The Front Porch Campaign


A break with the Far West was a foregone conclusion. Anticipation marred the drama of the scene that followed the adoption of the money plank. “Silver is, we think,” the Nation commented, “the first raw metal that has ever been wept over.” Senator Teller in pathetic periods took farewell of the party to which he had given his lifelong devotion, and led the sad procession of delegates from the convention hall. As the silver men filed out, a tall Nebraska reporter and excongressman came striding down over the desks from his place in the back of the press stand. William Jennings Bryan looked after the Republican bolters with a gleam in his eye and a faint, satisfied smile; but the loss of the mining states did not jar the enthusiasm of the convention’s proceedings, nor dim Republican confidence in the future. Glittering refulgently in the platform, gold seemed a word of magic power to purge the party of inflationists and make it with a new consistency the organization of the business interests.

On Thursday, June 18, when the nominations for the Presidency were made at St. Louis, the city of Canton was undecorated and noiseless. Bicyclists, pedaling along North Market Street, cast curious glances across a shaven, dewy lawn, brightened by two white urns spilling over with flowers, and by circular beds of blazing red geraniums. The candidate’s house was looped like a Christmas package with important coils of wire, which directly connected it by telegraph and long-distance telephone with the convention hall in St. Louis. Reporters had taken over the front porch, occupying the wicker armchairs and splint rockers, sprawling on the floor and steps, and perching on the railing. Privileged friends arrived, and passed inside. A group of nervously vivacious ladies clustered around McKinley’s wife and mother in the parlor. McKinley himself was seated in the library, near the telephone apparatus, in the company of his one-legged Civil War comrade, General Russell Hastings, and a few other men. The instruments of the Postal Telegraph and Western Union companies clicked competitively in the upstairs hall, and Mrs. McKinley’s young cousin, Sam Saxton, read off the bulletins that came over the telephone.

Now and then McKinley crossed to the parlor to speak a cheerful word to his wife or ask her twittering entourage, “Are you young ladies getting anxious about this affair?” To the veteran Cincinnati editor, Murat Halstead, his calm, grave face looked “marvelously like Daniel Webster,” as he sat in the revolving chair beside his desk, with pad and pencil in hand. The news arrived almost simultaneously over the three wires that Ohio had been reached in the roster of the states, and Ex-Governor Joseph B. Foraker was making his way to the platform. He was about to speak. His pronouncement of McKinley’s name had thrown the convention into an uproar. The telephone was silent for half an hour. Stepping over to pick up the receiver, McKinley was amazed to hear a distant confusion of cheers. Others followed his example, and shared his astonishment. The circuit in the convention hall telephone booth had been left open, and McKinley had actually had the extraordinary experience of hearing himself acclaimed six hundred miles away. The sound, Halstead said, was “like a storm at sea with wild, fitful shrieks of wind.”

It was hard on a speaker, McKinley remarked, to be held up that way—“like stopping a race horse in full career.” The St. Louis operator came back to the telephone. Foraker was trying to resume his speech. “You seem to have heard the name of my candidate before,” Sam Saxton read out. “Ah,” McKinley said, “that is like him. He knows what he is doing, and is all right.” Mark Hanna and the governor of Ohio were embracing, Sam reported, and another delegate was wildly fanning Hanna’s head. The tension in the parlor relaxed in smiles of amusement.

Suddenly, the bulletin came, “Alabama, 18 for McKinley.” The gentlemen in the library grabbed their tally sheets. McKinley sat quietly keeping score at his desk. The roster of the states rushed on. The figures mounted fast. Quick calculation soon showed that Ohio’s forty-six certain votes would settle the nomination on the first ballot. Before they were reported, one of the men threw down his pencil, and offered his congratulations. McKinley went to the parlor and kissed his wife and then his mother, as he told them that Ohio had given him the presidential nomination.

While he bent above them in a tender tableau that moved some ladies to tears, a clang reverberated from the city hall tower and hell broke loose in Canton. Gongs and bells, cannon and guns and firecrackers, tin horns and whistles, the music of the bands, and the citizens’ roars of triumph were blended in a single, deafening, discordant din. Flags were thrown to the breeze, bunting smothered the buildings. Carriages, horsemen, and bicyclists whirled up North Market Street, followed by a racing crowd on foot. Sam Saxton was calling for “Central,” but the announcements could not be heard in the din of victory. The crowd made a rush to the front door. McKinley’s companions fled. “You have my sympathy,” General Hastings dryly remarked, as he hobbled out the back way. Thousands of people flung themselves into the house, with shrieks of congratulations and “God bless you,” and the ladies of the community, carried away by excitement, danced in circles around the Major, as McKinley was generally known, from his brevet rank in the Civil War.