The Death of William McKinley

Artist's depiction of Leon Czolgosz's assassination of President William McKinley, September 6, 1901.

The McKinley Incapacity

Less than twenty years after the death of President James Garfield, tragedy would again befall the United States chief executive when Leon Czolgosz shot William McKinley on September 6, 1901 in Buffalo, New York.

As had been the case with Garfield before him, President McKinley's death would not come immediately. And while most thoughts were rightly fixed on the wounded President and hope for his recovery, questions of presidential disability and succession would once again be raised in the American consciousness.

Upon learning of the shooting, Vice President Theodore Roosevelt rushed to Buffalo to visit the President.  Learning of his condition and believing McKinley would recover, T.R. demurred when McKinley's closest aides suggested he act as President in the meantime, partially out of respect for the President, but in part because there was no legal mechanism to allow him to do so.

Instead, Roosevelt would resume a vacation in the Adirondacks which he had interrupted to visit the wounded President.  Meanwhile rather than recover, McKinley's condition worsened.  He would linger for eight days, slipping in and out of a coma before dying of gangrene on September 14, 1901.

As with Chester Arthur before him, many contemporary news reports speculated on the situation.  Some decried the notion that Roosevelt had no means of acting as President, while others lauded him for exercising restraint during a time of national mourning for their befallen leader.  The questions of disability once again took center stage - and once again, ultimately went unanswered.

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