see this, because he never intimated it in any way, but, on the contrary, was always desirous to give others more than their share of the credit for whatever they had a part in doing with him. He never seemed to assert himself or to advertise himself in any way.
     But although it must now be apparent to everybody that President McKinley was the great man of his administrations, and that he showed exceptional intellectual and moral power in the management of the new problems of the new and larger place into which he was led, with his fellow-countrymen, by the providence of God, his most distinguishing characteristic was his loving spirit and his willingness to serve. It was a heart of love for all men, a Christian heart of love, measuring up to the ideal set forth by St. Paul in writing to the Corinthians, since it took in all men, even his enemies, that made it possible for him to treat all men as he did. Nothing is more interesting now that he is gone than to see how many men believe that each in his own case he had especial and distinguishing kindness from him. No public man, not Clay, nor Blaine, ever had so many friends, each of whom felt there was something special in his friendship. McKinley, like Lincoln, loved the common people, to whom they both belonged; but McKinley loved everybody else in some degree. It was this that made it possible for him to make friends of all kinds, regardless of political or other enmities. Even his enemies became his friends, not being able to withstand his forgiving spirit. It gave him great facility in dealing with men, and therefore in managing affairs of great or little importance. It would not have served him thus, had it not been sincere and as disinterested as human affections ever are. Nor could it have been effective if it had not been supported by the sterner virtues and great mental powers. [431][432]
     McKinley’s greatness in its highest form was that of him who is the servant of all. In filial duty, in the devotion of the husband and the father, in the faithfulness of friendship, he showed how a man can serve. As a soldier and as a public man he showed how a patriot can serve. He literally poured out his life for others, and gave up everything to serve the republic. In the forty years of his career, from his enlistment in 1861 to his departure in 1901, he was always serving in the spirit of Him who came, not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life for many. He was a true martyr, testifying to the law of loving sacrifice. He was human and had faults and made mistakes, but they were not serious to those who loved him, and even those who differed with him would admit that they were not intentional. Few lives have been more worthy of emulation, and there is no other man in our history of whom we can so confidently say that his greatest gift to us was an example, and that those who follow in his steps will surely enrich themselves and their country. What man of us has not already felt the uplifting influence of that example? And what greater tribute could be paid to one who has gone forward?



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