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Source: Sewanee Review
Source type: magazine
Document type: public address
Document title: “President M’Kinley”
Author(s): Ramage, B. J.; Henneman, John Bell
Date of publication: October 1901
Volume number: 9
Issue number: 4
Pagination: 483-93

Ramage, B. J., and John Bell Henneman. “President M’Kinley.” Sewanee Review Oct. 1901 v9n4: pp. 483-93.
full text
William McKinley (memorial addresses); B. J. Ramage (public addresses); John Bell Henneman (public addresses); William McKinley (personal history); William McKinley (personal character); William McKinley (relations with American South); William McKinley (last public address).
Named persons
Achilles; Robert Browning; John C. Calhoun; Henry Clay; George Crook; George Dewey; James A. Garfield; Winfield Scott Hancock; Rutherford B. Hayes; Jesus Christ; Fitzhugh Lee; Abraham Lincoln; William McKinley; Alfred Tennyson; Ulysses; Victoria; Daniel Webster; Joseph Wheeler.
“Two addresses delivered at the memorial services on September 19, 1901, in St. Augustine’s Chapel at the University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee.”


President M’Kinley

     THE mortal remains of William McKinley, twenty-fifth President of these United States, are about to be laid to rest in the soil of the commonwealth where he was born, and we meet here to-day in our corporate capacity for the purpose of voicing, in a measure, the grief we feel in common with that experienced by the people of the whole country, irrespective of party ties, in the loss of a good man, a brave soldier, a patriotic citizen, a wise, upright, loyal magistrate. Rarely has the death of any nation’s chief executive produced more genuine and universal sorrow than that of this elected head of the government of a young and free republic. No sooner was the news of the awful tragedy at Buffalo flashed across the wires than anxious messages began to pour into the country from all corners of the earth; and when at last, after a little more than a week of varying hope and despair, the end came as peacefully and quietly as the gentle life that preceded it had been spent, there were few true Americans who did not deplore the event, or experience the even deeper sorrow that comes from a sense of personal affliction.
     This widespread sense of bereavement, which is the highest tribute that can be paid to any mortal, may be variously accounted for. There is, first of all, the sudden termination of the career of one who guided his country through international difficulties which might well have baffled a mind less calm and just or a nature more inclined to seek personal aggrandizement independently of popular wishes. The spirit of William McKinley was rather that which incited the Greek. If the laurel wreath were conferred at all, it was to be bestowed by the collected nation, and it was to represent the [483][484]

              Glory, the reward
That sole excites to high attempts the flame
Of most erected spirits, most tempered, pure,

