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Financial Troubles. Loyalty to Friends.
An unfortunate event, and one which brought to its central figure much grief and humiliation, but nothing savoring of dishonor, occurred while Major McKinley was governor of Ohio. It involved him in financial ruin, the result of his too great confidence in a life-long friend. But though one friend seemingly betrayed him, the episode raised up a host of friends for the gentle and earnest man who so bravely met the crisis, and in a short time all the difficulties were adjusted. The governor found himself untrammeled by debt, as a result of the persistent and unsolicited action of his friends, and his future in no way jeopardized by the trying experience through which he had passed.
An impartial historian cannot pass over this episode. It has been thesubject of too many mis-statements, and justice demands that a clear presentation of the facts shall be made.
In the beginning it may be said that one of Governor McKinley's warmest friends in Ohio was Robert L. Walker, of Youngstown. They had known each other from boyhood, and, measured by the ordinary standards, both had achieved success in life. Governor McKinley had climbed high in the estimation of the people; had irremovably fixed his name in the legislative annals of his country, and occupied the highest office in the gift of the people of his state.
Mr. Walker was a capitalist, banker, and the head of numerous manufacturing enterprises. Among these were the Farmers' National Bank of Youngstown, and the Girard Savings Bank, of both of which he was the president. The Youngstown Stamping Company, a stove works, and several coal mines were also among his possessions. Consequently, Mr. Walker was a leading man in the community, and one who was most highly respected. His wealth was estimated at $2,500,000.
When Major McKinley returned to Canton after the war, and determined to study law, he soon found himself in need of money. It was not a difficult task for him to obtain it, for he had a reputation for integrity, and he had the assurance that any financial obligation he contracted would be discharged to the utmost farthing. It was not strange, therefore, in view of the long acquaintance between Major McKinley and
Mr. Walker, and the differences in their circumstances, that he should turn to Mr. Walker for assistance. It was immediately forthcoming, and was repaid in good time. Subsequently, when fully launched on Iiis political career, Major McKinley had need for money. The campaign expenses during his first race for congress were heavy, and there was a mortgage on some of his wife's property which had to be paid. In these straits Major McKinley secured a loan of $2,000 from Mr. Walker. This loan was paid within two years, out of his salary as congressman, and from time to time other loans were made to him. Major McKinley's income was practically $5,000 a year—his salary as a congressman. He may have had an occasional fee as a lawyer, but it was nothing he could count on. His expenses, largely on account of the illness of Mrs. McKinley, were heavy, and swallowed up his salary. To meet his campaign assessments during the early part of his career, he had to borrow money, and Mr. Walker was usually the man to furnish it. After Major McKinley had attained fame in congress, no more campaign assessments were levied upon him, and, being, an abstemious and studious man, not at all given to social display, he managed to accumulate about $20,000, which was invested in real estate and securities. His chief real estate possession was his modest home in Canton.
In the early part of 1893, Mr. Walker informed Governor McKinley that he was greatly in need of money, and asked that he endorse certain notes. These notes Mr. Walker proposed to have discounted. The governor did not think it necessary to inquire into or investigate the affairs of Mr. Walker. It was enough that his friend—the man who had stood by him in time of need—wanted assistance, and he rendered it.
The governor endorsed, as he supposed, about $15,000 worth of Mr. Walker's paper, and dismissed the matter from his mind. The notes were made payable in thirty, sixty, and ninety days, and the governor's endorsement made them easily negotiable.
February 17, 1893, Mr. Walker's affairs went to ruin. An assignment was made by Mr. Walker, and Youngstown was astonished beyond measure at the news. The failure of the Youngstown Stamping Company to meet a judgment for $12,000 caused the assignment, and the next day the other Walker enterprises were engulfed in ruin. Efforts were begun at once, by commercial agencies and newspapers, to learn the extent of the failure. Banks began to dig up their Walker paper, and soon the governor began to receive dispatches from various parts of the state concerning notes which he had endorsed. He had an engagement to attend a banquet of the Ohio Society in New York at this time, but he canceled it and went at once to Youngstown. There he ascertained that instead of having endorsed $15,000 worth of paper for his friend, he was liable for nearly $ioc,ooo. He had been led Lo believe, also, that the notes had been discounted in but three banks, but now it appeared many banks had them, and the governor was dumbfounded. He held a conference with his friends, and told them that fully one-half the notes he had endorsed were made out to take up old notes that he had endorsed, and which had not been paid. Investigation showed that the old notes were still outstanding, and that the new notes added to the liabilities, until the original debt had been quintupled. Mr. Walker's liabilities were about $200,000, and his assets not one-half that sum. The governor was not interested, financially, in any of Mr. Walker's enterprises.
The conference with his Youngstown friends was an earnest one, and various ways of meeting the situation were suggested. At the conclusion of the meeting, the governor said: "I can hardly believe this, but it appears to be true. I don't know what my liabilities are, but whatever I owe shall be paid, dollar for dollar." He at once proceeded to put this resolution into effect. Mrs. McKinley owned property valued at $75,000, which had been left by her father. On the 22d of February, five days after the assignment of Mr. Walker, the governor and his wife made an unqualified assignment of all their property to trustees, to be used, without preference, for the equal benefit of their creditors. The trustees were: H. H. Kohlsaat, of Chicago; Myron T. Herrick, of Cleveland, and Judge Wm. R. Day, of Canton.
