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Source: Pall Mall Magazine
Source type: magazine
Document type: article
Document title: “William McKinley”
Author(s): Astor, William Waldorf
Date of publication: November 1901
Volume number: 25
Issue number: 103
Pagination: 289-92

Astor, William Waldorf. “William McKinley.” Pall Mall Magazine Nov. 1901 v25n103: pp. 289-92.
full text
McKinley assassination (personal response); William McKinley (personal history); William McKinley (political character); William McKinley (presidential character); anarchism (personal response); anarchism (dealing with).
Named persons
John Wilkes Booth; Gaetano Bresci; William Jennings Bryan; Grover Cleveland; Leon Czolgosz; Elizabeth; Elizabeth I; James A. Garfield; Charles J. Guiteau; Henry VII; Humbert I; Thomas Jefferson; Abraham Lincoln; Luigi Luccheni [misspelled below]; William McKinley.
This article is accompanied with a photograph of McKinley (facing p. 289) and of Roosevelt (p. 293).


William McKinley

FOR the third time since the close of the American Civil War the President of the United States has been assassinated. Of the nine individuals who have occupied that office during the last forty years, three have fallen by violence. The killing of Mr. Lincoln, in April 1865, had a motive that, at least, was intelligible, for its perpetrator, John Wilkes Booth, was an ardent sympathiser with the cause of the Southern Confederacy. His scheme at first contemplated the kidnapping of his victim, and his conveyance within the Confederate lines; and only by degrees, as the difficulty of such an attempt was recognised, did he and his fellows determine upon murder. The wretched creatures associated with Booth probably had but an imperfect understanding of the magnitude of their crime. They were largely under his personal domination, and he, strangely enough, regarded himself as an heroic liberator. The death of Mr. Garfield was compassed by Guiteau, a disappointed office-seeker, whose unsound mind had been fevered through brooding upon political disputes and jealousies, the remedy for which he professed to believe lay in Mr. Garfield’s removal. In the crime which renders the 6th day of last September memorable there was no such incentive. Its commission was conceived in consequence of hearing and reading doctrines of Anarchy, and added one more to the recent examples of the deadly hate wherewith ignorant malice can strike at the peace and prosperity of a nation. There have been no more cruel wrongs than the killing of the Empress Elizabeth, of King Humbert, and of President McKinley—all by men of identically the same abhorrent type,—all animated by the same gratuitous villainy—the last, and not the least pathetic, accomplished, as by the bitter irony of fate, within the precincts of a Hall dedicated to Music.
     The head of the American Executive stands in so powerful a glare of publicity, that, throughout his life, there can be no veiled incidents, and few uncertainties as to his character and habits. His progenitors and relatives, living and dead, stand equally within that blaze of scrutiny. It is not too much to assert that Mr. McKinley has become intimately known to the entire civilised world. Once only, in our time, has an American President, the man famous for brevity of speech, screened his opinion, whether upon private or public matters, behind an obstinate reticence. It is part of the business of that high official to be communicative and confidential with the man in the [289][290] street, and it is remarkable that Presidential utterances upon a multiplicity of subjects, not infrequently upon things in themselves unknowable, often made upon the spur of the instant, or in moments of weariness and distraction, should be so decorous and wise. Mr. McKinley’s life and sayings, almost his thoughts and motives, are unfolded before us. We follow the industrious lad from his modest home to the public school; thence by gradual steps he becomes school teacher, post office clerk, private soldier and officer during the War of the Rebellion, and at its close politician, lawyer and Congressman. It is a typical American career. Through all those years that life is pure, the devotion to duty constant, the simplicity and abstemiousness unvarying. In his early political days, as a campaign speaker, he developed intuitively those qualities of oratory which instantly appealed to his auditory. He shared with Mr. Bryan, his rival for the Presidency, the latter’s marked ability to speak to masses made up of what President Cleveland aptly called the plain people, with homely and forceful bluntness. He used no subtlety of argument, nor employed the quaint humour wherewith Mr. Lincoln illuminated his discourse, but talked with an earnestness and self-conviction to which his hearers were never unresponsive. At the age of twenty-eight he married, and entered upon that quiet domestic life which has become so well known. He lived frugally in a plain house, was at all periods of his career easily approachable, evinced an abiding sympathy with his fellow-men that broadened as the horizon of his life extended, cherished his invalid wife with tender and chivalrous devotion, and displayed an unvarying enthusiasm for the principles of Democracy. These were traits well suited to commend and ultimately to endear him to the people over whom, in his riper years, he was called to rule.
