It is a hard task, my friends, which you have set for me today, to put into formal words the emotions of sorrow that possess us as we stand awestruck before this dreadful tragedy, blind before the darkness of this mystery. All that I can say sounds feeble and inadequate. 'Tis rather a time for tolling bells and booming minute guns, for deep-toned organ swells and solemn service of the sanctuary, with prayer and ritual and pleading litany. Or, these being over and done, 'tis time rather to listen for the heart-breaking bugle-call that echoes from the closed grave at Canton -- "lights out! lights out!"
There are two names that are in the minds of the people of Paterson -- McKinley and Hobart. How friendly and familiar they sound! We knew them both; one, he who went first, belonged to us. They are indissolubly joined in the hearts of all our people, and for all time come it shall be our honor and pride that we gave to our country the first Vice President associate of President McKinley. It was only a little while ago we saw them together within our hospitable walls, full of health and hope and vigor. Now both are gone. How strange! How inscrutable!
Only last March I followed President McKinley as he rode down Pennsylvania Avenue from the executive mansion to the capitol to reconsecrate himself to the service of the American people. Vast multitudes, which no man could number, crowded the avenues, filled the windows and balconies, clambered the roofs. They rent the air with huzzas, they smiled and laughed and cheered with pride and happiness. Flags and banners streamed from every porch and window and housetop. Though a chill rain fell it could not quench the ardor of the multitude or dampen their universal joy over the second inauguration of William McKinley as President of the United States. Day before yesterday I followed him again from the White House to the capitol, down the same broad avenue. Again the same vast multitude filled the streets, but this time no sheer or sound of joy escaped them; only stifled sobs and dripping tears. Flags and banners hung from their accustomed places, but they bore the black insignia of mourning and death. And he who before, full of strength and hope, had met the people's plaudits with smiling, modest recognition, now lay cold and silent in the embrace of death. Fateful contrast! Incomprehensible mystery!
One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.
But this man had not one, but many, of those sweet human qualities of nobility, of greatness, of gentleness, and of tenderness, that reveal, in the solemn hour of sorrow and death, the universal brotherhood of man. And so the world weeps with us today as the earthly form of William McKinley is laid in the grave.
Kings and Princes do him honor and reverence his memory; for in him they perceive a great chief of a mighty people, whose life and example have shown that the true sources of prosperous and successful rule are found, not in might, or power, or heredity privilege, or the Divine right of Kings, but in the gentle elements of justice, reasonableness, noble purpose of love of righteousness, which shone in the character of our dead president. By the shores of the Adriatic a widowed Queen weeps anew today as she recalls a royal husband stricken by just such a dastard hand, and with no worthier of better purpose than that which laid our own loved ruler low. In far Cathay, the medieval spirit of an Emperor's Court and the dim intelligence of his people are touched with grief because they too had experienced the generosity and forbearance of this Western ruler, and had left the strong influence of his toleration and sympathy exerted for their protection.
Now is not the time to take a detailed estimate of his public services. Time and history must deal with them, and to these his countrymen can confidently leave his fame, assured that as with Washington and Lincoln, the greatness and worth of McKinley will grow in the world's appreciation as the years go by.
Nor is this the time to dwell upon "the deep damnation of his taking off." He would not have wished us to speak today of that.
Today it is the human that absorbs our souls, a day for blessed tears, for tender sympathy, for sweet remembrances. Today we mourn the good man gone, the noble gentleman, the pure citizen, the beloved president.
Hear the concordance of praise that comes from every wind under the heavens! The East cries: "We loved him, for he was of our stock. He thought with us. He brought us prosperity; we knew him, therefore we loved him!"
The West says: "He was of us, he was our perfect product. We knew him, therefore we loved him!"
The North cries: "He fought for us; he wrought for us. We understood him; he was loyal and true; therefore we loved him!"
The South cries: "We loved him, for he was magnanimous, and just to the South; in war an honorable foeman, in peace a friend and a brother!"
Gallant soldier, successful politician, wise legislator, powerful debater, matchless orator, courtly gentleman, courtly in manner because courteous in feeling!
He loved all things that were good and beautiful: children, flowers, music, friends, neighbors, neighborhood, the scenes and memories of his early life, the every day plain things, that make up the sum of human existence.
It was his custom to wear a flower in his coat, and many a time have I seen him take the flower and give it to some little child who had come to touch the hand of the great Chief of the Nation.
He did not condescend, he did not need to; all he did was high and fine; but he did not rate the homely habits and thoughts of people as lowly things, but rather as genuine and admirable expressions of a true and worthy life. Nor did he lack the dignity that is befitting the great station which he occupied.
No prince or knight of chivalry ever bore himself with finer carriage or firmer step.
His simple dignity was the wonder and the praise of courts and chancelleries. He bore in perfect poise the great honors of his office, neither vaunting himself, nor permitting the credit and reputation of his country to suffer by contrast with the trained and studied deportment of foreign courts.
If I were to seek a phrase to describe his public demeanor I would say it was "simple greatness."
