McKinley, William

views updated May 14 2018

William McKinley

Paul W. Glad

ONE of the most beloved of American presidents, William McKinley served as the nation's chief executive during a time when the American people surveyed their world with confidence. Recovering from a severe economic depression after his election in 1896, they dreamed of unprecedented economic expansion. Then the stunning military victories over Spain in 1898 reinforced a sense of national purpose as the United States took its place among the great powers. McKinley received much of the credit for achievements at home and abroad as the nineteenth century drew to a close, and under his leadership Americans welcomed the new century optimistically.

McKinley was the first truly modern president, but his enormous popularity derived from something more than his capacity to move with the times. A man of integrity, he firmly believed that the nation must adhere to the fundamental principles on which it was founded. With copybook truisms, uttered no less sincerely because they were truisms, he managed to convey a sense of fidelity to those principles. Thus, despite the momentous events over which he presided, he was able to reassure the American people that they had not broken with the best of their past.

Soldier and Lawyer

William McKinley, Jr., was born in the village of Niles, Ohio, on 29 January 1843, the seventh of nine children. His father, the manager of a charcoal furnace, worked diligently to house, feed, clothe, and educate his growing family. Placing a higher value on education than on creature comforts, the McKinleys moved to Poland on the other side of Youngstown, where young William was enrolled in the Poland Academy. A good student, though not a brilliant one, he succeeded by dint of hard work and exceptional retention. Reserved and reticent in private conversation, he excelled in public speaking and took an active part in the debating societies that were an important extracurricular activity of the time. In 1860 he matriculated at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania, but he did not remain there long. He ran short of money, and illness at the end of his first term prevented completion of his classes. Home again, he went to work clerking in the post office and teaching school, hoping that he could earn enough to return to college.

Five years were to pass before McKinley resumed his studies, for the Civil War lengthened the interruption of his formal education. After the fall of Fort Sumter, he enlisted in the Twenty-third Ohio Volunteer Regiment, under the command of Major Rutherford B. Hayes. He remained in the army four years, serving with distinction and winning periodic promotions until finally he was mustered out as a brevet major in July 1865. The war broadened McKinley's experience and strengthened his sense of responsibility, but it drastically modified neither his personal character nor his commitment to the fundamental principles he had learned at home and in school. Like Abraham Lincoln, who became his model, he fought to preserve the Union and to end involuntary servitude. In later years he remained sensitive to human need, and as president he did much to overcome lingering sectional antipathies.

The youthful war hero returned to civilian activities calmly, almost stoically, asking no searching questions about the meaning of life but bearing himself with a grace and dignity that belied his years. He was not without ambition. Indeed, his military accomplishments reinforced his assumption that he could exercise a positive influence in whatever career he chose. The important question for McKinley, then, was what profession he should enter, not whether he would become successful in practicing it. Disdaining the humdrum daily activities of the marketplace, he chose to study law. After reading in the office of Charles Glidden, a well-known Ohio lawyer, he spent a term at Albany (New York) Law School. He was admitted to the bar in March 1867, and he opened an office in Canton, Ohio, later that year.

Entry into Ohio Politics

The young attorney plunged into politics almost immediately, working for Hayes in the gubernatorial campaign of 1867 and for Grant in the presidential campaign of 1868. McKinley's service to the Republican party brought its initial reward with his election as prosecuting attorney of Stark County in 1869, and for the rest of his life he was either campaigning for public office or carrying out the duties of public office. In 1877, having served his political apprenticeship, he entered Congress from the seventeenth Ohio district. His long tenure in the House of Representatives, interrupted only by his being temporarily unseated after a close election in 1882, was to last until 1890, when he was defeated as a result of the gerrymandering of his district. McKinley returned home to enter the Ohio gubernatorial race in 1891. Elected by a comfortable margin, he won reelection in 1893 with an overwhelming majority.

Despite occasional setbacks, McKinley fared well in the politics of Ohio, a key state for anyone seeking national prominence. With its strategic location, industrial growth, and population expansion, Ohio provided a setting in which the forces shaping modern America could be observed in microcosm. The characteristics that made it a bellwether state imposed unusual demands on political leaders. Having to satisfy northerners and southerners, immigrants and American-born, Catholics and Protestants, laborers, industrialists, and farmersin short a diversity of economic and cultural interestsa politician in Ohio could seldom afford the luxury of campaigning on a single issue. To become successful in politics required transcending limited causes and defining attainable objectives for a complex, protean society. No one ever performed that service for the state better than did McKinley, and by espousing a form of benign economic nationalism, he appealed to a broad range of interests in the nation as a whole.

The stand McKinley took on issues important to his constituency was never determined by economic considerations alone. Neither was he motivated solely by a desire to win votes. McKinley was a decent, honorable man who genuinely respected people and took pleasure in working with them. To the delight of cartoonists, he resembled Napoleon. His facial features and his sturdy frame were, in fact, strikingly like those of the emperor, but even his harshest critics could find in his manner little that was autocratic or imperial. He carried himself with a decorum that did not interfere with his sensitivity to human need.

The traits of character that attracted nearly all who had personal dealings with McKinley were severely tested early in his career. In 1871 he married vivacious Ida Saxton, whose father was one of Canton's leading bankers, and within a year the couple announced the birth of a daughter, Katherine. Awaiting the arrival of their second child in 1873, the McKinleys suffered a reversal of fortune. Ida's mother died, the young wife underwent labor in a state of extreme grief, and there were complications. The infant lived less than a year. Then, to compound McKinley's anguish, little Katie died of typhoid fever a few months later, and Ida was never again to enjoy good health.

Politics proved therapeutic for McKinley, and he devoted himself wholeheartedly to them. Yet he remained attentive to his wife's needs, and his humanitarian concern repeatedly led him to identify with persons in difficulty. At the time of his daughter's death, the nation was undergoing an economic depression resulting from the Panic of 1873. The hard times brought a profound social unrest that often gave way to violence.

Disturbances developed close to home when, in March 1876, coal miners in the Tuscarawas Valley struck for higher pay and better working conditions. Mineowners responded by bringing in strikebreakers from Cleveland, a move that incited the miners to riot. Local authorities were unable to keep the peace, Governor Hayes called out the militia, and a group of miners was arrested for disorderly conduct. Upon hearing of the miners' troubles, McKinley took up their cause. In a well-prepared legal defense, he argued that, had the operators been reasonable, no strike would have occurred. His persuasiveness secured the acquittal of all but one of the strikers and, characteristically, he accepted no fee for his services. The workers never forgot, and in his political campaigns McKinley could always count on significant support from labor.

McKinley in Congress

After his election to the United States House of Representatives, McKinley quickly found himself faced with the necessity of taking a position on two issues that had emerged as important ones during the economic troubles of the middle 1870s: the silver and tariff questions. The first pitted the advocates of bimetallism against proponents of the gold standard. Although never a defender of unrestricted inflation, McKinley favored the remonetization of silver. Aware of silver sentiment among his constituents, he sought some means of securing bimetallism without inflation. He therefore rejected the advice of fellow Republicans and voted for the Bland-Allison Act of 1878, which authorized limited silver purchases and instructed the treasury secretary either to coin the silver or to issue silver certificates. Bimetallists hailed the act as only the first step toward remonetization of silver. Yet, with the return of prosperity and with limited silver purchases assured, agitation for soft money declined. When bimetallism again became the center of political controversy, McKinley was a candidate for the presidency of the United States.

While his vote for bimetallism was to cause him some embarrassment, McKinley concentrated his energies on the tariff, a matter he considered of far greater importance than silver. Upon entering Congress, he had wasted no time in making his position clear. He insisted that until the United States was able to meet foreign competition, high tariffs were necessary to the welfare of all classes. The tariff produced high wages, he asserted, and the laboring man had as great an interest in protection as did the manufacturer. McKinley's first action in the House was to submit a petition from workers who opposed tariff reductions, and in later years his name became synonymous with protection. An admirer of Henry Clay, he urged the extensive collaboration of all sections and classes in a harmonious new American system. The tariff was, in his view, a key measure for achieving national order and tranquillity.

McKinley helped write a protectionist plank for the Republican platform of 1888, and after Republican successes in the election that year, he presided over the House Ways and Means Committee. Because tariff duties were producing a treasury surplus and because disposing of the surplus invited corruption, reformers were demanding that rates be reduced. His mind again moving toward synthesis, McKinley saw the problem as one of reducing revenues without lowering the rates. He therefore proposed to resolve the issue not by accepting tariff reductions but by increasing duties on key items to the point where they became prohibitive.

Passed by Congress in 1890, the McKinley Tariff contained three innovative provisions. To prevent the importation of wheat and other foodstuffs from Canada and Europe, it established a schedule of duties on agricultural products. To satisfy consumer demand for lower sugar prices and to reduce the treasury surplus, it placed raw sugar on the free list while compensating domestic growers with a bounty of 2 cents a pound. Finally, at the insistence of Secretary of State James G. Blaine, it included a reciprocity section permitting the imposition of duties on products from Latin American countries that refused free entry to American products. Although the new tariff met criticism from reformers, who saw it as a measure to favor special interests, it at least helped to reduce the surplus while continuing protection. More important, McKinley became a convert to the idea of reciprocity, and to the end of his life, he urged such commercial agreements with other nations.

The Politics of Depression

The McKinley Tariff, together with lavish expenditures on pensions and pork-barrel schemes, aroused resentment against the "Billion-Dollar Congress," and as a consequence the elections of 1890 brought a Democratic landslide. Yet the Republican losses, including his own, proved a blessing for McKinley. He quickly rebounded to become governor of Ohio for two terms, thereby gaining administrative experience while avoiding the stigma of further association with unpopular national policies. His growing prominence in the party led to his serving as chairman of the Republican National Convention in 1892 and to his winning enough support to be mentioned as a nominee for the presidency. Aware of unrest throughout the land and within Republican ranks, he rejected the suggestion that he throw his hat into the ring. He thus remained in relative safety in Columbus as Grover Cleveland returned to the White House and as the depression that began in 1893 deepened into one of the worst economic disasters in American history.

The depression brought business failures, industrial unemployment, and low farm prices. As economic conditions worsened, social tensions increased. Heated debates over causes of the nation's problems pitted the urban East against the rural West and South, the conservative against the radical, and labor against capital. As in any depression, explanations for hard times multiplied. Ultimately, the debates concentrated on money and currency. The Sherman Silver Purchase Act, passed the same year as McKinley's tariff legislation, had been inadequate to meet the demand for better prices or for an increase in the stock of money. Once again the segments of society that stood to gain from higher prices, especially the farmers of the West and South, reiterated their cries for free and unlimited coinage of silver.

To Grover Cleveland, the arguments of the silverites were anathema. Securing repeal of the Sherman Act, he learned to his sorrow that while repeal did not halt the depression, his stand on the currency question divided the Democratic party. Silver Democrats listened to orators such as William Jennings Bryan elaborate on the iniquities of gold and on ways in which the gold standard benefited the financiers of Wall Street.

Silver was not the only issue that divided the Democrats during the depression of the 1890s. For years officials in the Treasury Department had considered a gold reserve of at least $100 million essential to sound fiscal policy, but that reserve dwindled to $62 million in 1894 and to less than $42 million early the next year. Cleveland's response was to negotiate an agreement with J. P. Morgan and a syndicate of New York bankers to obtain gold for the treasury by selling bonds. Such maneuvering simply confirmed suspicions that Watt Street was in league with conservative Democrats who remained loyal to the president. To compound the problems of the Cleveland administration, labor unrest summoned up the specter of revolution. Jacob Coxey led an army of jobless workers in a march on Washington to demonstrate for unemployment relief, and violence broke out in Chicago when Attorney General Richard Olney issued an injunction to halt a strike at the Pullman Palace Car Company.

Blaming Grover Cleveland for the depression and facing a divided Democratic party, the Republicans anticipated a return to their winning ways in the elections of 1894. They were not disappointed. After electing a lopsided majority in both houses of Congress as well as in state and local offices, they were confident that with the right candidate they would recapture the presidency in 1896. As plans for the campaign began to take shape, William McKinley clearly emerged as the favorite of most Republicans. Although he had voted for the Bland-Allison Act and the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, his work on the tariff demonstrated an understanding of economic problems that put monetary manipulation in its proper place and satisfied the party faithful.

Content with McKinley's record in politics, Republicans might have shown greater concern for the depression's effect on his personal affairs. He had unwisely endorsed the notes of a friend whose tin-plate business failed and left him liable for debts amounting to more than $100,000. Fortunately, with the help of Mark Hanna, William R. Day, Myron Her-rick, and Herman H. Kohlsaat, who took it upon themselves to manage his affairs, McKinley weathered the financial crisis. He made no secret of his difficulties, and sympathetic Democrats as well as Republicans contributed to a fund for his relief. If anything, adversity again worked to his advantage, for it brought him into a closer relationship with Mark Hanna. McKinley first met the Cleveland industrialist in the early 1870s, and Hanna had proved himself to be a reliable associate. Now, having helped to rescue McKinley from financial misfortune, Hanna was prepared to devote his incomparable organizational skills to his friend's campaign for the presidency.

The Election of 1896

The party conventions of 1896 set the tone for one of the most exciting political campaigns in American history. Meeting in St. Louis in June, the Republicans drafted a platform calling for high tariffs, a large navy, the annexation of Hawaii, and independence for Cuba, but the delegates were most interested in the currency plank. Declaring the party to be "unreservedly for sound money," the plank opposed bimetallism "except by international agreement with the leading commercial nations of the earth." McKinley could endorse the phrasing without reservation, but the prosilver faction of the party sought less equivocal wording. When they did not get it, they departed the hall, leaving the convention united behind the gold standard and free to proceed with the nomination of candidates.

The people, thundered Ohio Senator Joseph B. Foraker in steamy St. Louis, wanted something more than a good businessman or fearless leader; they wanted "the exact opposite of the present free-trade, deficit-making, bond-issuing, laborsaving Democratic administration." In short, they wanted McKinley, and the convention nominated him on the first ballot. Soon after the Republicans had chosen their candidate, the Democrats selected Willam Jennings Bryan at a stormy convention in Chicago. Nominated on a platform that contained a demand for the free and unlimited coinage of silver as its most important plank, Bryan became the standard-bearer of the Populist party as well.

The ensuing campaign developed into one that provided abundant material for a study in contrasts. Determined to take his cause to the people, Bryan traveled eighteen thousand miles, delivering six hundred speeches to an estimated 5 million persons. McKinley remained at home in Canton to greet and talk informally with a series of delegations brought in by the Republican campaign committee. As McKinley's campaign manager, Hanna was as untiring as the itinerant Bryan. With the help of a well-staffed speakers' bureau, he made sure that voters heard all the arguments for gold. Identifying McKinley as "the advance agent of prosperity," Republican orators addressed sympathetic audiences of voters dissatisfied with business stagnation and unemployment. Bryan, the Democrats, and the Populists found themselves constantly on the defensive as they sought to clarify the intricacies and the importance of monetary policy.

In general, the campaign for silver attracted farmers seeking higher crop prices, but urban workers and ethnic groups that had traditionally supported the Democratic party could not be persuaded that they had much to gain from bimetallism. Nothing in McKinley's campaign alienated ethnic blocs; nothing he said to workers seemed so divorced from realities of the depression as did Bryan's plea for silver. Neither did McKinley neglect the farmers. His kindly nature, his imperturbable nationalism, and his long experience in Ohio politics had produced a broker politician of consummate skill.

McKinley did not offer a new heaven and a new earth, but as his campaign pronouncements indicate, he at least offered hope for every interest group in a troubled society. "The farmer is suffering today because the number of his competitors has increased and his best customers are out of work," he told a delegation of farmers. Raising tariff rates would reduce competition and set factories to operating again. Everyone would benefit. "You don't get customers through the mint; you get them through the factory" was his refrain. For a delegation of Pennsylvania coal miners, he summed up his argument against silver: "We do not want cheap money, any more than we want cheap labor in the United States."

At the close of the campaign, Republicans had good reason to be optimistic. When the returns were in, McKinley had polled 7,104,779 popular votes to 6,502,925 for Bryan. The geographic distribution of the vote indicates that McKinley's strength lay in the Northeast, the area of greatest urban and industrial development. Three-fourths of American industry centered in the manufacturing belt east of the Mississippi River and north of the Ohio River and Mason-Dixon Line, where three-fourths of the manufacturing wage earners lived. It was in this region that McKinley won the election. He captured all of its electoral votes as well as those of the upper South (Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, and all but one in Kentucky), those of rural states in the upper Middle West (Iowa, Minnesota, and North Dakota), and those of Oregon and California.

Forming a New Administration

During the interval between his election and his inauguration, McKinley busied himself with selecting a cabinet and setting his administration in place. Cabinet appointments are never easy to make, for they involve considerations that may have little to do with qualifications of candidates. The president-elect proceeded logically enough and in the end satisfied most of the interests desiring a representative close to the White House. His most difficult decisions concerned the future of his campaign manager. McKinley asked Hanna to become postmaster general, a sensible request, but Hanna preferred a seat in the Senate. A way out of the dilemma came with the appointment of John Sherman as secretary of state, which created a senatorial vacancy. Ohio Governor Asa Bushnell then commissioned Hanna to take Sherman's place on Capitol Hill. The Sherman appointment was not a happy one, for the crusty old senator had long since passed his prime. Fortunately, McKinley secured the skills of William R. Day as assistant secretary. It was Day, along with the second assistant secretary, Alvee A. Adee, who was actually to run the Department of State during the demanding months before the Spanish-American War. Day assumed full responsibility as secretary after Sherman's resignation in April 1898.

If for no other reason, the controversy over silver made the appointment of a secretary of the treasury nearly as important as the appointment of a secretary of state. McKinley's first choice was Nelson Dingley, a congressman from Maine; but Dingley's health was poor, and he was reluctant to sacrifice a sure seat and seniority in the House for the uncertainties of administration. After contemplating several other possibilities, McKinley finally settled on Lyman J. Gage, a Chicago banker and staunch upholder of the gold standard. A man of candor as well as tact, Gage was to become one of the president's closest advisers.

