The Assassination of President McKinley
The assassination of President McKinley
on September 6th was the most unnatural and loathsome crime in our
history. It did not rise to the intelligible level of the murder
of either Lincoln or Garfield. Lincoln was the Civil War President,
and Garfield was President in the period of spoils. It can at least
be understood how the turbulence of one time and the personal disappointments
of the other wrought upon the morbid and criminal tendencies of
Booth and Guiteau. They felt personal resentments. But the assassin
of President McKinley had as his provocation only a wretched “philosophy,”
of foreign birth and nurture, which was directed against “rulers,”
not against any individual. His crime is the most foolish, too,
as well as the most cowardly in the annals of anarchy. Even if assassination
could change the government of a monarchy, it could have no effect
on the government of a republic like ours—except to strengthen the
patriotism of the people and to entrench our institutions deeper
in their esteem.
The tragedy is the sadder because
the President who was murdered was the most popular and highly respected
ruler in the world, and by a malign coincidence he was cut off just
when the rich results of our broadening national life were giving
his Administration a far more generous breadth than any recent Administration
had known. For President McKinley stood for a distinctly new era.
He was the head of the State at the happiest time in our history,
when a completely reunited nation had forgotten its partisan wrangles
in taking the industrial leadership of the world, and when our horizon
and influence were widening as they had never widened before.
He was peculiarly fitted for leadership
at such a time, better fitted, we now see, than his opponents had
ever confessed and even than his friends had foreseen. Mr. McKinley
grew up into public life in the narrower era that followed the Civil
War, at a time when all our political activity was a bitter domestic
wrangle. But, more sensitive to the broadening influences of later
events perhaps than any other public man of his generation, he felt
the nation grow and he grew with it. Indeed, his capacity for growth
after middle life has few parallels.
It was a dramatic conjunction of events
that on the very day before his assassination he formulated a national
programme so broad and generous that it disarms even partisan opposition.
He had outgrown the political policy that he had championed in his
earlier career and he fashioned out of a larger oppor- 
tunity a policy that is national. When he declared that “the period
of exclusiveness is past,” he struck a note that was heard in every
civilized capital and in every mart of the world. It is a concrete
programme and a definite one—reciprocal trade treaties, more American
ships, an isthmian canal, and more compact pan-American relations.
Every item of it concerns other countries as well as our own. His
is the new era of international relations and of tasks of diplomacy.
How fast we have traveled in our political
development may be seen by recalling the period of mourning for
Garfield and the comments that it provoked at home and abroad. The
whole land was grief-stricken then as it is now. American citizenship
felt outraged then as it feels now. The sympathy of other nations
was felt for us then, as now. But in the comment at home and abroad
Garfield did not stand for any large national policy or movement.
He was the worthy head of a great nation, and that was all. Our
politics and policies were domestic and concerned nobody but ourselves—they
concerned few persons, indeed, except the professional politicians.
We have come a long way these twenty years between Garfield and
The winning personal qualities of
the dead President, which had always bound his friends strongly
to him, became evident to the whole people after his second election,
when his policy was so generally approved that party animosity almost
died away. He was now past the temptations of personal ambition.
He disclaimed a wish for a third term and even a willingness to
accept it. He made a transcontinental journey to meet the people
and to get their point of view. He took delight in seeing them.
He made many short addresses, cheerful and full of earnestness,
rising always to a broad view of our national life. He gave evidence
of his own growing thought as the nation had grown under him. There
was nothing spectacular in his demeanor. He was heartily glad to
meet his fellow citizens. The natural kindliness of his nature was
understood, and his domestic tenderness endeared him to a home-loving
people. Public men, too, found him generous-minded and devoted to
the country’s welfare. All the members of his Cabinet but one kept
their portfolios in his second Administration, some of them at great
personal inconvenience, and they held him in the highest esteem
as well as in admiration for his leadership.
The manner of his death and his demeanor
after he was shot threw a beautiful radiance over his character.
At his own suggestion he was holding a public reception and he was
shaking hands with all who came, when the assassin shot him. His
instant thought was of his wife. Then he asked that no harm be done
to the assassin; and he expressed regret that his presence had caused
inconvenience to the exposition. This was the conduct of a gentleman,
as Sir Philip Sidney was a gentleman. The personal affection as
well as the hearty admiration of the whole people went out to him.
To the indignation at the outrage on American institutions was added
a keen and universal personal sorrow.
President McKinley was more fortunate
in the events of his Administrations than any of his predecessors,
except Washington, under whom the Government came into being, and
Jefferson, under whom it became continental, and Lincoln, under
whom it was preserved. By virtue of the important chain of events,
of which the Spanish War was the unexpected beginning, and by our
swift rise to industrial supremacy, which occurred during his terms
of office, he will stand as one of our historic Presidents. He gave
political direction to a great national movement; for the nation
has grown more in thought and in character these five years than
it grew in the preceding thirty. His character and his temperament
fitted him admirably for the political guidance of a nation in expansion.
How well he guided it we can hardly yet measure. But our increasing
strength and more compact union at home and our growing influence
abroad are parts of the eloquent testimony that may already be cited.