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Appendix N. Speeches For Study And Practise

John Hay. Tribute To Mckinley

From his memorial address at a joint session of the Senate and House of Representatives on February 27, 1903.

For the third time the Congress of the United States are assembled to commemorate the life and the death of a president slain by the hand of an assassin. The attention of the future historian will be attracted to the features which reappear with startling sameness in all three of these awful crimes: the useless-ness, the utter lack of consequence of the act; the obscurity, the insignificance of the criminal; the blamelessness - so far as in our sphere of existence the best of men may be held blameless - of the victim. Not one of our murdered presidents had an enemy in the world; they were all of such preeminent purity of life that no pretext could be given for the attack of passional crime; they were all men of democratic instincts, who could never have offended the most jealous advocates of equity; they were of kindly and generous nature, to whom wrong or injustice was impossible; of moderate fortune, whose slender means nobody could envy. They were men of austere virtue, of tender heart, of eminent abilities, which they had devoted with single minds to the good of the Republic. If ever men walked before God and man without blame, it was these three rulers of our people. The only temptation to attack their lives offered was their gentle radiance - to eyes hating the light, that was offense enough.

The stupid uselessness of such an infamy affronts the common sense of the world. One can conceive how the death of a dictator may change the political conditions of an empire; how the extinction of a narrowing line of kings may bring in an alien dynasty. But in a well-ordered Republic like ours the ruler may fall, but the State feels no tremor. Our beloved and revered leader is gone - but the natural process of our laws provides us a successor, identical in purpose and ideals, nourished by the same teachings, inspired by the same principles, pledged by tender affection as well as by high loyalty to carry to completion the immense task committed to his hands, and to smite with iron severity every manifestation of that hideous crime which his mild predecessor, with his dying breath, forgave. The sayings of celestial wisdom have no date; the words that reach us, over two thousand years, out of the darkest hour of gloom the world has ever known, are true to life to-day: "They know not what they do." The blow struck at our dear friend and ruler was as deadly as blind hate could make it; but the blow struck at anarchy was deadlier still.

How many countries can join with us in the community of a kindred sorrow! I will not speak of those distant regions where assassination enters into the daily life of government. But among the nations bound to us by the ties of familiar intercourse - who can forget that wise and mild autocrat who had earned the proud title of the liberator? that enlightened and magnanimous citizen whom France still mourns? that brave and chivalrous king of Italy who only lived for his people? and, saddest of all, that lovely and sorrowing empress, whose harmless life could hardly have excited the animosity of a demon? Against that devilish spirit nothing avails, - neither virtue nor patriotism, nor age nor youth, nor conscience nor pity. We can not even say that education is a sufficient safeguard against this baleful evil, - for most of the wretches whose crimes have so shocked humanity in recent years were men not unlettered, who have gone from the common schools, through murder to the scaffold. The life of William McKinley was, from his birth to his death, typically American. There is no environment, I should say, anywhere else in the world which could produce just such a character. He was born into that way of life which elsewhere is called the middle class, but which in this country is so nearly universal as to make of other classes an almost negligible quantity. He was neither rich nor poor, neither proud nor humble; he knew no hunger he was not sure of satisfying, no luxury which could enervate mind or body. His parents were sober, Godfearing people; intelligent and upright, without pretension and without humility. He grew up in the company of boys like himself, wholesome, honest, self-respecting. They looked down on nobody; they never felt it possible they could be looked down upon. Their houses were the homes of probity, piety, patriotism. They learned in the admirable school readers of fifty years ago the lessons of heroic and splendid life which have come down from the past. They read in their weekly newspapers the story of the world's progress, in which they were eager to take part, and of the sins and wrongs of civilization with which they burned to do battle. It was a serious and thoughtful time. The boys of that day felt dimly, but deeply, that days of sharp struggle and high achievement were before them. They looked at life with the wondering yet resolute eyes of a young esquire in his vigil of arms. They felt a time was coming when to them should be addressed the stern admonition of the Apostle, "Quit you like men; be strong."

The men who are living to-day and were young in 1860 will never forget the glory and glamour that filled the earth and the sky when the long twilight of doubt and uncertainty was ending and the time for action had come. A speech by Abraham Lincoln was an event not only of high moral significance, but of far-reaching importance; the drilling of a militia company by Ellsworth attracted national attention; the fluttering of the flag in the clear sky drew tears from the eyes of young men. Patriotism, which had been a rhetorical expression, became a passionate emotion, in which instinct, logic and feeling were fused. The country was worth saving; it could be saved only by fire; no sacrifice was too great; the young men of the country were ready for the sacrifice; come weal, come woe, they were ready.


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