Read XIII. WILLIAM McKINLEY of My Memories of Eighty Years , free online book, by Chauncey M. Depew, on

In the canvass of 1896 the Republican organization of the State of New York decided, if possible, to have the national convention nominate Levi P. Morton for president. Mr. Morton won popular favor as vice-president, and the canvass for him looked hopeful. But a new man of extraordinary force and ability came into this campaign, and that man was Mark Hanna, of Ohio. Mr. Hanna was one of the most successful of our business men. He had a rare genius for organization, and possessed resourcefulness, courage, and audacity. He was most practical and at the same time had imagination and vision. While he had taken very little part in public affairs, he had rather suddenly determined to make his devoted friend, William McKinley, president of the United States.

In a little while every State in the Union felt the force of Mr. Hanna’s efforts. He applied to politics the methods by which he had so successfully advanced his large manufacturing interests. McKinley clubs and McKinley local organizations sprang up everywhere under the magic of Hanna’s management. When the convention met it was plain that McKinley’s nomination was assured.

The New York delegation, however, decided to present Morton’s name and submit his candidacy to a vote. I was selected to make a nominating speech. If there is any hope, an orator on such an occasion has inspiration. But if he knows he is beaten he cannot put into his effort the fire necessary to impress an audience. It is not possible to speak with force and effect unless you have faith in your cause.

After Mr. McKinley was nominated I moved that the nomination be made unanimous. The convention called for speech and platform so insistently that their call had to be obeyed. The following is an account from a newspaper of that date of my impromptu speech. The story which is mentioned in the speech was told to me as I was ascending the platform by Senator Proctor of Vermont.

“I am in the happy position now of making a speech for the man who is going to be elected. (Laughter and applause.) It is a great thing for an amateur, when his first nomination has failed, to come in and second the man who has succeeded. New York is here with no bitter feeling and with no disappointment. We recognize that the waves have submerged us, but we have bobbed up serenely. (Loud laughter.) It was a cannon from New York that sounded first the news of McKinley’s nomination. They said of Governor Morton’s father that he was a New England clergyman, who brought up a family of ten children on three hundred dollars a year, and was, notwithstanding, gifted in prayer. (Laughter.) It does not make any difference how poor he may be, how out of work, how ragged, how next door to a tramp anybody may be in the United States to-night, he will be ‘gifted in prayer’ at the result of this convention. (Cheers and laughter.)

“There is a principle dear to the American heart. It is the principle which moves American spindles, starts the industries, and makes the wage-earners sought for instead of seeking employment. That principle is embodied in McKinley. His personality explains the nomination to-day. And his personality will carry into the presidential chair the aspirations of the voters of America, of the families of America, of the homes of America, protection to American industry and America for Americans.” (Cheers.)

As every national convention, like every individual, has its characteristics, the peculiar distinction of the Republican convention of 1896 was its adoption of the gold standard of value. An amazing and illuminating part of our political literature of that time is the claim which various statesmen and publicists make to the authorship of the gold plank in the platform.

Senator Foraker, who was chairman of the committee on resolutions, devotes a considerable part of his interesting autobiography to the discussion of this question. He is very severe upon all those who claim to have originated the idea. I have been asked by several statesmen to enforce their claims to its authorship.

The silver craze had not yet subsided. Bimetallism had strong advocates and believers in our convention. I think even our candidate was not fully convinced at that time of the wisdom of the declaration. It went into the platform rather as a venture than an article of faith, but to the surprise of both the journalists and campaign orators, it turned out that the people had become converted to the gold standard, and it proved to be the strongest and most popular declaration of the convention.

When the campaign opened the genius of Mark Hanna soon became evident. He organized a campaign of education such as had never been dreamed of, much less attempted. Travelling publicity agents, with wagonloads of pamphlets, filled the highways and the byways, and no home was so isolated that it did not receive its share. Columns in the newspapers, especially the country papers, were filled with articles written by experts, and the platform was never so rich with public speakers.

Such a campaign is irresistible. Its influence is felt by everybody; its arguments become automatically and almost insensibly the common language of the people. But the expense is so terrific that it will never again be attempted. There was no corruption or purchase of votes in Mr. Hanna’s management. It was publicity and again publicity, but it cost nearly five millions of dollars. To reach the one hundred and ten million of people in the United States in such a way would involve a sum so vast that public opinion would never permit any approach to it.

Mr. McKinley’s front-porch campaign was a picturesque and captivating feature. The candidate was a handsome man and an eloquent speaker, with a cordial and sympathetic manner which won everybody. Delegations from all parts of the country and representing every phase of American life appeared at Mr. McKinley’s residence. His address to them was always appropriate and his reception made the visitors his fast friends.

