Speech to Congress honors vice president

From Niles to the White House

On Dec. 5, 1899, President McKinley delivered his annual address to Congress. According to the Dec. 6, 1899, edition of the New York Times, McKinley began by honoring the late Vice President Garret Hobart.

He spoke highly of his life, career, and character, saying, “At the threshold of your deliberations, you are called to mourn with your countrymen the death of Vice President Hobart, who passed from this life on the morning of Nov. 21 last. His great soul now rests in eternal peace.

“His private life was pure and elevated, while his public career was ever distinguished by large capacity, stainless integrity and exalted motives. He has been removed from the high office which he honored and dignified, but his lofty character, his devotion to duty, his honesty of purpose, and noble virtues remain with us as a priceless legacy and example.”

Although Theodore Roosevelt became McKinley’s runningmate and eventual vice president, McKinley finished his first presidential term without a vice president following the death of Hobart.

McKinley continued his address by talking about the prosperity of the American people, stating, “The fifty-sixth Congress convenes in its first regular season with the country in a condition of unusual prosperity, of universal good will among the people at home and in relations of peace and friendship with every government in the world.”

One of the final points McKinley addressed was the 100th anniversary of the death of George Washington. On this topic, he said, “The 14th of December will be the one hundredth anniversary of the death of Washington. For a hundred years, the Republic has had the priceless advantage of the lofty standard of character and conduct which he bequeathed to the American people. It is an inheritance which time, instead of wasting, continually increases and enriches.

“We may justly hope that in the years to come with benignant influence of the Father of His Country may be even more potent for good than in the century, which is drawing to a close. I have been glad to learn that in many parts of the country the people will fittingly observe this historic anniversary.”

During the speech, McKinley spoke about the relations with many countries, and responses in the papers that week suggest that his speech was received favorably in most places, with the exception of Britain, which, in the midst of the Boer War, was disappointed not to receive more recognition.

By contrast, the Los Angeles Times reports that the message was well-received in Cuba, so much so that “even the leaders of the extreme party” were happy with the news and “the announcement that there will be no civil governor has cleared away the clouds that had been hanging over the Cuban political situation.”

The Washington Post reports that Roosevelt also spoke favorably of McKinley’s message, stating, “The extraordinary prosperity of the country in the face of the fact that we are still stamping out the last embers of the war which was the aftermath of our struggle with Spain speaks sufficiently for the administration and therefore the wisdom of the country in placing it in power and in holding up the hands of President McKinley.”

Kristin Reeves is a librarian at the McKinley Memorial Library, where she moderates a monthly History Book Club.


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