Other outstanding appointments included John Davis Long as secretary of the navy and James H. Wilson as secretary of agriculture. The highly respected Long, who had gained administrative experience as governor of Massachusetts, proved a popular choice. His assistant secretary, Theodore Roosevelt, was far more controversial. Although disliked by Thomas C. Platt, political boss of New York's Republicans, "T. R." had important friends who urged his appointment. No squabbling surrounded "Tama Jim" Wilson of Iowa. Developing a warm relationship with McKinley, he soon became a key member of the cabinet and continued to head the Department of Agriculture until 1913. Also joining McKinley's official family were James A. Gary as postmaster general, Judge Joseph McKenna as attorney general, Cornelius Bliss as secretary of the interior, and Russell Alger as secretary of war. Except for Alger, who was to demonstrate his ineptitude during the war with Spain, the cabinet was competent; Wilson and Gage were unusually able.

Economic Recovery and Foreign Affairs

Once he had assumed the responsibilities of office, McKinley immediately turned his attention to measures for assuring economic recovery. The tariff received first consideration, and even before his inauguration McKinley had worked with leaders of the House to secure legislation that would be acceptable. Nelson Dingley, who chaired the Ways and Means Committee, submitted a bill that did not drastically raise the duties of the Wilson-Gorman Tariff of 1894. While it passed the House quickly at the end of March, the Senate increased the rates, and in its final form it became the highest tariff in American history. McKinley had reservations, but he nevertheless signed the bill into law on 24 July 1897. One reason he did is that the provision for reciprocity trade agreements, though inadequate, promised an opportunity to bring the United States into an international economic system from which the world might secure extraordinary rewards. The distance McKinley had moved from protectionism to market expansion became apparent during the summer of 1897, when he told the Cincinnati Commercial Club that in addition to serving economic ends, good trade ensured goodwill. "It should be our settled purpose to open trade wherever we can," he argued, "making our ships and our commerce messengers of peace and amity."

A second measure for economic recovery involved carrying out the Republican party pledge to secure an international agreement on bimetallism. McKinley appointed a special commission to secure such an agreement, but little came of its efforts. England and France committed themselves to the gold standard, and Japan, Russia, and Germany followed soon after. Apart from positions taken by other nations, however, bimetallism quickly became a dead issue. New discoveries of gold in South Africa, Australia, and Canada brought a dramatic increase in world supplies and a corresponding decline in gold prices. The demand for silver quieted as the need for it disappeared. Production curves and indexes of business activity began to rise during the summer of 1897, and Americans began to turn their attention to other matters.

Economic trends, ideas, and programs interacted during the late nineteenth century. Business fluctuations prompted economic theorists, both professional and amateur, to develop explanations of recurrent crises. Between 1873 and 1896, monetary theories were often central in the arguments of economic analysts, but in those same years an alternative explanatory model attracted increasing attention. That model posited unlimited industrial and agricultural productivity, on the one hand, and a limited home market, on the other. Given such conditions, demand would stagnate while stocks and inventories built up unless American producers found new outlets beyond the home market. Here was a theory that provided not only an explanation of the business cycle but a program for action as well. It was a theory that bypassed controversies over the currency; bimetallists and monometallists could support trade expansion with equal enthusiasm.

No one found overproduction and market-expansion ideas more convincing than did McKinley. In 1895 he had delivered the keynote address to the new National Association of Manufacturers at its organizational meeting. "We want our own markets for our manufactures and agricultural products," he told a receptive audience. "We want a foreign market for our surplus products.. . . We want a reciprocity which will give us foreign markets for our surplus products, and in turn that will open our markets to foreigners for those products which they produce and which we do not." During McKinley's first presidential year his new insight into the importance of commercial expansion provided a frame of reference into which he could fit developments abroad. Increasingly, foreign affairs demanded his most careful consideration.

The first problem in foreign affairs to attract McKinley's attention was the annexation of Hawaii, a matter that had troubled his predecessor. Hoping for American ownership of the islands, sugar growers there had staged a revolution against Queen Liliuokalani in 1893. President Harrison had forwarded a treaty of annexation to the Senate, but Cleveland withdrew it on the grounds that it did not represent the will of the Hawaiian people. The Republican platform of 1896 had included a plank favoring annexation, and in December 1897, McKinley advised Congress to proceed. Troubles in Cuba were exacerbating tensions with Spain, and the president believed that the need for a base in the Pacific justified taking the islands. Congress finally passed a joint resolution annexing Hawaii, and McKinley signed it on 7 July 1898. By that time the United States was at war with Spain.

The Coming of War

The immediate causes of armed conflict lay closer to home than the islands of the Pacific. Cuba, once the center of Spain's New World empire and the richest of Spain's remaining possessions, had long suffered from an oppressive colonial system. During the Ten Years' War of 18681878 and again in 1895, the Cuban people rebelled against the mother country. Spanish troops forcibly quelled the first insurrection, and in the second their harsh treatment of the rebels intensified. American sympathy for the Cubans mounted as the yellow press in the United States published lurid details of Spanish atrocities. Yet the pressure of popular support for Cuban independence, though increasing, was not in itself sufficient to bring about intervention. Also important was the growing economic stake in the "Pearl of the Antilles." During the thirty years of unrest in Cuba, American capital investments there had risen to $50 million, and trade had mounted to as much as $100 million. To Americans with financial or commercial interests in Cuba, the rebellion threatened disaster, and they urged a speedy resolution of the difficulty. Unlike the yellow press and the jingoes, most businessmen opposed war. They were fearful that armed conflict might interfere with the orderly process of recovery from depression.

As the fate of Cuba became a subject of national attention, McKinley evaluated the forces at work and considered possible responses to them. Lacking complete confidence in his secretary of state, he himself assumed responsibility for developing a policy. Though he kept his own counsel, he did solicit advice and information. Especially important were the reports he received from Fitzhugh Lee, American consul general in Havana, and Stewart Woodford, who had been carefully though belatedly chosen to serve as American ambassador in Madrid. By the time Woodford presented his credentials to the Spanish foreign minister in the fall of 1897, McKinley had determined that neither war nor the annexation of Cuba would serve the national interest. He therefore proposed that he mediate the conflict so as to secure Cuban autonomy under the Spanish crown. A new liberal government came to power in Madrid coincident with Woodford's arrival, and hopes for a settlement ran high.

The response to McKinley's suggestions was disappointing. Although pledging more humane treatment of the rebels, the Spanish regime of Práxedes Mateo Sagasta rejected mediation and, instead of real autonomy, proposed a Cuban legislature dominated by a council of Spanish appointees. Few Americans and certainly none of the rebels could detect in the proposal much more than the promise of conciliation, and promises were not enough. Yet McKinley was a man of prodigious patience. In his annual message of December 1897 he repudiated the idea of annexation and urged that Spain "be given a reasonable chance to realize her expectations and to prove the asserted efficacy of things to which she stands irrevocably committed." Not fully appreciating the warnings that the presidential message also contained, those who favored military intervention were predictably disappointed that McKinley did not take a firmer position.

Carefully worded though it was, the message also produced some unexpected consequences. Enrique Dupuy de Lôme, the Spanish minister in Washington, found it insincere and hypocritical. He wrote his opinions to a friend in Havana, and in the process, he described McKinley as a cheap, vacillating politician. It was a foolish thing to do. A New York-based Cuban junta had been working vigorously for American intervention, and its spies stole the letter. Anticipating that publication of its insulting contents would add strength to the sentiment for intervention, the junta promptly turned a facsimile over to the New York Journal. It appeared on 9 February 1898, and readers were duly enraged by its insolence. Although Dupuy resigned, and the Spanish government forwarded an apology, the harm had been done.

The yellow press and the jingoes were still seething over the de Lôme letter when an even more disturbing communiqué arrived in Washington. McKinley had been concerned with the threat to American lives and property in Cuba, and he had ordered the battleship Maine to Havana. Publicized as a courtesy call to reduce tensions with Spain, the visit was clearly intended as a show of strength. On the night of 15 February the ship exploded and sank with a loss of 266 lives. Shaken by news of the disaster, McKinley insisted on an official investigation. If nothing else, it would take time and help avoid precipitate action. Despite public clamor for military confrontation, he did not believe that American forces were adequately prepared for war. From Congress he asked for, and received, an appropriation of $50 million for national defense, to be spent at his discretion.

McKinley's tendency to procrastinate often left doubts about his intentions, and his tendency to keep his own counsel helped to assure neither Congress nor the American people that he had a clear sense of direction. While the nation awaited the report of the Maine investigation, administration supporters less patient than McKinley gravitated toward the interventionist camp. Senator Redfield Proctor of Vermont, a fair-minded opponent of war, addressed his colleagues for several hours on 17 March, describing in clinical detail the concentration camps he had seen on a recent trip to Cuba. His conclusion that the rebels would not accept Spanish rule and that peace and justice required intervention was a warning to the president that Congress now expected bold action.

War with Spain

The report from the commission investigating the Maine disaster was in the president's hands by 25 March. It concluded that the cause of the explosion was external, and most Americans immediately assumed that Spanish agents had been responsible for it. With war sentiment building up throughout the country and in Congress, McKinley continued to urge caution, still hoping that negotiations might bring an end to problems in Cuba. On 27 March, Secretary Day cabled Woodford outlining the administration's last plan. The final ultimatum called for an immediate armistice and reiterated McKinley's offer of arbitration. Shortly thereafter, Day warned that unless Spain capitulated immediately, public pressure would compel the president to ask for a declaration of war. McKinley feared that if he did not respond to the pressure, his supporters would desert him. Congress might then take matters into its own hands and declare war without McKinley's requesting it.

The Spanish reply to McKinley's ultimatum arrived at the White House on 1 April. It assented to arbitration of the Maine affair, abandonment of re-concentration in the western provinces, acceptance of American financial assistance, and a relief program for Cuba. Yet Spain agreed neither to suspend hostilities nor to approve American mediation. In Madrid, Woodford thought that the Spanish ministry knew it had lost Cuba but preferred war to mediation. Nevertheless, he pleaded for more time to work out a solution.

For McKinley, time had run out, and he began drafting a message to Congress asking for a declaration of war. At the last minute, on 10 April, he received a communiqué from Woodford indicating that the queen regent had consented to suspend hostilities and move toward autonomy for Cuba. Given the state of public and congressional opinion, it was too late. McKinley asked for intervention on 19 April, and Congress granted his request the next day, adding only the Teller Amendment, which renounced any intention to annex Cuba. A formal declaration of war followed within a week.

Americans greeted the coming of war with celebration. Patriotic fervor stilled the criticism of McKinley, and as commander in chief he found himself enormously popular throughout the land. Men from all walks of life were eager to share in the expected American triumphs, and enlistments soared. Yet it was with good reason that McKinley had questioned the fighting readiness of the armed forces. Despite a year's warning, they remained unprepared.

Numbering only 28,000 men and officers, the army had watched as the navy, the nation's first line of defense, received most of the $50 million appropriated in March. Now, suddenly increasing to more than 250,000 troops, land forces faced immense if not insurmountable problems in supply and logistics. Half of the volunteers never left training camps during the war, and many of those who did were issued winter woolen uniforms for warfare in the tropics. If all the troops mobilized had seen combat, some of them would have seen it without ammunition, for there was not enough to go around. Selected as the point of embarkation, the Port of Tampa proved an unfortunate choice. Only one railroad connected the city with its inadequate piers. Boxcars backed up for miles, cargoes disappeared in the confusion, and troops found themselves compelled to take matters into their own hands, relying on their wits for survival.

The navy fared better than the army, in part because it escaped the pressures of rapid expansion, and in part because for fifteen years it had kept abreast of innovations in maritime technology. Beyond that, McKinley and his secretary of the navy could rely on commanders who had given much thought to strategy should hostilities begin. It is not surprising, then, that the navy won the first great American victory. In the fall of 1897, Commodore George Dewey had received command of the Asiatic squadron, and with the declaration of war, he was ordered to proceed from Hong Kong to the Philippines. By 30 April the squadron was at the entrance to Manila Bay, where Admiral Montojo had anchored the sizable but decrepit Spanish fleet. The following day, the American force sailed into the bay and annihilated Montojo's fleet without sustaining a loss.

Attributing the Maine explosion of the previous February to Spanish treachery may have led many Americans to overestimate enemy strength. At Manila the Spanish were actually incapable of effectively returning fire from their ancient hulks, and mines planted in the channel had no fuses. Yet participants could celebrate the victory as a convincing demonstration of American naval power. When the American people learned of it a week later, they were ecstatic, and they immediately gave Dewey an honored place in their pantheon of heroes. McKinley, more concerned with pursuing the war to a successful conclusion, authorized an expedition to capture and occupy the Philippines. Though the Americans did not take Manila until after Spain had signed a peace protocol, it was clear that the United States had become a power in the Far East. The ramifications of that development were many, and American foreign policy was to undergo momentous changes in the postwar period.

After Dewey's victory, attention turned to the Caribbean theater and to plans for an invasion of Cuba. Actually carrying out the attack was complicated by the confusion in Tampa, by lack of agreement among high-ranking officers in the army, and by Secretary Alger's failure to provide either leadership or coordination. Alger's vanity led him to promise more than was possible, and his arrogance led him to blame others for his inability to meet commitments. In the army itself, supervision of all operations, at least theoretically, rested with Major General Nelson Appleton Miles. The appointment he held provided very little real power, he disliked McKinley personally, and he nurtured hopes of using his military reputation to gain high political office. More important for the moment, Miles opposed rushing off helterskelter to invade Cuba. He favored postponing the assault until fall, when cooler weather and better training of troops would assure success. A third principal in the military drama that was taking on some of the characteristics of comic opera was General William R. Shafter, who by reason of seniority took command in the field. Cautious and corpulent, he was a prototypical product of the army's bureaucracy. Yet he showed good sense, and while he did not inspire the troops to heroic achievement, his caution reduced casualties.

Although McKinley might have recognized the merit in arguments for postponing an invasion until fall, he was acutely conscious of political pressures that called for immediate action. Furthermore, the navy was to share in the operation, and Secretary Long strongly urged that it get under way. McKinley's patience with Alger and the army was wearing thin, and he finally decided to move. The fleet of Admiral William T. Sampson and Commodore Winfield Scott Schley blockaded Santiago on 6 June, and the following day McKinley ordered Shafter to transport his troops to Cuba. The operation was scarcely a model of military efficiency, but by 29 June it had come within a mile and a half of Santiago.

The Battle of San Juan Hill, which took place on the city's outskirts during the first two days of July, was bloody but inconclusive. Shafter grew despondent and thought of retreat, but then the navy saved the day. Contained in Santiago Bay, the Spanish squadron of Admiral Pascual Cervera y Topete began sailing out of the harbor on 3 July to challenge the ships of Sampson and Schley. Within hours the destruction of Spanish sea power was complete. "The fleet under my command offers the nation as a Fourth of July present the whole of Cervera's fleet," read the cable from Sampson.

The victory at Santiago Bay signaled an early conclusion of hostilities. Rather than attack the city itself, Shafter negotiated its surrender on 17 July. With that surrender the fighting in Cuba petered out, and only Puerto Rico remained as the last vestige of Spanish empire in the western hemisphere. McKinley had already authorized operations to take the island, and an American expedition quickly accomplished that objective a few days before Spain sued for peace. After meeting with the cabinet, McKinley laid down the American terms: Spanish evacuation of Cuba; cession of Puerto Rico to the United States as an indemnity; and American occupation of Manila, pending final treaty agreement. Spain balked at the last provision, but McKinley would not budge. The Spanish finally capitulated on 10 August, and the war came to an end.

The Treaty of Paris

The close of hostilities brought the United States to a critical juncture in international affairs, and along with that development came some important personnel changes in the Department of State. William R. Day cheerfully resigned as secretaryit was an assignment he had accepted with reluctanceand became chairman of the American peace commission that went to Paris to work out the treaty with Spain. To take Day's place, McKinley named John Hay, the brilliant ambassador to Great Britain and a man of long experience in international affairs. Hay was to exercise a profound influence on the shaping of American foreign policy in the twentieth century, but for the moment McKinley and the nation were preoccupied with the treaty negotiations in Paris.

On 16 September the commissioners met with McKinley in the White House and received their instructions. The president reiterated his opposition to the annexation of Cuba and his insistence upon acquiring Puerto Rico. The final disposition of the Philippines presented a more difficult problem. Filipinos under the leadership of Emilio Aguinaldo had, like the Cubans, revolted against Spanish authority and welcomed American assistance in their effort to win independence. Yet McKinley had doubts about the wisdom of independence for the islands. For one thing, many Americans had caught a vision of commercial possibilities in the Orient, and an American outpost in the Philippines might well serve the interests of trade. For another thing, the United States was not alone in its enthusiasm for expansion in the Far East. Germany, in particular, appeared ready for a colonization effort if the United States withdrew.

Characteristically, McKinley reviewed the alternatives for American policy in the Philippines and rejected all but one. Returning the islands to Spain was out of the question. The Spanish had already demonstrated their administrative incompetence, and the American people would oppose such a move. To grant independence without provision for defense of the islands would be tantamount to turning them over to Germany or some other imperialist nation. Taking only one island or establishing an American protectorate would mean accepting responsibilities without power. By such reasoning, McKinley concluded that the only course was to take the Philippines, improve conditions of life for the Filipinos, and eventually grant them independence when they had achieved viability as a nation.

In the end, the American negotiators in Paris followed McKinley's wishes. Signed on 10 December 1898, the treaty provided that Cuba should become independent and that Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines should be ceded to the United States. To placate the Spanish, whose pride had been wounded, the United States agreed to a payment of $20 million for the newly acquired territory. The terms of the Treaty of Paris did not meet universal approval in the United States, but to enthusiasts and critics alike, they marked the path of empire that McKinley had apparently chosen to follow. The acquisition of the Philippines, along with the annexation of Hawaii and, later, of Wake Island and American Samoa, provided coaling stations and bases that could prove useful for the commercial and missionary penetration of Asia. The proponents of empire also found Puerto Rico an admirable possession from which to defend a proposed isthmian canal, should it be completed.

