T. BENTLEY MOTT
FRIEND OF FRANCE
NOMINATING McKINLEY FOR PRESIDENT
"WILLIAM MCKINLEY had been gerrymandered out of Congress in the late '80's and a lucky thing for him and for the country it was, for otherwise he probably would never have become Ohio's governor and afterward President of the United States. McKinley was a poor boy, and in his early days an old friend named Robert L. Walker, from Poland Ohio, where McKinley had attended seminary, had loaned him money with which to go to Albany and attend the law school. McKinley had never been able to pay him back, and when he was governor, Walker, who later went into the tin-can manufacturing business at Youngstown, Ohio, got in the habit of asking him to endorse his business notes. McKinley did not seem to think he could refuse, and apparently he did not keep much track of what he signed; for toward the close of his first term as governor these notes had begun to accumulate and circulate in alarming proportions. Some of them came to the Euclid National Bank, which I had organized, and as one of McKinley's friends I was asked what I thought about them. I consulted McKinley and he informed me that he owed Walker only $5,000. At that time I had a rich client named Woods who was a great admirer of McKinley, and I told him about the matter. He immediately raised a fund of $5,000 and I sent it to Walker in payment of McKinley's debt. To our great surprise we then gradually discovered that there was something like $100,000 of Walker paper in bankers' hands bearing McKinley's endorsement. While we were trying to devise means to straighten out this matter, worse befell.
"McKinley's second nomination for governor was looming up and he was on his way to New York to make a speech before the Ohio Society. When he got to Buffalo he received notice from Youngstown that Walker had failed. He immediately turned back and went to Youngstown to see him. Here a rather amusing encounter took place which we afterward enjoyed teasing McKinley about; but it was no source of amusement at the moment. Between Buffalo and Youngstown, McKinley had plenty of time to think over what he was going to say to Walker and he freely declared that he proposed to give him such a talking to as he would remember the rest of his life. But when he reached Walker's house, he found the old man in bed groaning and crying out as if in great agony. The people who were listening in the next room for the awful dressing down that McKinley had announced heard nothing but kindly admonitions, such as, 'Have courage, Robert, have courage! Everything will come out all right.'
"They didn't come out all right for a long time, and McKinley suffered intensely in his pride through all the trouble this Walker failure caused him. His financial matters were in a bad mess and there was no denying it. In ordinary times we could have cleared the affair up without much difficulty, but the panic of the early '90's was on, Schlessinger of Milwaukee had failed, and even M. A. Hanna himself, with all his great interests, was fighting for his life at that moment. However, we all got busy, and the same night twenty-five men had put up enough money to pay off all the notes that McKinley had endorsed. Mrs. McKinley deeded over all her fortune, which was not large, and the $130,000 we had raised was placed in my hands. With it I settled everything.
"At this time Foraker was fighting McKinley's renomination for the governorship, and the bankruptcy affair gave him a dangerous weapon. I could not go to the Republican state convention at Columbus, as it was impossible for me to leave Cleveland on account of the panic, but I got our Cuyahoga County delegation to promise their votes to McKinley. He made a great speech and was unanimously renominated. The convention adjourned late at night and, tired as he must have been, McKinley took the two o'clock train for Cleveland and when I arrived at the bank in the morning he was there waiting for me. He said:
"'Myron, I just came up to tell you that I know that without your prompt action last April I could never have been renominated for governor. I am going back to Columbus on the eleven o'clock train, but I wanted you to understand how I feel about it.'"
McKinley's letters to Mr. Herrick in 1893-4 contain repeated references to this Walker affair, and the whole correspondence---scores of letters, mostly written in long hand---is a proof of the beautiful affection and unselfish loyalty which bound the two men together. Not one line of self-seeking or any suggestion of political scheming can be found in it. These letters shed so much honor on both men that it is to be hoped that all of them, as well as the ones written when McKinley was President, will soon be made available to the public. They throw a fine light upon McKinley and his relations with Hanna and Herrick. They make good reading for every American proud of his country and of her statesmen. The three which follow are pertinent to the events which have just been described.
Governor and Mrs. McKinley had spent four weeks early in 1893 with the Herricks in their Cleveland home. On returning to Columbus, February 23rd, McKinley wrote:
"We reached here at 9:30---had a comfortable trip. Mrs. McKinley stood it very nicely. I cannot retire to-night without thanking you and Mrs. Herrick for the home you gave us and the cheer you brought to us in our great misfortune. It was indeed a home and we shall never forget your tender and loving hospitality. I do hope that Mrs. Herrick did not overtax herself, and you my dear friend must not work too hard.
"My mail was overflowing with sympathy and the most earnest protest against Mrs. McKinley turning over her property. Much like the letters you have already seen. I will send you a large mail to-morrow.
". . . Mrs. McKinley joins me in love to your wife and Parmely. Again thanking you from the bottom of my heart. We are your friends."
Again on March 8th he writes:
"I thank you for your kind letter of yesterday and the cheerful news it contains. We were so sorry to leave you and Mrs. Herrick. Your home has been so restful to us, and your hearts have been so tender in sympathy that it was very hard to break away.
"Give our love to Mrs. Herrick and Parmely. I enclose you a letter from Mr. W----- which please return after you have read it."
Meanwhile, McKinley learned what was being done to arrange for paying his debts---learned more, I suspect, than it was intended by his friends he should know. He wished, therefore, to make his position clear, and he sent Mr. Herrick the following formal letter, written in his own hand. I think it has never before been published:
State of Ohio
Office of the Governor
Columbus, March 14, 1893
MESSRS. H. KOHLSAAT, M. T. HERRICK, M. A. HANNA, W. R. DAY & THOMAS McDOUGAL
I learn that my friends throughout the country are raising a fund for the payment of my debts, incurred through the accommodation paper signed by me for Mr. Walker. While appreciating this noble generosity on their part, I cannot consent to the use of this fund for the cancellation of my debts. As the Walker paper for which I am liable is very much scattered, and as it would seem better to have it in fewer hands, I do not object, if it be agreeable to the contributors of the fund, that their trustees buy up the paper, dollar for dollar, but I insist that they hold it, as an obligation against me to be paid off as fast as I can do it. I cannot for a moment entertain the suggestion of having my debts paid in the way proposed or in any other way than I have herein indicated, so long as I have health to earn money.
I assure you I am not unappreciative of the kindness of my friends. I am almost overcome with its boundlessness. Their faithfulness to me and their readiness to take from my shoulders this load of debt have touched me deeply and is a manifestation of friendship and confidence, the memory of which will remain with me while I live! But you and other of my friends must know that, feeling as I do, I must respectfully and gratefully decline the application of the contributions from my fellow citizens to the payment of my debts.
Wm. McKINLEY JR.