Saturday, September 14, 2013

This Week  in Texas Methodist History  September 15

Texas Methodists Mourn Slain President  September 19, 1901

On September 14, 1901, the United States was plunged into mourning by the assassination of its president.  William McKinley was the third president in 36 years to fall before an assassin’s bullet.  

Governor Sayers proclaimed Sept. 19 as the official day of mourning in Texas and asked that businesses close between 11:00 and 1:00 that day so that communities could hold joint memorial services.  Since William McKinley was a Methodist, and Methodist churches often had the largest seating capacity of any church in town, Methodist churches all over Texas were filled on 11:00 a.m.on September 19, 1901. 

The main memorial service was in the Texas State Capitol.  Governor Sayers presided, and the venerable John Reagan gave the principal eulogy.  Reagan and McKinley had served in the U. S. Congress together and developed a personal friendship in spite of their partisan differences.  Among his remarks, Reagan said, “If we have to have a Republican president, I’m glad it was McKinley.” 

The Houston Post reported on services throughout the state, at Bellville, Caldwell, Eagle Pass, Bryan, Jefferson, Wortham, Fort Worth, and so on.  Each service began at 11:00 and featured prayer, a psalm, and usually a memorial oration from some local politician.  The favorite hymns used in the services included, Nearer, My God to Thee; Lead, Kindly Light; and It Is Well With My Soul.

The services were union, or what we would call today, “interfaith.”  Houston services were held in the Methodist church whose pastor Sam Hay introduced the pastor of First Baptist Church who gave the main address.  In Palestine Rabbi Weiss participated.  Such unity did not extend to race.  African Americans and whites held separate services.

Each community also gave the service some particular twist.  In Fort Worth Confederate and Union veterans sat together.  Most communities appointed a committee to write resolutions which were read at the services.   In Brenham, there was a 21 gun salute fired at a city park.  In La Porte the Grand Army of the Republic (a Union veterans organization) marched from their hall to the Methodist church.  McKinley was also a veteran of the Civil War.

McKinley’s Methodism was very much part of his public persona.  One of his most difficult decisions was whether to annex the Philippines after the Spanish American War.  In a widely-quoted passage, McKinley related how he prayed over the decision and then decided that the United States had an obligation to Christianize the Filipinos (ignoring their Roman Catholic heritage). 

McKinley’s legacy has been overshadowed by his successor, Theodore Roosevelt, and his principal political opponent, William Jennings Bryan.  The flamboyant TR and the “Great Commoner” have been more attractive subjects for historians and biographers.  There are some historians, however, who have tried to elevate McKinley’s status in our historical consciousness.  Historians of U. S. foreign policy point out that it was during his administration that the United States acquired its overseas empire and thus became a major imperial power.  Political historians point out that in 1896 McKinley ushered in a new era of presidential campaigning.  His manager, Mark Hanna, raised large amounts of corporate cash and used that money to buy favorable press coverage.    Imperialism and the influence of corporate money on the political process—Maybe McKinley was the first modern U. S. president.


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