Submission of the treaty to the Senate rekindled old debates over the nature of the Republic and the advisability of territorial expansion. In the discussion of ratification, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge led the fight for the treaty, while his colleague from Massachusetts, Senator George F. Hoar, rallied the opposition. A lively debate also took place outside the Senate chamber as expansionists confronted anti-imperialists on a wide range of issues. Opponents of the treaty argued that it was both immoral and unconstitutional for the United States to impose American rule on an alien people without their consent. Expansionists countered with moral arguments of their own, contending that the United States had a duty to uplift and educate backward populations in order that they might properly appreciate the blessings of liberty. Expansionists also believed that by fulfilling the American destiny in the Pacific, they would assure the economic well-being of the American people at home. Yet neither American manufacturers nor American workers unanimously favored expansion. Andrew Carnegie thought, for example, that acquisition of the Philippines would threaten the peace and security that were necessary for foreign trade. And Samuel Gompers feared that imperial expansion would open the way for cheap contract labor to enter the United States and drive down the wages of American workers.

On 6 February 1899 the debate in the Senate came to an end, and senators passed the treaty by a vote of fifty-seven to twenty-seven, one vote more than the necessary two-thirds. Except for Hoar and Senator Eugene Hale of Maine, Republicans voted with the majority; although twenty-two Democrats voted no, ten voted for the treaty. Willam Jennings Bryan, front-runner for the Democratic nomination in 1900 and an anti-imperialist, had urged that the treaty be approved in order to end the war and ease the way for Philippine independence. His influence over Democratic senators was important in securing ratification. Yet it was McKinley who had framed the debate so as to make ratification appear to be the only logical alternative. In December he had asked the crucial question: "If, following the clear precepts of duty, territory falls to us, and the welfare of an alien people requires our guidance and protection, who will shrink from the responsibility, grave though it may be?"

American Influence in Cuba and the Philippines

While McKinley accepted congratulations on ratification of the treaty, the reaction in the Philippines was less enthusiastic. Indeed, two days before the Senate voted, Aguinaldo had again taken up the fight for independence. This time it was the Americans rather than the Spanish who stood in the way, and it was the Americans rather than the Spanish who were charged with committing atrocities in a long, bloody guerrilla war. American forces eventually captured Aguinaldo in March 1901, and by 1902 his insurrection had been crushed. The rebellion in the Philippines had turned out to be much more costly in both lives and dollars than the Spanish-American War itself.

The Philippine Insurrection was but the first of many difficulties that were to confront the United States in distant parts of the world after the Spanish-American War. Victory brought to the McKinley administration responsibility for establishing orderly government in the newly acquired possessions. To the administration came, as well, responsibility for perfecting a foreign policy to guide the United States in the intricate diplomatic maneuvering that took place at the turn of the century. As he wrestled with the problems of policy formation, McKinley came to rely heavily on two new members of his cabinet: John Hay, who assumed office as secretary of state on 30 September 1898, and Elihu Root, who replaced Alger as secretary of war on 24 July 1899.

With governmental arrangements for the former Spanish colonies entrusted to the Department of War, Root immediately set his orderly mind to the task of working them out. His recommendations included removal of tariff barriers between Puerto Rico and the United States so as to promote economic development and "avoid trouble in the island." Although Congress, in 1900, considered a bill to carry out the recommendation, its free-trade provisions offended supporters of tariff protection. A compromise bill then restored a tariff, albeit with reduced rates. It also provided that all duties should cease when a new civil government's system of taxation had become operative. Congress passed the bill, and McKinley signed it on 12 April 1900. Civil government for the island was established on 1 May, and a legislative assembly convened on 3 December. McKinley issued a proclamation removing the tariff on 25 July 1901.

Turning to Cuba, Root insisted that its new constitution include the Platt Amendment, which gave the United States the right to intervene in Cuban affairs, bound Cuba to avoid commitment to another power, and imposed limitations on the size of the Cuban national debt. Though Cubans always resented the intrusion on their national sovereignty, Americans hailed Root's program as a model of efficiency. The military governor under Root's direction, General Leonard Wood, achieved physical, medical, and educational improvements to benefit the island and create a stable regime. In the Philippines, Root acted to strengthen the army, subdue the rebellion, and establish political institutions through the supervision of an American commission. To set the Philippine government on a solid base, McKinley in 1900 selected William Howard Taft as commissioner. It was Taft, acting on instructions from Root, who guided the transition from military to civilian government.

American Foreign Policy and the Open Door

Developing a viable foreign policy for the United States was a responsibility that rested largely with John Hay, but McKinley worked closely with his secretary of state and kept himself well informed of points at issue in the complex series of negotiations that Hay conducted. "The one indispensable feature of our foreign policy," observed Hay in 1899, "should be a friendly understanding with England." McKinley agreed, though he was more reserved in stating the point. Both understood that in relations with Canada and the Latin American nations, the United States and Britain had common objectives. Common interests extended to the Far East as well. Central in McKinley's thinking was the idea that American prosperity had come to depend on healthy commercial relations with the rest of the world. Trade, in turn, depended on international security and the avoidance of war. Security for American trade, not territorial expansion, should therefore be the major objective of American foreign policy. These, then, were the principles that governed McKinley's position in international relations after the Spanish-American War. They found application first in negotiations to assure the construction of an isthmian canal and then in working out an American policy toward China.

The interoceanic canal had long been an objective of naval enthusiasts, and a dramatic demonstration of the canal's importance captured national attention during the war with Spain. The USS Oregon had required ninety-eight days to make the voyage from Juan de Fuca Strait around Cape Horn to Cuba, and it was clear that military security required a shortening of the journey. Furthermore, a canal would facilitate trade with nations on the west coast of South America. McKinley had emphasized the desirability of such a "maritime highway" in his annual message of 1898, and Hay set about clearing the way for its construction. One obstacle was the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty of 1850, by which the United States and Britain had agreed to joint construction. Faced with more immediate concerns elsewhere, Britain was now prepared to have the United States proceed alone. Together with Sir Julian Pauncefote, the British ambassador, Hay therefore drafted a treaty in 1899 to provide for American construction of the canal, but the Senate so amended it that the British rejected the pact. Eventually, in 1901, Hay and Pauncefote drafted a new treaty, which both nations found acceptable. Yet by that time McKinley had died, and credit for completing the canal negotiations went to his successor.

Of greater importance, because of the way Americans perceived it, was development of the Open Door policy for China. At the time the United States gained its Philippine foothold in the Far East, the great powers were busy establishing spheres of influence for themselves in a China weakened by internal divisions and by defeat at the hands of the Japanese in the Sino-Japanese War of 18941895. Japan extended control over Formosa and the nearby Pescadores, and other nations found themselves attracted to the fabled markets of China itself. Russia obtained special rights in the Liaotung Peninsula; France staked out a sphere of influence on Kwangchowan Bay; Germany secured a leasehold on the Shantung Peninsula; Britain leased the port of Wei-hai, enlarged its leased territory of Kowloon, and secured recognition of economic interests in the Yangtze Valley.

American expansionists, captivated by the thought of economic penetration of the Far East, were perturbed by the partition of China. In 1898, McKinley had informed the peace commissioners in Paris that they could not be indifferent to commercial opportunities in Asia, adding that "we seek no advantages in the Orient which are not common to all. Asking only the open door for ourselves, we are ready to accord the open door to others." What McKinley meant when he referred to an open door became clearer after Hay had sent two sets of notes to the great powers. The first set, sent in September 1899, requested that each recipient avoid interfering with the commercial rights of other nations within its sphere of influence, permit Chinese officials their right to collect existing tariffs, and avoid railroad-rate and port-dues discriminations against the nationals of any country operating within Chinese leaseholds. Receiving an indifferent response, Hay announced in March 1900 that since none of the powers had raised serious objection to his note, he considered their approval "final and definitive."

Through his first Open Door notes, Hay had intended to promote trading opportunities in the Far East, and to that end he had also hoped to prevent the dismemberment of China. Unfortunately he had reckoned only with the great powers, and a society of Chinese nationalists known as the Boxers had other ideas about Chinese affairs. Launching a drive to rid their land of all foreigners, they occupied the city of Peking, cut telegraph lines, and laid siege to the British compound, where members of foreign legations had taken refuge. An international force of eighteen thousand men, including twenty-five hundred Americans, managed to rescue the beleaguered diplomats on 14 August, but the disturbance increased the possibility that China would be carved up by powers determined to secure broader and more binding commitments than they already had.

To avert that possibility, Hay issued the second set of Open Door notes in July 1900. He instructed American envoys in foreign capitals that the United States would adhere to a program of peace for China, that the nation would hold the Boxers accountable for injuries to American citizens, and that in the future the United States would uphold "the principle of equal and impartial trade with all parts of the Chinese Empire." Hay was not committing the United States to the defense of China against other powers; he was pledging only that in the promotion of American interests the United States would maintain respect for China. Through his secretary of state, McKinley had become identified with a policy that was neither as clear nor as forceful as most Americans believed it to be. To his successors he left the difficult task of coping with realities that did not always conform to popular suppositions.

For all McKinley's preoccupation with foreign affairs, he never lost sight of domestic problems, especially if they were likely to become issues in elections. In 1899, for example, he began to study the growth of large business combinations, a development that agitated the minds of reformers and that appeared to require his attention if all citizens were to share the benefits of a restored economic prosperity. Referring to the dangers of trusts and monopolies in his annual message that year, he indicated that the growth of combinations was a matter to which Congress should turn its attention. McKinley's method of handling the trusts was typical of his method of dealing with all potentially controversial matters. He waited until interested parties and persons had discussed the issues and taken positions. Then he acted to find policies for satisfying as many interests as possible. It was an approach that had served him well in the complex politics of Ohio and in Congress. It was also an approach that led to his enormous popularity in all sections of the country and among all classes of people.

McKinley's Reelection Campaign

During his campaign for reelection in 1900, McKinley followed his natural inclination to let the record speak for itself. Garret Hobart, who suffered from a serious heart ailment, had died the previous November, and selecting the vice presidential candidate provided the only real excitement at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia. McKinley had quietly asked Root and Senator William B. Allison to consider becoming his running mate, but both had refused. In the meantime, sentiment for Theodore Roosevelt was growing. Though the president could not avoid misgivings about the Rough Rider, who had returned from Cuba a national hero, he did not wish to disrupt party unity by opposing his candidacy. McKinley therefore refused publicly to express a preference, saying only that his running mate should be the choice of the convention. Dismayed by this turn of events, Mark Hanna reportedly fretted that if Roosevelt were nominated, only "one heartbeat" would separate "that damned cowboy" from the White House. Nothing could stop the convention's ardor for Roosevelt, however, and when he received the nomination McKinley cordially sent his congratulations. As it turned out, the two made a good team. Roosevelt was a sparkling success on the hustings, allowing McKinley to remain in Canton as the dignified chief executive whose leadership had brought a return to prosperity as well as universal recognition of the nation's importance in world affairs.

For McKinley's opponent, Bryan, the campaign was a disappointing one after the exhilaration of 1896. Deprived of the silver issue by the return of prosperity, he persisted in calling for bimetallism and the inclusion of a silver plank in the Democratic platform. Yet it was imperialism that he hoped to make the paramount issue of the campaign. "History furnishes no example of turpitude baser than ours," Bryan warned, "if we now substitute our yoke for the Spanish yoke." Despite his eloquence, he was unable to persuade voters that American control over the former Spanish colonies remained a live issue after ratification of the Treaty of Paris. The upshot of a lackluster campaign was that McKinley increased his popular vote of 1896 by more than 100,000, and he captured 21 more electoral votes than he had won in 1896.


"Your duty to the country is to live for four years from next March," Hanna had written McKinley following the Republican nomination. After his second inauguration, the president decided to go on an extensive tour of the western states, capping it with a visit to San Francisco. To him the journey seemed an appropriate gesture. It would offer abundant opportunities to demonstrate confidence in the future of American leadership among nations of the world. The journey fulfilled McKinley's hopes. Although his wife fell seriously ill in San Francisco, she recovered miraculously, and all along the way cheering crowds greeted the presidential entourage. Resting at home in Canton after his return, McKinley finished preparation of an address he had agreed to deliver at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo on 5 September.

The fair was dedicated to peace and amity in the western hemisphere, and a festive spirit prevailed at the exposition when the McKinleys arrived to celebrate President's Day. Their host was John G. Mil-burn, a leading member of the Buffalo bar. More than 116,000 people had come to greet them, and nearly half that number gathered in the Esplanade to hear what McKinley had to say. His remarks were appropriate to the occasion. Urging an enlightened policy of commercial reciprocity, he argued that the United States could not forever sell the products of American industry abroad without also buying the products of other countries. "The period of exclusiveness is past," cautioned the man who had once been the foremost spokesman of protective tariffs. Capable of adjusting to changing times, he now conceded that "the expansion of our trade and commerce is the pressing problem." Yet he also argued that such expansion must take place under conditions of world peace. "Commercial wars," he warned, "are unprofitable."

It was McKinley's last public utterance. The following day he toured Niagara Falls before returning to the Temple of Music to greet thousands of sight-seers and well-wishers. Inconspicuous in the crowd was Leon Czolgosz, who carried in his pocket a.32-caliber Iver-Johnson revolver. Brooding over social injustice, he had been attracted to anarchism, and he had come to kill the president. The day was hot, and handkerchiefs were much in evidence as people mopped the perspiration from their brows. While Czolgosz waited, he surreptitiously wrapped the revolver in his handkerchief. The long line lurched forward as McKinley shook each hand with practiced efficiency. When the assassin reached the head of the line, he fired two shots. The president fell, grasping at his chest and abdomen.

Within minutes McKinley was taken to the emergency hospital on the grounds of the exposition. The physicians who clustered about the operating table saw instantly that the abdominal wound was very serious indeed. Patching it up as best they could under the circumstances, they removed McKinley to the Milburn house, where he had been staying since his arrival in Buffalo. For a week the president seemed to be doing well, and hopes for his recovery ran high; but gangrene gradually spread along the track of the bullet, and by the afternoon of 13 September the attending physicians had abandoned hope.

"Good-bye, good-bye all," murmured the dying man to a small group of friends who had gathered in the room. With his invalid wife at his bedside, he whispered the words of a familiar hymn, "Nearer, My God to Thee." He died shortly after two o'clock the next morning. William McKinley, whose political popularity betokened the skills of a sensitive and experienced political craftsman, was in his personal life a simple man who reiterated platitudes without embarrassment. He had lived with dignity, and with dignity he died.


Four outstanding studies make available a wealth of information on William McKinley and his times. H. Wayne Morgan, William McKinley and His America (Syracuse, N.Y., 1963), the most complete and balanced biography of McKinley, emphasizes McKinley's nationalism to provide an important insight into his administration. A second volume by the same author, From Hayes to McKinley: National Party Politics, 18771896 (Syracuse, N.Y., 1969), theorizes that by subordinating local interests to national concerns, the Republican party laid the groundwork for the modern political system of the United States. Margaret Leech, In the Days of McKinley (New York, 1959), is a gracefully written, comprehensive history of the McKinley administration. A more recent volume by Lewis L. Gould, The Presidency of William McKinley (Lawrence, Kans., 1980), is persuasive in presenting McKinley as a leader who skillfully used the powers of his office to become the first truly modern president.

Economic developments affecting McKinley's political activities receive attention in Harold U. Faulkner, Politics, Reform, and Expansion, 18901900 (New York, 1959). The detailed study by Milron Friedman and Anna Jacobson Schwartz, A Monetary History of the United States, 18671960 (Princeton, N.J., 1963), is important for understanding monetary issues of the 1896 campaign. Two sophisticated political analyses are valuable for assessing McKinley's advancement to the presidency: the first is Richard Jensen, The Winning of the Midwest: Social and Political Conflict, 18881896 (Chicago, 1971), and the second is Paul Kleppner, The Cross of Culture: A Social Analysis of Midwestern Politics, 18501900, 2d ed. (New York, 1970). Paolo E. Coletta, William Jennings Bryan: Political Evangelist, 18601908 (Lincoln, Nebr., 1964), the first volume of the most detailed biography of Bryan, provides important information on McKinley's opponent in the elections of 1896 and 1900. Stanley L. Jones presents a thorough, even-handed treatment in The Presidential Election of 1896 (Madison, Wis., 1964). Another examination of the 1896 election is Paul W. Glad, McKinley, Bryan, and the People (Philadelphia, 1964).

In recent years two thorough studies of the Spanish-American War have provided depth to historical understanding of that important development of McKinley's presidency. Throughout The War with Spain in 1898 (New York, 1981), David F. Trask treats military action with a sure hand. His conclusions are for the most part consistent with the thesis advanced by John L. Offner in An Unwanted War: The Diplomacy of the United States and Spain over Cuba, 18951898 (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1992). Neither scholar views McKinley as committing the nation to war in order to establish the United States as an imperial power.

Nevertheless, the American position in international affairs became increasingly important as McKinley's foreign policy evolved. In Imperial Democracy: The Emergence of America as a Great Power (New York, 1961), Ernest R. May portrays McKinley as a man of peace who succumbed to the hysterical clamor for war only because he feared the political effects of remaining neutral. In his American Imperialism: A Speculative Essay (New York, 1968), May argues that American leaders were following European precedents in their enthusiasm for overseas expansion. Far less supportive of the notion that "the United States had greatness thrust upon it," William Appleman Williams's thesis in The Tragedy of American Diplomacy (Cleveland, 1959) is that all interest groups in American society favored market expansion. Another work by Williams, The Roots of the Modern American Empire: A Study of the Growth and Shaping of Social Consciousness in a Marketplace Society (New York, 1969), elaborates on expansionist policy of the 1890s.

