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Source: Bookman
Source type: magazine
Document type: article
Document title: “Twenty Years of the Republic (1885-1905)” [part 15]
Author(s): Peck, Harry Thurston
Date of publication: April 1906
Volume number: 23
Issue number: 2
Pagination: 153-84 (excerpt below includes only pages 177-82 and 184)

Peck, Harry Thurston. “Twenty Years of the Republic (1885-1905)” [part 15]. Bookman Apr. 1906 v23n2: pp. 153-84.
William McKinley (last public address); McKinley assassination; William McKinley (death: public response); William McKinley (political character).
Named persons
Chester A. Arthur; James G. Blaine; Thomas Hart Benton; John C. Calhoun; Lewis Cass; Henry Clay; George B. Cortelyou; Leon Czolgosz; Millard Fillmore; Emma Goldman; Andrew Jackson; Ida McKinley; William McKinley; James Monroe; Johann Most; George Washington.
The following excerpt comprises two nonconsecutive portions of this article (pp. 177-82 and p. 184). Omission of text within the excerpt is denoted with a bracketed indicator (e.g., [omit]).

Two footnotes originally appeared within this excerpted portion of the article. Asterisks (*) are included in the text below to indicate where these footnotes were placed. The first of the two asterisks appears on page 178, at the end of the blocked quotation from McKinley’s Pan-American speech; the second appears within the first full paragraph on page 179. These asterisks refer, respectively, to the following source documentation: “Halstead, Life of William McKinley, pp. 225-227 (Cincinnati, 1901)” and “New York World, September 11, 1901.”

This installment (Part XV) of this multi-part article is titled “The Last Years of President McKinley.”

This article includes photographs of Leon Czolgosz (p. 180), Ida McKinley (p. 183), and Secretaries of State John Hay and William R. Day (current and former, respectively; both on p. 177). There is also an exterior shot of the Milburn House (p. 181), wherein McKinley died.


Twenty Years of the Republic (1885-1905) [excerpt]

     President McKinley’s second inauguration resembled his first, though it was still more imposing. His new administration began with the best omens. No perplexing problems existed to burden his mind or to stimulate a purely factional opposition. His personal popularity had become very great. In the early spring of 1901, he made, in company with his wife, a journey westward to California, passing through the Southern States. Everywhere he was received with the utmost cordiality and respect. He spoke to the multitudes who greeted him, not as the President of a party, but as the chosen ruler of a united nation. These days recalled to students of history the second administration of President Monroe which has become memorable as the Era of Good Feeling. The President himself had really risen above the plane of partisanship. The wider field of interest which the United States now occupied had undoubtedly broadened and elevated President McKinley’s statesmanship. He gave striking evidence of this in a remarkable speech which he delivered on September 5th, in the city of Buffalo before a gathering of fifty thousand people. In this speech he showed plainly that he was no longer fettered by the dogmas of a narrow protectionism. He spoke words which ten years before would have seemed to him heretical. But they were words of genuine statesmanship, and they should be remembered and inscribed in golden letters upon the temple of American economics.

