Source: World’s Work
Source type: magazine
Document type: editorial
Document title: “The Assassination of President McKinley”
Date of publication: October 1901
Volume number: 2
Issue number: 6
|“The Assassination of President McKinley.” World’s Work Oct. 1901 v2n6: pp. 1239-40.|
|McKinley assassination (personal response); presidential assassinations (comparison); McKinley presidency; William McKinley (presidential character).|
|John Wilkes Booth; James A. Garfield; Charles J. Guiteau; Thomas Jefferson; Abraham Lincoln; William McKinley; Philip Sidney; George Washington.|
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 McKinley.
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.