American foreign policy at the turn of the century is the topic of several volumes. In The New Empire: An Interpretation of American Expansion, 18601898 (Ithaca, N.Y., 1963), Walter LaFeber argues that the American business community saw market expansion as a solution to economic problems of the 1890s. Thomas J. McCormick develops a related theme in China Market: America's Quest for Informal Empire, 18931901 (Chicago, 1967). Paul A. Varg's study The Making of a Myth: The United States and China, 18971912 (East Lansing, Mich., 1968), rejects the idea of an American economic interest in China. Marilyn Blatt Young, in The Rhetoric of Empire: American China Policy, 18951901 (Cambridge, Mass., 1969), links American imperialism with social and economic anxieties of the 1890s. David Healy's study U.S. Expansionism: The Imperialist Urge in the 1890s (Madison, Wis., 1970), also examines the great debate over acquisition of an American colonial empire. While other historians have differed over American foreign policy as it developed during McKinley's presidency, Swedish scholar Göran Rystad provides a reasonable synthesis in Ambiguous Imperialism: American Foreign Policy and Domestic Politics at the Turn of the Century (Stockholm, Sweden, 1975).

Recent works include William H. Armstrong, Major McKinley: William McKinley and the Civil War (Kent, Ohio, 2000).

Further references can be found in Lewis L. Gould and Craig H. Roell, comps., William McKinley: A Bibliography (Westport, Conn., 1988).

McKinley, William

views updated May 14 2018

McKinley, William

25th president, 1897–1901

Born: January 29, 1843

Died: September 14, 1901

Vice Presidents: Garret A. Hobart, Theodore Roosevelt

First Lady: Ida Saxton McKinley

Children: Katherine, Ida

William McKinley was born on January 29, 1843 in Ohio. When the Civil War began in 1861, McKinley was the first man in his hometown to volunteer to fight. He joined the 23rd Ohio Infantry, which was commanded by future U.S. president Rutherford B. Hayes. After the war ended, McKinley studied law and worked for a county judge. In 1867, he began practicing law in Canton, Ohio. In 1869, he was elected prosecuting attorney of Stark County, Ohio.

In 1871, McKinley married Ida Saxton and they had two daughters, who both died during early childhood. The shock caused by their deaths left Ida an invalid, and later she developed epilepsy.

  • McKinley was the third president to be assassinated.
  • McKinley was considered the leading Republican tariff expert during his 14 years in the House of Representatives.
  • McKinley's inauguration was the first to be filmed with a movie camera.

McKinley was elected to the House of Representatives in 1876, and was governor of Ohio for two terms. He won the election of 1896 easily and was reelected in 1900. McKinley was elected to two terms in office at a time when the United States was transforming from a nation into what some called an "empire." American expansion was made possible by the fact that the nation had, by that time, developed the third largest navy in the world. During McKinley's first term, the "Great White Fleet" of American warships traveled the world, securing trading rights for American goods. The policy of growth would lead to the Spanish-American War and to a movement of "anti-imperialist" Americans. It would also, indirectly, lead to McKinley's death. In 1901, his term was abruptly ended when he was shot by Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist (person opposed to government) in Buffalo, New York. He died eight days later.

When McKinley Was in Office

The Klondike gold rush began.
In France, Marie and Pierre Curie discovered radium.
The sinking of the battleship Maine in Havana Harbor led to the Spanish-American War. As a result of the war, Puerto Rico and the Philippines became U.S. possessions.
Hawaii became a U.S. possession.
Carry Nation, a believer in temperance, began her campaign to damage and destroy businesses that sold liquor.
A hurricane in Galveston, Texas killed more than 6,000 residents, one-sixth of the city's population.

On McKinley's First Inauguration Day

William McKinley took the oath of office as the overwhelming winner of the election of 1896. Despite his victory, however, few Americans knew much about the Ohio native. He had campaigned very little, and had preferred to run a "front porch" campaign similar to that of Benjamin Harrison.

William McKinley's First Inaugural Address

In Washington, D.C., Thursday, March 4, 1897


IN obedience to the will of the people, and in their presence, by the authority vested in me by this oath, I assume the arduous and responsible duties of President of the United States, relying upon the support of my countrymen and invoking the guidance of Almighty God. Our faith teaches that there is no safer reliance than upon the God of our fathers, who has so singularly favored the American people in every national trial, and who will not forsake us so long as we obey His commandments and walk humbly in His footsteps.

The responsibilities of the high trust to which I have been called—always of grave importance—are augmented by the prevailing business conditions entailing idleness upon willing labor and loss to useful enterprises. The country is suffering from industrial disturbances from which speedy relief must be had. Our financial system needs some revision; our money is all good now, but its value must not further be threatened. It should all be put upon an enduring basis, not subject to easy attack, nor its stability to doubt or dispute. Our currency should continue under the supervision of the Government. The several forms of our paper money offer, in my judgment, a constant embarrassment to the Government and a safe balance in the Treasury.1 Therefore I believe it necessary to devise a system which, without diminishing the circulating medium or offering a premium for its contraction, will present a remedy for those arrangements which, temporary in their nature, might well in the years of our prosperity have been displaced by wiser provisions. With adequate revenue secured, but not until then, we can enter upon such changes in our fiscal laws as will, while insuring safety and volume to our money, no longer impose upon the Government the necessity of maintaining so large a gold reserve, with its attendant and inevitable temptations to speculation. Most of our financial laws are the outgrowth of experience and trial, and should not be amended without investigation and demonstration of the wisdom of the proposed changes. We must be both "sure we are right" and "make haste slowly." If, therefore, Congress, in its wisdom, shall deem it expedient to create a commission to take under early consideration the revision of our coinage, banking and currency laws, and give them that exhaustive, careful and dispassionate examination that their importance demands, I shall cordially concur in such action. If such power is vested in the President, it is my purpose to appoint a commission of prominent, well-informed citizens of different parties, who will command public confidence, both on account of their ability and special fitness for the work. Business experience and public training may thus be combined, and the patriotic zeal of the friends of the country be so directed that such a report will be made as to receive the support of all parties, and our finances cease to be the subject of mere partisan contention. The experiment is, at all events, worth a trial, and, in my opinion, it can but prove beneficial to the entire country.

The question of international bimetallism will have early and earnest attention. It will be my constant endeavor to secure it by co-operation with the other great commercial powers of the world. Until that condition is realized when the parity between our gold and silver money springs from and is supported by the relative value of the two metals, the value of the silver already coined and of that which may hereafter be coined, must be kept constantly at par with gold by every resource at our command. The credit of the Government, the integrity of its currency, and the inviolability of its obligations must be preserved. This was the commanding verdict of the people, and it will not be unheeded.

Economy is demanded in every branch of the Government at all times, but especially in periods, like the present, of depression in business and distress among the people. The severest economy must be observed in all public expenditures, and extravagance stopped wherever it is found, and prevented wherever in the future it may be developed. If the revenues are to remain as now, the only relief that can come must be from decreased expenditures. But the present must not become the permanent condition of the Government. It has been our uniform practice to retire, not increase our outstanding obligations, and this policy must again be resumed and vigorously enforced. Our revenues should always be large enough to meet with ease and promptness not only our current needs and the principal and interest of the public debt, but to make proper and liberal provision for that most deserving body of public creditors, the soldiers and sailors and the widows and orphans who are the pensioners of the United States.

The Government should not be permitted to run behind or increase its debt in times like the present. Suitably to provide against this is the mandate of duty—the certain and easy remedy for most of our financial difficulties. A deficiency is inevitable so long as the expenditures of the Government exceed its receipts. It can only be met by loans or an increased revenue. While a large annual surplus of revenue may invite waste and extravagance, inadequate revenue creates distrust and undermines public and private credit. Neither should be encouraged. Between more loans and more revenue there ought to be but one opinion. We should have more revenue, and that without delay, hindrance, or postponement. A surplus in the Treasury created by loans is not a permanent or safe reliance. It will suffice while it lasts, but it can not last long while the outlays of the Government are greater than its receipts, as has been the case during the past two years. Nor must it be forgotten that however much such loans may temporarily relieve the situation, the Government is still indebted for the amount of the surplus thus accrued, which it must ultimately pay, while its ability to pay is not strengthened, but weakened by a continued deficit. Loans are imperative in great emergencies to preserve the Government or its credit, but a failure to supply needed revenue in time of peace for the maintenance of either has no justification.

The best way for the Government to maintain its credit is to pay as it goes—not by resorting to loans, but by keeping out of debt—through an adequate income secured by a system of taxation, external or internal, or both. It is the settled policy of the Government, pursued from the beginning and practiced by all parties and Administrations, to raise the bulk of our revenue from taxes upon foreign productions entering the United States for sale and consumption, and avoiding, for the most part, every form of direct taxation, except in time of war. The country is clearly opposed to any needless additions to the subject of internal taxation, and is committed by its latest popular utterance to the system of tariff taxation. There can be no misunderstanding, either, about the principle upon which this tariff taxation shall be levied. Nothing has ever been made plainer at a general election than that the controlling principle in the raising of revenue from duties on imports is zealous care for American interests and American labor. The people have declared that such legislation should be had as will give ample protection and encouragement to the industries and the development of our country. It is, therefore, earnestly hoped and expected that Congress will, at the earliest practicable moment, enact revenue legislation that shall be fair, reasonable, conservative, and just, and which, while supplying sufficient revenue for public purposes, will still be signally beneficial and helpful to every section and every enterprise of the people. To this policy we are all, of whatever party, firmly bound by the voice of the people—a power vastly more potential than the expression of any political platform. The paramount duty of Congress is to stop deficiencies by the restoration of that protective legislation which has always been the firmest prop of the Treasury. The passage of such a law or laws would strengthen the credit of the Government both at home and abroad, and go far toward stopping the drain upon the gold reserve held for the redemption of our currency, which has been heavy and well-nigh constant for several years.

In the revision of the tariff especial attention should be given to the re-enactment and extension of the reciprocity principle of the law of 1890, under which so great a stimulus was given to our foreign trade in new and advantageous markets for our surplus agricultural and manufactured products. The brief trial given this legislation amply justifies a further experiment and additional discretionary power in the making of commercial treaties, the end in view always to be the opening up of new markets for the products of our country, by granting concessions to the products of other lands that we need and cannot produce ourselves, and which do not involve any loss of labor to our own people, but tend to increase their employment.

The depression of the past four years has fallen with especial severity upon the great body of toilers of the country, and upon none more than the holders of small farms. Agriculture has languished and labor suffered. The revival of manufacturing will be a relief to both. No portion of our population is more devoted to the institution of free government nor more loyal in their support, while none bears more cheerfully or fully its proper share in the maintenance of the Government or is better entitled to its wise and liberal care and protection. Legislation helpful to producers is beneficial to all. The depressed condition of industry on the farm and in the mine and factory has lessened the ability of the people to meet the demands upon them, and they rightfully expect that not only a system of revenue shall be established that will secure the largest income with the least burden, but that every means will be taken to decrease, rather than increase, our public expenditures. Business conditions are not the most promising. It will take time to restore the prosperity of former years. If we cannot promptly attain it, we can resolutely turn our faces in that direction and aid its return by friendly legislation. However troublesome the situation may appear, Congress will not, I am sure, be found lacking in disposition or ability to relieve it as far as legislation can do so. The restoration of confidence and the revival of business, which men of all parties so much desire, depend more largely upon the prompt, energetic, and intelligent action of Congress than upon any other single agency affecting the situation.

It is inspiring, too, to remember that no great emergency in the one hundred and eight years of our eventful national life has ever arisen that has not been met with wisdom and courage by the American people, with fidelity to their best interests and highest destiny, and to the honor of the American name. These years of glorious history have exalted mankind and advanced the cause of freedom throughout the world, and immeasurably strengthened the precious free institutions which we enjoy. The people love and will sustain these institutions. The great essential to our happiness and prosperity is that we adhere to the principles upon which the Government was established and insist upon their faithful observance. Equality of rights must prevail, and our laws be always and everywhere respected and obeyed. We may have failed in the discharge of our full duty as citizens of the great Republic, but it is consoling and encouraging to realize that free speech, a free press, free thought, free schools, the free and unmolested right of religious liberty and worship, and free and fair elections are dearer and more universally enjoyed to-day than ever before. These guaranties must be sacredly preserved and wisely strengthened. The constituted authorities must be cheerfully and vigorously upheld. Lynchings must not be tolerated in a great and civilized country like the United States; courts, not mobs, must execute the penalties of the law.2 The preservation of public order, the right of discussion, the integrity of courts, and the orderly administration of justice must continue forever the rock of safety upon which our Government securely rests.

One of the lessons taught by the late election, which all can rejoice in, is that the citizens of the United States are both law-respecting and law-abiding people, not easily swerved from the path of patriotism and honor. This is in entire accord with the genius of our institutions, and but emphasizes the advantages of inculcating even a greater love for law and order in the future. Immunity should be granted to none who violate the laws, whether individuals, corporations, or communities; and as the Constitution imposes upon the President the duty of both its own execution, and of the statutes enacted in pursuance of its provisions, I shall endeavor carefully to carry them into effect. The declaration of the party now restored to power has been in the past that of "opposition to all combinations of capital organized in trusts, or otherwise, to control arbitrarily the condition of trade among our citizens," and it has supported "such legislation as will prevent the execution of all schemes to oppress the people by undue charges on their supplies, or by unjust rates for the transportation of their products to the market." This purpose will be steadily pursued, both by the enforcement of the laws now in existence and the recommendation and support of such new statutes as may be necessary to carry it into effect.

Our naturalization and immigration laws should be further improved to the constant promotion of a safer, a better, and a higher citizenship. A grave peril to the Republic would be a citizenship too ignorant to understand or too vicious to appreciate the great value and beneficence of our institutions and laws, and against all who come here to make war upon them our gates must be promptly and tightly closed. Nor must we be unmindful of the need of improvement among our own citizens, but with the zeal of our forefathers encourage the spread of knowledge and free education. Illiteracy must be banished from the land if we shall attain that high destiny as the foremost of the enlightened nations of the world which, under Providence, we ought to achieve.

Reforms in the civil service must go on; but the changes should be real and genuine, not perfunctory, or prompted by a zeal in behalf of any party simply because it happens to be in power. As a member of Congress I voted and spoke in favor of the present law, and I shall attempt its enforcement in the spirit in which it was enacted. The purpose in view was to secure the most efficient service of the best men who would accept appointment under the Government, retaining faithful and devoted public servants in office, but shielding none, under the authority of any rule or custom, who are inefficient, incompetent, or unworthy. The best interests of the country demand this, and the people heartily approve the law wherever and whenever it has been thus administrated.

Congress should give prompt attention to the restoration of our American merchant marine, once the pride of the seas in all the great ocean highways of commerce. To my mind, few more important subjects so imperatively demand its intelligent consideration. The United States has progressed with marvelous rapidity in every field of enterprise and endeavor until we have become foremost in nearly all the great lines of inland trade, commerce, and industry. Yet, while this is true, our American merchant marine has been steadily declining until it is now lower, both in the percentage of tonnage and the number of vessels employed, than it was prior to the Civil War. Commendable progress has been made of late years in the upbuilding of the American Navy, but we must supplement these efforts by providing as a proper consort for it a merchant marine amply sufficient for our own carrying trade to foreign countries. The question is one that appeals both to our business necessities and the patriotic aspirations of a great people.

It has been the policy of the United States since the foundation of the Government to cultivate relations of peace and amity with all the nations of the world, and this accords with my conception of our duty now. We have cherished the policy of non-interference with affairs of foreign governments wisely inaugurated by Washington, keeping ourselves free from entanglement, either as allies or foes, content to leave undisturbed with them the settlement of their own domestic concerns. It will be our aim to pursue a firm and dignified foreign policy, which shall be just, impartial, ever watchful of our national honor, and always insisting upon the enforcement of the lawful rights of American citizens everywhere. Our diplomacy should seek nothing more and accept nothing less than is due us. We want no wars of conquest; we must avoid the temptation of territorial aggression. War should never be entered upon until every agency of peace has failed;3 peace is preferable to war in almost every contingency. Arbitration is the true method of settlement of international as well as local or individual differences. It was recognized as the best means of adjustment of differences between employers and employees by the Forty-ninth Congress, in 1886, and its application was extended to our diplomatic relations by the unanimous concurrence of the Senate and House of the Fifty-first Congress in 1890. The latter resolution was accepted as the basis of negotiations with us by the British House of Commons in 1893, and upon our invitation a treaty of arbitration between the United States and Great Britain was signed at Washington and transmitted to the Senate for its ratification in January last. Since this treaty is clearly the result of our own initiative; since it has been recognized as the leading feature of our foreign policy throughout our entire national history—the adjustment of difficulties by judicial methods rather than force of arms—and since it presents to the world the glorious example of reason and peace, not passion and war, controlling the relations between two of the greatest nations in the world, an example certain to be followed by others, I respectfully urge the early action of the Senate thereon, not merely as a matter of policy, but as a duty to mankind. The importance and moral influence of the ratification of such a treaty can hardly be overestimated in the cause of advancing civilization. It may well engage the best thought of the statesmen and people of every country, and I cannot but consider it fortunate that it was reserved to the United States to have the leadership in so grand a work.

