Source: Free Thought Magazine
Source type: magazine
Document type: public address
Document title: “M’Kinley Memorial Address”
Author(s): White, R. A.
Date of publication: November 1901
Volume number: 19
Issue number: 11
|White, R. A. “M’Kinley Memorial Address.” Free Thought Magazine Nov. 1901 v19n11: pp. 659-63.|
|R. A. White (public addresses); William McKinley (memorial addresses); McKinley assassination (religious interpretation); McKinley assassination (religious response); anarchism (religious response); McKinley assassination (public response: criticism); McKinley assassination (religious response: criticism).|
|Jesus Christ; William McKinley.|
The footnote on page 659 reads as follows: “As this is the best address on the death of President McKinley we have seen, we give it place in the Magazine. Although it has a little Christian superstition in it, the real spirit of it is in accordance with Free Thought, true patriotism and the Religion of Humanity.—Editor.”
A photograph of the author appears on page 659.
From page 659: By Rev. R. A. White.
M’Kinley Memorial Address
LADIES and Gentlemen:—It is not
the mind and the brain of America that are affected to-day so much as the American
heart and the American sentiment. This nation from sea to sea and from lake
to gulf with one accord bows itself at the altar of this great national grief,
manifests its respect for our martyred President, and its sympathy for that
quiet and modest home in a little village of a sister State.
To-day a great calm is upon the people, but it is the calmness of grief. Never in its history has the nation carried itself with greater dignity, with more magnificent poise, or manifested better its inherent virtues of self-control and of self-balance than it has in these few days since the great disaster at Buffalo. Yet under all this calmness there, I doubt not, much serious thinking, many conjectures as to what all this means. Why should this untoward thing have happened, and above all, why should it have happened here in America, where we pride ourselves upon that liberty that giveth unto every man within reasonable limitations his individual rights and opportunities? A kind of weird presentiment gnaws, I suspect, at the heart of the nation, and we are wondering whether this deed at Buffalo is merely the blind deed of an isolated fanatic, or whether in any degree it is the expression of some deeper forces at work in certain local sections of our land, or even of forces and tendencies unconsciously existing throughout the nation? But it is the part of wisdom to find such comfort as we may in things painful, and the people are already beginning to feel that in this dastardly deed there are some compensations. At the heart of things there are divine forces mov-  ing onward toward the accomplishment of great ends. God working in the silence, and in the secrecy of the hidden things of the world, ever bringing through endless ages the imperfect farther toward the perfect. Our hope of progress, and the faith of the world, rests to-day upon the assumption that through the unseen forces of life the omnipotent Power above and within things turns even the forces of evil at last into a ministry for good. An assassin’s bullet may become in the ordering of God a messenger of helpfulness to the American people.
Even for our martyred President there was some compensation in this assassin’s shot. In the smoke and controversy of political life the character of this man as a man and an American citizen has been for the majority of the American people very largely obscured. We have known Mr. McKinley the President and we have honestly and fearlessly discussed his policies, as it is the right of every American citizen to do. But in the shadow of political polemics few of us, I expect, have had time or have thought it necessary to know Mr. McKinley the man. It was the lurid flash of an assassin’s revolver that has lighted up the unseen elements of Mr. McKinley’s character, and because he possessed so many of the virtues which American manhood and womanhood admire, has placed him in the temple of immortality. Strange are the ways of God. Here comes a man seeking to kill the President of the United States, and, lo! the deed that was intended to kill turns out to be the deed that immortalizes. Here is a man striking at the most sacred things in American life, striving, by killing its representative, to strike down, if possible, law and order in America; and, lo! by the strange and mysterious workings of that Spirit that neither slumbers nor sleeps, this man in his insane attempt to tear down law and order has done more to establish it upon an eternal basis, to awaken the mind and conscience of the American people to the absolute necessity of law and order to progress, and civilization, than a multitude of voices from platform or pulpit. To-day, in the shadow of that national shame, the American people, bending in sadness and grief by the distant bier of their martyred President, consecrate themselves anew to the maintenance now and forever of the very laws and institutions that this cowardly hand, and its fellow conspirators, if there were such, sought to strike down, and to cover with shame and dishonor.
Mr. McKinley shall not have died in vain if through his martyrdom there comes to the American people a new spirit of consecration, a new love for the old flag that our forefathers established in honor and in righteousness. Our President shall not have died in vain if America, looking into its inner consciousness and weighing anew its individual practices, shall see that the spirit of anarchy is not merely something manifesting itself in the alleys and the tenements of New York and Philadelphia, of San Francisco and of Chicago, not merely a hatred and contempt of law among those whom we call anarchists, but that anarchy is a spirit and that spirit is disrespect and disregard of law and order, no matter where it exists. It makes no difference, my friends, whether that hatred manifests  itself down there in the dazed and bewildered brains of the men who struggle against their real or fancied wrongs, in those brains where throbs somewhat the torture of centuries of old-world tyranny, or whether in the practices of the top of society, it is still anarchy. Wherever any man, be he dressed in homespun or in the finest fabric of the looms, be he the poor wretch upon the street without a penny in his pocket or the millionaire in his office, wherever any man, by any means whatsoever under the sun, defies law, seeks to evade or break it, that man manifests the spirit of anarchy, and in the best definition of anarchy he is an anarchist, be he preacher, lawyer, business man, or politician.