     “Comparison of ideas is always educational; and as such it instructs the brain and hand of man. Friendly rivalry follows which is the spur to industrial improvement, the inspiration to useful invention and to high endeavour in all departments of human activity. . . . The quest for trade is an incentive to men of business to devise, invent, improve and economise in the course of production. Business life, whether among ourselves or with other people, is ever a sharp struggle for success. It will be none the less so in the future. But, though commercial competitors we are, commercial enemies we must not be. The wisdom and [177][178] energy of all the nations are none too great for the world’s work. The success of art, science, industry and invention is an international asset and a crowning glory.
     “Isolation is no longer possible or desirable. God and man have linked the nations together. No nation can longer be indifferent to any other. . . . Only a broad and enlightened policy will keep what we have. No other policy will get more. By the sensible trade arrangements which will not interrupt our home production we shall extend the outlets for our increasing surplus.
     “A system which provides a mutual exchange of commodities is manifestly essential to the continued healthful growth of our export trade. We must not repose in fancied security that we can forever sell everything and buy little or nothing. If such a thing were possible, it would not be best for us or with those with whom we have to deal. We should take from our customers such of their products as we can use without harm to our industries and labour.
     “Reciprocity is the natural growth of our wonderful industrial development under the domestic policy now firmly established. What we produce beyond our domestic consumption must have a vent abroad. The excess must be relieved through a foreign outlet and we should sell everywhere we can, and buy wherever the buying will enlarge our sales and productions, and thereby make a greater demand for home labour.
     “The period of exclusiveness is past. The expansion of our trade and commerce is the pressing problem. Commercial wars are unprofitable. A policy of good will and friendly trade relations will prevent reprisals. Reciprocity treaties are in harmony with the spirit of the times; measures of retaliation are not.
     “If, perchance, some of our tariffs are no longer needed for revenue or to encourage and protect our industries at home, why should they not be employed to extend and promote our markets abroad?
     “Gentlemen, let us ever remember that our interest is in concord, not conflict, and that our real eminence rests in the victories of peace and not in those of war. We hope that all who are represented here may be moved to higher and nobler effort for their own and the world’s good, and that out of this city may come not only greater commerce and trade for us all, but more essential than these, relations of mutual respect, confidence and friendship, which will deepen and endure.
     “Our earnest prayer is that God will graciously vouchsafe prosperity, happiness and peace to all our neighbours, and like blessings to all the peoples and the powers of the earth.”*