It has been the uniform practice of each President to avoid, as far as possible, the convening of Congress in extraordinary session. It is an example which, under ordinary circumstances and in the absence of a public necessity, is to be commended. But a failure to convene the representatives of the people in Congress in extra session when it involves neglect of a public duty places the responsibility of such neglect upon the Executive himself. The condition of the public Treasury, as has been indicated, demands the immediate consideration of Congress. It alone has the power to provide revenues for the Government. Not to convene it under such circumstances I can view in no other sense than the neglect of a plain duty. I do not sympathize with the sentiment that Congress in session is dangerous to our general business interests. Its members are the agents of the people, and their presence at the seat of Government in the execution of the sovereign will should not operate as an injury, but a benefit. There could be no better time to put the Government upon a sound financial and economic basis than now. The people have only recently voted that this should be done, and nothing is more binding upon the agents of their will than the obligation of immediate action. It has always seemed to me that the postponement of the meeting of Congress until more than a year after it has been chosen deprived Congress too often of the inspiration of the popular will and the country of the corresponding benefits. It is evident, therefore, that to postpone action in the presence of so great a necessity would be unwise on the part of the Executive because unjust to the interests of the people. Our action now will be freer from mere partisan consideration than if the question of tariff revision was postponed until the regular session of Congress. We are nearly two years from a Congressional election, and politics cannot so greatly distract us as if such contest was immediately pending. We can approach the problem calmly and patriotically, without fearing its effect upon an early election.

Our fellow-citizens who may disagree with us upon the character of this legislation prefer to have the question settled now, even against their preconceived views, and perhaps settled so reasonably, as I trust and believe it will be, as to insure great permanence, than to have further uncertainty menacing the vast and varied business interests of the United States. Again, whatever action Congress may take will be given a fair opportunity for trial before the people are called to pass judgment upon it, and this I consider a great essential to the rightful and lasting settlement of the question. In view of these considerations, I shall deem it my duty as President to convene Congress in extraordinary session on Monday, the 15th day of March, 1897.

In conclusion, I congratulate the country upon the fraternal spirit of the people and the manifestations of good will everywhere so apparent. The recent election not only most fortunately demonstrated the obliteration of sectional or geographical lines, but to some extent also the prejudices which for years have distracted our councils and marred our true greatness as a nation. The triumph of the people, whose verdict is carried into effect today, is not the triumph of one section, nor wholly of one party, but of all sections and all the people. The North and the South no longer divide on the old lines, but upon principles and policies; and in this fact surely every lover of the country can find cause for true felicitation. Let us rejoice in and cultivate this spirit; it is ennobling and will be both a gain and a blessing to our beloved country. It will be my constant aim to do nothing, and permit nothing to be done, that will arrest or disturb this growing sentiment of unity and cooperation, this revival of esteem and affiliation which now animates so many thousands in both the old antagonistic sections, but I shall cheerfully do everything possible to promote and increase it.

Let me again repeat the words of the oath administered by the Chief Justice which, in their respective spheres, so far as applicable, I would have all my countrymen observe: "I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States." This is the obligation I have reverently taken before the Lord Most High. To keep it will be my single purpose, my constant prayer; and I shall confidently rely upon the forbearance and assistance of all the people in the discharge of my solemn responsibilities.

Quotes to Note

  1. "The several forms of our paper money offer..." When McKinley took office, the U.S. Treasury redeemed paper money with gold. It also offered paper money known as silver certificates that were worth less than gold but could be redeemed for gold. This arrangement had nearly caused the treasury to run out of gold and forced the government to shut down.
  2. "Lynchings must not be tolerated..." McKinley took office as the racist Jim Crow laws took effect in the South. In addition, a Supreme Court decision in 1896 had declared that "separate but equal" schools were legal. African Americans would be at the mercy of segregationists, racists, and terrorist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan for the next 75 years. Lynchings of African Americans by white mobs would become a tragic chapter in American race relations.
  3. "War should never be entered upon..." Ironically, McKinley, buckling to public pressure, would declare war on Spain on April 11, 1898. This was one day after he learned that Spain would agree to U.S. demands that it grant independence to Cuba.

On McKinley's Second Inauguration Day

When McKinley took office for the second time, the United States had defeated Spain in a four-month war, destroying much of that traditional power's naval fleet. America was now a world power to be reckoned with. Like many Americans, McKinley believed that the United States was entitled to the same respect given to traditional powers such as Great Britain, Germany, Russia, and Japan.

William McKinley's Second Inaugural Address

In Washington, D.C., Monday, March 4, 1901

My Fellow-Citizens:

WHEN we assembled here on the 4th of March 1897, there was great anxiety with regard to our currency and credit. None exists now. Then our Treasury receipts were inadequate to meet the current obligations of the Government. Now they are sufficient for all public needs, and we have a surplus instead of a deficit. Then I felt constrained to convene the Congress in extraordinary session to devise revenues to pay the ordinary expenses of the Government. Now I have the satisfaction to announce that the Congress just closed has reduced taxation in the sum of $41,000,000. Then there was deep solicitude because of the long depression in our manufacturing, mining, agricultural, and mercantile industries and the consequent distress of our laboring population. Now every avenue of production is crowded with activity, labor is well employed, and American products find good markets at home and abroad.

Our diversified productions, however, are increasing in such unprecedented volume as to admonish us of the necessity of still further enlarging our foreign markets by broader commercial relations. For this purpose reciprocal trade arrangements with other nations should in liberal spirit be carefully cultivated and promoted.

The national verdict of 1896 has for the most part been executed. Whatever remains unfulfilled is a continuing obligation resting with undiminished force upon the Executive and the Congress. But fortunate as our condition is, its permanence can only be assured by sound business methods and strict economy in national administration and legislation. We should not permit our great prosperity to lead us to reckless ventures in business or profligacy in public expenditures. While the Congress determines the objects and the sum of appropriations, the officials of the executive departments are responsible for honest and faithful disbursement, and it should be their constant care to avoid waste and extravagance.

Honesty, capacity, and industry are nowhere more indispensable than in public employment. These should be fundamental requisites to original appointment and the surest guaranties against removal.

Four years ago we stood on the brink of war without the people knowing it and without any preparation or effort at preparation for the impending peril. I did all that in honor could be done to avert the war, but without avail. It became inevitable; and the Congress at its first regular session, without party division, provided money in anticipation of the crisis and in preparation to meet it. It came. The result was signally favorable to American arms and in the highest degree honorable to the Government. It imposed upon us obligations from which we cannot escape and from which it would be dishonorable to seek escape. We are now at peace with the world, and it is my fervent prayer that if differences arise between us and other powers they may be settled by peaceful arbitration and that hereafter we may be spared the horrors of war.

Intrusted by the people for a second time with the office of President, I enter upon its administration appreciating the great responsibilities which attach to this renewed honor and commission, promising unreserved devotion on my part to their faithful discharge and reverently invoking for my guidance the direction and favor of Almighty God. I should shrink from the duties this day assumed if I did not feel that in their performance I should have the co-operation of the wise and patriotic men of all parties. It encourages me for the great task which I now undertake to believe that those who voluntarily committed to me the trust imposed upon the Chief Executive of the Republic will give to me generous support in my duties to "preserve, protect, and defend, the Constitution of the United States" and to "care that the laws be faithfully executed." The national purpose is indicated through a national election. It is the constitutional method of ascertaining the public will. When once it is registered it is a law to us all, and faithful observance should follow its decrees.

Strong hearts and helpful hands are needed, and, fortunately, we have them in every part of our beloved country. We are reunited. Sectionalism has disappeared. Division on public questions can no longer be traced by the war maps of 1861. These old differences less and less disturb the judgment. Existing problems demand the thought and quicken the conscience of the country, and the responsibility for their presence, as well as for their righteous settlement, rests upon us all—no more upon me than upon you. There are some national questions in the solution of which patriotism should exclude partisanship. Magnifying their difficulties will not take them off our hands nor facilitate their adjustment. Distrust of the capacity, integrity, and high purposes of the American people will not be an inspiring theme for future political contests. Dark pictures and gloomy forebodings are worse than useless. These only becloud, they do not help to point the way of safety and honor. "Hope maketh not ashamed." The prophets of evil were not the builders of the Republic, nor in its crises since have they saved or served it. The faith of the fathers was a mighty force in its creation, and the faith of their descendants has wrought its progress and furnished its defenders. They are obstructionists who despair, and who would destroy confidence in the ability of our people to solve wisely and for civilization the mighty problems resting upon them. The American people, intrenched in freedom at home, take their love for it with them wherever they go, and they reject as mistaken and unworthy the doctrine that we lose our own liberties by securing the enduring foundations of liberty to others. Our institutions will not deteriorate by extension, and our sense of justice will not abate under tropic suns in distant seas. As heretofore, so hereafter will the nation demonstrate its fitness to administer any new estate which events devolve upon it, and in the fear of God will "take occasion by the hand and make the bounds of freedom wider yet." If there are those among us who would make our way more difficult, we must not be disheartened, but the more earnestly dedicate ourselves to the task upon which we have rightly entered. The path of progress is seldom smooth. New things are often found hard to do. Our fathers found them so. We find them so. They are inconvenient. They cost us something. But are we not made better for the effort and sacrifice, and are not those we serve lifted up and blessed?

We will be consoled, too, with the fact that opposition has confronted every onward movement of the Republic from its opening hour until now, but without success. The Republic has marched on and on, and its step has exalted freedom and humanity. We are undergoing the same ordeal as did our predecessors nearly a century ago. We are following the course they blazed. They triumphed. Will their successors falter and plead organic impotency in the nation? Surely after 125 years of achievement for mankind we will not now surrender our equality with other powers on matters fundamental and essential to nationality. With no such purpose was the nation created. In no such spirit has it developed its full and independent sovereignty. We adhere to the principle of equality among ourselves, and by no act of ours will we assign to ourselves a subordinate rank in the family of nations.

My fellow-citizens, the public events of the past four years have gone into history. They are too near to justify recital. Some of them were unforeseen; many of them momentous and far-reaching in their consequences to ourselves and our relations with the rest of the world. The part which the United States bore so honorably in the thrilling scenes in China, while new to American life, has been in harmony with its true spirit and best traditions, and in dealing with the results its policy will be that of moderation and fairness.1

We face at this moment a most important question that of the future relations of the United States and Cuba. With our near neighbors we must remain close friends. The declaration of the purposes of this Government in the resolution of April 20, 1898, must be made good. Ever since the evacuation of the island by the army of Spain, the Executive, with all practicable speed, has been assisting its people in the successive steps necessary to the establishment of a free and independent government prepared to assume and perform the obligations of international law which now rest upon the United States under the treaty of Paris. The convention elected by the people to frame a constitution is approaching the completion of its labors. The transfer of American control to the new government is of such great importance, involving an obligation resulting from our intervention and the treaty of peace, that I am glad to be advised by the recent act of Congress of the policy which the legislative branch of the Government deems essential to the best interests of Cuba and the United States. The principles which led to our intervention require that the fundamental law upon which the new government rests should be adapted to secure a government capable of performing the duties and discharging the functions of a separate nation, of observing its international obligations of protecting life and property, insuring order, safety, and liberty, and conforming to the established and historical policy of the United States in its relation to Cuba.2

The peace which we are pledged to leave to the Cuban people must carry with it the guaranties of permanence. We became sponsors for the pacification of the island, and we remain accountable to the Cubans, no less than to our own country and people, for the reconstruction of Cuba as a free commonwealth on abiding foundations of right, justice, liberty, and assured order. Our enfranchisement of the people will not be completed until free Cuba shall "be a reality, not a name; a perfect entity, not a hasty experiment bearing within itself the elements of failure."

While the treaty of peace with Spain was ratified on the 6th of February, 1899, and ratifications were exchanged nearly two years ago, the Congress has indicated no form of government for the Philippine Islands. It has, however, provided an army to enable the Executive to suppress insurrection, restore peace, give security to the inhabitants, and establish the authority of the United States throughout the archipelago.3 It has authorized the organization of native troops as auxiliary to the regular force. It has been advised from time to time of the acts of the military and naval officers in the islands, of my action in appointing civil commissions, of the instructions with which they were charged, of their duties and powers, of their recommendations, and of their several acts under executive commission, together with the very complete general information they have submitted. These reports fully set forth the conditions, past and present, in the islands, and the instructions clearly show the principles which will guide the Executive until the Congress shall, as it is required to do by the treaty, determine "the civil rights and political status of the native inhabitants." The Congress having added the sanction of its authority to the powers already possessed and exercised by the Executive under the Constitution, thereby leaving with the Executive the responsibility for the government of the Philippines, I shall continue the efforts already begun until order shall be restored throughout the islands, and as fast as conditions permit will establish local governments, in the formation of which the full co-operation of the people has been already invited, and when established will encourage the people to administer them. The settled purpose, long ago proclaimed, to afford the inhabitants of the islands self-government as fast as they were ready for it will be pursued with earnestness and fidelity. Already something has been accomplished in this direction. The Government's representatives, civil and military, are doing faithful and noble work in their mission of emancipation and merit the approval and support of their countrymen. The most liberal terms of amnesty have already been communicated to the insurgents, and the way is still open for those who have raised their arms against the Government for honorable submission to its authority. Our countrymen should not be deceived. We are not waging war against the inhabitants of the Philippine Islands. A portion of them are making war against the United States. By far the greater part of the inhabitants recognize American sovereignty and welcome it as a guaranty of order and of security for life, property, liberty, freedom of conscience, and the pursuit of happiness. To them full protection will be given. They shall not be abandoned. We will not leave the destiny of the loyal millions the islands to the disloyal thousands who are in rebellion against the United States. Order under civil institutions will come as soon as those who now break the peace shall keep it. Force will not be needed or used when those who make war against us shall make it no more. May it end without further bloodshed, and there be ushered in the reign of peace to be made permanent by a government of liberty under law!

Quotes to Note

  1. "The part which the United States bore..." In 1895, China lost a war with Japan. The defeat left the country helpless as world powers such as Russia, Japan, Britain, and France took control of enormous regions in China. The United States came to China's aid by warning the other powers to leave Chinese ports free to all trade. This became known as the "Open Door" policy and brought even greater notice to America as a world power.
  2. "the established and historical policy..." The United States had been interested in buying the island of Cuba from Spain since the 1820s. By the time of the Spanish-American War, many American sugar businesses had purchased land for growing sugar cane there. After the war, the United States gave Cuba its independence on the condition that the country's new constitution allow the U.S. military to step in whenever "life and liberty" were in danger.
  3. "It has, however, provided an army..." Freed from Spanish control in 1898, few Filipinos wanted to be governed by another distant power—the United States. A force of Filipino guerillas held out against American forces for more than two years before being defeated. Ironically, as the United States—a nation that fought for its freedom—became a world power, it fell into the role of denying independence to smaller nations. Many Americans objected to this role for the United States.

McKinley, William

views updated May 23 2018

William McKinley

BORN: January 29, 1843 • Niles, Ohio

DIED: September 14, 1901 • Buffalo, New York

U.S. president

"War should never be entered upon until every agency of peace has failed."

William McKinley was once considered by historians to be a weak president who was controlled by his own administration. More recent scholars have revised that point of view and generally see McKinley as a politician who tried to avoid war but who remained firm in his commitment once it was made. As the last president of the Gilded Age, McKinley paved the way for the twentieth-century leaders who would guide America through the constantly changing times of the Progressive Era. The Gilded Age was the period in history following the Civil War and Reconstruction (roughly the final twenty-three years of the nineteenth century), characterized by a ruthless pursuit of profit, an exterior of showiness and grandeur, and immeasurable political corruption. The Progressive Era was the period that followed the Gilded Age (approximately the first twenty years of the twentieth century); it was marked by reform and the development of a national cultural identity.

Born shy

William McKinley was born on January 29, 1843, the seventh of eight children. He spent the first ten years of his life in the small town of Niles, Ohio, where father William owned an iron foundry. At age ten, McKinley and his family moved to a nearby town called Poland. McKinley's childhood was typical of boys during that time. He went fishing, hunting, swimming, and horseback riding. From his mother, he learned the value of honesty, while his father instilled in him a strong work ethic.

After finishing his basic education, McKinley attended Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania. He never graduated, though, because of financial hardships and illness. McKinley joined the Twenty-third Ohio Volunteer Infantry at the start of the Civil War (1861–65). He repeatedly showed courage on the battlefield. As a second lieutenant, McKinley served under Rutherford B. Hayes (1822–93), a man who would be president of the United States one day. After the war, McKinley went home to Ohio and studied law at Albany Law School.

After passing the bar exam in 1867, McKinley opened his legal firm in Canton, Ohio. In 1869, he met Ida Saxton. The two married in January 1871 and had two daughters, Katherine and Ida. Katherine, born on Christmas Day 1871, lived only until 1875. Her sister, born in 1873, died at the age of four months.

Enters politics

McKinley earned a living as a lawyer, but he was passionate about politics. He was elected county prosecutor in 1869, and he won a Republican seat in Congress in 1876, where he served until 1891. (During that time, he lost only one election, in 1882.) McKinley was appointed chair of the House Ways and Means Committee in 1889, a powerful position. He used his power to help pass the McKinley Tariff of 1890. The bill increased the cost of imported goods by almost 49.5 percent, an increase that was reflected in the prices consumers were forced to pay for products. The monumental increase angered voters, and McKinley was defeated in the 1890 election.

McKinley was elected governor of Ohio in 1891. He spent his first term trying to improve relations between management and labor in industry. He developed an arbitration (negotiation) program and managed to convince the state's Republicans to support it. Traditionally, Republicans refused to recognize the rights of labor, but McKinley changed their position with his gifted public speaking.

Although he publicly acknowledged the rights of workers, he refused to give in to them if he believed their requests were not rational. In 1894, he called in the National Guard to break up a strike (formal protest of workers who refuse to work until negotiations are made) of the United Mine Workers.

America suffered an economic depression (a long-term economic state characterized by high unemployment, minimal investment and spending, and low prices) in 1893. This depression was one of the worst in American history. The unemployment rate (percentage of the total working population that was out of a job) exceeded 10 percent for half a decade, something that had never happened before and would not happen again until the Great Depression of the 1930s. No city or region was left unscarred. One of every four workers in Pennsylvania was unemployed; in Chicago, Illinois, one hundred thousand people were sleeping on the streets.

McKinley himself suffered financial hardship through the depression. He had cosigned a loan for a friend, and then the friend went bankrupt, leaving McKinley to pay off the debt. That he suffered right along with millions of other Americans only increased his popularity, and he was reelected for another term.

