William McKinley: a renowned namesake

One of the things they cared less about in the past than we do now was spelling, including, it seems, the spelling of names. Take my surname, McKinlay, for instance, which could equally have been spelled (spelt?) McKinley, M’Kinlay, M’Kinley, MacKinlay, or MacKinley, not to speak of M’Ginley, McGinley, Mc’Inley, McKindley, M’Kindley, etc., etc., etc.


The paternal ancestors of William McKinley, twenty-fifth President of the United States were from Dervock, County Antrim in Ireland, and spelled their family name “McKinlay.” In its obituary of McKinley, the New York Times of 7 September 1901 referred to “President M’Kinley” and said that his family was Scotch-Irish. They meant Scots-Irish; ‘Scotch’ is something you drink.

Writing of McKinley’s ancestors, the New York Times said:

Authentic records [if they were records they were authentic; otherwise they weren’t records!] trace the McKinlays in Scotland back to 1547, and it has been claimed by those who have made a study of the President’s lineage that James McKinlay, “the trooper,” was one of his ancestors. Major McKinley, at a gathering of the McKinlay Clan, an association embracing fully 300 people, at the Columbian World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893, explained to one who claimed a common lineage with him, despite the difference in the spelling of their names, how the “a” in the name of his ancestors became an “e” in his.

“Your ancestors of the McKinlay Clan,” [there’s no such thing!] said he, “came to this country directly from Scotland, while mine came from the North of Ireland; but we are probably of the same original Covenanter stock.”

The crest of the McKinlay Clan [as above] was a mailed hand holding an olive branch, and its motto “Not too much.” The President’s career seems to have been modeled on this motto.

Read the full obituary . . .”The New York Times 7 September 1901


President M’Kinley’s Illustrious Career

Entered Army When a Mere Boy and Made a Brilliant Record

His Successes In Congress

Nominated for the Presidency After Twice Refusing the Honor from Republican Conventions

William McKinley, the twenty-fifth President of the United States, was born in Niles, Trumbull Country, Ohio, on Jan. 29, 1843. His father, William McKinley, Sr., came to Ohio from Pennsylvania. The family was Scotch-Irish, and the President’s forefathers came to America 150 years ago.

Authentic records trace the McKinlays in Scotland back to 1547, and it has been claimed by those who have made a study of the President’s lineage that James McKinlay, “the trooper,” was one of his ancestors. Major McKinley, at a gathering of the McKinlay Clan, an association embracing fully 300 people, at the Columbian World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893, explained to one who claimed a common lineage with him, despite the difference in the spelling of their names, how the “a” in the name of his ancestors became an “e” in his.

“Your ancestors of the McKinlay Clan,” said he, “came to this country directly from Scotland, while mine came from the North of Ireland; but we are probably of the same original Covenanter stock.”

The crest of the McKinlay Clan was a mailed hand holding an olive branch, and its motto “Not too much.” The President’s career seems to have been modeled on this motto. A gallant soldier himself, his disposition has always been toward peace. He was the last man to hold out against the war with Spain, yet, when it was forced against him, he quickly demonstrated, as Senator Foraker once remarked in a public speech, that “he understood the business.”

Youth and war

William was the seventh child in the family of nine. His first education was received in the public schools of Niles, but when he was nine years of age his parents removed to Poland, Mahoning County, Ohio, a town which was at that time well known for its educational facilities.

There he was admitted into Union Seminary and pursued his studies until he was seventeen. Excelling in most of his studies, he was especially noted for his brilliancy in debate. He evinced a lively interest in all the great public questions of the day, and his speeches upon them were worthy of a much more matured mind. His application was intense, and soon his health was so undermined that he was obliged to return home for rest and recuperation, but even then he did not escape a severe illness. When his health was restored he did not return to school, but sought and obtained a place as a teacher in the public schools of the Kerr district, near Poland.

It was at this period that he joined the Methodist Episcopal Church. He became a diligent student of the Bible and was a frequent participant in the discussions in the Bible class of the Poland Methodist Church, to which he belonged.

His career really began at the outbreak of the Civil War. At that time he was a clerk in the Poland Post Office. A war meeting was held in the Sparrow tavern. At the close of a patriotic speech by an eloquent speaker a call was made for volunteers. Young McKinley was among those who stepped forward. He went with the recruits to Columbus and was there enlisted as a private in Company E of the Twenty-third Ohio Volunteer Infantry. This regiment numbered among its field and staff officers William S. Rosecrans, after Major General, and Rutherford B. Hayes, nineteenth President of the United States.