     But after all what appeals to us most is his singularly blameless, unselfish life, which was the natural outgrowth of a character few can study without acquiring lessons of more than ordinary value. And since this gathering is composed so largely of university students, who soon will be called upon to meet those obligations our republic expects all its citizens to fulfill whenever called upon, it does not seem inappropriate to refer to the life and character of him who has so recently gone to his last reward. It is very far from my purpose, however, to narrate at length the events which go to make up the public career of Mr. McKinley. In due season they will be sifted, weighed, and analyzed by the historian of the future, and we may be sure that ample justice will be done our lamented chieftain in the various spheres to which he was called either by inclination, by merit, or by the perhaps yet nobler means of promotion which comes from the free votes of free citizens.
     The simple biography of Mr. McKinley can be told in a few words. He was born at Niles, Ohio, January 23, 1843. His family was one that made no pretensions either to wealth or to aristocracy. His parents were plain American citizens, fully alive to their duties to God, to country, to themselves. In a word, they were as far removed from snobbery in any form as one could imagine, and were therefore in no danger of that false pride which so often besets the successful in America. Courageous, downright, and independent, the parents of William McKinley were just the sort of people to instill into the mind of their son that love of honor, that sense of manly self-reliance, that broad democratic sympathy with the masses which characterized him throughout his entire life. These liberal ideals were probably still further developed by education. Like so many of our great men, Mr. McKinley received his earliest training at the public schools. He sub- [484][485] sequently studied at Poland Academy, and later on entered Allegheny College, a small institution of learning the Methodists had established at Meadville, Pennsylvania in the early part of last century. His educational advantages were thus never of the highest order, but he made good use of them such as they were and improved every passing moment. And if the schools where he studied have since become known beyond the immediate circle of those directly interested in them, it is because they once had on their rolls a name which is to-day on the lips of the English-speaking race. Young McKinley grew up to manhood during the troublous period which immediately preceded our civil war. First of all came the Mexican struggle, followed by the impetuous debates over the slavery question—debates participated in by the famous triumvirate composed of Webster, Calhoun, and Clay. But no compromise could avert the inevitable, and the storm of 1861 was the direct answer to the squinting of 1787. At the very beginning of the war young McKinley, then eighteen years of age, enlisted as a private in the Twenty-Third Ohio Volunteer Infantry, and sometime afterwards we find him breveted major by President Lincoln, whose tragic fate is so painfully repeated in that of him to whose memory we now pay this tribute of respect and love. Major McKinley subsequently served on the staffs of Generals Hancock, Crook, and Hayes, and at the conclusion of hostilities took up the study of the law. After a year’s course at the Albany Law School, he settled at Canton in 1867, which remained his place of residence until he was called upon to guide the affairs of the American people. Preferment did not come to him rapidly. It is true the post of State’s Attorney for Stark County was given him shortly after he embarked upon his profession; but it was hardly sufficient, either from the point of view of its honors or its emoluments, to satisfy the aspirations of so alert, industrious, and intelligent a man as Mr. McKinley. At the same time he had the good sense to discern, even at that early age, that one must work contentedly, patiently, willingly in the field he has chosen, and even if it is not given most mortals [485][486] to meet with success they can do better: they can deserve it. But the stars in their courses were fighting for him. In the historic year of 1876, memorable especially for its disputed presidential election, he was sent to Congress, and later on acquired world-wide reputation through the financial measures he instituted as Chairman of the Committee of Ways and Means. Ten years ago he was elected Governor of Ohio, from which position he stepped into the presidential chair after the exciting political campaign of 1896. The events connected with his first administration are too fresh in the minds of all of us to bear a recital. The Cuban war, the acquisition of our insular possessions, and the Chinese horror are occurrences that have passed into history, and it ought to be borne in mind that the questions they raised were settled by Mr. McKinley in accordance with the wishes of the American people. Nothing was done either hastily or secretly. He trusted the public. He took the people into his confidence. He was careful to ask their pleasure and to do it.
     It is hardly necessary to refer to Mr. McKinley’s domestic policy, but there is one prominent feature of it which the people of the Southern States can never forget. He understood the South as no other President since Lincoln has done. He perceived the blunders both parties had committed in this section, and he recognized clearly the grave problems confronting the Southern States. It was this steadfast friendship, which he never lost an opportunity to manifest, that so endeared him to Southern men of all shades of political opinion. And it was his broad charity, his liberal views, his enlarged patriotism that ended sectionalism as completely as Lincoln had ended slavery. After McKinley the old rancor between the North and the South will be just as impossible as human bondage became after Lincoln; and this cementing of the sections has been achieved because Mr. McKinley made the people of the Southern States realize, as they had not realized in many years before, that this whole country is part of theirs, that they are at home in all parts of it, and that [486][487] political isolation means moral and intellectual stagnation either for the country at large or for any portion of it.
     What then, in concluding, do we find to be the keynote of his message to us? What lesson, if any, can be extracted from his career either as lawyer, soldier, legislator, or President? Surely his rise to preëminence from a relatively obscure environment cannot be set down to vulgar intrigue or explained by the capricious turns of the wheel of fortune. Rather let us assign it to the tremendous influence of character. To the strength which always arises from a moral purpose there were added in the case of Mr. McKinley those qualities of mind and heart born of a deep, abiding faith. He believed in himself, he believed in his people, he believed in God. It was these characteristics which sweetened his domestic life, notwithstanding the heavy care that overshadowed it, and developed a tenderness that won the heart of every one. Then again there was the honesty of the man. His purity of character none can seriously question, while his sense of honor was as keen as that of any knight of old. He despised the low arts of the politician. No one could live long in Washington without realizing who was the real master of the White House. And in an age so largely given over to ideals quite the reverse of those his long and industrious career bore witness to, well may we laud his integrity, his singleness of purpose, his unexampled disinterestedness and self-abnegation.
     Finally, Mr. McKinley was a good citizen, and this after all—certainly as far as republics are concerned—ought to be the chief object of every educational and political system. To him country was no mere abstraction. It was a great, living, objective reality which he served in every possible capacity—for which he even laid down his life. And the crown of the martyr came to him just as he had spoken of peace on earth, good will to men. His fate, therefore, so strikingly like that of Lincoln and Garfield, will cause many gloomy forebodings regarding the years that are to come. Still let us not despair of the republic. No government seems to be [487][488] free from such assaults as those that thrice have given us such sorrow, and one of the most hopeful rays of light at this dark hour is the sane, composed attitude of a grief-stricken people. Surely it is the best plea for popular government. I will close with a quotation from a tribute dedicated in 1865 to Mr. Lincoln’s memory by an English friend. It seems to me to be very appropriate for this occasion:

