By the 1880s, this Ohio native was a nationally known Republican leader; his signature issue was high tariffs on imports as a formula for prosperity, as typified by his McKinley Tariff of 1890. As the Republican candidate in the 1896 presidential election, he upheld the gold standard, and promoted pluralism among ethnic groups. His campaign, designed by Mark Hanna, introduced new advertising-style campaign techniques that revolutionized campaign practices and beat back the crusading of his arch-rival, William Jennings Bryan. The 1896 election is often considered a realigning election that marked the beginning of the Progressive Era.
McKinley presided over a return to prosperity after the Panic of 1893 and was reelected in 1900 after another intense campaign against Bryan, this one focused on foreign policy. As president, he fought the Spanish-American War. McKinley for months resisted the public demand for war, which was based on news of Spanish atrocities in Cuba, but was unable to get Spain to agree to implement reforms immediately. Later he annexed the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam, as well as Hawaii, and set up a protectorate over Cuba. He was assassinated by Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist, and succeeded by Theodore Roosevelt.
Born in Niles, Ohio, on January 29, 1843, William McKinley was the seventh of nine children. When McKinley was 9 years old he moved to Poland, Ohio. He attended the Poland Academy there because of its excellent education. In 1869, he made Canton, Ohio his permanent residence and remained there until he died. Most of his siblings lived within Stark County. His parents, William and Nancy (Allison) McKinley, were of Scots-Irish and English ancestry. He graduated from Poland Academy and attended Allegheny College for one term in 1860, where he was a member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity.
In June 1861, at the start of the American Civil War, he enlisted in the Union Army, as a private in the Twenty-third Regiment, Ohio Volunteer InfantryThe regiment was sent to western Virginia where it spent a year fighting small Confederate units. His superior officer, another future U.S. President, Rutherford B. Hayes, promoted McKinley to commissary sergeant for his bravery in battle. For driving a mule team delivering rations under enemy fire at Antietam, Hayes promoted him to Second Lieutenant. This pattern repeated several times during the war, and McKinley eventually mustered out as Captain and brevet Major of the same regiment in September 1865. In 1869, the year he entered politics, McKinley met and began courting his future wife, Ida Saxton, marrying her two years later when she was 23 and he was 27.
In 1895, a community of severely impoverished miners in Hocking Valley telegraphed Governor McKinley to report their plight, writing, "Immediate relief needed." Within five hours, McKinley had paid, out of his own pocket, for a railroad car full of food and other supplies to be sent to the miners. He then proceeded to contact the Chambers of Commerce in every major city in the state, instructing them to investigate the number of citizens living below poverty level. When reports returned revealing large numbers of starving Ohioans, the governor headed a charity drive and raised enough money to feed, clothe, and supply more than 10,000 people.
Governor McKinley left office in early 1896 and, at the instigation of his friend Marcus Hanna began actively campaigning for the Republican party's presidential nomination. After sweeping the 1894 congressional elections, Republican prospects appeared bright at the start of 1896. The Democratic Party was split on the issue of silver and many voters blamed the nation's economic woes on incumbent Grover Cleveland. McKinley's well-known expertise on the tariff issue, successful record as governor, and genial personality appealed to many Republican voters. His major opponent for the nomination, House Speaker Thomas B. Reed of Maine, had acquired too many enemies within the party over his political career, and his supporters could not compete with Hanna's organization. After winning the nomination, he went home and conducted his famous "front porch campaign." Hanna, a wealthy industrialist, headed the McKinley campaign. His opponent was William Jennings Bryan, who ran on a single issue of "free silver" and money. McKinley was against silver because it was a debased currency and overseas markets used gold, so it would harm foreign trade. McKinley promised that he would promote industry and banking and guarantee prosperity for every group in a pluralistic nation. A Democratic cartoon ridiculed the promise, saying it would rock the boat. McKinley replied that the protective tariff would bring prosperity to all groups, city and country alike, while Bryan's free silver would create inflation but no new jobs, would bankrupt railroads, and would permanently damage the economy. McKinley was able to succeed in getting votes from the urban areas and ethnic labor groups. Campaign manager Hanna raised $3.5 million from big business, and adopted newly invented advertising techniques to spread McKinley's message. Although Bryan had been ahead in August, McKinley's counter-crusade put him on the defensive and gigantic parades for McKinley in every major city a few days before the election undercut Bryan's allegations that workers were coerced to vote for McKinley. He defeated Bryan by a large margin. His appeal to all classes marked a realignment of American politics. His success in industrial cities gave the Republican party a grip on the north comparable to that of the Democrats in the south.
