Day By Day

Friday, January 29, 2010

This Day In History

Today is "National Puzzle Day", a day to indulge yourself with your favorite kind of puzzle. For some it's the Times crossword, for others Sudoku. For still others it's spatial or logic or jigsaw. Here's a link to where you can find a plethora of puzzles to keep you amused all day long. As for me, I tend to find life itself to be an puzzle and have not a clue how to solve it, assuming of course that there is a solution. I plan to spend today celebrating its other aspect -- today is also "National Cornchip Day" so this morning I plan to stop by the local convenience store and load up.

On this day in 1860 Anton Chekhov was born. His plays and short stories seem a bit dated today, but that is only because they were so powerfully influential on the literature of the past century. Everybody who writes in either form, whether they are aware of it or not, is emulating some aspects of Chekhov's work. Artistically, we are living, and have lived our entire lives, in the world Chekhov created. I still can't decide whether or not that's a good thing. My favorite Chekhov quote, one apropos to today's political situation: "Any idiot can face a crisis — it's this day-to-day living that wears you out."

And on this day in 1843 William McKinley was born in Niles, Ohio. As a young man he attended Allegheny College in Meadville, PA, as well as Mount Union College, but transferred to and graduated from Poland Seminary in Ohio. When the Civil War broke out he joined the U. S. Army as a private. His commanding officer was future president Rutherford B. Hayes. McKinley's service was so distinguished that he rose quickly from private, to sergeant, to lieutenant, to captain, and finally to major and was frequently cited for his heroism.

After the war McKinley got a law degree and became a prosecutor in Stark County, but after two years he resigned to become a defense attorney representing workers in labor disputes. At about the same time he got active in politics, working on Rutherford Hayes' campaign for Governor of Ohio. After the campaign he ran for and was elected to the House of Representatives as a Republican where he was identified with protectionism, raising tariffs on foreign imports to protect American businesses and jobs. In 1890 he was defeated for re-election because mid-western farmers rose in revolt against the hated "McKinley tariff", but he remained something of a hero to northeast workers. After leaving Congress McKinley was elected Governor of Ohio where he again promoted legislation to protect workers' rights. During the depression of 1893-97 McKinley organized, and paid for out of his own pocket, relief missions to feed, clothe and provide medical care for distressed miners. Then in 1896 he resigned the governorship to begin his campaign for the presidency.

1896 was one of those "transitional" elections you always hear about. McKinley, under the tutelage of Mark Hanna [the Karl Rove of his day] ran an innovative "front porch" campaign in which delegations from groups all across the country were brought into his home town of Canton, Ohio to hear him speak. McKinley's reputation as a spokesman for the worker stood him in good stead as he gained the support of both businessmen and workers in urban areas while his Democrat opponent, William Jennings Bryan, polled well in rural areas of the Midwest and South. The result was a political realignment that continued into the 1930s.

As president, McKinley supported the consolidation of big business and promoted foreign trade. He also promoted territorial expansion, annexing Hawaii, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. He reluctantly took the country into war with Spain and sent troops to China to protect American business interests during the Boxer Rebellion. He easily won re-election in 1900. Historians consider his to be the first "modern" presidency.

In the following year McKinley and his wife were attending the Pan-American exposition in Buffalo, New York, when he was attacked by Nicholas Czolgosz, an anarchist. What followed was one the worst cases of medical malpractice on record. Two bullets had lodged in McKinley's body. Surgeons probed for them, finding and extracting one, but they were unable to find the other. The problem was that they were operating in the dark. They were using ether to keep the president unconscious while they probed, but that meant that they could not turn on the gas lights in the room. A new invention, the x-ray machine, was on exhibition at the site of the exposition, but the doctors refused to allow it to be used because they feared it might have dangerous side-effects. For eight days the president remained essentially untreated in non-sterile surroundings while gangrene developed in his wounds, then he went into shock and died whereupon his vice president, Theodore ["that damned cowboy"] Roosevelt became President of the United States.

Karl Rove is on record as saying that McKinley was his favorite president. He's one of mine too.