The Murder of Ida McKinley’s Brother

Presidential History Blog

First Lady Ida McKinley

In 1898, First Lady Ida McKinley received shocking news. Her brother had been murdered.

George Saxton, Libertine and Rake

The Saxtons were one of the most prominent and wealthy families in Canton, OH. They had three children, born within three years of each other. Ida the eldest, then Mary (always called Pina) and George. George Saxton (1850-1898) grew up to be charming, good looking and well educated. He entered the family businesses and did well, was considered eminently “eligible,” a very snappy dresser and on every Cantonian’s invitation list.

George Saxton, a ladies-man!

He is reputed to have been engaged at least twice, but while he happily courted and escorted, he assiduously avoided marriage. In fact, he still made his home in the “family” mansion with his married sister Pina Barber and her husband and children, although he maintained a bachelor pad nearby. By that time…

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Presidents on the Mend

George W. Bush’s favorability ratings are on the rise… Liberals loathed him, to the point of hysterics- Gene Robison, of the Washington Post, is still fuming over his presidency , but recent Gallup poll numbers show the American people are more forgiving.  Bush’s favorability rating has risen above his unfavorable rating for the first time since 2005.  Conventional wisdom from the popular media held that Bush would be immune from the redemptive attitude Americans take to their former Presidents- Bush it seems, was just that bad.  But a jump in the numbers this pronounced, indicates something deeper…..history can help us.


When Harry Truman left office…. his disapproval rating was a staggering 67%.  His popularity had sunk so low, his average approval rating collapsed to 45%-  this after he enjoyed approval ratings of nearly 90% following the victory in WW2.   Truman’s perceived crime was fighting an unpopular war… a war many Americans didn’t understand at the time.  Within 10 years of leaving office, Truman was listed as “nearly great” by Arthur Schlesinger’s poll of 75 historians. The American people felt the same- Truman’s favorability rose to over 60% during the Watergate crisis.  Truman’s leadership during the earliest and most dangerous years of the Cold War have now been properly acknowledged-  and few can argue with his record on civil rights in America.   Today, Truman is not ranked below 9th in any major poll of Presidential leadership.


America’s Greatest Legislators

Americans seem obsessed with the idea… of ideologically pure lawmakers.  Officials elected to go to Washington and fight the very process of legislating for the sake of political purity that has never existed.  The 112th Congress has achieved a level of infamy not seen since the indolence of the 80th in 1947.  Legislating is a messy process built upon compromise (often compared to sausage making.)  Successful legislators find the balance between what Americans need and what they will tolerate.  Compare our current crop, Boehner, Cantor, Reid, Kyl– with our very best:


5.  Tip O’Neill– A Liberal Democrat able to survive the Reagan Revolution, O’Neill was a master deal-maker.  Reagan and O’Neill were at odds over every major issue of the day, but they were able to keep the government running throughout the 1980’s.  Reagan’s budgets included the social spending the Democrats demanded and O’Neill secured the defense increases Republicans pressed heavily for.  The two men forged an unlikely friendship amidst their budgetary battles.



4.  James Madison– It is easy to forget Madison’s career as a legislator, being the Father of the Constitution and all.  Madison was the consummate pragmatist, willing to compromise when he believed the measure would build an enduring alliance.  His coalition building forced the original states to give up western claims allowing the territories to form.  He guided the Bill of Rights through the first Congress and built the foundation for the judiciary.  Madison distinguished himself despite life long ill-health and jealous rivals like Patrick Henry (who did all he could to deny Madison a seat in the first Congress.)


3.  Sam Rayburn– The picture of longevity and ethics, Rayburn served in the House from 1913-1961 and never once accepted government money for personal expenses.  Rayburn fought for programs he believed in, regardless of their party of origin.  He battled for the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt as well as the federal highway projects of Eisenhower.  Rayburn set a powerful example for a generation of lawmakers (see #2.)



2. Lyndon B. Johnson– There has never been an arm-twister like LBJ.  Many historians consider him the most effective Majority Leader in the history of the Senate.  Central to his ability was intelligence; Johnson would learn as much as he could about the Senator(s) who needed persuading.  With information in hand, he proceeded with the “Johnson treatment” and few could resist.   LBJ brought these skills to the oval office, first passing the Kennedy agenda (including the Civil Rights Act of 1964) in just under 100 days.  Later, he pushed the Great Societythrough a reluctant Congress.