On June 16, 1897, a treaty was signed annexing the Republic of Hawai'i to the United States. The Government of Hawai'i speedily ratified this, but it lacked the necessary 2/3 vote in the U.S. Senate. The solution was to annex Hawai'i by joint resolution, which required only a simple majority of both houses of Congress. The resolution provided for the assumption by the United States of the Hawaiian debt up to $4,000,000. The Chinese Exclusion Act (1882) was extended to the islands, and Chinese immigration from Hawai'i to the mainland was prohibited. The joint resolution passed on July 6, 1898, a majority of the Democrats and several Republicans, among these Speaker Reed, opposing. Shelby M. Cullom, John T. Morgan, Robert R. Hitt, Sanford B. Dole, and Walter F. Frear, made commissioners by its authority, drafted a territorial form of government, which became law April 30, 1900.
In Civil Service administration, McKinley reformed the system in order to make it more flexible in critical areas. The Republican platform, adopted after President Cleveland's extension of the merit system, emphatically endorsed this, as did McKinley himself. Against extreme pressure, particularly in the Department of War, the President resisted until May 29, 1899. His order of that date withdrew from the classified service 4,000 or more positions, removed 3,500 from the class theretofore filled through competitive examination or an orderly practice of promotion, and placed 6,416 more under a system drafted by the Secretary of War. The order declared regular a large number of temporary appointments made without examination, besides rendering eligible, as emergency appointees, without examination, thousands who had served during the Spanish War.
Republicans pointed to the deficit under the Wilson Law with much the same concern manifested by President Grover Cleveland in 1888 over the surplus. A new tariff law must be passed, and, if possible, before a new Congressional election. An extra session of Congress was therefore summoned for March 15, 1897. The Ways and Means Committee, which had been at work for three months, forthwith reported through Chairman Nelson Dingley the bill which bore his name. With equal promptness the Committee on Rules brought in a rule, at once adopted by the House, whereby the new bill, in spite of Democratic pleas for time to examine, discuss, and propose amendments, reached the Senate the last day of March. More deliberation marked procedure in the Senate. This body passed the bill after toning up its schedules with some 870 amendments, most of which pleased the Conference Committee and became law. The act was signed by the President July 24, 1897. The Dingley Act was estimated by its author to advance the average rate from the 40 percent of the Wilson Bill to approximately 50 percent, or a shade higher than the McKinley rate. As proportioned to consumption the tax imposed by it was probably heavier than that under either of its predecessors.
Reciprocity, a feature of the McKinley Tariff, was suspended by the Wilson Act. The Republican platform of 1896 declared protection and reciprocity twin measures of Republican policy. Clauses graced the Dingley Act allowing reciprocity treaties to be made, "duly ratified" by the Senate and "approved" by Congress.Under the third section of the Act some concessions were given and received, but the treaties negotiated under the fourth section, which involved lowering of strictly protective duties, met summary defeat when submitted to the Senate.
McKinley hoped to make American producers supreme in world markets, and so his administration had a push for those foreign markets, which included the annexation of Hawaii and interests in China. While serving as a Congressman, McKinley had been an advocate for the annexation of Hawaii because he wanted to Americanize it and establish a naval base, but he was unable to get the two-thirds vote. One notable observer of the time, Henry Adams, declared that the nation at this time was ruled by "McKinleyism", a "system of combinations, consolidations, and trusts realized at home and abroad." This reflects the policies President McKinley pursued. Many of his diplomatic appointments went to political friends such as former Carnegie Steel president John George Alexander Leishman (minister to Switzerland and Turkey).
During this time there were some overseas conflicts, mainly with Spain. The U.S. had interests in Cuba, the Philippines, Hawaii and China. McKinley did not want to fully annex Cuba, just control it. In the Philippines, he wanted a base there to deal with China that would give the U.S. a voice in Asian affairs. Stories began to emerge of horrible atrocities committed in Cuba and of Spain's use of concentration camps and brutal military force to quash the Cubans' rebellion. Spain began to show it was no longer in control as rebellions within the rebellion broke out. The Spanish repeatedly promised new reforms, then repeatedly postponed them. American public opinion against Spain became heated, and created a demand for war coming mostly from Democrats and the sensationalist yellow journalism of William Randolph Hearst's newspapers. McKinley and the business community opposed the growing public demand for war, aided by House Speaker Reed.
As a matter of protection for U.S. interests around Havana, a new warship, the U.S.S. Maine, was dispatched to Havana harbor. On February 15, 1898, it mysteriously exploded and sank, causing the deaths of 260 men. (In 1950, the Navy ruled that "the Maine had been sunk by a faulty boiler" and not by attack as was assumed at the time). Public opinion heated up and a greater demand for war ensued. McKinley turned the matter over to Congress, which voted for war, and gave Spain an ultimatum for an armistice and a permanent peace. Although the Army was poorly prepared, militia and national guard units rushed to the colors, most notably Theodore Roosevelt and his "Rough Riders." The naval war in Cuba and the Philippines was a success, the easiest and most profitable war in U.S. history, and after 113 days, Spain agreed to peace terms at the Treaty of Paris in July. Secretary of state John Hay called it a "splendid little war." The United States gained ownership of Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico, and temporary control over Cuba. McKinley had said, "we need Hawaii just as much as we did California", and Hawaii was annexed (see above). McKinley had begun by wanting only a naval base in the Philippines at Manila; in the end, he decided to take all of the Philippines, a move that led to the Philippine-American War.
