William McKinley and His America

By H. Wayne Morgan | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 14
Presidential Profile

LATE APRIL 1897 brought leaden skies and icy winds to New York, but did not prevent the spectacle of the nation's last tribute to a great warrior. Thousands braved the cold gusts that blew off the Hudson to pay tribute to Ulysses S. Grant and to dedicate the mausoleum that the nation's largest city provided for a hero who had seldom claimed her as a home. On the platform among the speech-makers and dignitaries the president of the United States chatted with his vice president, and listened to the oratorical flourishes of others, then rose to present his own. It was the first large ceremony in which the new president participated after his inauguration. As he spoke, McKinley shifted imperceptibly in a hidden armor of newspapers, for both he and Hobart wore them under their coats to keep out the freezing blasts.1

That homely gesture said much of the new president. The formalities of public office did not prevent his adopting a time-tested method of keeping out the cold. At heart he was still a man of simple and unostentatious tastes, though he never forgot his dignity or denied that he relished the powers and prestige of office. His election had brought a notable thaw to Washington society and to public opinion in general. The unpopular Cleveland claimed little affection from the people as he left office, and his gruff manners had alienated most of social Washington.2

Though Cleveland gained popularity in the years that followed, his countrymen ignored him as he left office, giving their best wishes to his more genial and seemingly more human successor. Democratic congressmen who had shied from Cleveland found a warmer welcome in a Republican White House, and reporters noted the more relaxed atmosphere. The public could stroll through the White House gardens again; the mansion was more accessible to everyone. And the new president moved with greater freedom than his predecessor. “No other administration has been so like the period of James Monroe from 1817 to 1825 as McKinley's—an era of good feelings,” one reporter remembered.3

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