American Boys' Life of William McKinley/Chapter 19


Second Term as Governor—Declines the Nomination for the Presidency—The Convention at St. Louis—Triumph of the Gold Standard

Mrs. McKinley was as good as her words, and soon all the property of the governor and his lovmg, trusting wife was in the hands of trustees selected to manage affairs.

"I have this day placed all my property in the hands of trustees, to be used to pay my debts," said the governor. "The amount will be insufficient, I know, but I will execute notes and pay them off as fast as I can. I shall retire from politics, go back to law, and begin all over again."

The words were those of a noble, honest man, willing to do all in his power to make good that for which he was not personally responsible, but for which, as an honorable man, he felt he must stand.

"He shall not retire from politics," cried his friends, at once. "He is too good a man to let go—we cannot afford to lose him." And at once a popular subscription was started by a Chicago newspaper, and subscriptions began to pour in from all directions. But over these McKinley merely shook his head.

"I do not want anybody to send me money," he said. "This is my debt, and I will take care of it."

"But your friends insist upon helping you," was the answer. "You should let them have their way. You must remember that you are a public character and that in a certain sense you belong to the people."

But McKinley continued to decline. Finally some friends took hold of the matter and went ahead without letting the governor know what they were doing. A fund was created, and it is said that to this there were over four thousand subscribers who subscribed the full amount needed! What a monumental showing of genuine friendship! A man with such friends could not be poor, no matter what his station in life.

It was a tremendous lesson and had a far-reaching influence. In the future, although McKinley thought as much of his friends as ever, he signed no notes, or in fact any documents, public or private, until he was absolutely sure of what he was doing.

"I was entirely unsuspecting," he told a close friend. "Mr. Walker and I had been great friends. I thought it my duty to assist him all I could."

Some of his political enemies endeavored to make capital out of this failure by calling McKinley a bad business man and one not fit to occupy such an important position as governor. But this report was soon exploded by a gentleman in high financial circles, who gave it out that the failure of R. L. Walker was entirely unexpected, and that he himself would have indorsed notes equal to those indorsed by McKinley, had he been called upon to do so. As for his great misfortune, it has been said, and very likely with wisdom, that it strengthened his future hold upon the American people as nothing else could have done, for it made him known as a man in moderate circumstances, and no one could ever accuse him of using his political influence to enrich himself.

In a work of this kind, prepared especially for the inspiration of our young people, it is needless to go into the details of Governor McKinley's administration while occupying the gubernatorial chair of Ohio. Suffice it to say that he kept his promise to do his best, and affairs were administered wisely and economically and honorably. To a great degree he was an advocate of the rights of labor as well as of capital, and it was partly due to his efforts that a State Board of Arbitration was established, whereby employers and employees might settle their differences without strikes or violence.

So greatly were his friends pleased by his work that when it came time to elect a governor again, they placed him in nomination by acclamation. Again there was a spirited canvass, but now everybody knew the governor and knew what he was doing for them, and when the balloting came to an end it was found that he was reëlected by over eighty thousand majority, one of the largest majorities ever polled in Ohio up to that time. As one of the politicians of that time said, "He made friends of his enemies with astonishing rapidity." This politician spoke the truth and yet not all the truth. He had yet to learn that William McKinley did not belong to any one party, but to the whole nation, and that his strong personality was bound to break down party barriers wherever it presented itself.

The Governor was always very popular with the newsboys, all of whom knew him well. Whenever he arrived at Columbus there would always be a wild rush to serve him.

"Please, Mr. Governor, take my papers!" would be the cry heard on every side.

"All right, I'll take one from each of you," would be the good-natured answer, and then each newsboy would get a nickel or ten cents for his sheet.

One day it was very cold and wet when the Governor came from the State House. He started to patronize the newsboys, when a friend stopped him.

"Better get home, sir," said the friend. "It's too nasty for you to be out."

"The boys will be looking for me," was the quiet reply. "I shall not disappoint them on such a day as this, when they are having so much trouble to dispose of their stock," and the Governor went to the boys and made them as happy as usual despite the storm.

During Governor McKinley's terms in office the state was much disturbed by conflicts between capital and labor, and on a number of occasions the militia had to be called out to protect property and restore order, especially along the lines of the principal railroads carrying the mails. Twice the mobs tried to resort to lynching, but through the firm stand taken by the governor these riotous acts were prevented and the fair name of the state saved from such disgrace.

The great vote cast for McKinley as governor the second time brought him to the attention of the whole United States, and made of him a possible candidate for the Presidency. Twice before had he been spoken of for that high and honorable position, but on each occasion he had thrust it aside, the first time in favor of Sherman, and the second time in favor of Harrison.

