William McKinley, President, Patriot, and Martyr:
The Sermon Delivered at the Requiem Eucharist in S. Stephen's Church, Providence, R.I., September 19, A.D. 1901.
By George McClellan Fiske.
Providence: Snow and Farnham, 1901.
"I am a companion of all them that fear thee: and keep thy commandments:"—Psalm 119: 63.
WHOSO that heard it will never, to his dying day, forget that weird bell at midnight, which rang out the knell of the passing soul of WILLIAM MCKINLEY, twenty-fifth President of the United States. It announced the passing of the Arthur of to-day, of one, who not only fulfilled but surpassed the patter, which the poet's vision saw, of the ideal hero of English legend and imagination, the stainless knight, Arthur, the flower of kings. That ancient knight and king is pictured, you remember, as rousing and nerving himself to deal, as his last act, a fatal stroke of vengeance on Modred his treacherous foe, his Judas:
"King am I, whatsoever be their cry;
And one last act of knighthood shalt thou see
Yet, ere I pass! And uttering this the king
Made at the man; then Modred smote his liege
Hard on that held which many a heathen sword
Had beaten thin; while Arthur at one blow,
Striking the last stroke with Excalibur,
Slew him, and all but slain himself, he fell."
 So fell the ideal Arthur. But truth is stranger than fiction, more beautiful than art; and our Arthur, the real one, dies, praying God to forgive the Judas who smote him to the death, and praising with his latest breath, God's will and way.
And so, in the words of our new President, this is a day of mourning and of prayer. We are here not merely in obedience to official summons, but drawn by the love and sorrow of our native sympathies; we are here to mourn and pray; to mourn over what has been taken from us—and to pray—for the departed soul, for his bereaved family and kindred, and for our dearest and most beloved common country. The twentieth century, for us Americans, has been baptized in blood. Its hopes and prospects, its anticipations and opportunities, its responsibilities and obligations have been consecrated by the costly sacrifice of as choice and noble a human life as tins country of ours contained. This baptism of blood has to do with that baptism that Christ was baptized with. His baptism of blood and suffering was followed by Resurrection, new and larger and glorified life. It was followed by the spread of His Kingdom and the world-wide extension of His influence. And in His likeness, He baptizes the peoples of the earth. He is making our nation rich and glorious through what it suffers. "The death of McKinley is a part of the process by which our Saviour shall protect, and save, and magnify our land."
But with stoutest faith in the ultimate blessings, which shall surely follow this grievous National affliction, we [4/5] know that we have lost our greatest public character. We have parted with the foremost figure in our political life. We miss the gracious presence, the enlightening counsels, the ever right and well doing of as profound a patriot, as sagacious a statesman, and as pure a man, as the United States has ever possessed. His capacity for serving his country was a great and growing one. His readiness to do it was most self-sacrificing, his performance was most conscientious and just, his service was of the most valuable order. He rose to every occasion, and in any emergency was never found wanting. Steady and serene, in quietness and confidence his strength, his course was like the movement through the firmament on high of some majestic planet making its tranquil progress through the stars. Early in life he devoted himself to the maintenance of the Union. He became a soldier of the Republic. He braved the hardships of campaign and the perils of battle to uphold the flag, and in his young manhood won the immortality of a defender of his country's life and honour. This is not the place or occasion, nor am I the person to attempt any detailed review of Mr. McKinley's civic qualities and career, to compare him with others, to weigh his gifts and requirements, and to decide his relative position in the temple of fame. He will forever stand among the great men of the Christian world. He holds a conspicuous place among those who have the worthiest title to remembrance, and his name will be securely and fadelessly illustrious. His name will be indissolubly associated with a splendid epoch in American history. The expansion of the United States [5/6] will be an enduring monument to his memory. He completes a trio which will ever shine with undiminished lustre among our presidents. Washington, the liberator of the colonies; Lincoln, the emancipator of the slaves; McKinley, the deliverer of oppressed and dying Cuba. A warrior tried and valiant when duty called, he was essentially a man of peace. The arts of peace were dearer to him than the spoils and weapons of war. His very last words, that magnificent address at Buffalo—for him, though he knew it not, his farewell address—was a masterly delineation of the triumphs and possibilities of peace in the modern world that is and is to be.
At a time when new and perplexing questions were asked of our nation, when new problems were propounded for its solution, with a moderation known unto all men, yet with a firmness as steadfast as it was gentle, and in a fashion which elicited the respect, the admiration, and the applause of the world, McKinley came on the scene to answer and to solve.
