Some Personal Characteristics of President McKinley
is the personality of President McKinley
that has given him a hold upon the affections of the American people
such as no other President—not even Lincoln before his martyrdom—has
had. McKinley was the most lovable of men alike in public and in
private life. His friends loved him because he loved them. His enemies—if
such an unfitting term can be used, for he had none—were disarmed
because he would not cherish enmity nor make retaliation.
I remember one day at a Cabinet meeting
a secretary of one of the departments urged the discharge of some
female clerk who had after many years grown at once incompetent
and obstreperous, but relied for her retention in office upon the
help of a senator. It was a senator who had been especially bitter
and malignant in his attacks upon the President’s administration.
But I shall never forget the kindly smile with which he said: “Go
slow. It may be some old friend of Senator ——’s wife, and I really
would not like to trouble him or her. You know, when any of you
are too easy I am inclined to be a little severe, and when you are
severe I am inclined to be easy. However, Mr. Secretary, I shall
of course sustain you in anything you think ought to be done in
the matter, but think it over.” Of course no removal was made.
He was considerate toward everybody.
His first thought seemed to be to make all with whom he came in
contact or had political or private relation happier and more at
ease. As he drove through the street or along the country road,
he never failed to recognize a salutation, even if it were only
the wistful face of some child or the kindly interest of the wayside
laborer. There was no schoolboy or -girl who had the happy fortune
to be admitted to the Cabinet chamber that did not receive from
his hand the flower which he was wearing in the lapel of his coat.
How many times I have seen him break
from an important task to receive a call from a visiting delegation
of teachers or excursionists, and that, too, without the slightest
impatience or expression of irritation, which almost any other man
would have uttered in conferring the same favor. It was in this
spirit that he went among the people of the South, and did more
than any other man has done since the Civil War to restore among
them the fraternal spirit. He acted in this no doubt from a wise
policy, but he also acted in the genuine spirit of his own generous
In the long railroad journeys which
I made with him over the country his latchstring was always out.
If his fellow-countrymen could not come in, he went out to them,
fearless, frank, confiding. “Who will attack me?” he would say.
“I have n’t [sic] an enemy in the world.”
There was always the pleasant smile
from the car window, whether the gathering were large or small,
and, when time allowed, the kindly word of response.
I never saw a man with such an even
and unruffled temper. During the years in which I was with him,
under the strain of war, in the heat of the congestion of closing
Congresses, under the pressure for place, I never heard him utter
an impatient word. He never scolded nor whined. He never showed
irritation, neither at the Cabinet board nor, so far as I know,
in separate conversation with its members. If there were a difference
of opinion, his views, which of course prevailed, were put in a
way as considerate as if his were not the final word.
He had a fine sense of humor. He remembered
incidents and narrated them with effect. Twice a week, on Cabinet
days, it was a delightful thing to go into the Cabinet room at eleven
o’clock in the forenoon. The President would be standing near the
window, looking fresh, with a white waist- 
coat and a rose in his buttonhole. A few people left over from the
morning callers would be lingering for a word, each getting a pleasant
one. In due time the Cabinet would be left with the President. He
would take his seat at the table, but before settling down to business
was more than likely to entertain us for ten or fifteen minutes
with some story of the war, or some anecdote about public men, or
some experience of his in old campaigning days.
He was great enough not to be afraid
of availing himself of the help and counsel of those about him,
especially his constitutional advisers and the leading men of Congress
and of the day. Whether it was a message to Congress, or a state
paper, or a speech to be delivered, he would often read it to us
and consult with us alike as to its matter and its form. He seemed
to repose with absolute confidence in those whom he trusted, never
reminding them in any way that any subject was a matter of confidence
or suggesting that it be so regarded, but taking for granted that
the confidence would be kept.
So far as I observed, he did not primarily
dictate his papers or speeches. His habit was, when alone in his
office or in his chamber, to write parts of these on slips with
a pencil from time to time, afterward reading them to some of us,
and then turning them over to his stenographer for a better copy.
He gave a good deal of thought to phrases. It will be noted, I think,
in almost every speech and paper that there are a few sentences
especially significant and striking as texts. These were usually
the result of careful and deliberate thought.
In this frank consultation with those
about him whom he trusted there seemed to be no favorite. While
his friendships were of the warmest, he never seemed to single out
any one official as the special depositary of his confidence or
as his special adviser. To the head of each executive department
he looked with regard to matters in it.
