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He was, they say, "eternally asking questions," about matters in the Bible class.
But the literary and elocutionary part of his training was not neglected. While McKinley was necessarily somėthing of a recluse, being a close student and an excessive user of midnight oil, he nevertheless mingled considerably with the young people of Poland, and was always liked because of his good disposition and engaging ways. One of the features of the seminary was called the Everett Literary Society, undoubtedly from the great orator, Edward Everett. McKinley was instrumental in the formation of this very practical and useful adjunct to the institution, and was its first president. Little by little, this society got together a limited library, which was placed in a room on the third floor of the seminary building. The society held its meetings every Friday evening, and they were great occasions. Every question almost within the range of human knowledge was debated, and William McKinley either presided or was one of the chief debaters. There, undoubtedly, he laid the foundations for that persuasive and convincing style that has made him one of the most successful advocates and orators, either in Congress or upon the platform.
As indicative of the pride which the boys and girls of Poland took in this institution and of the scrupulous care with which they maintained it, it became a standing rule in the society at some little sacrifice upon their pocket books, a new carpet, purchased at the nearest town boasting a carpet store, had been laid on the floor- that the boys should always come to the meetings in slippers, and that the girls, no matter how fine the weather, should wear rubbers, to be removed before entering. There was an ante
room in which the girls removed their rubbers, and the boys also could remove their boots and put on their slippers before trespassing upon the dainty carpet.
Standing in his slippers before that little company of boys and girls on the third floor of the seminary, William McKinley debated many political subjects of the day, and it is well known from the faithful reading of history, as well as of the current weekly papers, which had been so thoroughly perused at his father's house, that McKinley was the best equipped of all the young men there to discuss the burning questions of the day.
All the testimony that can be gathered from those who have recollections of McKinley's school-boy days in Poland, tends to show that he was a real boy, enjoying his sports with other boys, always popular with them, and yet much more devoted to his books. "It was seldom that his head was not in a book," says one who was closely associated with McKinley in those days. The story is told of a strife between him and another student who roomed across the street from the McKinleys as to which should first show a light to begin the early morning study, and as to which should show the longest endurance under the light from “midnight oil.” "Exact knowledge," said McKinley thirty years later, at the dedication of a public school in a little town in Ohio, “ is the requirement of the hour. You will be crippled without it. You must help yourselves. Luck will not last. It may help you once, but you cannot count on it. Labor is the only key to opportunity."
It was under such circumstances and with such a purpose that McKinley pursued his academic education at Poland. until he was seventeen years of age. His education had
been far more extensive than anything he could have gained in the little Poland academy. He had really acquired an education in the university of the world, far away from the centers of activity as he was. From the lips of his well-informed father, and his intelligent mother, and in that little after-dinner reading circle, which must have exercised so potent an influence over the formation of his convictions, he learned to grapple with life's sterner problems. He had secured besides this, as any boy of his studious turn of mind must, a firm grasp upon the facts of life by his own study and reading, and from his association with the Methodist minister of Poland, by which his ideas were broadened, and his mental grasp of things strengthened.
When he went to Allegheny College at Meadville, Pa., he had no difficulty in passing the examination for entering the junior class of that institution. But his devotion to his studies and lack of exercise had expanded his mind at the expense of his body, and shortly after he began his college education his health failed so completely that he was compelled to return to his home at Poland.
It was not in him, however, to rest. He sought a change by engaging as a school teacher in what was then called the Kerr district, about two and a half miles from Poland. The old inhabitants of Poland recall the sight of McKinley striding off" across lots" to and from the old schoolhouse which still stands.
Concerning his experiences in this country school, there is very little to be said. Knowing McKinley's disposition and habits of study and interest in the questions of the day, there is no doubt that the stirring events in the nation at that time began to exercise a strong influence upon his mind.
Just before the beginning of that winter, while he was teaching, the nineteenth presidential election was held, and Abraham Lincoln was elected President. Buchanan, in the short time in which he remained in office, was showing his weakness as President, and his favoritism for the South. Congress was at work upon schemes for adjusting the difficulty. South Carolina seceded in December. Gradually secession was taking place throughout the South, and by the 8th of February Jefferson Davis was chosen President of the Confederate States.
The news of all these events permeated into the heart of every little hamlet in Ohio, and aroused the greatest excitement. The fighting blood that ran in McKinley's veins was unquestionably affected. His patriotism was bred in the bone. The thoughts of the studious boy, with impaired health, turned to war. His school education closed there, and after a short time, during which he acted as a clerk in the store and post-office at Poland, he entered upon his career as a soldier.
He proved his gallantry upon the field, and was quickly promoted. When, after long service, he was mustered out and returned to his home, he was by disposition the same studious boy, but the hard experience of the war had been the making of him physically. It rebuilt his constitution upon a stronger foundation, and endowed him with those powers of endurance which were long after, in the stress of public life, the marvel of men at Washington, who could not understand how McKinley could work for so many hours at tariff schedules with so little exercise, and still maintain, to all appearances, the most perfect health.
A VOLUNTEER IN THE RANKS AT EIGHTEEN
Exciting Events Following McKinley's Winter as a TeacherPresident Lincoln's Call for Volunteers - A Hearty Response from Ohio - The Gathering of the Poland Boys at the Sparrow House The "Poland Guards" and their March to Youngstown - McKinley could not at first get the Consent of his Parents - His Determination on Returning from Youngstown to go to the War - He Pleads his Cause in the McKinley Family and Conquers Returns to Youngstown and Enlists The Famous Twenty-third Ohio - Old Muskets Provided for the Boys At first Refused but Accepted after a Speech from Major Hayes - McKinley Carries his Musket through the War — Its Safe Keeping now at Canton – The Twenty-third Ordered to West Virginia - Their first Engagement a Victory Over the Rebels - What McKinley Says of it - Hardships of Winter Quarters.
XCITING national events continued to fill the popular mind, and fire the hearts of the people of Ohio as of other states. Fire was opened on Fort Sumter on April 12th. Two days later it surrendered. The next day, President Lincoln, by proclamation, called for 75,000 troops and convened Congress for the Fourth of July. Virginia seceded on April 17th. Every day some new event of startling importance was reported in the breaking up of the Union. On the 3d of May, President Lincoln