 Who trusts the strength will with the burden grow,
      That God makes instruments to work his will,
 If but that will we can arrive to know,
      Nor tamper with the weights of good and ill.
 ·       ·       ·       ·       ·       ·       ·       ·       ·
 So he grew up, a destined work to do,
      And lived to do it: four long suffering years’
 Ill fate, ill feeling, ill report lived through,
      And then he heard the hisses change to cheers,

 The taunts to tribute, the abuse to praise,
      And took both with the same unwavering mood:
 Till, as he came on light, from darkling days,
      And seemed to touch the goal from where he stood,

 A felon hand, between the goal and him,
      Reached from behind his back, a trigger pressed,
 And those perplexed and patient eyes were dim.
 ·       ·       ·       ·       ·       ·       ·       ·       ·
“The Old World and the New, from sea to sea,
      Utter one voice of sympathy and shame!
 Sore heart, so stopped when it at last beat high,
      Sad life, cut short just as its triumph came.”



     EARLY in this year the whole English-speaking world was brought together—from many continents and many diversities of climate—to unite in sympathy over the death of the gracious Queen Victoria. It indicated a singularly conscious unity of all English-speaking races and peoples. To-day we are called upon to mourn in turn the death of the President of our own country, suddenly struck down by the bullet of an assassin. Of the horror of that dastardly act it is needless to speak. This is not the time nor the place. But if the death [488][489] of Queen Victoria brought out the bonds of sympathy uniting every English-speaking land, the death of President McKinley brings home to every American the common sympathy and the common sentiments of our country. At the grave of our President every true citizen of every State in this Union bows his head in humble submission and with a spirit of brotherhood one to the other.
     Nowhere, it seems to me, is it more fitting that this community of sympathy and interest be expressed than at Sewanee. It is an expression of the national idea in our university life. We workers and students here do not belong merely to Tennessee because we are in Tennessee. We are come together from the whole country and belong to the whole country. Our corporation and Board of Trust are not confined to one State, but officially represent eleven States—one-fourth of the entire number of States in the Union. Our students and our professors, our university citizenship of five hundred and more—in Grammar School, Academic, Theological, Law, and Medical Departments—come to us from nearly every State. Surely we have the right to emphasize the significance of the national idea among us. It is an idea emphasized by the Church service with its constant prayer “for the President of the United States and all others in authority.”
     The first thought, therefore, for us to realize is this thought of a common union and this national citizenship. No man had better opportunities to enforce this sentiment of union and emphasize this national feeling than President McKinley. He has come very near realizing the ideal of a President of the whole people and not of a party or section, and his administration has given to his nation a new significance in the world’s history. In this administration came the struggle for the freedom of Cuba, when all our States—States like Massachusetts and South Carolina, New York and Virginia, Tennessee and those farthest west—stood side by side as had not been done since the common struggle for liberty at the birth of the republic, one hundred and twenty-five years [489][490] ago. North and South were forgotten on the camp fields below us at Chickamauga, where thousands of the youth of every part of the nation learned to know and esteem one another. South as well as North received offices and preferment—from the lowest to the highest. Not one in this audience but had some relative or friend who obtained recognition at the hands of this President of the whole people. Gens. Fitzhugh Lee, of Virginia, and Joseph Wheeler, of Alabama—gallant Confederate soldiers both, as Mr. McKinley had been a gallant Federal soldier—were by no means isolated cases. Here was a man at the head of the nation, broadminded and great enough to be the father of his people, united with a sense of loyalty to a common ideal as never before.
     There was a pathetic significance in the occasion of President McKinley’s last speech. It was a national gathering for a national celebration, and the ideas and ideals of the new nation found worthy utterance. Whether we approve of our new possessions or not, the historic fact remains that with Dewey’s victory in Manila Bay and with the cessation of the war with Spain we found ourselves playing a new rôle in the history of the world. We could not remain quiet if we would. Neither a man nor a nation can escape manifest duty—to leave aside the words “manifest destiny.” President McKinley’s speech at Buffalo was a calm, dignified presentation of the conditions which confront us—our responsibilities and duties as a nation in the affairs of the world that time and changes have wrought. Americans are important factors in the economical, educational, literary, religious, and spiritual world. It is an impossibility and by no means conceivable that they can be a cipher in the political