American Boys' Life of William McKinley/Chapter 18


McKinley as a Candidate for Governor—An Interrupted Meeting—Scenes of Childhood—Loss of his Fortune—Mrs. McKinley's Nobility OF Character

There are times when defeat leads on to greater victories, and so it proved in the present instance. Had William McKinley been elected to Congress, he would have been serving his state in that capacity when next Ohio wanted a governor, and some one else would have been placed upon the Republican ticket. As it was, he was free to run; his party remembered what friends he had made among his former political opponents, and they put him up for the office. When the votes were counted, it was learned that he had been elected by a majority of twenty-one thousand.

In this there is a lesson, the learning of which will do every one of us a deal of good. In ordinary life, when one of our plans miscarries, how prone are we to cry out that
American Boys' Life of McKinley p209.jpg

William McKinley.

everything is going wrong and that we are being misused. But often the failure turns our efforts in another direction, and in the end the success is far greater than it would otherwise have been. The trial, or failure, came for our own good, but we were too blind at the time to realize it.

But William McKinley had not lost faith in himself, and when his friends placed him in nomination for the governorship, he thanked them most cordially, and, as usual, promised, if elected, to do his best in the interests of all his fellow-citizens.

The contest was highly exciting. The McKinley Bill was not yet forgotten and hard times were making matters worse. It was said that Ohio would surely cast her vote for McKinley's opponent. There was a great deal of speechmaking, and McKinley himself made a stumping tour lasting from the first of August to election day, in November.

At one of the towns where he stopped there was a curious demonstration made against him which he by his quick wit turned in his own favor. The place where he was to talk was close to several factories, and these places were controlled by men who were politically his enemies. It was arranged that as soon as McKinley tried to talk, all the factory whistles should begin to blow, thus drowning him out.

Totally unaware of the plot hatched against him, the would-be governor started to deliver a carefully prepared address. He had hardly gotten as far as "Fellow-citizens," when toot! toot! toot! went one whistle after another, and then began a perfect bedlam of sounds, during which, as one politician afterward said, "you couldn't hear yourself think."

The committee having the candidate in charge were dumfounded and exceedingly chagrined. They waited as patiently as possible for the steam to give out, but the engineers had a good supply on hand, and instead of decreasing the blowing increased, until folks had to put their hands to their ears to shut out some of the noise.

"We are sorry, but we can do nothing," bawled one of the committeemen in McKinley's ear.

"Has anybody a piece of chalk?" shouted back the candidate, calmly.

The committee began to hunt around, and finally a bit of chalk was procured. Then McKinley held a short conversation with one of his ardent supporters. Close at hand was a large brick wall, and to this the man with the chalk ran. He was quickly mounted on several boxes, and in a few minutes he had written out, in a large, round hand, an announcement running something like this:—

"Major McKinley wishes to thank all for the rousing reception accorded him. As his time is limited, he will not speak to-day, but will surely speak at the Opera House on next Friday evening."

For the instant after the announcement went up, nobody knew what to say. Then a cheer arose, followed by a loud handclapping.

"Hurrah for McKinley!" shouted one man, who had an unusually good pair of lungs. "He don't have to talk. Hes elected already." And then the cheering and handclapping was renewed. Soon after this, those who had been blowing the whistles stopped in disgust. McKinley wished to depart, but the crowd, when it grew quiet, begged him to remain, and in the end he made one of the best speeches of his life.

"But while I was talking I was on my guard," he said, in speaking of it later. "And if any of those whistles had started up again, I would have been prepared to stop in short order." But after that the whistles failed to bother him.

Probably the greatest honor done to McKinley at this time was when he spoke at his old homestead town, Niles. A stand was erected near the house in which he was born, and people came from many miles around to see him and to hear what he might have to say on the great issues of the day.

For this occasion the candidate for gubernatorial honors had prepared a careful speech outlining the policy of his party. So interested had he been that he had committed the whole address to memory, so as to do away with the use of any manuscript in its delivery.

And yet when it came time to speak he almost forgot what to say! There, close around him were gathered hundreds of men he knew, some of whom he had not seen for years. Here were those who had gone to school with him, and who as boys had waded in the brook with him. There was a man who as a big boy had teased him when he was a little fellow. The big boy had always been mean, and now the man's manner showed that he was poor and shiftless in his later years. Close by was another man who had cheated him at marbles, and another man who had once tried to fight with him. Then he discovered an old negro who used to tell the boys marvellous ghost stories, so that some of the lads would be afraid to be out after dark. The negro was now bent with age and almost blind, but he leaned there on his knotty stick, more than anxious to listen to what McKinley might have to say. And there was still another man, who, in their youthful days, had "cut him out" with the girlish belle of the district school. The man had a boy with him, and McKinley began to wonder if he had married the school belle, and if that was their son. And then he saw an old army chum who had been wounded and sent home during the second year of the war, and he felt like leaping from the platform and embracing him.

