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President McKinley

Blake Bowden

Staff Member

President McKinley stood on a platform at Buffalo, New York, on September 5, 1901, and addressed a sweeping crowd of visitors at the Pan American Exhibition. He explained the wide range of problems facing the nation, and, as he enumerated the problems, he presented his proposals for solutions.
The next day, September 6, 1901, as he hosted a reception at the Exposition's Music Hall, loud shots rang out. He slumped to the floor, mortally wounded and bleeding profusely. Eight days later, the 25th President of the United States and a strong proponent of Freemasonry died in a Buffalo, New York, hospital.

In earlier years, he had had a long experience of gunfire, roaring canons, and death. He had enlisted in an Ohio Infantry unit as a private at the beginning of the Civil War and saw his first action at Carnifex Ferry on September 10, 1861. The following year represented what was probably his most trying and yet most successful military service. He fought in the South Mountain Battle on September 14, 1862, and three days later performed truly outstanding service in the bloodiest of all Civil War battles, Antietam, on September 17, 1862. For his performance there, he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant.

In subsequent battles, which included Lexington, Kernstown, Opequan Creek (aka Winchester), Fisher's and Cedar Creek, all in 1864, he kept up his exceptional service to the Union cause. During that time, he rose to the rank of Captain, and on March 13, 1865, he was brevetted Major for gallantry in battle by President Abraham Lincoln himself.

At Winchester, Virginia, while managing and overseeing protection of an Army hospital, he was made a Mason. Impressed by the Masonic interactions between Confederate prisoners and Union doctors in a time of war and hatred, he strove to find an explanation. After learning the reasons, he presented a petition to Hiram Lodge No. 21, Winchester. As a Union Army Major, he was made a Mason in a Confederate Lodge, receiving all three Degrees in three days, May 1, 2, and 3, 1865, with a Confederate Chaplain, J. B. T. Reed, serving in the East the whole time.

When mustered out of service on July 26, 1865, he was acting Assistant Adjutant General under General S. C. Carroll who commanded the veteran reserve corps at Washington, D.C.

Resuming civilian life, he went to law school at Albany, New York, and, after admission to the Ohio bar and a few years of law practice, he became a U.S. Congressman from Ohio and spent the rest of his life in public office, including service as Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Governor of Ohio, and President of the United States. The harshest event during his term was the Spanish-American War, which he had thought preventable and which he did all in his power to avert. His massive public record is extant and truly remarkable.

His Masonic record is almost equally impressive. He never forgot Masonry and, holding the full range of York Rite Degrees, he delivered the address at the centennial of Washington's death. On December 14, 1899, at Mount Vernon, Bro. McKinley addressed the Masonic observance of the centennial saying: The Fraternity justly claims the immortal patriot as one of its members; and the whole human family acknowledges him as one of the greatest benefactors.

He regularly visited Lodges in his national travels and in Washington, D.C. A delegation from Columbia Lodge No. 2397 visited him in the White House and gave him a certificate of membership in that Lodge in London, England. He attended a reception in his honor at California Commandery No. 1 in San Francisco, on May 22, 1901.

During an Imperial Council meeting in Washington, he received the Shriners at the White House, and, also at the White House, tendered a reception for the Scottish Rite's Supreme Council, Southern Jurisdiction, on October 23, 1899. Those activities typified his regular promotion of and participation in our honorable institution.

Anarchist Leon Czolgosz killed the man, but he could not kill his exemplary record of humanitarian achievements and public service. Bro. McKinley's remains were accompanied from the White House to the Capitol by five Commanderies of Knights Templar. He lay in state two days, and on September 19, 1901, uniformed Knights Templar, some two thousand strong, formed one full division of the funeral escort.

The fourteenth of this month, September 2001, marks the centennial anniversary of the President McKinley's death, and we can be justly grateful and proud to refer to him as our Brother.

Source: Bro. Julian E. Endsley, 32°, K.C.C.H.

When asked how he came to be a Mason, President McKinley explained:
"After the battle of Opequam, I went with the surgeon of our Ohio regiment to the field where there were about 5,000 Confederate prisoners under guard. Almost as soon as we passed the guard, I noticed the doctor shook hands with a number of Confederate prisoners. He also took from his pocket a roll of bills and distributed all he had among them. Boy-like, I looked on in wonderment; I didn't know what it all meant. On the way back to camp I asked him:

'Did you know these men or ever see them before?'
'No,' replied the doctor, 'I never saw them before.'
'But,' I persisted, 'You gave them a lot of money, all you had about you. Do you ever expect to get it back?'
'Well,' said the doctor, 'if they are able to pay me back, they will. But it makes no difference to me; they are brother Masons in trouble and I am only doing my duty.'
"I said to myself, 'If that is Masonry, I will take some of it myself.' "
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