The Death of President McKinley
THE DEATH OF PRESIDENT M KINLEY [sic] CAME with a greater
shock to the nation than if it had followed swiftly and mercifully
on the deed of the anarchist. The firmness of the President’s will
and the cheerfulness of his disposition promised to be faithful
allies of the physicians. For nearly a week each succeeding bulletin
added fresh animation to the hope that the prayers of the people
would be answered and that the President would return to the full
enjoyment of health. The medical men in attendance were apparently
confident that the crisis had been passed. The patient’s condition
had shown steady improvement. The pulse had diminished in frequency
and increased in fulness; the temperature had fallen; it had been
even considered advisable to allow the patient to take considerable
But late on Thursday, September 12,
unfavorable symptoms appeared. The President showed great fatigue,
and the pulse beat, which had disturbed the physicians from the
first, increased. Early on Friday morning came one of those swift
and fatal changes which neither the skill of the surgeons nor the
prayers of the people could avert. The President was visibly sinking.
Determined efforts were made to revive him, and slight rallies followed.
But they in turn were followed by relapses. It became apparent that
the wave of life was receding rapidly, and that no human agency
could restrain it. There were moments when the dying hope in the
breasts of the watchers was refreshed, but they were only moments.
After hours of patient suffering, on Saturday morning at a quarter
past two, the President was relieved of the “fretful stir unprofitable
and fever of the world.” He bore himself to the end with the same
fortitude that had marked his manner from the very moment when he
was struck down, and died as he had lived, an unfaltering Christian
There is an old story of the happy
death of a man who was slain at the moment when he had realized
all his fondest hopes and before he could feel the bitterness of
possession. If anything could rob the tragedy called death of its
terrors, and if any measure of human felicity could compensate for
the uselessness of the sacrifice of this life, they might be found
in the circumstances of Mr. McKinley’s death. No President, except
perhaps Mr. Lincoln, has seen so many of the purposes of his political
career accomplished during his term as Mr. McKinley. And even Mr.
Lincoln went to his grave while the embers of the rebellion were
still fiery and before his sagacious eyes could see the reunion
of the States in an enduring fellowship. Mr. McKinley saw most of
the work of his laborious public life brought to a successful conclusion
and most of the ideals of government that he had cherished realized.
The revenue system which he advocated in his early career had triumphed
over all opposition; the financial system of which he had become
the chief exponent had become fixed beyond any immediate danger
of dislodgment. He had begun and carried to a successful conclusion
a war of far-reaching consequences; he had molded the consequences
themselves to meet his theories. But he found his greatest comfort
and the highest reward of a long and consistent struggle in the
unmistakable signs of the blessing called “national prosperity.”
Mr. McKinley was not a political idealist.
All his life he had clung to the old homely belief, that in this
workaday world if there is plenty of work for honest hands to do
and good wages for its performance, the ends of political philosophy
have been accomplished. “The chicken in the pot” not every Saturday
night but every night was the reward he felt the government should
ensure to labor. His political activities were devoted toward enhancing
the trade of the country and increasing the country’s industrial
energies, and he never wavered from this purpose. Whatever was good
for business, if it were honest and lawful, was good for the nation.
This in a word was his political creed, and he upheld it always
with vigor and courage. He answered adverse criticisms of his policy
by pointing to the smoke pouring from the factory chimneys.
It must be said that those who had
observed the tenacity with which he clung to this ideal during his
congressional career were amazed at the broadness and vigor with
which he dealt with large questions of state after he entered the
White House. No one could have managed the extremely delicate international
questions that arose before and during the Spanish war with greater
skill than the President displayed. He managed to reject “good offices”—many
of them concealing a hostile intent—without antagonizing the governments
that made the offers, and thus saved us from the perils of a ruder
interference. It is largely due to his efforts that the bitterness
of the feeling of Continental Europe, aroused by the seizure of
the Spanish dependencies and the subsequent trade invasion of European
markets, has been softened. It will require a wider vision than
the present generation could apply to tell whether the Philippine
and Cuban enterprises of the McKinley Administration will prove
to be blessings to this country. But so far as we can judge by the
existing situation, the Administration policy has been successful.
The Philippine insurrection has been subdued and an orderly government
is rising in the islands. Cuba, almost for the first time in the
memory of man, is at peace. The Porto Ricans are apparently contented
with their slender share of statehood.
We have spoken of Mr. McKinley’s power
in assuaging the bitterness of defeat. It was natural for him to
deliver the soft answer that turneth away wrath. He owed much of
his success as a politician to his unfailing urbanity and respect
for the feelings of others, and whether he applied these qualities
to the larger or smaller concerns of state, he did it with success.
But those who knew him best, knew that his geniality cloaked a nature
that was capable of the strongest emotions. The writer recalls one
occasion when the generally unruffled serenity of Mr. McKinley’s
manner was broken, in a way that proved his stern qualities. In
the Republican Convention of 1892, a strong cabal was formed with
the purpose of preventing the nomination of General Harrison. It
comprised some of the ablest and most adroit politicians in the
party. The cry was, “Anything to beat Harrison.” Mr. Blaine had
been selected to lead this forlorn hope, but he was sickening to
his death, and it became apparent that there was no magic even in
that name to break the front of the Harrison forces. Mr. McKinley’s
star was brightly in the ascendant. The anti-Harrison men determined
to attempt a “stampede” with McKinley. Those who were present at
the time will not soon forget the scene that followed the casting
of the first votes for the Ohio man. Mr. McKinley did not hesitate.
There was no suggestion that the bait had tempted him in the angry
speech in which he declared that he was for General Harrison and
would not accept the nomination if it were offered to him. His face
was white with passion, and he poured forth his speech with the
most unexpected violence. If there ever had been a chance for the
success of the conspiracy it faded when Mr. McKinley took the floor.
General Harrison was nominated on that ballot.
But it is on Mr. McKinley’s private
life that the American people will dwell most affectionately. They
think of him as the kind husband, the loyal friend, the forgiving
enemy, the good citizen. No public man in our generation has more
closely approached the ideal of the simple, pious, domestic life
which we like to think is the foundation of all our power as a nation.
The historian will not be likely to touch on the modest virtues
of the fireside, but the patience of Mr. McKinley under affliction,
the constancy of his affections, the rectitude of his course, are
all known to the people, and they are not the least of the qualities
that made him the best loved of all our Presidents since Lincoln.
They might have entitled him to a happy existence until “old age,
serene and bright, should lead him to the grave.” But Fate would
not have it so. He has been cut off in the full flood of his activities,
at the hour of triumph, but leaving to the nation the best of examples
in a pure and patriotic life.
Mr. McKinley’s last sublime public
utterance was one of forgiveness for his assassin. When the anarchist
was struggling with the guard, the President, forgetting his wounds,
cried: “Let no man harm him.” He counselled moderation and expressed
pity for the assassin. We will not go that far. The man deserves
no more pity than any other cowardly criminal. He deserves still
less the exaltation that passionate and revengeful people would
give him above the common herd of murderers. But the American people
will meet and overcome the evil of anarchism at the proper time.