I received a personal request to visit him, and on the occasion he said to me: “In certain large agricultural sections there is a very dangerous revolt in our party, owing to the bad conditions among the farmers. Wheat and corn are selling below the cost of production. I wish you would go down among them and make speeches explaining the economic conditions which have produced this result, and how we propose to and will remedy it.”

“Mr. McKinley,” I said, “my position as a railroad president, I am afraid, would antagonize them.”

“On the contrary, your very position will draw the largest audiences and receive the greater attention.”

The result proved that he was correct.

I recall one meeting in particular. There were thousands present, all farmers. In the midst of my speech one man arose and said: “Chauncey Depew, we appreciate your coming here, and we are very anxious to hear you. Your speech is very charming and interesting, but I want to put this to you personally. We here are suffering from market conditions for the products of our farms. The prices are so low that we have difficulty in meeting the interest on our mortgages and paying our taxes, no matter how seriously we economize. Now you are the president of one of the greatest railroads in the country. It is reported that you are receiving a salary of fifty thousand dollars a year. You are here in a private car. Don’t you think that the contrast between you and us makes it difficult for us poor farmers to give you the welcome which we would like?”

I saw at once I had lost my audience. I then ventured upon a statement of conditions which I have often tried and always successfully. I said: “My friend, what you say about me is true. Now, as to my career, I was born and brought up in a village similar to the one which is near you here. My father gave me my education and nothing else with which to begin life. As a young lawyer I was looking for clients and not for office. I made up my mind that there were no opportunities offered in the village, but that the chances of success were in the service of corporations. The result is that I have accomplished what you have described. Now, my friend, I believe that you have a promising boy. I also believe that to your pride and satisfaction he is going through the neighboring college here, and that you intend on account of his brightness and ability to make him a lawyer. When he is admitted to the bar, do you expect him to try to do what I have accomplished and make an independent position in life, or fail?”

The farmer shouted: “Chauncey, you are all right. Go ahead and keep it up.”

My arguments and presentation were no better than many another speaker’s, but, as Mr. McKinley predicted, they received an attention and aroused a discussion, because of what the old farmer had said, that no other campaigner could command.

Mr. McKinley sent for me again and said: “Sentiment is a wonderful force in politics. Mr. Bryan, my opponent, has made a remarkable speaking tour through our State. He started in the early morning from Cleveland with a speech. His train made many stops on the way to Cincinnati, where he arrived in the evening, and at each place he addressed large audiences, traversing the State from one side to the other. His endurance and versatility have made a great impression upon our people. To meet and overcome that impression, I have asked you to come here and repeat Bryan’s effort. You are so much older than he is I think we may claim nearly twice his age that if you can do it, and I hope you can, that sentiment will be dissipated.”

I traversed Mr. Bryan’s route, stopped at the same stations and delivered speeches to similar audiences of about the same length. On arriving in Cincinnati in the evening I was met by a committee, the chairman of which said: “We have followed you all along from Cleveland, where you started at seven o’clock this morning, and it is fine. Now Mr. Bryan, when he arrived here, had no meeting. We have seven thousand people in the Music Hall, and if you will go there and speak five minutes it will make your trip a phenomenal success.”

I went to the Music Hall, of course had a wonderful time and wild ovation, and spoke for an hour. The next day I was none the worse for this twelve hours’ experience.

President McKinley had spent most of his life in the House of Representatives. He loved the associations and life of Congress. The most erratic and uncertain of bodies is Congress to an executive who does not understand its temper and characteristics. McKinley was past master of this. Almost every president has been greatly relieved when Congress adjourned, but Mr. McKinley often expressed to me his wish that Congress would always be in session, as he never was so happy as when he could be in daily contact with it. His door was open at all times to a senator or a member of the House of Representatives. If either failed to see him at least once a week, the absentee usually received a message stating that the president desired him to call. He was very keen in discovering any irritation on the part of any senator or member about any disappointment or fancied slight, and always most tactfully managed to straighten the matter out. He was quite as attentive and as particular with the opposition as with members of his own party.

President McKinley had a wonderful way of dealing with office-seekers and with their friends and supporters. A phrase of his became part of the common language of the capital. It was: “My dear fellow, I am most anxious to oblige you, but I am so situated that I cannot give you what you want. I will, however, try to find you something equally as good.” The anxious caller for favors, if he or his congressman failed to get the office desired, always carried away a flower or a bouquet given by the president, with a complimentary remark to be remembered. It soon came to be understood among applicants for office that a desired consulship in England could not be granted, but one of equal rank in South Africa was possible.