     In the commencement of his Congressional career his mind was unquestionably wanting in breadth of vision. His mental temperament was never elastic, and his education had been without special advantage or opportunity. He never travelled, except for the purpose of political campaigns, and was indifferent to Art and Literature. His dominant idea, at that time, was the protection of native industry to the exclusion of every other interest. He began life with fixed views upon several economic questions, of which the encouragement of American labour was the chief. It was in this capacity, as the champion of extreme Protection, that in 1889 and 1890 he appeared on larger fields of action. As chairman of the Congressional Committee of Ways and Means, he brought forward the celebrated McKinley Tariff Bill—a measure certainly difficult to defend upon economic principles, but which was endeared to its framer as a powerful expression of the demands of American Labour. This measure he advocated with passionate conviction, though his arguments, which rested largely upon a personal acceptation of an academic phrase in the Constitution, as to an inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness, can hardly be taken seriously. For a time this policy commended itself; but, a reaction following in 1892, the Republican party was routed upon its own ground of Protective principles; and while Mr. McKinley never changed his opinion as to the necessity for the safeguarding of American manufactures, he subsequently so expanded his intellectual grasp and the range of his mental vision, that his speeches during the present year are all for Reciprocity. Here, be it said, in the increasing capacity to modify and adjust preconceived opinions to altered conditions—as in the abandonment of the Silver proclivities of earlier years—lay the strongest and most valuable feature of his public service.
     His great aim—the aim so to identify himself with the interests of the American people as to become their fit exponent and mouthpiece—received its most distinct [290][291] expression during the complicated negotiations that led up to the war with Spain. Personally speaking, he watched the approach of that conflict with reluctance, and, but for the destruction of the Maine, it might have been averted by his efforts. It was in keeping with his Methodistic horror of war, and with his appreciation of the scope of his authority, that he left the ultimate responsibility for its outbreak with Congress. But, once committed to a policy of armed intervention, he entered upon its execution with the same fervour he brought to the discharge of every duty, and no one gloried more in the triumph of the American forces than did their official Commander-in-Chief. Undoubtedly the most valuable result of the war with Spain was the bringing together, for the first time since Appomattox, of Northern and Southern regiments against a common foe, and under the old flag. Compared with this emphatic and significant reunion, the mere acquisition of Cuba and the Philippines was a paltry and, at best, a problematical gain. From this period dates that remarkable expansion in the range of American foreign politics—that unfolding of the Monroe Doctrine, like a telescope suddenly drawn out to thrice its seeming length—that has received the appellation of Imperialism. Here Mr. McKinley marched with the vanguard of the new movement, though he never advanced beyond the opinion of the popular majority. In this he was again the pioneer of an irresistible impulse in favour of American participation in the relations of all countries, wherever and whenever American interests are involved. Herein lies one of the most instructive examples that is afforded in our time of the evolution of a vast idea. Imperialism is a movement as original and momentous in America as was the expansion of the England of Henry VII.—remote, confined and isolated from the rest of Europe—to the England of Elizabeth, daring, far-reaching, leading the advance of exploration, of Colonial aggrandisement, of religious independence, and ubiquitous in commercial and military contact with foreign lands.
