My Rest a Stone

On this day in 1901, President William McKinley succumbs to gunshot wounds inflicted by an assassin on September 6. According to witnesses, McKinley’s last words were those of the hymn “Nearer My God to Thee.”

McKinley had been shot the previous week at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, NY, by 28-year-old anarchist Leon Czolgosz; the assailant had approached the kindly POTUS with a gun concealed in a handkerchief and fired two rounds into McKinley’s chest. While he initially rallied after surgery, McKinley began suffering from undetected gangrene on September 12. Vice-President Theodore Roosevelt, thought by many to be a lunatic, was sworn in as 26th President immediately upon McKinley’s expiration.

McKinley was the last president to have served in the American Civil War, and the only one to have begun the war as an enlisted soldier, and muster out as a brevet major. After the war, he settled in Canton, Ohio, where he practiced law and married Ida Saxton. In 1876, he was elected to Congress, where he became the Republican Party’s expert on the protective tariff, which he promised would bring prosperity.

His 1890 McKinley Tariff was highly controversial; together with a Democratic redistricting aimed at gerrymandering him out of office, it led to his defeat in the Democratic landslide of 1890. He was then elected Governor of Ohio in 1891 and 1893, steering a moderate course between capital and labor interests. With the aid of close adviser Mark Hanna, he secured the Republican nomination for president in 1896, amid a deep economic depression known as the Panic of 1896.

McKinley defeated his Democratic rival, William Jennings Bryan, in 1896 after a front porch campaign in which he advocated “sound money” under the gold standard and promised that high tariffs would restore prosperity. With a first-term marked by rapid economic growth, the 1897 Dingley Tariff, passage of the Gold Standard and a quick victory in the Spanish–American War of 1898, incumbency was fulsome. McKinley defeated Bryan again in the 1900 presidential election, a campaign focused on imperialism, protectionism, and free silver.

Historians regard McKinley’s 1896 victory as a realigning election, in which the political stalemate of the post–Civil War era gave way to the Republican-dominated Fourth Party System, which began with the Progressive Era. As such, McKinley is ranked 16th of 45 by most scholars.

Author: Bill Urich

A tail-end baby-boomer, Bill Urich was born in Cleveland to a grade school teacher and her Navy vet husband, and reared in Greater Detroit. Working his way through school primarily at night, Mr. Urich holds a Bachelor’s in Journalism, Phi Beta Kappa, and a Juris Doctorate from Wayne State University. In his legal career he has acted as an assistant state prosecutor, city attorney, special prosecutor, mediator, magistrate, private practitioner and mayor of Royal Oak, a large home-rule city in Michigan. Mr. Urich continues in private practice and municipal prosecution, is on faculty to DePaul University, pens regular contributions to political publications, and remains active in selected campaigns and causes related to labor, social and criminal justice. A father of three mostly-grown sons, he spends his precious free time on family, friends, the pursuit of happiness, beauty and truth, three rescue cats, and fronting the rock band Calcutta Rugs from behind the drum kit.