     President McKinley had visited Buffalo for the purpose of inspecting the so-called Pan-American Exposition. On the day after his public speech, he held a reception in the Temple of Music, giving a personal greeting to all who wished to take his hand. Among these was a young man having the appearance of a respectable mechanic, whose right hand was apparently covered with a bandage. As he approached the President, he rapidly uncovered a revolver, and before he could be seized, he had fired two bullets into the body of the President. Before he could fire for a third time, he was [178][179] seized and hurled to the ground. Mr. McKinley stood for a moment as though dazed, and then swayed backward into the arms of his attendants. The first words that he spoke were to his private secretary: “Cortelyou, be careful; tell Mrs. McKinley gently.” Then, observing the attempt of the maddened people to tear his assailant to pieces, the President said in a feeble voice, “Let no one hurt him.”
     The assassin was rescued by the police. He proved to be a German Pole named Leon Franz Czolgosz, by occupation a blacksmith in Detroit. He was an unintelligent, dull young man whose brain had been inflamed by listening to the oratory of foreign anarchists, among them particularly a woman named Emma Goldman, who had long been conspicuous as an agitator. In 1893, she had spent ten months in prison for inciting to riot and her views were revolutionary even beyond those of ordinary anarchists. Short in figure, hard featured and frowsy in appearance, she hated women and spent her life chiefly among men. At one time she had been the mistress of Johann Most, though later she had quarrelled with him and had assaulted him at an anarchistic meeting.* It was from her more than from any other that Czolgosz received the impulse which led him to commit the crime for which presently he suffered death (October 29th).
     President McKinley lingered for a few days; and the favourable reports which were given out by his physicians led the country to hope that he might recover. This hope proved to be baseless, and he died on the morning of Saturday, September 14th. His remains lay in state in Buffalo and afterwards in the rotunda of the Capitol in Washington, where they were received with impressive ceremonies. His body was interred in the cemetery at Canton, his native town.
     To President McKinley there was accorded a spontaneous tribute of universal grief such as no one in our history, since Washington, had ever yet received. Americans sorrowed both for the ruler and for the man; and their sorrow was the more poignant because of the false hope which had been given them by the [179][180] premature and quite unjustifiable optimism of his physicians. In it all there was nothing official, nothing studied or insincere. Its most impressive feature was found in its quiet intensity, the intensity of a feeling too sacred and too profound for utterance in mere words. At the hour when the simple ceremonial at Canton was proceeding, a great hush came over every city and hamlet in the land. The streets were deserted. The activities of seventy millions of people ceased. Men and women of every type and class felt the shadow touch for a moment their own lives, and they let their sorrow find supreme expression in the solemnity of a reverent silence. It was very human and it was very wonderful.
     As a man, Mr. McKinley belonged to the older school of American statesmen—whom he recalled in his personal appearance, in his smooth-shaven face, his customary garb of black, and the suavity of his address. He would have been at home in the society of Clay and Cass and Benton and he will undoubtedly stand as the last President of that particular type. He possessed also the personal dignity of the older days, with the advantage of a change in public sentiment which allowed him to maintain that dignity without offence to the people. The time had gone by when Americans took delight in an assumption of roughness and rudeness in their Chief Magistrate. The orgy which disgraced Jackson’s first inauguration would have been impossible in 1901; and Americans no longer expected their Presidents to appear, so to speak, in their shirt-sleeves. Mr. McKinley always managed to keep his purely personal affairs and his domestic life from being vulgarised by the peculiar sort of publicity which the newspapers gave to most of his predecessors. He maintained, indeed, outside of his public appearances, the quiet dignity and reserve that befit a private gentleman, and that are still more to be desired in the ruler of a mighty nation. It is remarkable, indeed, that Mr. McKinley should have been so thoroughly successful in this particular thing; for his early environment was one of the most democratic simplicity; while before 1896, his political associates were by no means sticklers for niceties of form. Probably Mr. McKinley was fortunate in his advisers and at the same time quick to take a hint. At any rate, the fact remains that with the single exception of Mr. Arthur, no President since the pre-Jacksonian days had made things “go off” so well as did President McKinley. And as Americans had begun to learn some needed lessons from older countries, they heartily commended the refined simplicity which pervaded the White House from 1896 to 1901. This satisfaction was heightened by the knowledge that the President’s private life and character were not only spotless but exceptionally beautiful.
     Intellectually, Mr. McKinley is probably to be compared with Millard Fillmore, to whom he bore some likeness. Not in any sense endowed with originality, he possessed good judgment, shrewdness, tact, and a willingness to listen to advice from any quarter. He was not a reader of books, and the only quotation that one recalls as made by him in public was from some obscure newspaper poet of the West—a woman. [180][181] He knew men, however, and he was a close student of political events. As a speaker, he had a pleasant manner and at times could be sententious; but he never made a speech that was at all remarkable for its eloquence. Mr. McKinley, indeed, in oratory, as in his other gifts and attributes represented the Horatian aurea mediocritas. He was neither bloodless and cold, like Calhoun; nor, on the other hand, did he possess the compelling magnetism which made Clay and Blaine so wonderful as political leaders. Yet, if he could not rouse great masses of men to a frenzy of enthusiasm, he could always win a hearing. If men would not die for him, as they would for Clay, they would at any rate vote for him; which, after all, was much more to the point. He lacked magnetism, but he possessed a rare benevolence, a genuine kindliness, which made it utterly impossible for even a political enemy to be anything but a personal friend. And kindliness such as this must have been absolutely genuine, or the falseness of it would have been sometimes felt; whereas the popular belief in Mr. McKinley’s good intentions grew firmer with every year. In the early days of his incumbency there were many who thought that they detected in his phraseology something which savoured of cant; but they forgot that he was a member of a religious body which makes a freer use of certain semi-religious expressions than is common; and that Mr. McKinley’s way of expressing himself was the way in which he had been taught to speak, and was, indeed, a mere façon de parler. That he was no bigot, that he exercised a self-respecting independence of thought and action in such matters, is seen in the fact that, in spite of a most bitter outcry from the most extreme of his co-religionists, he stood out firmly for the retention of the army canteen, that he set wine upon his table at diplomatic dinners, and that he was rather immoderately fond of very black and very strong cigars. All these [181][182] things serve to characterise the man—sincere, kind-hearted, firm and sensible, not brilliant, to be sure, but eminently safe—the sort of man who does in general go farther than any but the very greatest genius.


     He died at an hour that was friendly to his fame. A foreign war had ended in the triumph of the American arms. The Republic of the West had at last assumed its place among the greatest nations of the earth. Political bitterness had spent itself in the electoral contest of the preceding year, and there had succeeded a lull which brought with it good will and tolerance. Extraordinary material prosperity had enriched the nation, so that men might at some future day look back upon those years as to a Golden Age. And finally, the tragic ending of a useful, honourable life stirred all the chords of human sympathy, and seemed to cast upon that life itself the pathos and the splendour of a consecration.



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