Election of 1896

The presidential campaign and election of 1896 was one of the most complicated and interesting in history. McKinley was the Republican candidate. Although Democrat Grover Cleveland (1837–1908; served 1885–89 and 1893–97; see entry) was the president at the time, he had angered America so much with his lack of response to the Panic of 1893 that his party did not nominate him as its candidate, but instead chose William Jennings Bryan (1860–1925; see box).

Party platforms

In addition to the Democrats and Republicans, the 1896 election involved the Populist Party. Displeased farmers and laborers who believed their interests and concerns were not fairly represented or considered by either major political party formed this party in 1892. The Populists wanted public ownership of railroads so that prices could be controlled. They wanted the government to issue more silver and paper currency in the hope that the increase of money in circulation would raise prices and help farmers pay off their debts. Populists campaigned for the graduated income tax (where the more money people made, the more taxes they paid). The graduated tax would redistribute wealth by taxing the rich more heavily than the poor. Populists wanted postal savings banks, which would give the poor a safe place to deposit their money because the banks would be government-owned. This new party supported the direct election of U.S. senators (rather than having them appointed by state legislatures). Populists wanted a reduction in tariffs and called for an eight-hour workday. Unlike the Republicans and the Democrats, corporate America did not influence the Populists. The Populists represented the working class and tried to give these voters a voice.

William Jennings Bryan: Popular Presidential Candidate

William Jennings Bryan was born in Salem, Illinois, on March 19, 1860. He practiced law in his home state until 1887, when he moved to Lincoln, Nebraska. From 1891 to 1895, Bryan held a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

A gifted public speaker, Bryan used his skill to defend and champion the small farmer and laborer, two factions of America that the Democrats and Republicans often overlooked. His efforts included supporting the Free Silver movement, which would require the government to use silver to back the dollar at a value that would increase the prices farmers received for their crops. This, in turn, would help them pay their debts, which were considerable.

At the Democratic convention in 1896, Bryan gave his most famous speech, known as the "Cross of Gold" speech. In the address, Bryan dramatically compared the gold standard (at the time, the government's policy of backing paper money with equal amounts of gold) to crucifixion (death by being hung on a cross). As reported on Vassar College's 1896 Web site, Bryan closed his heartfelt speech with these words:

If they say bimetallism is good, but that we cannot have it until other nations help us, we reply, that instead of having a gold standard because England has, we will restore bimetallism, and then let England have bimetallism because the United States has it. If they dare to come out in the open field and defend the gold standard as a good thing, we will fight them to the uttermost. Having behind us the producing masses of this nation and the world, supported by the commercial interests, the laboring interests and the toilers everywhere, we will answer their demand for a gold standard by saying to them: You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.

Bryan did not win the 1896 election, nor did he win the presidential elections of 1900 and 1908. America never elected the man as president, but many of the causes he supported eventually came to be upheld: a woman's right to vote; the graduated income tax, in which the amount of one's taxes is linked to the amount of one's income; the establishment of the U.S. Department of Labor; and the popular election of senators.

When Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924; served 1913–21) was elected president in 1912, he appointed Bryan his secretary of state, a position he held until his resignation on June 9, 1915. His fame intensified in 1925, when he took on the role of prosecutor in the Scopes Trial. Tennessee high school teacher John T. Scopes (1900–1970) was on trial because he dared to teach his students the theory of evolution, which suggests that humankind descended from a lower order of animals. At the time, a Tennessee state law called the Butler Act forbid the teaching of any theory that did not include the creation of human beings by God, as taught in the Bible.

Bryan was pitted against famous attorney Clarence Darrow (1857–1938). Bryan's own personal devotion to and belief in religious fundamentalism fueled his prosecution of Scopes, and he won a guilty verdict. Scopes was ordered to pay $100 by the judge, but the sentence was later overruled because the jury, not the judge, should have chosen the amount the defendant was ordered to pay. The Butler Act was upheld until 1967.

Bryan's beliefs were ridiculed in the courtroom by Darrow, who called the lawyer to the stand as an expert on the Bible. Once there, Bryan faltered in his answers to Darrow's questions. On June 26, 1925, five days after the grueling trial ended, Bryan died.

In an effort to increase the party's appeal, the Populists decided in January 1895 to downplay some of the more radical reforms of their platform (for example, transportation and land reforms, for which some party members wanted government ownership of all railroads and a portion of public lands to be set aside for settlers). Instead, they focused on the money issue. Party leaders promoted free silver as a way to gain control of the federal government. Many Populists balked at the change in campaign strategy. They wanted the whole Populist platform or nothing at all and feared a change in focus would distract the movement from issues they considered equally important.

The Populists approached the election of 1896 as a split party. Those in favor of focusing on the issue of bimetallism (the use of both gold and silver coins) to the exclusion of all other issues were also in favor of blending their platform with the Democrats, who shared their perspective on the money issue. Those who preferred to stay with the original platform established in 1892 remained committed to participating in the election as an independent political party. They were against free silver (another term for bimetallism) because they did not believe it would change the existing system of commerce and banking. This faction of Populists felt the issue of industrial monopolies was more important than free silver.

In comparison to the Populists, the Republican platform favored high tariffs and the gold standard. Since the mid-1700s, the U.S. monetary system had been based on bimetallism. But the California Gold Rush in 1849 resulted in the discovery of such large quantities of gold that its value decreased. Before 1849, gold had been sixteen times more valuable than silver.

People soon began melting their silver dollars and using the metal for other purposes, such as jewelry. In 1873, Congress ceased making silver coins, and America was placed on a gold standard. A series of silver strikes beginning in 1875 and continuing throughout the 1880s in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado and nearby regions caused the price of silver to fall even further. In spite of this decrease in value, silver mining as an industry continued to grow. Farmers, however, were going further into debt as prices per bushel of their crops continued to decrease quickly due to increased foreign competition and supply. In order to remain competitive, farmers had to continue lowering their prices, yet they still had monthly payments to make on expensive farm equipment and mortgages.

Although most Republicans were in favor of the gold standard, some were not. These Silver Republicans would eventually side with the Democrats and Bryan. Bryan spoke out against the gold standard in his famous "Cross of Gold" speech in which he portrayed gold supporters as crucifiers of Christ and silver supporters as true Christians. In other words, he portrayed the gold standard as the downfall of the American economy.

Early in the campaign, the Populist Party realized it could not win; it simply could not compete against the two major parties. Given that the gold standard was driving them into poverty, the Populist voters supported Bryan. The Populists were aware that although Bryan shared their concerns about gold versus silver, he showed little interest in other issues that mattered to them. Still, the silver issue was important enough to give him their vote.

Campaign, election

The Republicans raised $4 million for their campaign, an unheard-of amount in 1896. Most of that money came from big business and bankers, all of whom wanted to keep tariffs high. Republican campaigners used the money to print and distribute 200 million pamphlets. McKinley delivered 350 speeches from his front porch in Canton, Ohio. Campaigners traveled the nation rallying support for their candidate.

Bryan was much more active in his campaigning. He traveled 18,000 miles (28,962 kilometers) in three months. An even more engaging speaker than McKinley, Bryan painted McKinley as a puppet of big business. His speeches were moralistic in tone, almost as if he were a church preacher. This turned some of his more progressive supporters against him.

McKinley beat Bryan with 271 electoral votes compared with Bryan's 176. Electoral votes are the votes a candidate receives for winning the majority of popular votes in a particular state. If a candidate wins the most popular votes in a state, he wins all of that state's electoral votes. Not all states are worth the same number of electoral votes. That number is determined by how many U.S. representatives it has in the House plus two, one for each of the state's U.S. senators. In order to win a presidential election, a candidate must have more than 50 percent of electoral votes. McKinley also took 52.2 percent of the popular vote (citizens' votes). His victory marked the beginning of what would be a Republican White House until Democrat Woodrow Wilson's inauguration in 1913.

Domestic and foreign issues

By the time McKinley took office, the depression was all but over. People's fear was subsiding, and so was the uproar over bimetallism versus the gold standard. Although McKinley had supported the gold standard, he spent most of 1897 pursuing an international agreement to bimetallism with Italy, Russia, England, and France. When negotiations failed late in the year, McKinley endorsed a gold-based currency and signed the Gold Standard Act in 1900. With that legislation, all currency was backed by gold at a fixed price of $20.67 per ounce.

Among McKinley's campaign promises was the one to raise tariffs. In 1896, taxes on certain products used in the United States brought in fairly large amounts of money. Alcohol taxes brought in $114.5 million, tobacco another $30.7 million. McKinley wanted to increase tariff levels so that internal taxes could be reduced; this, in turn, would allow taxpayers to spend less on those items they used more often. A raise in tariff rates would also encourage the expansion of American industry and increase the number of jobs because people would not want to buy from abroad when doing so would cost more.

In 1897, U.S. congressman Nelson R. Dingley (1832–1899) of Maine sponsored the Dingley Tariff Act, which raised rates to an average of 49 percent. The bill also gave the president authority to negotiate reductions of up to 20 percent. He also could move items to what was called a "free list," which meant those items would not be subject to the tariff. Other items could be dropped completely if all those in positions of authority agreed upon it. McKinley remained a committed supporter of high tariffs until the end of his life. Just days prior to his death, he announced his shift in attitude and gave his support to reciprocal trade treaties (trade agreements in which both countries benefit).

For McKinley, the issue of trusts (a group of companies who band together to form an organization that limits the competition by controlling the production and distribution of a product or service) was not one that could be easily categorized. He believed trusts were useful in terms of international competition, where Americans could compete against foreign businesses. But he thought they were not so desirable within the American market, where they curbed competition between American businesses. He limited his support of legal suits against trusts that hurt interstate (within the nation) commerce only.

McKinley was a supporter of the labor movement, and his time in the White House increased his popularity among workers throughout the nation. He endorsed the Erdman Act of 1898, which developed a means for negotiating wage disputes involving international railroad companies. McKinley also favored the Chinese Exclusion Act, which prohibited Chinese immigrants from settling in America and taking jobs that Americans could fill. He had strong professional relationships with a number of leaders in the labor movement as well. Despite his support of America's workers, McKinley sent in federal troops to keep order at a mining strike in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, in 1899. The incident ended in the arrest of about five hundred miners, who were kept in a large pen from the time of their arrest in April until September. This five-month detention of miners was the one incident during his presidency in which McKinley angered the organized-labor voting population.

President McKinley put little effort into improving race relations while in office. He spoke against lynching (illegal hanging) in his first presidential address in 1897 but did not condemn the practice formally with legislation or any other efforts. Nor did he take measures to limit the racial violence in the South. For the most part, McKinley's reaction to the race issue was to appear as if he was doing something about it. For example, he appointed thirty African Americans to official positions in diplomatic and records offices. This seemed to whites to be enough, but it fell far short of what African American voters had expected. McKinley also allowed African American soldiers to fight in the Spanish-American War (1898), which went against the wishes of the majority of the military. Still, these measures did little to help African Americans.

McKinley undid much of the reform work Cleveland had done within the civil service. The civil service is the system in which civilians work for various government agencies and departments. Cleveland reformed the system so that appointment to positions was based on a person's qualifications rather than on favors done or political party affiliation only. As a result, Republicans were unhappy that many of the most influential positions within the civil service were filled with Democrats. McKinley bowed to Republican pressure and removed about four thousand positions from the list. This satisfied Republican congressmen but led many of his citizen supporters to change their minds about him. It now looked as though the president was being controlled by, rather than in charge of, the Republican Party.

Territorial expansion

As the twentieth century drew closer, many Americans believed that to increase the greatness of the nation, the nation ought to increase its size and power. Others believed just as strongly that expansionism would cost too much money and bring too many non-white people into the country. Their stance was called "anti-imperialism." Some of its better-known supporters were former president Benjamin Harrison (1833–1901; served 1889–93; see entry); William Jennings Bryan; industrialist Andrew Carnegie (1835–1919); and writer Mark Twain (1835–1910; see entry).

In 1897, McKinley negotiated a treaty with Hawaii that would annex it (make it a U.S. territory). He not only recognized the island's value as a military strategic point but also realized other world powers would want to lay claim to the land if the United States did not. Anti-imperialists and Democrats were against the annexation and delayed it until 1900. At that point, Congress successfully petitioned McKinley to pass the resolution for annexation with a simple majority (more than 50 percent) vote, rather than the usual two-thirds majority vote. In 1959, Hawaii became the fiftieth state admitted to the Union.

The Spanish-American War

During this period of imperialism versus anti-imperialism, President McKinley had to deal with a problem he had inherited from the Cleveland administration: Cuba. Spanish rule in Cuba was based on repression (put down or controlled with force), and Cubans revolted in 1895. Spain's response was to round up three hundred thousand Cubans and put them in camps where they could not help the rebels. Spain's behavior angered many Americans, who believed Cuba should be independent of Spain's rule.

Throughout 1897, McKinley tried to convince Spain to give Cuba its independence. In November of that year, Spain gave Cuba limited independence (regarding political matters within Cuba, it could govern itself; Spain would still handle international matters). Spain then closed the camps. The peace was short lived, when in January 1898, pro-Spanish demonstrators rioted in the streets of Havana, Cuba. McKinley sent the U.S. battleship Maine to the Havana harbor to protect American citizens who had arrived to help Cuba. His moves howed Spain that America still valued its relationship with Cuba.

Spanish minister to the United States Enrique Dupuy de Lome (1851–1904) wrote a private letter to a friend in Spain that was stolen from the post office by the Cubans. The Cubans, in turn, leaked the letter to the U.S. media. The letter described McKinley as weak and indicated that the Spanish were not negotiating in good faith with the United States. The letter was published in the New York Journal. Americans, who saw it as an attack on the honor of both their president and their nation, were furious.

Things got worse when the Maine exploded and sank on February 15, 1898. The explosion killed 266 crew members. A Navy investigation concluded that the explosion had been caused by an outside source, presumably a Spanish mine. (More recent scholarship has speculated, however, that the explosion more likely occurred because of problems in the ship itself.) Although McKinley did not want to go to war, he saw no alternative at this point. He ordered U.S. ships to block Cuba's ports; America and its president wanted an end to the Cuban crisis. On April 23, 1898, Spain declared war on the United States. Two days later, America declared war on Spain. The war lasted just over three months, and fewer than four hundred American soldiers died in battle. Many more died from disease.

The Spanish-American War ended with the signing of the Paris Peace Treaty on December 10, 1898. The treaty gave Guam and Puerto Rico to the United States and allowed America to buy the Philippine Islands for $20 million. Spain gave up its hold on Cuba, which would be a protectorate (under the protection and partial control) of the United States until 1934. The United States, under McKinley's leadership, had become one of the world's great colonial powers.

War in the Philippines

The war with Spain left America with a global influence it had not previously enjoyed. Filipinos, at first, viewed American troops as liberators. It became clear to the U.S. government almost immediately that the Philippines were not ready to govern themselves. McKinley disagreed with American anti-Imperialists and decided that the islands were too strategically valuable to be left to the inexperienced rule of the Filipinos themselves. The president took it upon himself to educate the islanders and bring them to Christianity, which he believed would make them more capable of self-rule.

McKinley sent twenty thousand troops to the Philippines, but the islanders proved more adept at defending themselves than the United States had predicted. They revolted, and the conflict there lasted until 1902, as American troops fought battle after battle against island rebels who employed tactics of guerrilla warfare, a strategy the United States was little prepared to combat. In guerrilla warfare, soldiers gain the support of local citizens, who help them carry out plans of deception, assassination, and sabotage, often behind enemy lines. Although McKinley predicted the war would be rather bloodless as far as war goes, it cost more than five thousand American lives and two hundred thousand Filipino lives.

The Boxer Rebellion

China soon became a concern to McKinley as well. He knew that other world powers, such as Japan, Germany, and France, were also trying to establish influence throughout the world. In an effort to guarantee that Chinese ports would remain open to U.S. business, the president authorized an "Open Door" policy to China. This policy put China on an equal status with America in terms of trade and business. There would be no restrictions or tariffs, and the United States would support an independent China. The policy became useless at the end of World War II (1939–45), when China was recognized as a sovereign (self-governing) nation. As such, no country had the right to influence or attempt to exclude it from trade. By 1949, China had become a Communist country, and the Open Door Policy was rejected. The government did not wish to promote foreign trade or investment. Despite its demise, the Open Door policy remains one of the most important ever issued by the federal government.

In June 1900, a group of Chinese rebels known as Boxers killed a number of western missionaries and Chinese converts to Christianity. The Boxers did not want foreign influences in their country or on their national identity. The group also invaded foreign populations in the city of Peking. McKinley sent over twenty-five hundred troops and several gunboats to China without first getting congressional approval. In addition to U.S. military support, Russia, Britain, Germany, and Japan assisted China. The allied (combined) troops put down the Boxer Rebellion by August. China was forced to pay reparations (costs of war) of more than $300 million, $25 million of which went to America.

Death comes early

In 1900, the Republicans once again spent several million dollars on the presidential campaign. They printed 125 million campaign documents, including millions of inserts that were sent to more than 5,000 newspapers every week. They hired 600 speakers and poll watchers. As was the case the first time, McKinley stayed home and delivered his speeches from his front porch. His running mate was Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919; see entry), who had recently returned home from the Spanish-American War a hero. (McKinley's vice president during his first term, Garret A. Hobart [1844–1899], had died in office.)

McKinley's opponent was a familiar face: William Jennings Bryan. Again, McKinley won both the popular and the electoral vote. He won by an even greater margin this time, receiving 114,000 more votes than in the 1896 election. In addition, the Republicans also held the power in Congress (197 House seats compared with the Democrats' 151, and 55 Senate seats compared with 31).

On September 5, 1901, McKinley delivered a speech at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. At its conclusion, he attended a reception where he got to meet and greet the public. Just after 4:00 pm, McKinley was shot by a twenty-eight-year-old Polish immigrant named Leon Czolgosz (1873–1901). The bullet hit McKinley in the chest and knocked him to the ground. The president was rushed to a hospital, where doctors expected him to recover. Gangrene (decay of skin tissue due to blood loss) set in around his wounds, however, and the president died on September 14, 1901, just six months after his second term had begun. His assassin died in the electric chair on October 29, 1901.