"I felt a strange feeling come over me that I cannot describe," he said afterward. "I was home again, among the folks of my childhood. I could not help but contrast my position with that of the poor, shiftless fellow who had in years gone by taken such a delight in teasing and tormenting me. Yhat a gulf now lay between us! And my thoughts ran on so fast that they were in great danger of running away with me, so that it was only by the greatest of efforts I controlled my feelings and managed to deliver that address I had taken so much pains to memorize."

In that campaign McKinley was pronounced the best vote-getter in Ohio, and certainly the results would seem to justify that statement, for he had persuaded thousands of a different political faith to put their trust in him. Some, who were very bitter, predicted that his administration would be a one-sided affair, but he soon proved that he was the governor for all and not for one class or one political party. And it was this bearing that made him the wonderfully popular man he afterward became.

It was during his first term as governor of Ohio that McKinley suffered a blow that was like a thunderbolt out of a clear sky—a blow which he probably never forgot and one which left its mark upon him to the day of his death.

At Youngstown lived a banker, capitalist, and manufacturer named Robert L. Walker. It is said that he was a schoolmate of McKinley in his younger days, and that the friendship continued when the young major came back from the war.

As a banker Mr. Walker had considerable ready money, and when he started as a lawyer McKinley took from him a small loan, to tide him over until he should obtain sufficient clients to pay his own way. Another loan was made when the young lawyer first ran for Congress, and a further loan of about $2000, with which to pay off a mortgage on some of his wife's property. As soon as he was obtaining his salary of $5000 a year as a congressman, McKinley paid back these loans. Later on, other loans were made, to help defray campaign expenses, but these likewise were promptly paid when they fell due.

As McKinley became better known, his campaign expenses decreased, and by the time he left Congress he had saved up something like $20,000, which he invested in securities and real estate, thinking to lay up a little for "a rainy day," which was both wise and praiseworthy. At this time his wife possessed property worth $75,000, left to her by her parents.

Soon after McKinley became governor Mr. Walker came to him and said he was hard pressed for cash.

"I used to help you out," he said. "I would like you to do the same for me. Indorse these notes, and I will get them discounted at the bank at once."

McKinley had never been in the habit of indorsing notes for anybody, for he knew what bitter trials such actions often produce. Yet here was his old friend asking him the favor, and how could he refuse him? Moreover, to the best of his belief, Mr. Walker was highly prosperous and fully able to meet any note he put out.

So the notes were indorsed, and for the time being that was the end of the matter. But soon the banker and manufacturer came with other notes and then others. McKinley supposed that some of the later notes were drawn up to pay those first made, but in this he was sadly mistaken. He trusted the friend of his boyhood implicitly.

In the middle of February, 1893, came the startling announcement that R. L. Walker had made an assignment. The news came to the governor while he was preparing to leave home to attend a banquet of the Ohio Society in New York City.

"It cannot be possible," he told his wife. "I must look into this at once." And he immediately telegraphed his regrets to those holding the banquet. Then he took the first train for Youngstown.

Here his worst fears were realized. As matters were investigated, the Walker failure grew and grew, until it was known that the liabilities were about $200,000. The assets were less than half that sum.

Of course Governor McKinley's chief anxiety was about the notes he had indorsed. He soon learned that none of them had been taken up and that instead of being surety for $15,000, as he supposed, he was surety for about $100,000. He could scarcely believe his own eyesight, but there it was before him in black and white.

"I cannot understand it," he said, almost brokenly. "But whatever I owe shall be paid dollar for dollar."

When he went home, his wife questioned him concerning the particulars of the failure, and he told all he knew.

"But you cannot pay $100,000," said she.

"I will do the best I can. No man can do more than that," he answered. "The people all know I had nothing to do with Mr. Walker's enterprises. I merely tried to help him along because he had been a friend to me."

"This failure shall not tarnish our name," said the noble wife. "If you give up all your property, I will give up mine, too. Then we shall be honest even though poor, and you can take a fresh start in life."