William McKinley - Assassination

"Your duty to the country is to live for four years from next March," Hanna had written McKinley following the Republican nomination. After his second inauguration, the president decided to go on an extensive tour of the western states, capping it with a visit to San Francisco. To him the journey seemed an appropriate gesture. It would offer abundant opportunities to demonstrate confidence in the future of American leadership among nations of the world. The journey fulfilled McKinley's hopes. Although his wife fell seriously ill in San Francisco, she recovered miraculously, and all along the way cheering crowds greeted the presidential entourage. Resting at home in Canton after his return, McKinley finished preparation of an address he had agreed to deliver at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo on 5 September.

The fair was dedicated to peace and amity in the western hemisphere, and a festive spirit prevailed at the exposition when the McKinleys arrived to celebrate President's Day. Their host was John G. Mil-burn, a leading member of the Buffalo bar. More than 116,000 people had come to greet them, and nearly half that number gathered in the Esplanade to hear what McKinley had to say. His remarks were appropriate to the occasion. Urging an enlightened policy of commercial reciprocity, he argued that the United States could not forever sell the products of American industry abroad without also buying the products of other countries. "The period of exclusiveness is past," cautioned the man who had once been the foremost spokesman of protective tariffs. Capable of adjusting to changing times, he now conceded that "the expansion of our trade and commerce is the pressing problem." Yet he also argued that such expansion must take place under conditions of world peace. "Commercial wars," he warned, "are unprofitable."

It was McKinley's last public utterance. The following day he toured Niagara Falls before returning to the Temple of Music to greet thousands of sight-seers and well-wishers. Inconspicuous in the crowd was Leon Czolgosz, who carried in his pocket a.32-caliber Iver-Johnson revolver. Brooding over social injustice, he had been attracted to anarchism, and he had come to kill the president. The day was hot, and handkerchiefs were much in evidence as people mopped the perspiration from their brows. While Czolgosz waited, he surreptitiously wrapped the revolver in his handkerchief. The long line lurched forward as McKinley shook each hand with practiced efficiency. When the assassin reached the head of the line, he fired two shots. The president fell, grasping at his chest and abdomen.

Within minutes McKinley was taken to the emergency hospital on the grounds of the exposition. The physicians who clustered about the operating table saw instantly that the abdominal wound was very serious indeed. Patching it up as best they could under the circumstances, they removed McKinley to the Milburn house, where he had been staying since his arrival in Buffalo. For a week the president seemed to be doing well, and hopes for his recovery ran high; but gangrene gradually spread along the track of the bullet, and by the afternoon of 13 September the attending physicians had abandoned hope.

"Good-bye, good-bye all," murmured the dying man to a small group of friends who had gathered in the room. With his invalid wife at his bedside, he whispered the words of a familiar hymn, "Nearer, My God to Thee." He died shortly after two o'clock the next morning. William McKinley, whose political popularity betokened the skills of a sensitive and experienced political craftsman, was in his personal life a simple man who reiterated platitudes without embarrassment. He had lived with dignity, and with dignity he died.

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