Mrs. McKinley was urged by friends to retain an interest in her property, but she declined to do so. Instead she turned it all over to Mark A. Hanna, of Cleveland, to go toward liquidating the claims against her husband. Governor McKinley, when asked at this time for an explanation of the situation, said:
"I did what I could to help a friend who had befriended me. The result is known. I had no interest in any of the enterprises Mr. Walker was carrying. The amount of my endorsements is in excess of anything I dreamed. There is but one thing for me to do—one thing I would do—meet this unlooked for burden as best I can. I have this day placed all my property in the hands of trustees, to be used to pay my debts. It will be insufficient, but I will execute notes and pay them as fast as I can. I shall retire from politics, take up the practice of law, and begin all over again."
His friends, however, had no intention of allowing him to do anything of the kind. Already the Chicago Inter-Ocean had started a fund to relieve the governor of his liabilities, and money was rapidly pouring in from those who sympathized with him. Governor McKinley, however, refused to accept this expression of good feeling. He forbade the paper to continue to receive money, and returned that taken in to the subscribers.
Then some of his friends determined to raise a fund by private subscription, and pay the governor's debts. The men who undertook to do this were: M. A. Hanna, and Myron T. Herrick, of Cleveland; P. D. Armour, Marshall Field, and H. H. Kohlsaat, of Chicago; and Bellamy Stover and Thomas McDougall, of Cincinnati. The fund was managed by Mr. Kohlsaat, who afterwards said of the matter:
"One of the chief reasons why the subscription plan was adopted was because a number of subscriptions were received anonymously and could not be returned. There were over 4,000 subscriptions sent in, and when the last piece of paper was taken up, bearing Major McKinley's name, no more subscriptions were received, and some were returned. No list of the subscribers was kept, and Governor McKinley does not know to this day, with the possible exception of four or five names, who contributed the money.
"When Governor McKinley saw the publication of the subscription scheme he wrote to me absolutely declining to receive a dollar. Mr. Hanna and his other friends told him to leave the matter alone, for if his friends wished to assist him they should have the privilege."
Myron T. Herrick was treasurer of the fund, and took up the paper as fast as it was presented. When the indebtedness had all been repaid, the trustees deeded back to Governor and Mrs. McKinley the property they had been so willing to sacrifice to preserve the governor's credit. The incident cannot be considered as a reflection on the business ability of Governor McKinley. He did what almost any man would have done under like circumstances, and when he found his confidence had been betrayed, he prepared to do all in his power to prevent any one from suffering through an act of his.
LOYALTY TO HIS FRIENDS.
No episode in all Major McKinley's career shines out more clearly than his high sense of honor as evinced in his devotion to the interest-, of his political friends in national conventions. At no time did he allow ambition to mislead him, though there were times when he must have been sorely tempted. That he was in line for the nomination for the presidency he must have known, and felt, but there is nowhere evidence of his self-seeking. He went to conventions instructed to do certain things, or pledged to certain interests, and all the glory and honor the world had to offer could not have induced him to betray the trust reposed in him.
The Ohio republican state convention of 1884 was held at Cleveland, in April. Major McKinley went to Cleveland fresh from a tariff debate in congress, and was made permanent chairman of the convention. The Blaine following manifestly was in the majority at the convention, but the Sherman men had the best organization, and most of the "old-time" politicians of the state were pronouncedly in favor of the Ohio senator. The great struggle at the convention was on the election of four delegates-at-large. Although it was well understood that Foraker's first choice was Sherman, the Blaine men generously acquiesced in his election by acclamation as a delegate-at-large. A number of names were then presented for the remaining three places, and a sensation was created when one delegate mounted a chair and nominated Major McKinley.
Major McKinley from his place as presiding officer thanked the convention, but said that he could not allow his name to go before it at this time, as he had promised that he would not allow his name to be used while the names of certain candidates were before the convention. The uproar became tumultuous. A majority of the delegates were plainly in favor of the election of Major McKinley by acclamation, although there was some objection. One of the delegates, assuming the prerogatives of the chair, put the motion, and declared it carried. Major McKinley ruled that the motion had not prevailed. General Grosvenor mounted the platform and the second time put the motion and declared it carried.
Again Major McKinley ruled that the motion nau not prevailed and insisted on the vote being taken on the names already submitted, excluding his own. Once more General Grosvenor arose—this time to a point of order. He insisted that Major McKinley had been elected by acclamation, and that the convention had now to elect two more delegatesat-large. The chair overruled the point of order, and amid tumultuous confusion ordered the balloting to go on. A delegate arose and asked the convention to consider Major McKinley as having been put in nomination, despite his declination. At this there were thunders of cheers. From early in the balloting it was evident that Major McKinley was bound to be elected. Counties that had favored other candidates abandoned them and voted solidly for the Major. After between 300 and 400 votes had been cast for Major McKinley and it was recognized by everybody that he had already been elected, a motion was made that he be elected by acclamation. Further contest was stopped, and Major McKinley was elected a delegate-at-large by acclamation.
In the national convention at Chicago Major McKinley bore himself modestly, but his great quality of leadership came to the front by force of circumstances. He only spoke two or three times from the floor of