Throughout these ordeals, McKinley controlled American policy and news with an "iron hand". McKinley was the first president to have the use of telephones and telegraphs giving him access to battlefield commanders and reporters in mere minutes, and he used this to his full advantage. These ordeals also gave life to an Anti-Imperialist League movement at home.
|Vice President||Garret A. Hobart||1897–1899|
|Secretary of State||John Sherman||1897–1898|
|William R. Day||1898|
|John M. Hay||1898–1901|
|Secretary of the Treasury||Lyman J. Gage||1897–1901|
|Secretary of War||Russell A. Alger||1897–1899|
|Attorney General||Joseph McKenna||1897–1898|
|John W. Griggs||1898–1901|
|Philander C. Knox||1901|
|Postmaster General||James A. Gary||1897–1898|
|Charles E. Smith||1898–1901|
|Secretary of the Navy||John D. Long||1897–1901|
|Secretary of the Interior||Cornelius N. Bliss||1897–1899|
|Ethan A. Hitchcock||1899–1901|
|Secretary of Agriculture||James Wilson||1897–1901|
One bullet was easily found and extracted, but doctors were unable to locate the second bullet. It was feared that the search for the bullet, using the medical techniques of the time, might cause more harm than good. In addition, McKinley appeared to be recovering, so doctors decided to leave the bullet where it was.
The newly-developed X-ray machine was displayed at the fair, but doctors were reluctant to use it on McKinley to search for the bullet because they did not know what side effects it might have on him. The operating room at the exposition's emergency hospital did not have any electric lighting, even though the exteriors of many of the buildings at the extravagant exposition were covered with thousands of light bulbs. The surgeons were unable to operate by candlelight because of the danger created by the flammable ether used to keep the president unconscious. So the doctors were forced to use pans instead to reflect sunlight onto the operating table while they treated McKinley's wounds.
McKinley's doctors believed he would recover, and the President convalesced for more than a week in Buffalo at the home of the exposition's director. On the morning of September 12, he felt strong enough to receive his first food orally since the shooting—toast and a small cup of coffee. However, by afternoon he began to experience discomfort and his condition rapidly worsened. McKinley began to go into shock. At 2:15 A.M. on September 14, 1901, eight days after he was shot, he died from gangrene surrounding his wounds. His last words were "It is God's way; His will be done, not ours. and he was buried in Canton, Ohio.
"The truth is I didn't want the Philippines, and when they came to us as a gift from the gods, I did not know what to do with them... I sought counsel from all sides - Democrats as well as Republicans - but got little help. I thought first we would take only Manila; then Luzon; then other islands, perhaps, also. I walked the floor of the White House night after night until midnight; and I am not ashamed to tell you, gentlemen, that I went down on my knees and prayed Almighty God for light and guidance more than one night." "And one night late it came to me this way - I don't know how it was, but it came: (1) That we could not give them back to Spain - that would be cowardly and dishonorable; (2) that we could not turn them over to France or Germany - our commercial rivals in the Orient - that would be bad business and discreditable; (3) that we could not leave them to themselves - they were unfit for self-government - and they would soon have anarchy and misrule over there worse than Spain's was; and (4) that there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and "Christianize them, and by God's grace do the very best we could by them, as our fellow men for whom Christ also died." And then I went to bed and went to sleep and slept soundly."The question is whether McKinley said any such thing as is italicized in point #4, especially regarding "Christianize" the natives, or whether Rusling added it. McKinley was a religious person but never said God told him to do anything. McKinley never used the term Christianize (and indeed it was rare in 1898). McKinley operated a highly effective publicity bureau in the White House and he gave hundreds of interviews to reporters, and hundreds of public speeches to promote his Philippines policy. Yet no authentic speech or newspaper report contains anything like the purported words or sentiment. The man who remembered it—an American Civil War veteran—had written a book on the war that was full of exaggeration. The supposed highly specific quote from memory years after the event is unlikely enough—especially when the quote uses words like "Christianize" that were never used by McKinley. The conclusion of historians such as Lewis Gould is that, although it is possible this quote is legitimate (certainly McKinley expressed most of these sentiments generally), it is unlikely that he spoke these specific words, or that he said the last part at all.