There is only one American still alive who lived while William McKinley was president. Susannah Mushatt Jones was born on July 6, 1899. She will be 117 years old this summer, and she lives in Brooklyn.
Everyone else is dead. That’s a morbid thought, but it’s true: 100 percent of us will end our mortal lives on the earth. Not one of us is likely to see the year 2136 (I borrowed that from my pastor–thank you Pastor Mark).
McKinley was the last governor of Ohio to ascend to the presidency. He won his second term in 1900 and gave his inaugural address on March 4, 1901. Then he took a grand tour of the United States by rail, summering on the west coast, then traveling back through his native Canton, Ohio (just over an hour from the site of the 2016 Republican National Convention) to Buffalo, New York.
On September 6, 1901, McKinley was shot by Leon Czolgosz, a 28-year-old unemployed anarchist. Two shots from a .32 revolver yielded a fatal wound for McKinley–he almost certainly would have survived with today’s medical advances–and he died of gangrene poisoning 8 days later.
McKinley, a Republican, succeeded Democrat Grover Cleveland, who had served two non-consecutive terms. The issues of the day in the late 1800’s were similar to today. Cuba was under Spanish colonial rule. McKinley ended that with the Spanish-American War (with the populist Teddy Roosevelt’s volunteers charging up San Juan Hill). McKinley annexed the Hawai’ian Islands as a territory.
Cleveland was saddled with the panic of 1893, leading to massive railroad and bank failures, and American industries in distress. The Free Silver movement, farmers, anti-Semites and nativists led a populist wave (many of the anti-Rothschild, blame-the-Jews libels still circulate today) which threw the Democrats out of office. McKinley was for punitive tariffs and protectionist trade policies.
McKinley held forth from his front porch in Canton, tailoring his speeches to whoever showed up. He was the Donald Trump of the late 19th century–the main difference being that McKinley’s remarks were always carefully prepared and vetted, so they couldn’t be used against him. Trump doesn’t seem to care what comes out of his mouth. When McKinley died, his vice president, Teddy Roosevelt, became president–the first real populist to inhabit the White House.
But nobody who was present to witness those events is alive today.
Issues in American politics tend to periodically recycle as the world moves from crisis to crisis. Last night’s bombing of the Brussels airport by Islamic terrorists cut short the lives of 28 (as of this writing) people, and we mourn them. A wave of populism is sweeping America, with Trump and Sanders playing the roles of McKinley and William Jennings Bryan (minus the Christian themes). These things do tend to repeat themselves.
But in 120 years, these events will be dead history, and all of us will be a long faded memory.
This is Holy Week, between Palm Sunday, the triumphal entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem, as prophesied, on the foal of a donkey, with shouts of “Hosanna!” and waving of palm branches, and His execution. The Jews wanted a political savior to free them from Roman rule. By Good Friday, Jesus would be betrayed by Judas, framed by Caiaphas, abandoned by Pilate, condemned by the crowd shouting “crucify him!” He would be scourged with a whip almost to the point of death, then nailed to a wooden cross to die.
That death two millennia ago would be faded from history, not even a memory, but for one thing. On Sunday, Jesus rose again. Whether you believe in the Resurrection or not, that one life that could not be snuffed out is the nexus of history. It is the seminal event affecting every aspect of life since the day it happened. Nobody on earth is completely immune from its reach. Not one person on earth can hide from the unequaled effect of Jesus’ return from death.
By 2136, we will all be gone, but the events that define Easter will continue to overshadow history until His return.
We don’t know what issues will dominate the political horizon then. We don’t know what world our children and grandchildren will inherit or leave to their successors. But we do know that we can, today, turn to the one event in history that offers redemption, salvation, and security for all eternity.
Politicians will come and go. Whether Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton occupies the White House will not concern us 120 years from now. What happened two millenia ago, and where our hope lies–for none of us is guaranteed one more day–is the only fact that we need to settle today.
And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.
Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.
So when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:50-54)