     No less weighty to the destiny of the Anglo-Saxon race is the revulsion of feeling that has come about between England and America. This growth of kindlier sentiment has been neither swift nor uninterrupted, but it has lately reached a measure of vitality that could hardly have been looked for by those who remember the relations between the two countries during the ’sixties. Here also, in generous sympathy, in hearty recognition of the ties that link the English-speaking race, Mr. McKinley stood second to none. The progress of modern civilisation has rarely sustained a severer shock than resulted from the violent severance of the American Colonies. The bitterness then engendered would have been slow to heal, even had no recurring jealousies kept the embers warm. The bringing together again of two nations in a better understanding of one another’s point of view in the world’s affairs, deserves the highest efforts of statecraft. Surely it will hereafter be accounted no small merit in those who have laboured patiently, in the face of discouragement, to soften the memory of an ancient feud; and not least among such aspirations may be remembered the late President’s message to England: “Peace on earth, Good Will among men.”
     By a crime of extraordinary atrocity Mr. McKinley’s life has been brought to an end. Upon his grave are heaped the tributes of Humanity. Beneath it lie buried the vagaries of that curious hallucination called Bimetallism. He is dead. There has been but one voice, the wide world over, breathing a fervent recognition of his immense personal force for good. Even the American Yellow Press muffles its strident drums. There is an evident satisfaction in many transatlantic utterances at his having lived and died a poor man—as a democratic American should do. His death is largely attributable to that exaggerated sentiment, which has [291][292] come dome from the days of Jefferson, that the President must be easily accessible. On occasions such as the Exhibition at Buffalo, there is a promiscuous handshaking that is liable to bring the sweepings of many lands—a Bresci, a Lucchesi, a Czolgosz—face to face with their victim. Our horror at the wrong which has been done, prompts a renewal of the inquiry whether the time has not come when valuable lives shall be protected against obvious and extreme peril. Society is asking whether civilisation must always be defenceless, while Anarchy makes ready to strike. From several quarters we are assured that the mere killing of Anarchists will not eradicate them or their principles. A cogent answer to such declarations is present in the result of those repressive measures which in Russia have done so much to draw the teeth of Nihilism. Few will deny that conditions have improved in that country since the years between 1880 and 1885, when not only the Imperial family, but every high official stood in danger. During those years of Nihilistic activity Russia was the scene of continual bloodshed and outrage. It became a fight for life between the Government and Nihilism. A loathsome disease in the body politic called for the knife. The measures resorted to were simple, and the result bears token to their efficacy. Military execution dealt with every member of a Nihilist association, and his relatives—father, wife, brother, child—were transported to stations in Siberia from which escape was impracticable. America has thus before it an object-lesson of a remedy tried and found adequate, and possesses, in the northern fringe of the Territory of Alaska, a locality where men and women self-dedicate to attempts against the peace of the community could do little mischief. It is a matter of course to put mad dogs out of existence, and no less does common sense dictate drastic measures against the plague of Anarchy. More than all, may we have cause to be thankful for a speedy execution of Czolgosz. The world has no place but the grave for such as he.
     It is tragic to turn from the story of Mr. McKinley’s life to the cruel deed by which it was terminated. In the first anguish of what proved a death wound, the charity of his great heart interposed to save his assailant from the violence of the infuriated bystanders. “Let no harm come,” he said, “to that young man;” then bowed his head in silence to the inevitable, which he accepted as “God’s Way.” He is dead, and the grandeur of his death has filled the gates through which he passed with magnificence. Two days before the end, and while the whole world still cherished hope, but when, perhaps, the sufferer’s dimning [sic] mind was already conscious of that fateful approach which neither surgical skill nor his own dauntless courage could avert, he asked to be so placed that he might still behold the tranquil and shining trees. “They are so beautiful,” he murmured, with touching pathos. And on their foliage—luminous with the inspiration of the forest—his gaze continued to rest through the long-drawn hours of that afternoon. Who shall say what peace those branches, radiant in the September sunshine with their infinite suggestion of the tender grace and calm of Nature, may have brought to the dying man? Who among us does not cherish the hope that, to the spiritual eye, when the transient things about us are fading away, the memory and significance of the Nature we have known and loved may return with the benediction of a transfigured meaning, and with promise rarer and more glorious than ever before?



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