The life of a soldier was beneficial to young McKinley’s health. During the fourteen months he served as a private he developed from a slip of a boy to a robust young man. He participated in all the early engagements in West Virginia, the first of these being at Carnifex Ferry. In the winter’s camp at Fayetteville he earned and received his first promotion—Commissary Sergeant. It was while he was acting in this capacity that the “coffee incident,” of which an attempt was made to create ridicule in his first campaign for the Presidency, occurred. Far from being a subject of ridicule, it was an incident which reflected the highest credit upon the young officer.

The “Coffee Incident”

At the battle of Antietam, while his regiment was in the thick of the fray, Sergt. McKinley was in charge of the commissary department of his brigade, and, necessarily, his post of duty was with the supplies, about two miles from where his famished comrades were battling with the enemy. Enlisting stragglers to help him, Sergt. McKinley filled two wagons with cans containing hot coffee and other supplies, and hurried them to the front. The mules of one wagon became disabled under the terrific fire, but the plucky young officer, undaunted, continued his efforts, and finally reached his regiment with the supplies, being received with tremendous cheers.

Col. Hayes was badly wounded at South Mountain, and when he went home he told the story to Gov. Tod. The Governor was so impressed with it that he at once requested that a Lieutenant’s commission be made out for McKinley. This was done, the commission dating from Sept. 24, 1862. Gen. Hayes in describing this incident in a speech at the Lakeside, Chautauqua, in 1891, said:

“From Sergt. McKinley’s hand every man in the regiment was served with hot coffee and warm meats, a thing which had never occurred under similar circumstances in any other army in the world. He passed under fire and delivered with his own hands those things so essential to the men for whom he was laboring.”

While he was a Second Lieutenant McKinley’s regiment participated in a number of minor engagements, in all of which he showed great gallantry. On Feb. 7, 1863, he received his commission as First Lieutenant. It was under his leadership that his company was the first to scramble over the fortifications at Camp Platt and silence the enemy’s guns. It was at the battle of Kernstown, near Winchester, that he gained his greatest military distinction.

Crook’s army was attacked by Early’s. Crook had but 6,000 men, while Early had 20,000. Gen. Hayes had charge of the first brigade. He was on the extreme right, and was soon attacked with such fury that he was obliged to fall back toward Winchester. The movement was successfully executed, except that the Thirteenth West Virginia Regiment failed to retire, and was in imminent danger of capture. Lieut. McKinley was ordered to go and bring the regiment away, if it had not already fallen into the hands of the enemy. It was a mission fraught with the gravest peril. As he urged his horse through the open fields, over fences and across ditches, the fire of the enemy was poured out upon him.

Once he was completely enveloped in the smoke of an exploding shell and his comrades, who were watching his gallant ride with the gravest anxiety, thought he had surely gone down. But when the smoke had cleared away they saw him sitting erect in his saddle and pressing on. He delivered his orders, and the regiment was rescued after a desperate conflict with overwhelmingly superior forces.

As McKinley came back with the regiment he was cheered by the whole brigade. Col. Hayes was filled with emotion on seeing him. He loved McKinley as a father, and when he sent him on his perilous mission he truly believed, as he said to the Lieutenant on greeting him, and as he afterward said in many public addresses, that he would never see him alive again. That very same night Lieut. McKinley led a party of volunteers to rescue four guns and some caissons, which were in imminent danger of falling into the hands of the enemy. It was a most dangerous piece of work, gallantly accomplished. The next day, July 25, 1864 at the age of twenty-one, McKinley was promoted to be a Captain.

In a fierce engagement at Berryville on Sept. 3, 1864, Capt. McKinley’s horse was shot under him. At Opequan and Fisher’s Hill he again distinguished himself. Soon after the battle of Fisher’s Hill his regiment was detailed as a train guard to Martinsburg. On the march the men voted. Capt. McKinley’s first ballot was cast for Lincoln, whose career his own was to parallel so closely, even to assassination.

