President William James McKinley’s reaction to War with Spain, April-May, 1898, Eye-Witness Account by H.H.Kohlsaat, editor of Chicago Times Herald, TEXT

There was a piano recital in the Blue Room of the White House. Mrs. McKinley was seated near the pianist, looking very frail and ill. The President was in the centre of the room on an S-shaped settee. There were eighteen or twenty guests present. As I stood in the doorway some one said: “The President is trying to catch your eye.” He motioned me to sit by him, and whispered: “As soon as she is through this piece go and speak to Mrs. McKinley and then go to the Red Room door. I will join you." I did as requested, and when he had shaken hands with some of the late arrivals we went into the Red Room. We sat on a large crimson-brocade lounge. McKinley rested his head on his hands, with elbows on knees. He was in much distress, and said: “I have been through a trying period. Mrs. McKinley has been in poorer health than usual. It seems to me I have not slept over three hours a night for over two weeks. Congress is trying to drive us into war with Spain. The Spanish fleet is in Cuban waters, and we haven’t enough ammunition on the Atlantic seacoast to fire a salute.”

He broke down and cried like a boy of thirteen. I put my hand on his shoulder and remained silent, as I thought the tension would be relieved by his tears. As he became calm, I tried to assure him that the country would back him in any course he should pursue. He finally said:

“Are my eyes very red? Do they look as if I had been crying?”


“But I must return to Mrs. McKinley at once. She is among strangers.”

“When you open the door to enter the room, blow your nose very hard and loud. It will force tears into your eyes and they will think that is what makes your eyes red.” He acted on this suggestion and it was no small blast.

After the musicale the President and I went into the old cabinet room and talked until very late.

A few days afterward Congress voted to put $50,000,000 in McKinley’s hands-with no string on it. War was declared April 21, 1898.

Ten days later, May 1, 1898, the battle of Manila was fought. I visited the President a few days after the victory.
McKinley said: “When we received the cable from Admiral Dewey telling of the taking of the Philippines I looked up their location on the globe. I could not have told where those darned islands were within 2,000 miles!” Some months later he said: “If old Dewey had just sailed away when he smashed that Spanish fleet, what a lot of trouble he would have saved us.”