There were many good stories in the Senate of his tact in dealing with the opposition. A Southern senator, who as a general had made a distinguished record in the Civil War on the Confederate side, was very resentful and would frequently remark to his friends “that our president unfortunately is not a gentleman, and in his ancestry is some very common blood.”

Mr. McKinley persuaded some of the senator’s Southern colleagues to bring him to the White House. He expressed his regret to the senator that he should have offended him in any way and asked what he had done. The senator replied: “You have appointed for the town where my sister lives a nigger, and a bad nigger at that, for postmaster, and my sister has to go to him for her letters and stamps.” The president arranged for the transfer of this postmaster and the appointment of a man recommended by the senator. The senator then went to his friends and said: “Have I remarked to you at any time that our president was not a gentleman and had somewhere in his ancestry very common blood? If I did I recall the statement and apologize. Mr. McKinley is a perfect gentleman.”

All the measures which the president wished passed, unless they were absolutely partisan, always received afterwards the support of the Southern senator.

I was in the Senate during a part of his term and nearly every day at the White House, where his reception was so cordial and his treatment of the matter presented so sympathetic that it was a delight to go there, instead of being, as usual, one of the most disagreeable tasks imposed upon a senator.

He had a way of inviting one to a private conference and with impressing you with its confidential character and the trust he reposed in your advice and judgment which was most flattering.

Entertainments at the White House were frequent, and he managed to make each dinner an event to be most pleasantly remembered. I think, while he was very courteous to everybody, he was more than usually so to me because of an incident prior to his inauguration.

A well-known journalist came to my office one day and said: “I am just from Canton, where I have been several days with the president. I discussed with him federal appointments among others, the mission to England, in which I am interested because my father is an Englishman, and both my father and I are exceedingly anxious to have you take the post, and Mr. McKinley authorized me to ask you if you would accept the mission.”

The embassy to England presented peculiar attraction to me, because I knew personally the Prince of Wales and most of the leading English statesmen and public men. The journalist said that if I accepted he would sound the press. This he did, and the response was most flattering from journals of all political views.

About the time of the inauguration Vice-President Hobart, who was a cordial friend of mine, said to me: “There is something wrong about you with the president. It is very serious, and you can expect no recognition from the administration.” I was wholly at a loss to account for the matter and would not investigate any further. Not long afterwards the vice-president came to me and said: “I have found out the truth of that matter of yours and have explained it satisfactorily to the president, who deeply regrets that he was misled by a false report from a friend in whom he had confidence.” Soon after the president made me the offer of the mission to Germany. I did not understand the language and felt that I could be of little service there, and so declined.

When President McKinley was lying seriously wounded at Buffalo from the shot of the anarchist Czolgosz, I went there to see if anything could be done for his comfort. For some time there was hope he would recover, and that it would be better for him to go to Washington. I made every arrangement to take him to the capital if the doctors decided it could be done. But suddenly, as is always the case with wounds of that kind, a crisis arrived in which he died.

Vice-President Roosevelt was camping in the Adirondacks. A message reached him, and the next morning he arrived in Buffalo. The Cabinet of Mr. McKinley decided that the vice-president should be at once inaugurated as president. Colonel Roosevelt was a guest at the house of Mr. Ainsley Wilcox. He invited me to witness his inauguration, which occurred the same evening. It was a small company gathered in the parlor of Mr. Wilcox’s house. Elihu Root, secretary of state, choking with emotion and in a voice full of tears, made a speech which was a beautiful tribute to the dead president and a clear statement of the necessity of immediate action to avoid an interregnum in the government. John Raymond Hazel, United States district judge, administered the oath, and the new president delivered a brief and affecting answer to Mr. Root’s address.

This inauguration was in pathetic and simple contrast to that which had preceded at the Capitol at Washington. Among the few present was Senator Mark Hanna. He had been more instrumental than any one in the United States in the selection of Mr. McKinley for president and his triumphant election. Mr. McKinley put absolute trust in Hanna, and Hanna was the most powerful personality in the country. No two men in public life were ever so admirably fitted for each other as President McKinley and Senator Hanna. The day before the death of the president Hanna could look forward to four years of increasing power and usefulness with the president who had just been re-elected. But as he walked with me from Mr. Wilcox’s house that night, he felt keenly that he never could have any such relation with Colonel Roosevelt. He was personally exceedingly fond of Mr. McKinley, and to his grief at the death of his friend was added a full apprehension of his changed position in American public life.