As he lay in those last days upon his bed waiting in calm consciousness the issue of his wound, no doubt his mind was filled with many memories of his life. He had time in those solemn anxious hours to view it all in retrospect. He recalled the days of his childhood and youth, his parents' early love and admonition, his school days and school-mates. It was wonderful how he always remembered a comrade. And then he thought of that day on which began that long service of his country to which all his after life was devoted, the day on which a lad of seventeen years, he swore devotion to the flag and marched away to the war. Pause and think of it for a moment. This lad of seventeen, taking his place in the ranks, a private soldier, carrying a musket, bearing on his young shoulders knapsack and blanket rolled, enduring the fatigue of the march, the homely rations, the discomfort of the camp, the misery of the hospital, the horrors and danger of the battle field.
Is it any wonder that he had a just and keen sympathy with the men of the ranks?
Perhaps in this retrospect the dying President recalled nights upon the ticket line, and thoughts of duty and country and god that came to the young soldier as he paced his lonely beat under the silent stars. Perhaps he saw again the blood red fields of Sharpsburg, and the boys of his regiment breaking into cheers as the youthful Commissary Sergeant William McKinley drove his wagon load of rations for the hungry troops right up to the line of battle.
Perhaps he heard again the rattle of Early's musketry at dawn at Cedar Creek, and saw the Union troops in terror and surprise flung back before the unexpected foe; and later Sheridan, on foaming steed, coming up from Winchester; and captain McKinley rallying the troops and reviving their spirits by spreading the cheering news that Sheridan had returned. All the panorama of those never to be forgotten scenes unrolled before his memory; and all the struggles and contests by which he had risen step by step from a simple soldier in the ranks to the summit of earthly power, the head of the American Government, the Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States.
His was a life given to his country. For her he lived, for her he died. For her he put aside brilliant prospects of professional and business success. For her he fought, for her he labored, without ceasing, and gave the best effort of his brain and the loving loyal devotion of his great heart.
And he was no mere theoretical academic statesman, filled with great zeal and small sense. His mind and methods were of the practical kind. No man ever appreciated more truly than he the real nature and quality of public sentiment, and none ever understood better how to mould and use it for the public good. He had faith in the common sense of the average citizen, and it was to their reason, not to their passion or their prejudice that he always made his appeals, and rarely in vain. He was no trimmer, watching the shifting impulses of the populace that he might trim his sails to the momentary gusts, but a great pilot, scanning always the waters ahead to shun the rocks and whirlpools, and discover where the deep safe channel of national progress lay. His pilot stars were truth and loyalty.
He was progressive but not radical. All his thoughts and methods were deliberate and well-considered. He never acted in haste or passion. Resentment he had none. He was the sanest man, and the one most free from hasty impulse and unreasoning prejudice, that ever graced so high a station.
And he was eminently a just man, never condemning unheard, nor deciding without investigation. Patient, too, in toil and in perplexity, gentle and sweet in manner towards all men; loved of his friends, respected of his opponents, silent under slander and abuse; sagacious, firm in the right as God gave him to see the right; and loving his country and her people with a love that was all engrossing, and loyal unto death.
Ah, the flag of his country! often have I seen his eyes moisten as he caught sight of it waving at the head of some line of veterans, or carried by some regiment returning from the wars. And now that flag is his winding sheet! And we have lost him:
"He is gone:
We know him now; all narrow jealousies
Are silent; and we see him as he moved,
How modest, kindly, all-accomplished, wise,
With what sublime repression of himself,
And in what limits, and how tenderly:
Not swaying to this faction or to that:
Not making his high place the lawless perch
Of wing'd ambition, nor a vantage ground
For pleasure; but thro' all this tract of years
Wearing the white flower of a blameless life,
Before a thousand peering littlenesses,
In the fierce light that beats upon a throne."
But if President McKinley was noble in his life, in his death he was sublime.
"He taught us how to live, (and O, too high
The price of knowledge), taught us how to die."
No word of resentment for his assassin, but thoughts of protection, and regard for the authority of the law. Let his example shine forever in the eyes of our citizens to show them the height and the depth of the duty and devotion which they owe to the constituted order of society and the majesty of law.
No word of disappointment or regret at his untimely call to die, but Divine resignation to the higher purpose which overruled his plans and hopes.
President McKinley believed in a Divine Power who is the author of Being, and in a Divine Law-giver who ordains the rule of righteousness, a rule which every human conscience must acknowledge. He believed that the life of the spirit reaches out and joins over from this world to another world, into which the soul shall take hold of the infinite and the eternal. And shall we doubt it? Shall the greatness of this man's intellect, the nobility of his character, the generosity of his spirit, the almost perfect conformity of his life and thought to the standard of the spiritual law that is within us, shall all these things be accounted for as the mere product of an accidental coordination of particles of matter?
Shall we not rather see in him a manifestation of the greatness and the purity to which the Divine spirit that is in man may attain when restrained and guided by the Divine standards? Shall we not hope, nay, believe! that, in a wider sphere, in a fairer land, his spirit still lives and labors and loves?
When darkness of death was settling over him he murmured words of rest and home. I think that when the light of the eternal morning greeted his soul's eyes, he knew that he had found them -- rest and home.