In 1888 came the Republican National Convention which put up Benjamin Harrison for President. William McKinley was a delegate, and went in pledged for John Sherman. During the meeting some of the delegates shouted for McKinley and then some voted for him. At once he leaped to his feet, stepped up upon his chair, and shaking his bead vigorously, said:—

"Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen of the Convention—I am here as one of the chosen representatives of my state; I am here by a resolution of the Republican convention, passed without one dissenting voice, commanding me to cast my vote for John Sherman and use every worthy endeavor for his nomination. I accepted the trust because my heart and judgment were in accord with the letter and spirit of that resolution. It has pleased certain delegates to vote for me. I am not insensible to the honor they would do me, but in the presence of the duty resting upon me I cannot remain silent with honor. I cannot consistently with the credit of the state whose credentials I bear, and which has trusted me; I cannot with honorable fidelity to John Sherman, who has trusted me in his cause and with his confidence; I cannot consistently with my own views of personal integrity, consent, or seem to consent, to permit my name to be used as a candidate before this convention. I would not respect myself if I could find it in my heart to do so, to say or to permit that to be done which could even be ground for any one to suspect that I wavered in my loyalty to the chief of her choice and the chief of mine. I do request—I demand—that no delegate who would not cast reflection upon me shall cast a ballot for me."

After this there was nothing to do but to drop McKinley's name from the list of candidates, but his loyalty to his friend made him stronger than ever.

At the convention which re-nominated Harrison (the second President to bear that name) in 1892, the scene was truly a dramatic one. McKinley at the head of the Ohio delegation went in pledged for Harrison. When the votes began to be called, the Ohio delegates cast their vote for McKinley. At once McKinley challenged the vote. He wished to turn it to Harrison. He was chairman of the convention, but he seemed powerless to act. The gallery broke into a loud cheering, and "McKinley! McKinley!" was heard upon every side, and other delegates began to rise in all parts of the house to change their votes in his favor. But, though profoundly touched, he would not listen to them and stated plainly that he was not a candidate. At last the excitement passed and the convention finally nominated the man for whom McKinley had so stubbornly and conscientiously fought.

But this noble self-sacrifice and the great popularity of McKinley had done their work. The next Republican National Convention was held at St. Louis, June 16–18, 1896. Fully fifty thousand visitors had flocked to the city, and the Auditorium, where the convention was held was literally jammed.

The name of McKinley was everywhere—in the hall, the hotels, the club rooms, on the streets. Other candidates had been put forth, but there was an undercurrent toward the son of Ohio that was unmistakable.

The convention was called to order and the platform adopted. Then the different candidates' names were brought forward. When the name of William McKinley was mentioned, there was a perfect roar of applause and a waving of flags and banners which lasted fully twenty minutes. When the voting began, McKinley was nominated on the first ballot, receiving more than three times as many votes as all the other candidates combined. Then his opponents arose to make the nomination unanimous, and this was done amid greater enthusiasm than ever.

The campaign to follow was one which is not easily forgotten. For the time being the tariff was almost totally dropped, and "Sound Money," as it was called, became the main issue. The Nation's finances were on a gold basis,—that is, all public obligations were payable in gold,—and the Republicans wished to maintain this standard. On the other hand, the Democrats contended that it was wrong to keep silver out of circulation and that our standard should be gold and silver both. Arguments were exceedingly hot and often bitter, and to this day many have not gotten over the heat of that campaign, in which personalities were indulged in which were far from creditable to either side, and which did not aid in the least in the solution of the problem which confronted the country. The "gold plank" caused a split in the Republican party by the withdrawal of those who favored silver, and the "silver plank" likewise caused a split in the Democratic party by those leaving who favored gold. Independent candidates were put in the field besides the regular nominees, and for several months the whole country was in a state of keen agitation and suspense.

But though full of bitterness, the canvass was not without its humor. No matter how carefully plans are laid, the unexpected often happens, causing some dismay.

Once McKinley was speaking in a country town in which he was well known and where a great many of his old army comrades lived. The people of the place had made all preparations to do the handsome thing by him and a large crowd assembled to hear his address.

It did not take the speaker long to get warmed up to his subject. While he was talking, an old soldier sauntered up, remaining somewhat on the outer edge of the crowd. That he was keenly interested in what was being said, there could be no doubt.

McKinley, having reviewed the financial situation, continued somewhat in this style: "And now, my friends, what is to be done in this matter? We all agree that the matter must be cared for. But who is to protect the government?"

"Billy McKinley, the rider of the bobtailed nag!" shouted the old soldier, at the top of his lungs.

For the moment there was a dead silence, the interruption was so unexpected. Then came a rousing cheer from all the old soldiers present.

"Hurrah! Billy McKinley on his bobtailed nag! The hero of Kernstown!"

And then the crowd understood and the cheers were redoubled. It was an odd tribute, but it pleased the candidate immensely.

At last came election day, and then the all-memorable night, when the returns from
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"Billy McKinley, the rider of the bobtailed nag!" shouted the old soldier.

all over the country came pouring in. It was found that the total number of votes cast was nearly 14,000,000, and that out of this large number William McKinley had received about 600,000 more than William Jennings Bryan, the Democratic nominee. Of the electoral votes, McKinley received 271, and Bryan 176.

When the result was announced, those who had supported McKinley and the gold standard went wild with delight. Bells rang, steam whistles blew, parades were hastily arranged, and all night long could be heard the music of bands and the blowing of horns. The followers of McKinley were sure that good times would continue and increase, and their predictions were fulfilled.