American Boys' Life of William McKinley/Chapter 20

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Sworn in as President—Death of Nancy McKinley—The Old Soldier's Interview—An Old Colored Woman made Happy

On March 4, 1897, William McKinley was sworn in as twenty-fifth President of the United States. It was a clear, mild day, and Washington was alive with people, many of whom had come hundreds of miles to witness the inaugural ceremonies. There was a grand parade and a brave showing of flags and decorations.

There were many happy people at that inaugural, but I think the happiest of all must have been dear old Nancy McKinley, who had come on, as old as she now was, to see her son, "her own William," made President. No wonder her eyes were filled with tears, as she sat there, as straight as of old, but they were happy tears, and many old persons in the gathering felt like crying with her, because they felt happy over her great happiness.

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The White House, Washington, D.C.

And another person who was happy was the wife, patient, suffering, but still the faithful life companion, the one best loved by him who was now the chief ruler over seventy-five millions of people.

The inauguration was followed by a grand ball and by other social events. Then the government settled down to business once more, and the President called a special session of Congress to consider several matters of importance.

Yet in those days, no matter how busy he was, he never forgot his old mother, who had returned to her home in Canton, Ohio. Every day there came to the Canton post-office a letter from "William at Washington," as she always expressed herself when speaking of him. These messages continued until he was called to her deathbed. She had been a widow for several years, and the parting between mother and son was a sad one. She had been to him all that a good, true, religious mother can be to any son. And he had the satisfaction of knowing that as her son he had done his duty to its fullest by her.

Returning to Washington after this sad affair, President McKinley found that he had his hands more than full with all the public business on hand and accumulating. Acting under his instructions, a new tariff bill, known as the Dingley Bill, was passed by Congress, which proved more satisfactory than that which had preceded it. This was followed by considerable business relating to the money question, and then by attention to the affairs of the Union and Kansas Pacific railroads, who were struggling under large debts and who were seemingly unable to adjust their finances properly.

It was a tremendous amount for the President to do, but he never shrank from any task, however difficult, and wisely surrounded himself with a Cabinet of men fully capable of assisting him in the discharge of public duties.

In one particular the opening of President McKinley's term in office was peculiar in the fact that there was very little "red tape," as it is termed. The President went about all business openly, and never denied himself to any one who wanted to see him on a matter of importance. One day a ragged old Grand Army man presented himself at the door of the White House and was asked his business.

"I want to see the President," said the old veteran.

"He cannot receive you at present, sir," was the answer. "He has called a Cabinet meeting for ten o'clock, and it is now five minutes of ten."

"But he told me I could come and see him," insisted the old soldier.

"Told you? When?"

"About six months ago, when he was in our town out in Ohio."

"Oh! Well, you had better come in when he is receiving visitors," and the doorkeeper mentioned the time.

"I can't come in then," said the Grand Army man, much crestfallen. "I'm going back home this afternoon. Can't you please take in my name to him?"

There was some hesitation, and finally the veteran's name was taken in to the President, who was deep in the reading of some important public documents.

The veteran waited in the hallway for several minutes, and then to his surprise saw McKinley coming toward him with outstretched hand.

"I am glad to see you, sergeant," he said, remembering fully the soldier's rank. "Come in and tell me how you have been." And shaking hands heartily, he led the way to a side apartment where they would not be disturbed. Here the veteran was offered a chair and a cigar, and the President asked him about his personal affairs, about his wife and his brother who had gone to California, and half a dozen other matters, making the visitor feel perfectly at home. Of course the Grand Army man came away more than pleased.

"He's a gentleman, every inch of him," said the veteran, in telling his friends of the visit afterward. "I thought the interview was going to be downright straightlaced, but I soon got that knocked out of me. He talked to me like a brother, and he hasn't forgotten a one of us, even if he is President. He talked to me almost half an hour, and if that Cabinet got together, it had to wait, that's all."

There is also another story, told by an old colored woman, which I think is worth relating, for it shows that this true-hearted American gentleman did not forget the poor and lowly, even though elevated to the highest office of the Nation.

The old colored woman had moved to Washington from Ohio several years before. She was very old, her husband was dead, and she had only a son upon whom she could depend for support. The son had had employment, but was now out of a situation. Shortly after McKinley became President the old colored woman made up her mind to call upon him and see if she could not obtain some sort of government employment for the son.

She was unable to pass the doorkeeper to get a private interview, for she was very old, and nobody understood exactly what she wanted. So on reception day she joined the long line of visitors and stood for nearly an hour waiting for her turn to grasp the chief magistrate by the hand.

She was very nervous, and when she stood in front of McKinley she could scarcely put out her hand, much less repeat what she had in mind to say.

"I dun stood dar jest like a fool," she said, when relating her experience. "He seemed to be sech a big man, I couldn't say nuffin nohow. He looked at me cu'rus like, an' all to once he says, 'Ain't dis Mammy Tucker?' Den I most gasp' fo' bref, an' I says, 'Yes, dis is Mammy Tucker, Mister President,' an' he give my hand a hot squeeze, an' says, 'Glad to see you, Mrs. Tucker. I hope you are well.' Dat flustered me mightily, but I braces up, an' I says, 'I'se putty well, sah, but mighty poor, sah—wid de old man gone, an' Washington out o' wuk. Wisht Washington cud git somet'ing to do around yeah, sah.' By dat time de crowd behin' was pushin' up, an' he says, 'Come an' see me to-morrow at nine o'clock,' an' den I had to pass on, wid everybody a-lookin' an' a-starin' at me, 'cause de blessed President had stopped to talk to a poor ole colored pusson like me."

Promptly at nine o'clock the next day she presented herself at the White House and told the doorkeeper what the President had said. Without hesitation McKinley accorded her a short interview, and gave her some money with which to tide over
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"An' he give my hand a hot squeeze."

her immediate distress. Later on, the son Washington was given a position as a cleaner in one of the public buildings, with a salary upon which mother and son lived very nicely.