McKinley was with Sheridan at the battle of Winchester. For a time he was on the staff of Gen. Hancock. Later he was assigned as Acting Assistant Adjutant General on the staff of Gen. Samuel S. Carroll, commanding the veteran reserve corps at Washington, where he remained through that exciting period which included the surrender of Lee to Grant at Appamattox and the assassination of President Lincoln. It was just a month before Mr. Lincoln fell a victim to an assassin’s bullet that McKinley received from him a document which he has always considered one of his most precious possessions. It is a commission as a Major by brevet in the volunteer army of the United States, “for gallant and meritorious services at the battles of Opequan, Cedar Creek, and Fisher’s Hill,” signed, “A Lincoln.”

Major McKinley participated in the final act of the great war drama, the Grand Review in Washington. At the close of the war, although a military career was open to him, he decided to leave the army. On his return to Poland a complimentary dinner was tendered to him by the citizens, who took a pride in his military achievements. He at once began the stud of the law, entering the office of Judge Charles E. Glidden, at Youngstown, Ohio. After one year’s study under the preceptorship of Judge Glidden, he went to law school in Albany, N.Y., and in March, 1867, was admitted to the bar at Warren, Ohio.

Practice of Law Begun

On the advice of his sister Anna he decided to settle at Canton, which has since been his home. He always manifested a keen interest in politics, and in the same year that he located in Canton his first political speeches were made. He was elected Prosecuting Attorney of Stark County in 1869, overcoming a large Democratic majority. He was renominated, but missed re-election by 45 votes. Resuming his private practice, he soon built up a profitable business. But in all campaigns he was in constant demand as a speaker.

Mr. McKinley was married to Miss Ida Saxton on Jan. 25, 1871. Miss Saxton’s grandparents were among the founders of Canton nearly a century ago. Her father was one of the prominent bankers of the city. Her father’s means enabled her to have every advantage of education and travel, and she had grown into a young woman of many accomplishments.

Mr. Saxton was a man of practical ideas. While educating his daughter for the social position which his wealth and standing in the community opened up to her, he at the same time desired to guard her against possible adversity by giving her a business training. Accordingly he took her into the bank as cashier, a position which she filled for some years with ability. It was while she was cashier in her father’s bank that William McKinley made her acquaintance. Her beauty and her position in society naturally attracted many admirers, but her preference for the rising young lawyer was soon marked.

She was a teacher in the Presbyterian Sunday school, while young McKinley was teaching in the Methodist Sunday school. During their courtship he always accompanied her to her church before going to his own. Miss Saxton’s parents made no objection to the man of her choice, and after a brief courtship they were married. Through all their married life they have remained happy, and their devotion to each other has proved an example to the whole American people.

Two children were born to them-Katie, on Christmas Day, 1871, and Ida, in 1873. Both died in early childhood. Since their death Mrs. McKinley has been an invalid. Her dependence upon her husband has been a matter of tender pathos to all who know them, and his tenderness and devotion to her has greatly added to the admiration of the American people for him.

It was in 1876 that Mr. McKinley was first nominated for Congress. He was elected by 3,300 majority. During the progress of this canvass he visited the Cy over Gov. Campbell, the Democractic candidate for re-election, was decisive, and he polled the largest vote so far cast for Governor in the history of Ohio. Campbell had been elected in 1889 by 11,000 plurality; McKinley defeated him by 21,500.

Soon after his election as Governor the Presidential campaign began. Gov. McKinley was elected a delegate at large to the convention. When the delegates gathered at Minneapolis the contest was apparently between Harrison and Blaine. McKinley came out for Harrison. The opponents of the President, when they found Blaine’s chances were not all they had hoped, started a boom for McKinley, whose position was then one unexampled in the history of politics in this country.

He was the presiding officer of the convention when the attempt was made to stampede the delegates for him. It was a most trying situation, but he bore himself with coolness and decision. When Ohio recorded two votes for him he challenged the vote so as to put himself on record for Harrison. When the roll call was complete, Harrison received 535 votes, Blaine 182, McKinley 182, and Reed 4. Leaving the chair, Mr. McKinley mounted a seat in the Ohio delegation and moved to make the nomination of Harrison unanimous.

Gov. McKinley’s campaign tour through the West for Harrison was one of the marvels of the time. He made 325 speeches in 300 different towns. For over eight weeks he averaged more than seven speeches a day. He traveled over 16,000 miles and addressed more than 2,000,000 people.

On the expiration of his term as Governor he returned to his old home in Canton, where he lived quietly for six months. Then the campaign for the Presidency was begun, and all over the country Republican enthusiasm sprung up for McKinley. It was soon evident that the honor which twice before might have been his but for his high sense of loyalty, was now to be thrust upon him. In the Republican National convention, held in St. Louis in 1896, he was nominated on the first ballot; and in the ensuing election he received a popular vote of 7,104,770, a plurality of 601,854 over his principal opponent, William Jennings Bryan. In the Electoral College he received 271 votes against 176 for Bryan.

