McKinley’s Greatest Monument
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
It’s a mystery to us where President Obama or his interior secretary, Sally Jewell, gets the authority to rename in Alaska a mountain whose name was ratified by Congress a century ago as McKinley. We can understand the Democratic Party’s interest, in that McKinley, a Republican, was a particularly fine President. He was, moreover, one of four presidents felled by an assassin. We can understand, too, the sentiments of Alaska, whose legislature has wanted to change the name. Where, though, does the president come off doing this by fiat?
The question begs for an answer in light of the fact that legislation has been before Congress to change the name, but the Congress has decided not to do so. If the Supreme Court has been clear about anything it has been that the failure of Congress to act doesn’t amount to license for the other branches to act. Congress, the law supposes, had its own good reasons for not acting. One of them no doubt is that McKinley was from Ohio, which, given that Mount McKinley National Park is the locale of said mountain, has its own standing.
Our own interest in the matter goes back to the beginning. It was in the pages of The New York Sun that, in 1897, Mount McKinley was first publicly named. That was in a piece in the Sun by a gold prospector named Wm. Dickey. In the piece, “Discoveries in Alaska,” Dickey reported that the denizens of his dig named the peak Mount McKinley because of their excitement at the news that the Ohioan had been nominated for president. It was the first news they had on their way out of the wilderness.
We have no particular objection to, per se, Denali. That’s the name for the summit used by Alaskan Natives and, in recent years, also the federal name for the park. It’s the name the state’s senior senator, Lisa Murkowski, sought to attach to the mountain via legislation she earlier this year introduced, to no effect. Legislators from Ohio understood better, and moved to block the measure. William McKinley may never have been to the mountain, but he was an important and assassinated president.
Maybe some day a Republican president will restore to John Fitzgerald Kennedy International Airport the name of Idlewild, which is the name us native New Yorkers use for the airport (Idlewild is still a permitted reference for the airport in the “Reporters Handbook and Manual of Style of the New York Sun”). We could see the logic of it in an age of hyper-sensitivity to local sentiments. But we would object were a president to simply rename the airport after Congress had been asked and decided not to act.
In any event, let us raise a salute to Wm. McKinley. From his front porch in 1896, he ran one of the most remarkable campaigns in American history, defeating the Democrat, William Jennings Bryan, who ran for the free coinage of silver — a campaign of inflation — by attacking the Jews. It was one of the few anti-Semitic campaigns in American history. McKinley defeated it handily and gained passage in 1900 of the Gold Standard Act, which set the stage for the great boom of the 20th century. It’s a monument as majestic as the peak of Denali.
Expanded from an earlier edition.