Walking over the crest of Vesuvius, every now and then as you wind up through great sulphur fields to the top, by some broken bit of lava there will come to startle you a flash of smoke, a burst of flame. Small it is, yet it is indicative of the fact that away down there in the heart of the mountain, down in that under world of things is the great cauldron of fire and lava of which this little burst is but an expression.
We love America and her institutions; we believe in the American people. In our minds to-day there is not one iota of pessimism as to what America shall accomplish in the coming years along high and mighty lines. I do not speak, therefore, in the spirit of fear or criticism when I venture to say that there is altogether too much abroad in American life—in the top of society as well as at the bottom—an almost unconscious, not malicious, but nevertheless real carelessness and disrespect for law and order. The American people must think seriously about this.
One thing ere I close this informal speech needs a passing notice, and which it is a great pleasure, as we contemplate the life of our great American, to recall to-day. Men will say that his greatest legacy to America was what he did through political and governmental policies for the nation itself. Others will call our attention to the beauty and glory of his home life, that has indeed seemed like a “lily with a heart of fire, the fairest flower in all this land”; but it seems to me that day when he fell back wounded and helpless and as we now know, dying, in the arms of an attendant. When the great multitude, frenzied with rage, reached out hands to kill and crush his cowardly assassin, he spoke sane words, which this tragedy has made to thrill all the land: “God forgive him”; “Do him no harm.” This was not a defiance of law. He knew in that awful hour that this man must suffer for his crime by the laws of America; but he knew that the laws of America were framed not for revenge, but for defense and justice, and above all that might shame and dishonor those laws was the spirit of violence and wrong laid even upon the life of so dastardly an assassin.
My heart has been moved to pity by flashes here and there from high places of the spirit of revenge, of the very spirit of anarchy that we condemn. Men have risen up in the pulpits of Chicago and have said—they themselves consecrated to the sweet and gentle spirit of Jesus Christ—“Down to hell with the anarchist.” A preacher stood in the very pulpit  of the church of our martyred President at Washington, saying he himself was half converted to the philosophy of force; and, in private conversation, that had he been there, revolver in hand, he would have blown the head from this assassin. And here in Chicago reputable citizens have dared over their own signatures in the public press to ask ten thousand men to meet them at a given hour to lynch the anarchists of Chicago. Ten thousand men to disobey the laws of this city of ours! I venture to say that there is no voice strong enough, powerful enough, prominent enough, to call together ten thousand Chicago men for such a purpose. It might call together ten thousand Chicago savages, if they are here, but not the law-abiding citizens of Chicago. My friends, it is our business to deplore that spirit wherever it is manifested. Let the law in this land take its course. Let this man suffer as he ought to suffer for his crime, not merely because he is an anarchist, but because he is a criminal of the most cowardly type. But let the law maintain its poise, its dignity and its wholesomeness.
We cannot burn human beings at the stake in north and south in utter defiance of the laws of man and of God; we cannot disfranchise millions of men on account of race and color in defiance of the very constitution of the land; we cannot permit the tyranny of labor organizations over the individual preferences of the nonunion worker, or the high-handed defiance of law on the part of aggregated capital; we respectable people cannot go on breaking laws right and left in a hundred insignificant ways and hope that any respect for law and order will long remain the dominating influence among the social outcasts of society. Possibly America is in more danger to-day from the top of society in this matter of a reckless defiance of law than it is from the bottom. “Down with anarchy!” is the present cry. So say we all. Down with men who plot sedition and plan assassination as a means to the overthrow of government. Free speech does not mean license to preach death and revolution by brute force. If the men who so hate even our free government do not like our ways let them go back across the sea to the places from which the most of them came. Nor let us salve our conscience when we shall have meted out a just punishment to this hair-brained assassin of a president, as though as a people we had nothing to answer for. More respect for law everywhere, and on the part of every one. The martyrdom of our typical American will not have been in vain if the national conscience shall have been stirred to its depths.
Which shall it be in America, now and always, the spirit of the preachers of revenge and lynching, or the spirit of William McKinley? The American nation, filling to-day its places of worship to overflowing, ought on bended knees to receive the benediction of the sweet spirit of its martyred president. Nineteen hundred years ago on Calvary’s gloomy brow a man, with hands pierced with spikes and in his side the thrust of a spear, uttered those words of light which still reverberate across the stretches of time: “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.” At Buf-  falo a few days since another victim of fanaticism and hate voices anew the spirit of the sufferer of Calvary. Over the land the voice went. Above the breakers of Cape Ann men heard it, and where the sea sings about the Golden Gate the words were heard; under the gloomy forests of the north and in the sunny fields of the south men paused to listen. How it calmed the rising spirit of revenge, and before it the turbulent sea of passion grew still. Three small words, but they held the nation in poise as cordons of soldiers could not have done. Three small words, but they give to a man immortality. So they will swing on down the years, ministering as they go, “God forgive him”; “Do him no harm.”