Yet, this high-minded and unselfish patriot has been most cruelly aspersed. By those who ought to have known better, he has been so misrepresented as to furnish a pretext and a convenient background for the baser adversaries, who did not hesitate to shoot him like a beast. Even in the solemnity of this hour one cannot refrain from denouncing the attitude of those American citizens, who, unconsciously, unintentionally, and ignorantly, spoke such evil of the ruler of this people, as to encourage the black thoughts of assassins to an act which has horrified mankind. We will leave these [6/7] mistaken minds to the shame and remorse of their own reflections. But consider what Mr. McKinley was. If I shall be deemed extravagant to say unqualifiedly that he was an ideal president, I will say, without risk of gainsaying that he as nearly realized the ideal of a president as one can reasonably hope ever to see it realized. He was a man of liberal education, and of intellectual culture. By study of principles and theories, and by proof and application in practice, by a varied experience in affairs, by parliamentary, legislative, and executive training, by a clear discernment of character and wide knowledge of men, he had been prepared to exercise his natural, remarkable gifts of administration on the largest scale, and in the most exalted sphere. He had a genius for economic and industrial problems, which, in the world of our day and particularly in our country, are problems of the very first importance to our prosperity.
He was calm, candid, of strictest integrity, and of impartial and judicial temperament. He never injured a cause by rash and indiscreet advocacy. He was one, after the measure of S. James' rule: "Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath." A distinguished public man of New York, who commands the highest respect (Mr. Abram S. Hewitt) is reported as saying of Mr. McKinley that in all the years they were together in Congress he never knew him to lose his temper. When we put all these elements together have we not the portrait of a truly great leader, guide, and ruler?
Beside all this, Mr. McKinley was first and last, a [7/8] thorough American. We feel that to be something indispensable to anyone, who aspires to be influential with, endeared to, and of the highest usefulness among our people. What do we mean by it? We do not mean by it that vulgar, boorish spirit, which has been caricatured and satirized as the typical American one; that spirit, which is boastful, vociferous, and regardless of the amenities of life, the spirit which puts itself above good manners and ignores the international, cosmopolitan code of polite society; the spirit which holds that we have nothing to learn, and can learn nothing, from other and older countries than our own. This is not through Americanism. But a thorough American is one, who believes thoroughly in his own country—who prefers it to any other; who is not ashamed of it with all its faults of youth and mistakes of inexperience, who loves its flag and its history, who is proud of its record and achievements, who feels it home, and who says to himself with gratitude and affection: "This is my own, my native land." A thorough American is one who believes in the future of his country, who has here, and keeps here, his interests, and his associations, his attachments, and his wealth. A thorough American is one who is in touch with the rank and file, the everyday life, the homely features and incidents of the people of the land, who is not too artificial, affected, and fine to feel above, or be above, the life of the lowliest. In short, thorough Americanism is plain living, high thinking, good manners, simplicity, and common sense. And this is just what the late President embodied and personified. The good untainted blood of a sturdy, [8/9] God-fearing ancestry flowed in his veins. A modified sternness of fortune surrounded his birth and bringing up. Limitations of temporal circumstances were sufficiently his to breed self-reliance, to emphasize intrinsic worth, and to stimulate wholesome and laudable ambition.
And lastly what gave life and warmth to the hold which this tribune of the people had upon his countrymen was tenderness of feeling. He was a man of noble and generous emotions and sensibilities. This gave to his relations with the people everywhere, a sense and tone of paternal affection. The outburst of tears and heartfelt grief throughout the land is almost unparalleled. Old and young, the strong and the stolid, have been melted and their hearts have bowed as one man. Of McKinley, we may use the pathetic words, with which Motley concludes his account of the assassination of William the Silent, Prince of Orange: "He went through life bearing the load of a people's sorrows upon his shoulders, with a smiling face. Their name was the last word upon his lips, save the simple affirmative with which the soldier who had been battling for the right all his lifetime commended his soul in dying 'to his great Captain, Christ.' The people were grateful and affection, for they trusted the character of their 'Father William,' and not all the clouds which calumny could collect ever dimmed to their eyes the radiance of that lofty mind to which they were accustomed in their darkest calamities to look for light. As long as he lived, he was the guiding-star of a whole brave nation, and when he died the little children cried in the streets."
 I have been saying all these words and have not yet reached the sublimest lesson of this grand life, the lesson suggested by the text. We have been speaking of McKinley's place as a great man—of his place among eminent and renowned public men—of his place among the princes, and leaders, and sovereigns of society.
Distinguished as his place in the ranks of greatness is, it is nothing compared with the distinction of his place in the ranks of goodness. This is the supreme lesson of his life after all: I am a companion of all them that love thee; and keep thy commandments."