1.  Henry Clay– Andrew Jackson’s name is given to the era, but Clay was the essential American political leader.  Clay transformed Speaker of the House from  a ceremonial to  a political position.  He used his influence to push his American System  that stabilized the country after the War of 1812.  Clay brokered  the Missouri Compromise which saved the Republic from collapse in 1820.  The Nullification Crisis of 1831 was averted through Clay’s efforts.  Clay again forestalled disunion in 1850 through another compromise.  Far from perpetuating slavery, Clay’s efforts allowed essential social movements and political debate to occur.  Had the Republic collapsed during his lifetime, the changes brought on by the Civil War might never have happened.



Buchanan Did Nothing, but Meant Well…

In his fourth annual message to Congress, President James Buchanan addressed the crisis of Secession and how he intended to handle it… the results were underwhelming and have forever relegated him to the “worst Presidents” list.


“The course of events is so rapidly hastening forward that the emergency may soon arise when you may be called upon to decide the momentous question whether you possess the power by force of arms to compel a State to remain in the Union…”


Buchanan offered a timid, ineffectual answer that has forever stained his one term in office…

“After much serious reflection I have arrived at the conclusion that no such power has been delegated to Congress or to any other department of the Federal Government. It is manifest upon an inspection of the Constitution that this is not among the specific and enumerated powers granted to Congress, and it is equally apparent that its exercise is not “necessary and proper for carrying into execution” any one of these powers. So far from this power having been delegated to Congress, it was expressly refused by the Convention which framed the Constitution.”


Ol’ Buck showed no backbone and capitulated to the slave interests one final time.  Secession is wrong, but I won’t stop you.  That’s leadership?






Lincoln and Civil Liberties

The Lincoln administration arrested 14,401 people… during the Civil War.  Most were never indicted and denied a speedy trial.  Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus in September of 1861 allowed the detentions to happen.  Current Lincoln scholarship trends hold that Lincoln abused civil liberties and that his historical legacy must be drawn into question.  A closer examination of the statistics shows that modern researchers are using them merely for shock value and book sales.  Compared to other Presidents using the same powers- Lincoln’s actions are clearly justified.


John Merryman was not an innocent victim… of government tyranny as portrayed by Chief Justice Roger Taney.  Merryman led a detachment of Maryland militiamen in armed resistance to troops in Federal service.  Taney was a partisan Democrat staunchly opposed to Lincoln and supportive of secessionist doctrine.  Ex parte Merryman is not legal precedent at all and cannot be cited as such- it is a political document designed to hinder Lincoln’s attempts to protect Washington and preserve the Union.  It was issued by Taney alone- scholars often make the mistake of assuming that the Supreme Court concurred with the ruling.


Scott v. Sanford cannot be erased

Lincoln faced no mass opposition to these detentions… there were no mass protests, nor mob violence.  A closer look into the statistics shows that well over 80% of those arrested were:

  • from the Confederacy
  • Agitators in border states
  • Foreign agents supporting the enemy
  • Perpetrators of actual crimes against the Government

Far from indiscriminate arrests, the detentions were almost always a direct result of an attributable illegal act.  Rose Greenhow WAS a spy and did pass secrets to the enemyClement Vallandigham routinely denounced Lincoln on the floor of the House of Representatives and was never arrested for it– but when he publicly incited recruits to desert- he committed sedition and was arrested.

Eisenhower and Civil Rights

Eisenhower lacked the rhetorical flourishes of Jack Kennedy… but when it came to defending Civil Rights in America, Ike accomplished far more than his successor.  Popular history has embraced Kennedy as a Civil Rights champion and largely ignored the record of Eisenhower.  This is largely due to the martyrdom  bestowed on Kennedy and Ike’s measured responses to crisis.


The historical record shows Eisenhower to have the strongest Civil Rights record… since Reconstruction.  But, his incremental actions and tempered statements have made it easy for Progressive historians to disregard him as just another Republican.  We cannot overlook Eisenhower’s contribution to the advancement of Civil Rights in America: