Publication information

Source type: magazine
Document type: article
Document title: “John Hay: A Memorial History”
Author(s): Domer, Harry Tennyson
Date of publication: September 1905
Volume number: 21
Issue number: 3
Pagination: 275-316 (excerpt below includes only pages 311-14)

Domer, Harry Tennyson. “John Hay: A Memorial History.” Shield Sept. 1905 v21n3: pp. 275-316.
McKinley assassination; John Hay; McKinley memorial services (Washington, DC: U.S. Congress); John Hay (public addresses); William McKinley (memorial addresses); John Hay (public statements); William McKinley (presidential character); William McKinley (presidential policies); William McKinley.
Named persons
James A. Garfield; John Hay; Heinrich [identified as Henry below]; Abraham Lincoln; William McKinley; Theodore Roosevelt; George Washington.
Click here to view the full text of the John Hay address discussed below.

John Hay: A Memorial History

     On September 6th, 1901, for the third time in our history, a President of the United States was cut down by the hand of an assassin. While holding a public reception at the Pan-American Exposition at Buffalo, William McKinley was shot by an infamous wretch who pretended to be in the act of grasping his hand. For a week the President hovered between life and death, but on September 14th, at two o’clock in the morning, that pure, noble life went out. This sad event was a great blow to Johh [sic] Hay. Thirty-five years before, the friend of his youth had been assassinated. Twenty years before, the friend of his middle age, Garfield, fell. And now the intimate friend of his later years suffered the same fate.
     Congress ordered that state services in memory of McKinley should be held at the Capitol and invited Mr. Hay to deliver the eulogy. February 27th, 1902, was the day appointed, and in the presence of President Roosevelt, Prince Henry of Prussia, who was visiting this country at the time, the Supreme Court, the Cabinet, the Senate and House of Representatives, the Diplo- [311][312] matic Corps, high officers of the army and navy, and other officials, Secretary Hay delivered a notable address upon the life and character of the lamented President. It was an address particularly suited to the occasion—it was sane, it was just, it showed the man in his broadest proportions, in his noblest aspirations, it praised his high achievements without offence to political opponents, it extolled his virtues without undue laudation, and through it all there breathed a fine patriotism and a deep religious sentiment that was at once chastening and inspiring. In it Mr. Hay has pictured some events with which he himself was closely connected. Speaking of foreign relations, for instance, he says:

     “In dealing with foreign powers he (McKinley) will take rank with the greatest of our diplomatists. It was a world of which he had little special knowledge before coming to the Presidency. But his marvellous [sic] adaptability was in nothing more remarkable than in the firm grasp he immediately displayed in international relations.  .  .  .  .  When a sudden emergency declared itself, as in China, in a state of things of which our history furnished no precedent, and international law no safe and certain precept, he hesitated not a moment to take the course marked out for him by considerations of humanity and the national interests. Even while the legations were fighting for their lives against bands of infuriated fanatics, he decided that we were at peace with China; and while that conclusion did not hinder him from taking the most energetic measures to rescue our imperilled citizens, it enabled him to maintain close and friendly relations with the wise and heroic viceroys of the south, whose resolute stand saved that ancient Empire from anarchy and spoliation. He disposed of every question as it arose with a promptness and clarity of vision that astonished his advisers, and he never had occasion to review a judgment or reverse a decision.
     “By patience, by firmness, by sheer reasonableness, he improved our understanding with all the great powers of the world and rightly gained the blessing which belongs to the peacemakers.”

     Speaking of the new responsibilities which confronted America at the close of the Spanish war, he says:

     “Every young and growing people has to meet, at moments, the problems of its destiny. Whether the question comes, as in Thebes, from a sphinx, symbol of the hostile forces of omnipotent nature, who punishes with instant death our failure to understand her meaning; or whether it comes, as in Jerusalem, from the Lord of Hosts, who commands the building of His temple, it comes always with the warning that the past is past, [312][313] and experience vain. ‘Your fathers, where are they? and the prophets, do they live forever?’ The fathers are dead; the prophets are silent; the questions are new, and have no answer but in time.
     “When the horny outside case which protects the infancy of a chrysalis nation suddenly bursts, and, in a single abrupt shock, it finds itself floating on wings which have not existed before, whose strength it has never tested, among dangers it cannot foresee and is without experience to measure, every motion is a problem, and every hesitation may be an error. The past gives no clue to the future. The fathers, where are they? and the prophets, do they live forever? We are ourselves the fathers! We are ourselves the prophets! The questions that are put to us we must answer without delay, without help—for the sphinx allows no one to pass.”

     The address reaches its climax in a glow of purest patriotism, presenting in transfiguration the forms of our national trinity, the Father, the Savior, and the Augmenter of the Republic:

     “The moral value to a nation of a renown such as Washington’s and Lincoln’s and McKinley’s is beyond all computation. No loftier ideal can be held up to the emulation of ingenuous youth. With such examples we cannot be wholly ignoble. Grateful as we may be for what they did, let us be still more grateful for what they were. While our daily being, our public policies, still feel the influence of their work, let us pray that in our spirits their lives may be voluble, calling us upward and onward.
     “There is not one of us but feels prouder of his native land because the august figure of Washington presided over its beginnings; no one but vows it a tenderer love because Lincoln poured out his blood for it; no one but must feel his devotion for his country renewed and kindled when he remembers how McKinley loved, revered, and served it, showed in his life how a citizen should live, and in his last hour taught us how a gentleman could die.”

     Thus ended what was, perhaps, Hay’s greatest speech; and in reading it one cannot resist the thought that, no less than Lincoln, no less than McKinley, here also was one whose life was offered up as a sacrifice upon the altar of patriotic service and unflinching devotion to duty. Feeling that his country had need of him, he banished all considerations of personal ease or comfor [sic]; though far from well, he resisted all entreaties of his friends to leave his post; though in failing strength, he dedicated himself none the less to his task, and might have spoken with the words which the London “Spectator” puts into his mouth, “Ave, Columbia imperatrix! Moriturus te saluto!” “Hail, imperial Columbia! Dying I salute thee!” And then overtaxed nature [313][314] could bear no more; her energies had been stretched to the limit of endurance; there came a snap, and suddenly the gravity of his condition flashed upon him. Mr. Hay sought relief in foreign travel. But it came too late; a momentary gleam of hope, and then the dread summons; before his family could say good bye his soul passed on to its Maker.