McKinley did not have the charm of some of the earlier presidents. Nor was he as outgoing and outspoken as his successor, Theodore Roosevelt. He did not use his power to convince all Americans to share his beliefs or support his policies. Instead, McKinley was a president whose self-confidence allowed him to make decisions and stand behind them, even when the public did not agree. His successes in territorial expansion took America's power to a new level, and it paved the way for future presidents to carry on in that tradition.

For More Information


American Presidents in World History. Vol. 3. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2003.

Cherny, Robert W. American Politics in the Gilded Age: 1868–1900. Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson, 1997.

Dolan, Edward F. The Spanish-American War. Brookfield, CT: Millbrook Press, 2001.

Gerber, Elizabeth R. The Populist Paradox. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999.

Kazin, Michael. A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan. New York: Knopf, 2006.

Riehecky, Janet. William McKinley: America's 25th President. New York: Children's Press, 2004.


"William Jennings Bryan." 1896: A Website of Political Cartoons. (accessed on September 4, 2006).

"William McKinley." American (accessed on September 4, 2006).

"William McKinley." 1896: A Website of Political Cartoons. (accessed on September 4, 2006).

"William McKinley: First Inaugural Address." Great Books Online. (accessed on September 4, 2006).

"William McKinley." The White House. (accessed on September 4, 2006).

Wolf, Mari Artzner. "A Home of His Own." Wm. McKinley Presidential Library & Museum. (accessed on September 4, 2006).

McKinley, William

views updated May 29 2018

William McKinley

Historians generally view William McKinley as a president who tried to avoid war but who remained firm in his commitment once it was made. As the last president of the Gilded Age (approximately the end of the 1870s through the 1890s), McKinley paved the way for the twentieth-century leaders who would guide America through the constantly changing times of the Progressive Era (the first two decades of the twentieth century).

McKinley was born on January 29, 1843, the seventh of eight children. He spent the first ten years of his life in the small town of Niles, Ohio , where his father, William, owned an iron foundry. When he was ten, McKinley and his family moved to the nearby town of Poland. From his mother, he learned the value of honesty, while his father instilled in him a strong work ethic.

After finishing his basic education, McKinley attended Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania . He never graduated, though, because of financial hardships and illness. McKinley fought in the American Civil War (1861–65). As a second lieutenant, McKinley served under future U.S. president Rutherford B. Hayes (1822–1893; served 1877–81). After the war, McKinley studied law at Albany Law School in New York .

After passing the bar exam in 1867, McKinley opened his legal firm in Canton, Ohio. In 1869, he met Ida Saxton (1847–1907). The two married in January 1871 and had two daughters, Katherine and Ida. Katherine, born on Christmas Day 1871, lived only until 1875. Her sister, born in 1873, died at the age of four months.

Enters politics

McKinley earned a living as a lawyer, but he was passionate about politics. He won a Republican seat in Congress in 1876, where he served until 1891. McKinley was appointed chair of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee in 1889. He helped pass the McKinley Tariff (tax) of 1890. The bill increased the cost of imported goods by almost 49.5 percent, which angered consumers who saw prices go up. The tariff was a key reason McKinley was defeated in the 1890 election.

McKinley was elected governor of Ohio in 1891. He spent his first term trying to improve relations between management and labor in industry. He developed an arbitration (negotiation) program and convinced the state's Republicans to support it. Traditionally, Republicans refused to recognize the rights of labor, but McKinley changed their position.

Although McKinley publicly acknowledged the rights of workers, he refused to honor their demands if he believed their requests were not rational. In 1894, he called in the National Guard to break up a United Mine Workers strike (a formal protest of workers who refuse to work until negotiations are made).

America suffered an economic depression (a time of high unemployment, minimal investment and spending, and low prices) in 1893, one of the worst in American history. The unemployment rate (the percentage of the total working population that was out of a job) exceeded 10 percent for half a decade, something that had never happened before and would not happen again until the Great Depression of the 1930s. No city or region was left unscarred.

McKinley himself suffered financial hardship through the depression. He had cosigned a loan for a friend who subsequently went bankrupt, leaving McKinley to pay off the debt. That he suffered along with millions of other Americans only increased his popularity, and he was reelected for another term.

Election of 1896

The presidential campaign and election of 1896 was one of the most complicated and interesting in history. In addition to the Democratic Party and Republican Party , the Populist Party, formed in 1892, had a large following. It consisted of displeased farmers and laborers who believed the other two parties did not adequately represent their interests and concerns. Unlike the two major political parties, the Populist Party represented the working class and tried to give these voters a voice.

McKinley was the Republican candidate. The Democrats opted against renominating incumbent president Grover Cleveland (1837–1908; served 1885–89 and 1893–97) due to his unpopularity following his lack of response to a severe downturn in the economy known as the Panic of 1893 . Instead, the party chose former U.S. representative William Jennings Bryan (1860–1925) of Nebraska .

Early in the election, the Populists realized they were not powerful enough to compete against the other two parties. They chose to support Bryan because he supported a monetary program that could help ease the financial burden of farmers and workers and bring them out of the economic depression of the past three years.

The Republicans raised $4 million for their campaign, an unheard-of amount in 1896. Most of that money came from big business and bankers, all of whom wanted to keep tariffs high. Republican campaigners used the money to print and distribute 200 million pamphlets. McKinley delivered 350 speeches from his front porch in Canton. Campaigners traveled the nation rallying support for their candidate.

Bryan was much more active in his campaigning. He traveled 18,000 miles in three months. An engaging speaker, Bryan painted McKinley as a puppet of big business. His speeches were moralistic in tone, almost as if he were a church preacher. This turned some of his more progressive supporters against him.

McKinley beat Bryan. His victory marked the beginning of what would be a Republican White House until Democrat Woodrow Wilson 's (1856–1924; served 1913–21) inauguration in 1913.

First years in office

McKinley remained in favor of high tariffs; he believed in limiting imports to help ensure a healthy marketplace for the American production of goods. One of the first acts he took as president was to call a special session of Congress to pass the Dingley Tariff Act in 1897. The act raised tariff rates to an average of nearly 49 percent.

An important entity in business was the trust—a group of companies that band together to form an organization that limits the competition by controlling the production and distribution of a product or service. (See Monopolies and Trusts .) McKinley believed trusts were useful in terms of international competition to help Americans compete against foreign businesses. He considered them less desirable within the American market, however, where they curbed competition between American businesses. He limited his support of legal suits against trusts that hurt interstate (within the nation) commerce only.

McKinley was a supporter of the labor movement , and his time in the White House increased his popularity among workers throughout the nation. He endorsed the Erdman Act of 1898, which developed a means for negotiating wage disputes involving international railroad companies. McKinley also favored the Chinese Exclusion Act, which prohibited Chinese immigrants from settling in America and taking jobs that Americans could fill. (See Asian Immigration .) The president had strong professional relationships with a number of leaders in the labor movement as well. Despite his support of America's workers, McKinley sent in federal troops to keep order at a mining strike in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho , in 1899. The incident ended in the arrest of about five hundred miners, who were kept in a large pen from the time of their arrest in April until September. This five-month detention was the one incident during his presidency in which McKinley angered the organized-labor voting population.

McKinley put little effort into improving race relations while in office. He spoke against lynching (illegal hanging) in his first presidential address in 1897 but did not condemn the practice formally with legislation or any other efforts. Nor did he take measures to limit the racial violence in the South.

In 1897, McKinley negotiated a treaty with Hawaii that would annex it (make it a U.S. territory). He not only recognized the island's value as a military strategic point but also realized other world powers would want to lay claim to the land if the United States did not. Anti-imperialists (those against the idea of expanding America's territory) and Democrats were against the annexation and delayed it until 1900. At that point, Congress successfully petitioned McKinley to pass the resolution for annexation with a simple majority (more than 50 percent) vote, rather than the usual two-thirds majority vote. Much later, in 1959, Hawaii became the fiftieth state admitted to the Union.

America at war In 1898, America declared war on Spain in an effort to help Cuba win its independence. The Spanish-American War was a four-month conflict that ended with the signing of the Paris Peace Treaty on December 10, 1898. The treaty gave Guam and Puerto Rico to the United States and allowed America to buy the Philippine Islands for $20 million. Spain gave up its hold on Cuba, which would be a protectorate (under the protection and partial control) of the United States until 1934. The United States, under McKinley's leadership, had become one of the world's great colonial powers.

That same year, McKinley sent troops to the Philippines because he believed the islands were incapable of governing themselves. He sent twenty thousand troops overseas to show the Filipinos how to run their islands, but the Filipinos revolted. Although McKinley predicted the conflict would be short and bloodless, it lasted until 1902 and cost more than five thousand American lives and two hundred thousand Filipino lives.

McKinley turned his sights next to China. The country was important to American international commerce, and the president wanted to protect that relationship by limiting the influence of other powerful countries. To this end, he initiated the Open Door Policy , which put China on the same level as the United States in terms of trade and business. There would be no restrictions or tariffs, and the United States would support an independent China.

In June 1900, a group of Chinese rebels known as Boxers killed a number of western missionaries and Chinese converts to Christianity. The Boxers did not want foreign influences in their country or on their national identity. The group also invaded foreign populations in the city of Beijing (then called Peking). McKinley sent over twenty-five hundred troops and several gunboats to China without first getting congressional approval. In addition to U.S. military support, Russia, Great Britain, Germany, and Japan assisted China. The allied (combined) troops put down the Boxer Rebellion by August. China was forced to pay reparations (costs of war) of more than $300 million, $25 million of which went to the United States.

An early death

McKinley won reelection in the 1900 presidential race with Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919) as his vice presidential running mate. The Democratic candidate was again William Jennings Bryan.

On September 5, 1901, McKinley delivered a speech at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. At its conclusion, he attended a reception where he greeted the public. Just after 4 PM, a twenty-eight-year-old Polish immigrant named Leon Czolgosz (1873–1901) shot McKinley. The bullet hit the president in the chest and knocked him to the ground. He was rushed to a hospital, where doctors expected him to recover. Gangrene (the decay of skin tissue due to blood loss) set in around his wounds, however, and the president died on September 14, 1901, just six months after his second term had begun. His assassin died in the electric chair on October 29, 1901.

William McKinley

views updated May 23 2018

William McKinley

William McKinley (1843-1901) was the twenty-fifth president of the United States. During his administration the Spanish-American War of 1898 over shadowed the two important issues of tariff and currency, presenting the United States with new problems of world power and territorial expansion.

With the growth of post-Civil War industrialism, serious social and economic problems developed in the United States. Agricultural depression brought severe hardship and farm unrest; relations between laborers and employers deteriorated; and Americans argued over what monetary policies the U.S. government should adopt to maintain a healthy economy.

As congressman, governor, and president, William McKinley emphasized obtaining prosperity by stimulating American business via a favorable tariff structure. Although early in his career he directed his energies toward protective tariffs on finished materials, he later favored tariffs modified by reciprocity treaties. Under these, he hoped that raw materials would enter the United States at low tariff rates, making possible low prices on finished goods, which could then compete on the world market. By agreeing to admit raw materials with low tariffs, the United States would gain low tariff entry to other nations for finished products.

Second in McKinley's thinking was the currency problem. Much of the political debate in the late 19th century focused on the currency question—whether the amount of currency in circulation should be increased and, if so, by what means. For 30 years McKinley advocated limited silver coinage. Yet, by the time he became president, he had been converted to international bimetallism: an agreement by several countries to base currency on both gold and silver, set at a fixed ratio. If international bimetallism was unobtainable, he favored maintaining currency soundness by using the gold standard. Devoted to business interests and a healthy economy, McKinley supported a foreign policy creating new markets for United States products. This was particularly manifest in his handling of the Spanish-American War and in the open-door policy with China.

Background and Early Career

William McKinley was born in Niles, Ohio, on Jan. 29, 1843. He was educated and later taught school in Ohio. In the Civil War he fought with the Union Army. Discharged with the brevet rank of major, he studied law briefly at the Albany Law School and opened an office in Canton, Ohio, in 1867, simultaneously plunging into Republican politics.

First elected to public office as Stark County prosecuting attorney in 1869, McKinley became a congressman in 1876. In and out of the House of Representatives until 1890 (depending on the gerrymandering of his district) he rose steadily in influence within Ohio Republican politics as well as in national circles. During this period, many prominent politicians came from Ohio. Although this made competition for leadership in the state very keen, it also assisted ambitious young men. For example, having served under Rutherford B. Hayes in the Civil War, McKinley continued to benefit from his counsel and prominence.

The Ohio Republican party, mirroring the diversity of the state, was held together through compromises, by middle-of-the-roaders. Moreover, Ohio was a two-party state, with Democrats effectively vying for all offices. A successful politician had to be sensitive to the wishes of farmers, steel mill owners, emerging labor unions, urban ethnic enclaves, city machines, soft-currency men, and powerful figures in commerce and finance. Aware of this, McKinley tried to balance between extreme positions on tariffs and on fiscal policy. This moderation was a key to his handling of men and his approach to problems.

McKinley made some concessions to the Ohio forces demanding bimetallism, cloaking his restrained advocacy of silver coinage with exhortations that currency must be stable and safe. On one side, gold proponents argued that every dollar should be backed by gold and the government should purchase no other metals. On the other side, silver forces argued for widespread silver purchasing and distribution of paper based on silver. Greenback forces advocated increasing the volume of paper money, without attempting to maintain deposits of metal sufficient for redemption. Finally, some argued that the best system would be an international agreement for currency based on both gold and silver. McKinley accepted something of each argument, emerging with views that were palatable rather than consistent or rational.

Not innovative in approaching issues, McKinley responded to others' suggestions without becoming a captive of their ideas. To some extent, his interest in tariff problems exceeded the sophistication of his economic analysis: in this, he shared the view widespread in the Republican party that tariff legislation was critical to the nation's economy.

Skilled in organization and administration, McKinley was effective with other politicians and convincing to constituents. He was considered sincere and amiable. Identified first with the Ohio gubernatorial campaign of Rutherford B. Hayes, he later supported Joseph Foraker for governor, Hayes for president, and, still later, John Sherman and then James G. Blaine for the presidency. At several national Republican conventions, he played a prominent role, primarily because he was able to compromise party disharmony and to defend the tariff policy.

Congressman and Governor

McKinley's forte in Congress was the tariff, which he believed was the key to economic vitality. He defended the tariff as a means of producing higher wages by expanding home markets; expanding home markets would be possible only if low-cost foreign products were kept off United States markets. Initially he supported high protective tariffs, but later he advocated a scheme of selective tariffs tied to reciprocity provisions.

After serving on the House Judiciary Committee and the Ways and Means Committee, McKinley became chairman of the latter in 1889, charged with bringing forth a new tariff bill. The McKinley Tariff of 1890, including limited reciprocity provisions, was oriented toward protection and included many compromise provisions favorable to special-interest groups. His tariff posture helped spread his fame outside the halls of Congress, even though he was defeated in the election of 1890.

Mark Hanna, a wealthy Cleveland industrialist, lent assistance to McKinley after 1890, helping him win the Ohio gubernatorial race in 1891 and secure reelection in 1893. Hanna, a skillful organizer and generous donor, encouraged McKinley to travel and to speak on public issues, especially the tariff. McKinley's views on fiscal policy had not been consistent, and he viewed the passion of the silver issue as misdirected.

As governor, McKinley won labor sympathy by contributing to relief funds for strikers, as well as by passing laws favorable to labor. Labor leaders, normally suspicious of a politician so sympathetic to industry, gave him lukewarm backing.

By the opening of the 1896 Republican convention in St. Louis, McKinley was the logical choice for the presidential nomination. Hanna's planning, McKinley's identification with tariffs as the protectors of prosperity, plus his ability to blur issues and to hold together a party split over both tariffs and currency gave him important advantages. As nominee, McKinley campaigned from Canton, Ohio, in a restrained manner, stressing that a Republican victory would mean prosperity for the nation. His opponent, William Jennings Bryan, traveled extensively, emphasizing the merits of free silver and seeming to challenge the familiar patterns of American politics. To many, Bryan seemed a threat to the whole system of government, if not to the social order. After a bitter campaign, McKinley, benefiting from the anti-Democratic voting pattern visible since 1893, swept handily into the White House.

The President

For his Cabinet, McKinley chose politicians and businessmen, including John Sherman as secretary of state. Later, he added several other men of considerable stature and ability. Though he had enjoyed cordial relations with colleagues in Congress, he settled for a cautious domestic program, central to which was tariff reform. The Dingley Tariff, incorporating additional reciprocity features, raised tariffs to new heights. Administration efforts to promote international bimetallism came to naught, opening the way to the passage of the Gold Standard Act of 1900 (legalizing the gold standard and setting aside special funds for currency redemption). The battle between gold and silver was for all practical purposes at an end, as world production of gold increased simultaneously with the return of prosperity.

Benefiting from better times, McKinley skillfully manipulated both politicians and the public, welding a more united Republican party with tours and personal charm. His domestic program and achievements as party leader were overwhelmed, however, by the diplomatic imbroglio that led to the Spanish-American War and annexation of overseas territories.

The Cuban revolution of 1895 against Spain inflamed United States citizens for various reasons: the press reported in detail the savage repressive techniques used by the Spanish army; American sugar companies decried the interruption of their trade and profit by protracted war; and some business and financial leaders saw declaration of war against Spain as necessary for the growth of American trade and the stability of the stock market. Meanwhile, proponents of world power and leadership for the United States spread the opinion that Spanish tyranny had to be curtailed in the Western Hemisphere. The fever pitch of interest in the 1896 election and the agrarian resentment of the 1890s were replaced by widespread calls for war.