world. There must follow corresponding political activities and duties, and these are the much-talked-of American destinies—destinies in which the whole nation is to take part, North and South, East and West, just as they took part shoulder to shoulder in Manila Bay and on San Juan Hill; destinies which appeal to the undeveloped resources of our Southland perhaps even more than to any other section of the country; destinies [490][491] to be affected by the nearness of Porto Rico and Cuba to the Southern coast, to Charleston and Savannah and Tampa and New Orleans; destinies which will yet cut a canal from ocean to ocean and affect every port on the Mexican gulf and every town in the Mississippi Valley, brought near to the Philippines and Japan and China and India as they will be; destinies which involve our cotton-growing and cotton-manufacturing and other industries; destinies which mean to you young men in your generation of the next thirty years newer and grander opportunities in the professions, in engineering, in the mission of science, of culture and education, and of the work of the Church. The great American future as the President of the United States calmly, dispassionately, earnestly, reverently saw it, not without an admission of grave problems presented but with a sublime confidence in his people—was what he fittingly described to representatives of the nation there assembled from all States and Territories. It was a significant message and document, and was treated as such in the dispatches of the world on the following morning. And lo! with the voice of prophecy scarce silent on his tongue—a voice raised on behalf of the American people of which he was a part and whom he represented as few have done—the shot rang out which to the inexpressible horror of a nation laid him low. O, the pity of the spectacle! It was with stinging shame that we realized that such was possible in our country at such a time to this man!
     But most of all there is for us to think of the man. There is no need here to speak of the public life and the moral earnestness that controlled him; to speak of the incessant devotion to the invalid wife so often and so recently near death’s door, and yet under a strange providence surviving him. These are but symptoms of his strength of character. With added responsibility he gained added strength. He was steadily elevated and dignified by his honors. He made mistakes rarely, and then worked through them and got beyond [491][492] them. He was thus a growing man—constantly growing up to the full measure of his office until the supreme moment, when he had attained the spiritual height from which he was cut down. He could never have prepared especially for this. Here was no acting, but the revelation of the man himself. The climax was but the outcome of steady growth and constant strengthening in the man. He had prepared for it only through an entire life of training and devotion and faith. Never was he stronger than on this last occasion and on the day of his death. The assassin’s bullet was fired and he was struck, and there was universal consternation. But the same calm dignity he had displayed so often as the nation’s Executive was still present. All others were excited, but he was calm. It was he who calmed and silenced those about him. With Christ’s words of mercy on his lips he could say for his slayer: “Let him be done no harm.” And his first care was for his suffering wife. And when the inevitable came, not a murmur! “It is God’s will;” “It is all for the best,” were the last words heard from his lips—and the nation’s martyr slept!
     O that with the example of our dead President before us we could feel the glorious privilege it is to be alive with all the splendid opportunities of doing, of growing, of being at this stage in our country’s history and the world’s work! There are two passages—one from Tennyson and the other from Browning—the two distinctive poets of our literature in the Victorian era. May they be repeated here in the thought of the gloriousness of the life whose passing we mourn! The first is a picture of the old Ulysses grown gray in service but never ceasing his labors and still feeling there is much that can be done:

’Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and, sitting well in order, smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs may wash us down;
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Though much is taken, much abides; and though [492][493]
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

     The other is the high and full pulse beat of youth and manhood present to us all:

O our manhood’s prime vigor! No spirit feels waste,
Not a muscle is stopped in its playing, no sinew unbraced.
O the wild joys of living! the leaping from rock up to rock,
The strong rending of boughs from the fir tree, the cool silver shock
Of the plunge in a pool’s living water, the hunt of the bear,
And the sultriness showing the lion is couched in his lair.
And the meal, the rich dates yellowed over with gold dust divine,
And the locust flesh steeped in the pitcher, the full draught of wine,
And the sleep in the dried river-channel where bulrushes tell
That the water was wont to go warbling so softly and well.
How good is man’s life, the mere living! how fit to employ
All the heart and the soul and the senses forever in joy!




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