So, also, in legislative matters no
one senator or representative was the avenue to him, but each in
the legislative line which he represented weighed with him. If Senator
Hoar, for instance, differed from him on the question of the Philippines,
it only made him the more eager to welcome Senator Hoar, to whom
he was sincerely attached, with the assurance that an honest difference
of opinion on one question in no wise lessened the influence of
his advice and sympathy on another.
President McKinley had the art of
intrusting the discharge of administrative details to others. It
is needless to say that the business of his office is enormous—almost
too great a load for any pair of shoulders to carry. And yet he
discharged its duties promptly, in an orderly way and efficiently.
He gave free rein to his executive chiefs, yet kept himself thoroughly
informed of their doings.
He was an unusually wise adviser.
His tact and sense of the fitness of things were often of great
service in checking us from hasty or unwise action. Many a paper
prepared with great care has been taken to him, to which he has
patiently listened, then kindly suggested that perhaps it better
be laid aside or modified.
He was not easily disturbed. Only
once, and that was during the events leading up to the Spanish War,
did I see him in a state of what is called nervous excitement. It
then manifested itself in his repeatedly sitting for a moment, then
rising, then sitting again.
He was the very ideal of serenity
and deliberation. He was an instance of what some of the physicians
say is the proper thing—good health without much physical exercise.
Now and then he would send for one of his Cabinet officers to take
a walk with him in the street—sometimes to drive with him in his
carriage. In the summer at noon it was his habit to go into the
large park in the rear of the White House, although I often then
found him there sitting in the shade rather than walking about.
His personal habits were of the simplest
and most unassuming. He was a constant attendant at church on Sunday,
and never, if he could avoid it, would travel on that day. He acted
in this, it seemed to me, alike from a religious principle upon
his part, and from a very considerate respect for the principles
The moral side of his character was
very pronounced. He was by nature a rightminded man. There was no
guile in him. There never was the suggestion of an inclination to
accomplish even a good result by improper means.
As has been said, it was the consciousness
of this moral quality in him which won him not only the love and
affection, but the confidence of all the people. Other men have
been as brilliant, as wise, as gifted in speech, as efficient in
action,—some more,—but have failed for lack of this quality to command
 that confidence and those
honors which cannot be attained without it.
Make every allowance for the ambition
which every public man feels for success and fame and popularity;
make every allowance for the selfish motive that enters into every
act even when it is good, and yet there remains in President McKinley
the instinctive, inherent impulse to do good for its own sake, to
serve his country, to better the condition of its people, to help
those who labor, to lighten toil, to promote human happiness.
I have never seen anything more significant
than the journey with his dead body from Buffalo to Washington on
the 16th of September last—the wife of his heart, around whom in
her frail physical health his arm never before had failed to be
a support, entering the Presidential car bereaved of his devoted
care; the school-children with their little flags at every station
standing with uncovered heads and full of even an unconscious sympathy;
the lines of workingmen, as we went through manufacturing villages,
in their shirt-sleeves, arranged in a military platoon, with their
hats off and held in military salute against their breasts, every
face among them speaking of the loss of one they knew to be their
friend; the greater crowds at the larger towns and cities, from
which, as the train stopped, seemed to burst almost spontaneously
his favorite hymn, “Nearer, my God, to Thee,” which will always
be associated with him.
All this was not mere curiosity. It
was the genuine expression of a universal feeling, and by its responsiveness
to him who called it out was a measure and index of his own character.
The nation has suffered the loss of
a chief magistrate. The people, one and all, have lost a personal
Criticism of public men is a good
thing and should not be deprecated. It is hard when it is unjust,
especially so if, accompanied by personal feeling or party spirit,
it is strained and malignant. In the long run, however, the balance
is restored. President McKinley, considering the magnitude of the
events of his administration, has escaped bitter criticism more
than his predecessors, notably Lincoln.
Still, remembering what that criticism
has sometimes been, it is right that those who knew him should bear
testimony to the prayerful and conscientious spirit in which he
met the great problems of his administration—greater than any since
He made every effort to avert the
Spanish War. When negotiations for peace came, every impulse was
for the largest generosity. In dealing with the Philippines his
unreserved and single purpose was their civilization and help. His
state papers are historic monuments to the embodiment in him of
the principles of American freedom and liberty and civilization.
No better appointments than his were ever made or could be made
to the great, responsible positions of civil trust in our newly
acquired possessions. His whole idea of the administrative service
abroad and at home was for the most honest and most efficient service.
For himself, as for Lincoln, with
whom he ranks, his martyrdom, while the most cruel of bereavements
to his country, only the more illuminates his high place in the
hall of his country’s fame.