Source: Collier’s Weekly
Source type: magazine
Document type: editorial
Document title: “The Death of President McKinley”
Date of publication: 21 September 1901
Volume number: 27
Issue number: 25
|“The Death of President McKinley.” Collier’s Weekly 21 Sept. 1901 v27n25: p. 5.|
|William McKinley (death: personal response); William McKinley (political character); William McKinley (personal history); William McKinley (personal character).|
|James G. Blaine; Benjamin Harrison; Abraham Lincoln; William McKinley.|
|The editorial below is accompanied on the same page by a photograph of McKinley, credited to Frances B. Johnston.|
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 gentleman.
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.