/ Lee Hutchings

It is God's Way: The Last Words of William McKinley

On Presidents' Day, history recalls many chief executives who made an indelible mark on the United States and the world. Men like Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, the Roosevelts, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan to name a few. Few remember, however, our 25th President: Canton, Ohio’s William McKinley. McKinley is perhaps best known, if remembered at all beyond a question on t.v.’s Jeopardy!,  for being the 3rd President to be assassinated. On September 6, 1901 an anarchist named Leon Czolgosz shot McKinley at point-blank range in Buffalo, New York while the President shook hands in a receiving line at the famed “Temple of Music” concluding the Pan-American Exposition. What happened after being shot, and in the final 8 days and hours of his life, give a remarkable window into the life and legacy of this godly man. 

Before being elected President, William McKinley was no stranger to hardship and suffering. Born to a humble beginning in Niles, Ohio, he dropped out of college after one year given his precarious health and family finances. His wife of 30 years, Ida remained an invalid for most of McKinley’s public career. She was given to great anxiety and panic when William was not able physically to be by her side. The McKinley’s also had two daughters, both of whom died before the age of five due to illness, which further traumatized Ida. A Major in the civil war, McKinley demonstrated great heroism in the heat of battle. Yet, when you study about his life, one constant throughout is his strong faith in Christ and trust in the providence of God. He was a life-long active member of the Methodist church whose influence formed the entire McKinley’s family strong abolitionism. His last days and final moments are the fruit and culmination of a pious and devout life. 

Immediately following being shot twice in the abdomen, the crowd around the President screamed and jumped his assassin, pummeling him on the ground. McKinley witnessed this and called out to his bodyguards, “Don’t let them hurt him” as he took pity on the man who just shot him. Many stood fanning the wounded president as his personal secretary George Cortelyou rushed to his side. McKinley raised his hand soaked in blood from holding his stomach and instructed his aide, “My wife- be careful, Cortelyou, how you tell her- oh be careful.” He was more concerned for the treatment of his would-be assassin and the reaction and emotional fragility of his own bride then he was about the fragility of his own life. 

At the time of the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, the United States was enjoying an unprecedented economic boom and growing stature and influence in world affairs. The President had just become the first oval office occupant re-elected to a consecutive term in almost thirty years. All that to say, William McKinley was incredibly beloved and popular among his fellow countrymen in 1901. People hoped and prayed the president would survive his injury. Although unable to find and remove the bullet, his doctors were very optimistic he would recover.  8 days later however, McKinley took a turn for the worse. Late in the afternoon of September 13th, McKinley said to his doctors, “It is useless, gentlemen. I think we ought to have a prayer.” With Ida by his side she wept continuously as he recited and softly sang his favorite hymn, “Nearer My God to Thee.” Before finally slipping into a coma he garnered the strength to say, “Good-bye, good-bye all. It is God’s way. His will, not ours be done." Soon after, the 25th President died and went to be with his creator and redeemer. 

It’s one thing to cling to the sovereignty and providence of God when life brings great prosperity and fruit; such prosperity and success as America enjoyed and that McKinley spoke about in his speech in Buffalo the day before being shot. It's quite another when facing challenging trials and tribulations. When being struck by a madman’s bullet, McKinley demonstrated neither panic or fear. His concern was focused on others and His God. That's the fruit of saving faith. Can we say, along with McKinley, as we face such difficult and dark providences in our own lives, perhaps even our own death, “Not my will be done, but thy will be done"? We as Americans, and Christians in particular, can be thankful for the life and faith-filled example of a man like William McKinley this Presidents' Day.  

For further reading about the life and legacy of McKinley, I recommend Robert Merry’s book "President McKinley: Architect of the American Century"

Lee Hutchings

Lee Hutchings

Child of God. Husband to Diane. Father of Harper. Walker and feeder of Teddy (our chocolate Lab). Grateful to be Pastor of Trinity Church PCA in North Canton, Ohio. Ordained PCA Pastor since 2012.

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