McKinley's lost his mountain. Should we still remember his presidency?Breaking News
tags: Denali, Mt. McKinley
● A Misnamed Mountain, a Misunderstood President By Lewis Gould
Mount McKinley was not officially designated while its namesake was president. Nor was it so labeled by the government, after McKinley was shot and later died in September 1901, as a memorial to the martyred chief executive. Sixteen years later, when Woodrow Wilson was president, the Mount McKinley National Park was established. By then McKinley’s historical reputation was in eclipse after the presidencies of Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. From contemporary news accounts in 1917, the name Mount McKinley was taken as a given, and Native American sensibilities were not considered in that racist era. Memorializing the fallen president was not a consideration. The major element in creating the national park in 1917 was to protect endangered native wildlife at the behest of hunting advocates in the conservationist Boone and Crockett Club, not to honor McKinley.
This minor episode comes at a time when McKinley’s historical reputation, long in the shadows, is showing overdue signs of a revival. Karl Rove, a former student, will publish an account of the 1896 election this fall. Thirty-five years ago I dubbed McKinley the “first Modern president.” I contended that in his use of presidential commissions, relations with the press, exercise of the war power, and relations with Congress, McKinley did everything for which later chief executives have received credit and usually did it better. As his secretary of war, Elihu Root, put it: “He was a man of great power because he was absolutely indifferent to credit. His great desire was ‘to get it done.’ He cared nothing about the credit, but McKinley always had his way.”
Compared with the more flamboyant Roosevelt, McKinley seemed cautious, understated, and a little dull. He never pounded his chest or proclaimed his own greatness. His personal secretary, George B. Cortelyou, gave regular briefings to the press and saw to the needs of the reporters who covered the president. McKinley gave no public interviews and could not be quoted directly. He was a master of the timely leak about his intentions.
By the time his second term began in 1901 there were complaints that too much power had accrued to the White House. One reporter said: “the power originally vested in the executive alone has increased to an extent of which the framers of the Constitution had no prophetic vision.” McKinley was shot and died in September 1901, a celebrity president took over, and the innovative administration faded into history. That would not have surprised the modest, unassuming McKinley. As he told Cortelyou in 1899, “That’s all a man can hope for during his lifetime–to set an example-and when he is dead, to be an inspiration to history.” National shame over the war with Spain in 1898 and the subsequent Philippine Insurrection eroded McKinley’s historical importance among presidents.