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President McKinley at Work

An interview with Secretary-to-the-President Porter on the working habits and methods of our Chief Executive.

How does the ruler of the greatest nation on earth manage to get through the enormous amount of work which falls upon his shoulders as he takes the oath of office? How is President McKinley able to receive the scores of daily callers at the White House, talk over the affairs of government with members of the Cabinet and Congress, answer the mass of important letters daily addressed to him, look over the sign documents of state, prepare his messages and proclamations, and keep clearly in mind and give just decisions on questions ranging from a country postoffice to a war with Spain? In other words, what are the President's methods of doing the work of ten men? What are his working habits, and the secret of his power of prodigious achievement?

To obtain answers to these interesting questions, I called upon Secretary-to-the-President Porter, at the White House. He received me cordially, and finally consented to give the readers of Our Day and account of the daily life of the President. Mr. Porter was formerly editor and proprietor of the "Hartford Courant." His training and experience make him admirably fitted to be the companion and confidant of the President, and to render effective assistance in lightening the burdens of official duty. The Secretary and his family occupy apartments in the Executive Mansion, and accompany President and Mrs. McKinley on their summer vacations and extended journeys.

"What is the programme of a typical working day of the President?" I first asked the Secretary.

"He breakfasts at 9. After breakfast, he reads the papers. Reaches his desk by 9:45 or 1 o'clock, and does not leave it until luncheon at 1:30. The first two or three hours of the morning are devoted to receiving Senators, Cabinet officers, Ambassadors of foreign nations, Congressmen, and all persons entitled to his presence through official position.

"An hour is then given to the reception of the general public. Sometimes, however, the stress of public duties is so great that this hour is omitted.

"After luncheon, the President enjoys a chat with Mrs. McKinley. Between 2:15 and 2:30 o'clock, p.m., he is again in his office, and until 4:30 goes through substantially the same process as in the morning. Then, if the weather be pleasant, he takes a carriage drive of an hour through the streets of the city, accompanied by Mrs. McKinley. Sometimes he rides several miles on horseback, frequently he walks. His favorite pedestrian resort are Pennsylvania avenue, Massachusetts avenue, or a circuit of the White House lot. In his journeys afoot he usually has a companion a Cabinet official, Judge Day, some intimate friend or myself.

"On his return, he opens the telegrams that may have arrived during his absence and glances over the evening papers. Dinner is at 7 o'clock. The President follows his old-established custom of never appearing at a dinner table without being attired in a dress suit. Dinner lasts about an hour. The President then engages in social intercourse with intimate friends, members of the Cabinet and their wives and daughters, and old Ohio acquaintances, who may call. At 9:00 or 9:30, he leaves the party, comes to the office, and engages for two or three hours in the hardest work of the day. It is at this time that he writes his message, examines important bills of Congress, passes upon questions submitted to him for decision, etc. It is often after midnight before he retires.

"The Cabinet meets from 11 to 1 o'clock on Tuesdays and Fridays. Each member has a special seat and discusses the affairs of his department, the President opening and ending each informal debate.

"On Sunday, the President does no work whatever. In the morning he attends the Metropolitan Methodist Church. In the afternoon he frequently takes Mrs. McKinley out for a drive, and the evening is spent in listening to sacred music in the parlors of the White House. No public lunches or dinners of any kind are served on Sunday.

"What, in your opinion, Mr. Porter, is the secret of the extraordinary amount of work the President gets through?"

"I believe it is due to his perfect training, acquired by a quarter of a century of continuous public service. All the great questions of the day are as familiar to him as the A B C's. He knows the exact standing of all the men that call upon him or correspond with him. He possesses in a remarkable manner the faculty of quick analysis and decision. He renders a verdict in two minutes, where most men would require fifteen."

I may add that the President's speed in work is due in no small degree to the effective assistance of Secretary Porter. Every important letter addressed to the President is boiled down to six lines by the secretary, before it is seen by Mr. McKinley. This become no mean item, when it is known that an average of 1,000 letters daily are received at the White House.

One of the most remarkable characteristics of the present administration is the multitude of daily visitors at the Executive Mansion. They outnumber those of any previous period more than two to one. This is due, in large measure, to the unsurpassed acquaintance of the President with men and women of every rank and calling. The statement is made on the best authority that Mr. McKinley has spoken to more American people than any president or other citizen of this country that ever lived!

When the President leaves Washington for a few days, work accumulated with amazing rapidity, so that on his return he is compelled to forego, for some days, his social hours with friends int he evening, and his reception hour at noon. Mr. McKinley is fond of reading, but has little or no time for general literature. When, however, opportunity offers on a trip or otherwise, he frequently reads a book at one sitting.

This article was entered by Ms. Janice Gulker from Our Day (Volume 18, January 1898, pp. 35-36) on November 8, 1996. We thank Ms. Gulker for this effort.
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