To these pressures McKinley responded reluctantly, resisting congressional insistence on war in favor of negotiation with Spain. He preferred an autonomous Cuba, perhaps loosely linked to Spain—a suggestion that Spain at first resisted strongly and then accepted. But events moved too fast: domestic pressure for war was very strong, and McKinley hardened his policy, going to Congress with a war message in April 1898. By that time Spain had met most of McKinley's earlier demands, but it was too late to avert a military clash.

The Spanish-American War was brief, with United States forces triumphant over the Spanish fleet in the Philippines and later over both land and naval forces in Cuba. In establishing peace terms, the United States faced the vexatious problem of how to dispose of former Spanish colonies. The President, admitting to indecision and lack of knowledge, was urged by anti-imperialists to renounce permanent sovereignty or protectorate arrangements as hostile to American traditions of freedom of choice for peoples. However, the proannexation forces carried the day, arguing that national interest lay with expansion, that it was America's duty to uplift the people of the Spanish possessions, and that relinquishing the Philippines would invite a power scramble among other nations. Confused and uncertain, McKinley finally opted for annexation of the Philippines, which was accomplished by the Treaty of Paris (ratified in 1899). Cuba was set free of Spain; Puerto Rico and Guam were ceded to the United States. In choosing territorial expansion, McKinley was enhancing the prospects for development of United States trade, an end to which he had long been devoted.

One of the key pins of American diplomacy was securing trade rights, preferably without political or military intervention. To safeguard trading rights in the Far East, McKinley sent to the Great Powers the open-door notes of 1899 and 1900. Basically, these stipulated that the United States expected nations with spheres of influence in China not to interfere with American rights and privileges nor to discriminate against other nations in setting port and railroad rates.

The major issue of the 1900 campaign, in which McKinley was again opposed by Bryan, was imperialism, though for all practical purposes the decisions had already been taken. McKinley was reelected by a large margin. Of great concern during his second administration were problems of governing the new dependencies. But before McKinley could turn to another round of tariff reform, he was shot by Leon F. Czolgosz, an anarchist, in Buffalo, N.Y., on Sept. 6, 1901. McKinley died eight days later.

Further Reading

The best biographies of McKinley are Margaret Leech, In the Days of McKinley (1959), and Howard W. Morgan, William McKinley and His America (1963). George H. Mayer, The Republican Party, 1854-1966 (2d ed. 1967), describes Republican politics on the national level; and Joseph R. Hollingsworth, The Whirligig of Politics: The Democracy of Cleveland and Bryan (1963), emphasizes the contest between the Republican and Democratic parties at the turn of the century. The excitement of the 1896 election is captured in Paul W. Glad, McKinley, Bryan and the People (1964). For an overview Harold U. Faulkner, Politics, Reform, and Expansion, 1890-1900 (1959), is helpful. A broader view of the problems in the United States faced after Reconstruction is offered by Robert H. Wiebe, The Search for Order, 1877-1920 (1967). □

McKinley, William

views updated May 17 2018


(b. January 29, 1843; d. September 14, 1901) Twenty-fifth president of the United States (1897–1901).

William McKinley served fourteen years in the House of Representatives and two terms as Governor of Ohio before being elected twenty-fifth president of the United States in 1896. In 1901 he was shot by an anarchist and died from his wounds eight days later.

During his term in office McKinley oversaw the transformation of the United States into both a world and an imperial power. He took office in March 1897 a firm believer in peaceful American overseas expansion. The two-year-old Cuban revolution against Spain, however, complicated his hope of achieving this. Since the outbreak of fighting in 1895, congressional and public opinion in support of the revolution had pressed his predecessor Grover Cleveland to take decisive action; and upon becoming president McKinley too felt this pressure. He initially asked the Spanish government to moderate its often brutal tactics for dealing with the Cuban situation, but by early 1898 Spanish reforms had failed to bear fruit.

During the winter of 1898 a series of shocks and a final miscalculation by the president brought about war. The publication of a stolen letter written by the chief Spanish envoy to the United States, Enrique Dupuy de Lome, which implied that Spain would never change its tactics in Cuba and described McKinley as a "bidder for the admiration of the crowd," enflamed public opinion. Within days the nation endured a second shock, and its collective mood turned white-hot with the destruction of the battleship USS Maine in Havana Harbor. The following month McKinley took a desperate gamble to avoid war, assuage public opinion, and end the insurrection in Cuba when he demanded that Spain agree to an immediate cease-fire followed by negotiations and eventual Cuban independence. Whereas Spain was amenable to a cease-fire it could not countenance all American demands, especially the call for Cuban independence, and so declared war on the United States on April 23, 1898.

American naval forces largely determined the out-come of the war in two key battles. On May 1 Commodore George Dewey's Pacific Fleet destroyed its Spanish counterpart in Manila Bay. Just over two months later, on July 3, elements of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet destroyed Spanish naval forces in Cuba as they attempted to break the blockade around Santiago Harbor. With victory in Asia and the Caribbean, President McKinley accepted an armistice, which included the cession of Cuba, Guam and Puerto Rico to the United States.

The Administration now faced the critical question of what to do with the territory it had acquired as a result of the armistice. McKinley and Congress had already exposed an expansionist hand when the president introduced a resolution to annex Hawaii, which Congress dutifully approved in July 1898. Guam and Puerto Rico quickly became part of America's burgeoning global empire, while Cuba gained its independence after granting the United States a lease, which it still possesses, on the naval base at Guantanamo Bay.

Possible American acquisition of the Philippines generated heated controversy between the so-called anti-imperialists, who formed the Anti-Imperialist League in November 1898, and a powerful pro-imperial coalition that included McKinley, leading members of the Senate, and future president Theodore Roosevelt. Although the Treaty of Paris, in which Spain ceded the Philippines to the United States for $20 million, still faced a bitter Senate fight, McKinley decided to annex the islands in October 1898. He concluded that the Philippines were not prepared for self-government and that if the United States allowed Philippine independence, the new nation would likely be gobbled up by one of the major imperial powers.

On February 4, 1899, two days before the Senate ratified the Treaty of Paris, American and Philippine forces exchanged fire in Manila, thus beginning the so-called Philippine Insurrection. This war for Philippine independence ended in 1902 with an American victory that cost the United States over 4,000 dead and the Philippines at least 200,000 dead. The Philippines remained an American possession until 1946.

While creating an American empire in the Pacific and Caribbean, McKinley supported traditional anti-imperial American diplomacy in China. Faced with the prospect of China's territorial disintegration in 1899, McKinley reluctantly backed the decision of Secretary of State John Hay to circulate the first Open Door Note to the great powers, which called for equal access to the China market. McKinley acted even more forcefully a year later when he dispatched American troops to join an international relief force headed to Peking to rescue foreigners from the anti-western Boxer rebels. McKinley then backed a second set of Open Door notes that urged the international community not to colonize China. The Open Door notes formed the bedrock of American Far Eastern diplomacy for the next forty years.

Taken as a whole, McKinley's expansionist foreign policy may be seen as a continuation of traditional American manifest destiny ideology. While the American empire had its domestic opponents, a consensus developed by the time of McKinley's election that held that overseas expansion would serve American economic development by securing foreign markets and investment outlets, and that it would enhance internal stability by ending the boom and bust cycle that had characterized the American economy in the last decades of the nineteenth century. This consensus also held that American expansion would benefit those brought under United States control. Although apparently polar opposites, both the conquest of the Philippines and the Open Door for China were manifestations of an ideology that sought markets to conquer, men to civilize, and souls to save.

McKinley brought America onto the world stage. His successor, Theodore Roosevelt, built on McKinley's accomplishments and gave America a leading role to play, especially in the Caribbean and the Far East. A generation later, Theodore's cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, led America in war against Japan in order to defend the American empire and the American principles that reached their apex under William McKinley.


LaFeber, Walter. The New Empire: An Interpretation of American Expansion, 1860–1898. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1963.

May, Ernest R. Imperial Democracy: The Emergence of America as a Great Power. New York: Harcourt, 1961.

Paterson, Thomas G., Clifford, J. Garry and Hagan, Kenneth J. American Foreign Relations: A History. Vol. 4. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.

Sidney L. Pash

See also:Imperialism; Monuments, Cemeteries, Spanish American War

McKinley, William (1843-1901)

views updated Jun 11 2018

William McKinley (1843-1901)

President of the united states, 1897-1901


Early Life. Born in Niles, Ohio, on 29 January 1843, McKinley lived for much of his childhood in Poland, Ohio. He entered Allegheny College when he was seventeen but soon left because of illness and worked as a teacher and a post-office clerk before the outbreak of the Civil War. After the war he read law and studied at the Albany Law School (1866-1867) before passing the Ohio bar examination and establishing a law office in Canton, Ohio. On 25 January 1871 he married Ida Saxton, the daughter of a prominent Canton banker and businessman.

Political Career. Elected to the House of Representatives on the Republican ticket in 1876, McKinley served in Congress until 1891, after a Democratic gerrymandering of the Ohio House districts cost him the 1890 election. As a congressman McKinley developed a reputation for favoring civil-service reform and a high tariff. In 1890, as chairman of the House Ways and Means Com-mittee, he secured the passage of the protectionist McKinley Tariff, which raised duties on most imports. Returning to Ohio, McKinley was elected governor in November 1891 and served in that office until January 1896. During the 1890s, as the issue of monetary reform became more and more crucial, McKinley appeared at first to favor increased silver coinage. In 1896, however, backed by millionaire Marcus Hanna, McKinley ran for president on a Republican platform that emphasized the gold standard and high protectionist tariffs, defeating free-silver Democrat William Jennings Bryan, who called for lowered tariffs.

The Presidency. After McKinley took office on 4 March 1897 Congress passed the Dingley Act, once again raising tariffs, which had been lowered during the administration of McKinleys predecessor, Democrat Grover Cleveland. Although Cleveland had tried to maintain U.S. neutrality in the Cuban uprising against Spain, McKinley had won the election on a platform that endorsed Cuban independence, and he soon faced a mounting cry for U.S. military aid to the Cuban rebels. Forced into war with Spain by an upsurge of public sentiment after the explosion of the U.S. warship Maine in Havana harbor on 15 February 1898, the United States emerged from that brief conflict with new possessions in the Caribbean and the Pacific. The issue of how the United States should administer these territories immediately gripped the country, with Democrats and many reformminded Republicans advocating independence for all the territories and some expansionist (mostly western) Republicans advocating keeping them as U.S. possessions. McKinleys own views were a mix of the imperialist and anti-imperialist positions and eventually became: independence for Cuba, with the United States maintaining the right to intervene in its internal affairs; U.S. control over the Philippines until it was deemed ready for self-government; and territory status for Guam, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico.

Assassination. Reelected in 1900 with the popular Theodore Roosevelt of New York as his vice president, McKinley was shot by an assassin while visiting the Pan-American Exhibition in Buffalo, New York, on 6 September 1901, almost exactly six months after his second inauguration. He died on 14 September and was succeeded by Vice President Roosevelt.


Lewis L. Gould, The Presidency of William McKinley (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1980);

Charles S. Olcott, The Life of William McKinley, 2 volumes (Boston & New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1916).

McKinley, William

views updated May 29 2018


William McKinley served as the twenty-fifth president of the United States, from 1897 until his death from an assassin's bullet in 1901. A conservative Republican who advocated high tariffs to protect U.S. industry, McKinley waged the spanish-american war and at the end of it gained overseas territories for the United States.

McKinley was born January 29, 1843, in Niles, Ohio. As a young man, he briefly attended Allegheny College, in Meadville, Pennsylvania; taught school; and fought in the Union army during the Civil War, attaining the rank of major. McKinley was aide-de-camp to the regimental commander, rutherford b. hayes, who was later governor of Ohio and the nineteenth U.S. president. After the war McKinley studied law with an attorney and attended Albany Law School, in New York. He was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1867, and established a law practice in Canton, Ohio, which remained his official residence for the rest of his life. From 1869 to 1871, he served as county attorney.

McKinley's political ambitions were nurtured by Hayes. McKinley became active in Ohio Republican politics and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1876. McKinley was an outspoken advocate of higher tariffs, believing that U.S. industry and U.S. workers were protected by the taxation of imported foreign goods. His stand on tariffs culminated in the McKinley Tariff Act of 1890, which raised duties on many imports to the highest levels up to that time. The act was an unpopular measure, and McKinley was voted out of office in the election of 1890.

McKinley returned to Ohio, where he was elected governor in 1891 and reelected governor in 1893. Mark Hanna, a wealthy Ohio industrialist and a leader in national Republican politics, became McKinley's benefactor and helped him secure the 1896 Republican presidential nomination. The Democratic candidate was william jennings bryan, who supported free coinage of silver, arguing that it would increase the money supply and thus help farmers and small-business owners. McKinley, who advocated retaining the gold standard, defeated Bryan, with Hanna raising large sums of money from big business to support the campaign. The money was used to help fund more than three hundred delegations and more than 750,000 people who traveled to McKinley's front porch in Canton to hear him campaign.

"Let us remember that our interest is in concord, not in conflict, and that our real eminence as a nation lies in the victories of peace, not those of war."
William McKinley

As president, McKinley signed the Currency Act of 1900 (31 Stat. 45), institutionalizing the gold standard until the 1930s. However, his first term was dominated by foreign affairs and over-seas territorial expansion. When McKinley took office, a national independence movement had arisen in Cuba, seeking freedom from Spain. The United States tried to remain neutral while negotiating a solution acceptable to both sides. On February 15, 1898, the U.S. warship Maine blew up in the Havana harbor. Though later

investigation suggested that a boiler explosion sank the Maine and killed its crew, immediate public reaction, inflamed by the newspapers owned by William Randolph Hearst, blamed Spain for the attack. At McKinley's request Congress approved a declaration of war.

The Spanish-American War was brief, with Spain agreeing to terms in August 1898. Cuba gained its independence, though the United States reserved the right to intervene to ensure stability. Under the peace treaty, Spain transferred to the United States its claims to Puerto Rico and the Philippine Islands. In addition, the U.S. Congress voted in July 1898 to take possession of the Hawaiian Islands. This territorial expansion increased the United States' international prestige as a imperialist power, but some citizens questioned its constitutionality and whether it fit with the U.S. national character. The U.S. Supreme Court decided the legal question in 1901 in a set of decisions known as the Insular cases. The Court held that these new possessions were domestic territory of the United States, under the full control of Congress, and the residents of these new dependencies did not have the rights of citizens (De Lima v. Bidwell, 182 U.S. 1, 21 S. Ct. 743, 45 L. Ed. 1041; Downes v. Bidwell, 182 U.S. 244, 21 S. Ct. 770, 45 L. Ed. 1088).

In the 1900 presidential election, McKinley easily again defeated Bryan, who continued to campaign for free silver and against U.S. imperialism.

On September 6, 1901, McKinley was shot by Leon F. Czolgosz, an anarchist who had dreamed of killing a prominent person, at the Pan-American Exposition, in Buffalo, New York. An infection set into McKinley's wound, and he died September 14, in Buffalo. Vice President theodore roosevelt succeeded McKinley as president.

further readings

Morgan, H. Wayne. 2003. William McKinley and His America. rev. ed. Kent, Ohio: Kent State Univ. Press.

McKinley, William

views updated May 14 2018

McKinley, William (1843–1901), Civil War veteran and twenty‐fifth president of the United States.Born and raised in Ohio, McKinley enlisted in 1861 as a private in the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Regiment. A commissary sergeant at the Battle of Antietam (1862), he was later promoted to captain and ended his military service as brevet major. His career in law and Republican politics included terms as congressman, senator, and two‐term governor of Ohio before his election as president in 1896.

The president's own military experience and the opposition of big business made him reluctant to lead the nation into war, so he pressed the Spanish government to control a rebellion that had begun in Cuba in 1895. An astute politician, McKinley was aware of his countrymen's growing impatience as the conflict persisted, particularly after the sinking of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor. When the Spanish government proved unable to end the war, he asked Congress for a war declaration in April 1898.

As commander in chief in the Spanish‐American War, McKinley monitored all phases of the conflict. He also stepped in to run the War Department when Secretary of War Russell Alger proved incapable of the demands of managing a 27,000‐man regular army and thousands of volunteers. Fortunately, the Spanish were war‐weary and poorly supplied, and the U.S. Navy was newly outfitted. Only 379 Americans lost their lives in combat.

McKinley gave subordinates such as Commodore George Dewey in the Philippines and Gen. Rufus Shafter in Cuba considerable latitude, though he approved all key decisions, such as sending ground forces to support Dewey's tenuous naval control. (He welcomed Shafter's negotiation of a peaceful occupation of Santiago de Cuba after that city had fallen under U.S. siege.)

The president controlled the diplomatic agenda as well. He supported the Teller Amendment to the war declaration that ruled out annexation of Cuba, but refused to extend recognition to the rebel governments in Cuba or in the Philippines. The occupation government that Gen. Leonard Wood established in Cuba was removed only when the Cubans approved the Platt Amendment (1901) that effectively made their island a U.S. protectorate. McKinley demanded that Spain relinquish control of the Philippines to the United States in the peace treaty signed in Paris 10 December 1898, and he authorized the use of U.S. troops to put down a bloody guerrilla war against U.S. occupation of the Philippines.
[See also Cuba, U.S. Military Involvement in; Philippine War; Philippines, U.S. Military Involvement in the; Spanish‐American War.]


Lewis L. Gould , The Presidency of William McKinley, 1982.
John Dobson , Reticent Expansionism, 1988.

John M. Dobson

McKinley, William

views updated May 21 2018

McKinley, William (1843–1901) 25th US president (1897–1901). McKinley sat in the House of Representatives as a Republican (1876–90), and was elected governor of Ohio in 1891. He defeated William Jennings Bryan in the presidential election of 1896. A strong and effective president, he was largely preoccupied by foreign affairs. McKinley gained the support of Congress for the Spanish-American War (1898), and sanctioned US participation in suppression of the Boxer Rebellion in China (1900). McKinley declared that isolationism was “no longer possible or desirable”. Re-elected in 1900, he was shot dead by an anarchist on September 6, 1901. Theodore Roosevelt succeeded him as president.

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