by Edward Thornton Heald (1886-1967)
In 1964 Mrs. T.K. Harris of Canton, Ohio presented to the Stark County Historical Society the copies of the office correspondence of William McKinley and Abner McKinley (The President’s Brother) as preserved by their letter press from March 30, 1870 to January 2, 1873. Mrs. Harris’ father, George B. Frease (1861-1926), had received this bound letter press from President McKinley, with whom he was on intimate terms of friendship.
In this collection, are 268 letters in McKinley’s handwriting and signed “Wm. McKinley, Jr. from March 30, 1870 to January 20, 1871.
William McKinley and Ida Saxton were married January 21, 1871, at which time no Court was being held. The first letter after the marriage was a $5.00 payment to Robert Clerke & Co., Cincinnati, January 30, 1871, in the handwriting of Abner McKinley but signed Wm. McKinley Jr. apparently in advance. Three more brief letters on February 7th and 8th 1871, concerning court cases coming up, and one collection account were in Abner McKinley’s handwriting and signed Wm. McKinley Jr. Then on February 15th McKinley was back on the job after his three weeks honeymoon, and the letters were signed by him, and some written by him and some by Abner. Abner apparently came into the firm as a helper, and became a member of the firm May 1st, 1871.
In the Rep and Rep business directory the last time the firm name appeared as William McKinley, attorney and counsellor-at-law, was April 28, 1871; the first time as W. &. A. McKinley, attorneys and counsellors at law, May 5th. After this date the letters are usually signed W.A. McKinley, with the signature either in William’s or Abner’s handwriting.
There are 23 letters between March 29, 1871 and May 1, 1873 signed by Wm. McKinley, Jr. and 3 on March 30, signed by Abner McKinley.
From May 1, 1871 to the end of the book, January 2, 1873 are 213 letters signed by W. &. A. McKinley, 11 too faded to read, and one to John Sherman on January 29, 1872 signed Aultman & Co.
We will at this point take a look at the correspondence up to the May term of Court, which opened May 27, 1870, to see what light the letters throw on McKinley’s law practice outside of the court room. As to be expected, a considerable number of the letters have to do with collections of accounts. The largest such case was the claim of J.P. Stedham & Co. of Philadeliphia against Jacob Bucher of Massillon for over $4,000 apparently in connection with equipment for the new opera house in Massillon. F.L. Baldwin of massillon was attorney for Bucher. Stedham had turned down Bucher’s offer to pay one-half. McKinley wrote to Baldwin to submit another proposition and McKinley wrote to Stedham to state in round figures the minimum they would accept. The case was coming up in the May term of court on June 2nd.
Some fifteen of the 50 letters were to notify parties of dates set for their cases, or to secure depositions or petitions for approaching cases.
To Dunn McDonald & Co., of Orrville, Ohio, he gave his opinion, after examining Nail’s patent plow as shown by his pattern, and having an expert compare it with the plow of Jno. Ball & Co. that it was no infringement.
To R. R. Porter of Canal Fulton, he explained that he could not come up during the 10 day period in the latter part of April due to the District Court being held at Canton at that time. One of the cases he was to argue in the District Court was explained in a letter to the Attorney General of Ohio, F.B. Pond, on April 9th asking his opinion whether three members of Canton City Council who had been elected trustees of the water works Board could hold both offices. The case was to be heard in District Court on April 25th.
One of McKinley’s clients was a Reverend T. McCleary of Braddocksfield, Pa., who had a claim against Ephraim Ball. On May 9, 1870 Mckinley wrote him that the liquidation of Mr. Ball’s affairs was slowing approaching. He (Ball) was trying to raise money by selling personal property, in which case he might be able to pay Rec. McCleary’s entire claim five or six month’s later, whereas if he and others pressed for immediate payment of claims, they would certainly have to take a large reduction in their claims.
Michael D. Harter of Mansfield had written to McKinley as to the financial status of J.L. Dobbins. McKinley replied that, according to one of the best citizens of his township, J.L. Dobbins was rated to be “worth probably eight to ten thousand dollars, and for a farmer is an active business man, and his general character for honesty and integrity good.”
On the day that court opened, May 27, McKinley wrote to John Loew at Navarre that the Grand Jury had found a bill against him. Loew was the justice of peace before whom McKinley had pleaded his first law case. McKinley stated in his letter “I will direct the Sheriff to send no officer for you, knowing that you will report yourself upon the receipt of this letter.”
Other correspondence during this two-month period extended from Philadelphia, Pa. to Freeport, Illinois. One party with whom McKinley was to have interesting relations at a later date was L.L. Lamborn of Alliance. On May 15th, McKinley wrote that Felix Hambrecker hald a contract with Andrew Stocker for the sale of Lot No. 421 in the Teeters Lamborn & Co. addition to Alliance, on which he had paid $300 and was ready to pay the $100 balance whenever the deed could be made to him. Lamborn held the title to the lot. “I write to inquire what is due from Stocker to you on said lot, and when you will make a deed.”
We have read all the 510 legible letters in the Letter Press, and never in any that were written by Wm. McKinley have we found a sharp or unkind word, with one exception, at a later time, when his word was questioned.
Another observation is the startling difference in the legibility of McKinley’s handwriting. Some letters, apparently written under pressure, are very difficult to read, while others are as clear as a George Washington Letter. Abner’s handwriting is uniformly clear and legible, and minus the Wm. McKinley flourish.