Tuesday, January 30, 2007

January 29, 1843:

William McKinley's Birthday

In 1843, Ohio, "Mother of Presidents" produced the last president of the 19th century and the first of the 20th; and the last president to serve in the Civil War, which he survived, only to be shot by an assassin as a middle-aged man. In texts written not long after his death, he's often referred to a the third "martyred" president, which might be an indication of how much he was liked in office -- a fairly hard thing for later generations to imagine, with our tenancy to admire or disdain president for their policies, but not really to like them as a sort of national grandfather.

McKinley also came along during the infancy of electronic communications. His campaigns of 1896 and 1900 were too soon to put his voice on the airwaves, but it was, remarkably, captured on cylinders. In this recording -- which has a long prologue made much latter by someone named William Wedge describing the campaign of 1896 -- there's a bit of a campaign speech by McKinley. He made such speeches at his porch in Ohio, a 19th century way to run for the presidency, while his opponent William Jennings Bryan practiced a proto-20th-century campaign by traveling the country on the stump.

By the time McKinley gave this speech, at the Pan-American Exposition in 1901, he'd been re-elected and was beginning to have second thoughts about his longstanding support for trade protectionism. It was among his last speeches, if not his very last. How unfamiliar the timbre and cadence of the voice is. It's the 19th century, so little of which is preserved, speaking to us.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's the voice of a man who learned to speak in public before the advent of the electronic amplification. To modern ears, to mine, anyway, McKinley sounds rather theatrical, but he would have known that distinct enunciation and vocal projection were necessary for people beyond the front row to make out what he was saying. ANK