The First Administration

Two facts of highest historical importance marked Mr. McKinley’s first four years as President. Spain withdrew its flag from this hemisphere, and gold was declared by statute to be the sole legal standard of value.

The acquisition of Hawaii as a territory and of the transpacific islands as possessions, almost deserve to be bracketed, and would have distinguished other administrations, but in his case they were logical and subsidiary.

Upon both of the important developments he took his positions by a process of growth. In June, 1897, he was subject to Democratic criticism for the slowness of his action regarding Cuba. In December came his proclamation, through Secretary Sherman, regarding the distress and destitution prevailing under the Spanish administration, with the appeal for charitable relief. This was done only after consultation with the Spanish Minister Dupuy de Lome. It was not until after the Maine was sunk that a hostile tone marked his official utterance. On March 28 he transmitted to Congress the report of the court of inquiry, concluding: “I do not permit myself to doubt that the sense of justice of the Spanish Nation will dictate a course of action suggested by honor and the friendly relations of the two Governments.”

On April 7 he received the joint representations of the diplomats of Europe, appealing to the “humanity and moderation” of the United States in its dealings with Spain. If England had not participated in the representation harm might have been done, but the participation of England robbed the innovation of all hostile significance, and a most tactful reply was made. He “appreciated the disinterested character” of the communication and relied upon a similar appreciation of the motives of the United States. On April 11 followed his message to Congress advising armed intervention, after a description of Weyler’s policy of extermination, for the reasons of general humanity, protection for American citizens, and property, and the general National welfare. Congress promptly responded, giving the authority requested. By a unanimous vote $50,000,000 was placed in his sole control for purposes of National defense. This was done quite casually. Sundry appropriations were made for printing and binding in amounts of five figures, then followed three lines providing for the beginning of the war from funds in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated.

Events marched rapidly. On April 22 the blockade of Cuba was proclaimed by him, and on June 27 he sent his message, advising the reward of Hobson and his almost forgotten companions, Newcomb, Powell, and Hodgson, for their bravery at Santiago. The first week of the following January came his message communicating the Treaty of Paris and peace. His hastily sketched official connection with the Cuban war may be said to end with his order for the burial of the soldier dead on April 4.

His Currency Record

Only July 24, 1897, President McKinley sent to Congress a message recommending the appointment of a non-partisan Monetary Commission. He repeated the words of his inaugural, and in due course followed the appointment of the resultless Wolcott commission. He was far from escaping reproach for his sincerity and consistency, but looking backward in perspective it seems as though his influence upon those more heretical and weak-hearted than himself was quite as great as though he had been so far in advance of them as to have lost his influence through lack of touch with those whose support was essential to action. He recurred to the subject with renewed vigor in his message to the first session of the Fifty-sixth Congress, making it the leading topic, and the bill which became law was introduced in the House on Dec. 4, 1890. The Senate proposed a substitute, and there was a legislative wrangle, which is no part of his personal record. He cast his unofficial as well as his official influence into the scale, as, for example, by his interviews with Senator Chandler and H. H. Hanna, who gave publicity to his words in an influential manner.

Mr. McKinley’s utterances upon the attitude of the United States toward its dependencies, or “territorial possessions,” are scattered all through his public documents since the peace with Spain, and also in a notable series of addresses at Boston, Ocean Grove, Chicago, and Minneapolis. Here, also, as in financial questions, he felt his taking no step unnecessarily, and each in logical succession to its predecessor.

Upon tariff matters it is almost unnecessary to indicate-so fresh is the memory of his speech the day before he was shot-how he changed with the times. McKinleyism and a high tariff are familiar synonyms. He was said to have worn a suit of American weave upon inauguration day be way of proof how the tariff develops home industries. Yet under him no less than ten reciprocity treaties have been negotiated and unanimously checked in the Senate. The contrast is eloquent.

Mr. McKinley’s speeches which are not of public record are among the most notable of Presidential utterances. Upon a Southern tour in 1897 there as comment and controversy over his alleged wearing of a Confederate badge. This spirit of tolerance was further displayed in his speech at Atlanta in December, 1897, when he pronounced the very last words over the grave of sectionalism.