Mr. McKinley was an out-and-out Christian man, an avowed lover, and worship, and servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. He was a soldier of Christ by baptism and life. He was not ashamed to be known and counted as such. He was not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ. He was a member of the Church. He was not ashamed or neglectful of saying his prayers, and reading his Bible, and going to Church. Above all his other earthly ties and associations he was a companion of all them that fear God and keep His Commandments. He was on the Lord's side. He had chosen whom he would serve. And the consistency of his life, and the beauty of his death have shown as by a light from heaven, how truly that service was the habit, the atmosphere in which he lived. The law of his God was in his heart. He fell, when stricken down, praying for his murderer, as Christ prayed upon the cross, as Stephen prayed beneath the stones. And when "the inevitable hour" had struck, he [10/11] resigned himself, as his Saviour in Gethsemane, to his Father's will, a true child of God, member of Christ, inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven!
There was one aspect of Mr. McKinley's life as a Christian man which deserves to be everywhere praised and spoken of. And that is, his domestic life. He was a paragon of conjugal virtue and fidelity. In these days, when the desecration of the marriage tie and the violation of family unity and order are rampant, when husbands put away wives and wives put away husbands, and mate and remote again, when divorce is resorted to for every cause, not only for sin but for infirmity, the spectacle of such devotion as that of the President to his invalid wife, is a lesson of inestimable value to this nation and people. It is a practical rebuke to roaming hearts, a practical illustration of undying loyalty, of forsaking all others and cleaving as long as both shall live only unto the one taken for better or worse, ins sickness and in health till death them do part. The sacredness of the marriage covenant, the sacramental character of that honorable estate signifying the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and His Church, the remaining in perfect love and peace together because they live according to God's laws,—all these blessed, hallowed, and hallowing truths have been set forth, preached to the people and the homes of this country, and of all countries, in the most eloquent and edifying manner from the White House in Washington. All honour to that Christian husband for the lesson he has taught, for the example he has shown.
 The interest which Mr. McKinley felt and manifested in spiritual and ecclesiastical matters was one of the salient features of his conduct. He felt himself to be, he desired above all else to be, a companion of all them that fear God and keep His Commandments. He evidently saw the Kingdom of God set up on earth, to be an institution as real as any earthly organization and government. He belong to organized Christianity as a matter of course, that he might be the comrade and companion of the soldiers of the Cross of Christ. He was ready to welcome the forces of organized godliness always.
In October, 1898, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church held its triennial session in Washington. And as a priest and member of that great council, it is not out of place for me to recall here the unusual courtesies which President McKinley bestowed upon that body, receiving it privately, Bishops, Priests, and Laymen, at the White House, and entertaining them with a hospitality, which will never be forgotten. And when, on the last Sunday, which the Convention spent there, the Diocese of Washington unveiled on Mt. S. Alban the magnificent monument known as the Peace Cross, at once to mark the site of the future cathedral of the Diocese and to commemorate the happy conclusion of the Spanish war that year, that occasion the President kindly graced with his presence, and none will ever forget the few graceful and epigrammatic words of God-speed, which he then uttered commending, as he expressed it, the work of this ancient Church and its fruitful sowing for the Master and for man, words which [12/13] were quoted in the Pastoral Letter of the House of Bishops for that year, and so have been immortalized in the most dignified annals and memorials of our Communion.
I feel persuaded that the lessons of President McKinley's life and death as a Christian man will not be lost. I believe they will convert a great many people. Let men take heed what strength the fear of God and obedience to His Commandments lend to one. There is no question that the few words of murmured prayer and hymn from this National martyr's lips have created a most profound impression. Many, who had not considered it before, have found out that this great man—great as he was—was as good as he was great; that he was a man of loftiest and most unfaltering faith, and that this faith had swayed his life and smoothed his pathway to the grave. There are a great many people, men especially, who ought to come out for Christ, who ought to stand up and step forward, and be received into the congregation of Christ's flock. The diabolical spirit which has slain our beloved President is a call for all right minded men to stand together. It is a call for religious organization, for men to declare themselves for God, and to make themselves openly companions of all them that fear God and keep His Commandments. This is the fullest eulogy which can be spoken of a man, that he was a soldier of the Cross, that he belonged to Christ.
Join yourself to the good and the holy—the Communion of the Saints. This is the only worthy title to remembrance. That fellowship with the holy and the good is forever. The companion of them that fear God and keep His [13/14] Commandments is at home, not only here on earth, but he is most at home as he enters on the life beyond. He is with his Lord in Paradise. And where Christ is, there are His Saints around Him, at His feet. Those who have borne His Cross and endured His reproach. Those who have suffered, when they did well. Those who have been the victims and prey of wicked men, are there in the midst of friends. A great acclaim attends their entrance to the realms of bliss. Into that joy of that companionship our revered and dear companion and chieftain has passed, and with our Arthur we may say as is said of the ancient one:
"Then from the dawn, it seemed there came, but faint,
As from beyond the limit of the world,
Like the last echo born of a great cry,
Sounds, as if some fair city were one voice,
Around a king returning from his wars."