Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Meadville, Crawford County
Briefly attending Allegheny College, William McKinley would serve as President of the United States from 1897 to 1901.
WilliamMcKinley was born on January 29, 1843. McKinley served as the 25th President of the United States. Important events of his career in politics were the McKinley tariff, the Spanish-American war, and the Philippine-American war. He was shot by an anarchist and died on September 14, 1901.
William McKinley was born in Niles, Ohio on January 29, 1843. McKinley was the seventh child of William and Nancy Allison McKinley. Mrs. Nancy Allison McKinley later reflected on raising a United States President:
What do I regard as essential in bringing up a boy to be President?... They should be taught to be honest in dealing with their fellow-men. They should win their respect and confidence… Any boy who wants to be President should be honest and truthful, and he should love his home, family, and his country. No boy will ever be President who is afraid of hard work… I knew William was a bright boy and a good boy, but I never dreamed that he would be President of the United States.
The McKinley’s staunch belief in honesty, hard work, faith, and education clearly shaped the man that William would become. In fact, the McKinley’s valued education so much that they moved the family to Poland, Ohio, in 1852 in order to enrolled McKinley in the Poland Academy which he attended until his graduation at the age of 17. Promptly thereafter, he enrolled in Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania. While there he joined the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. There are different accounts as to why McKinley left Allegheny College after just one term. Some say it was because of a flu-like illness; other accounts say that he had a mental condition that led to depression. Although the exact reason for his departure is not clear, it is certain that his return to Allegheny was hindered by financial difficulties. His father took on the debt of his brother and McKinley decided that he could not leave his family while they were in such an economic state.
Rather, he stayed in Poland where he clerked at the local post office and taught in the public schools. He joined the Methodist Episcopal Church and engaged in studying the Bible. It was then that he cemented the faith that played a large role in his public image and decision making during presidency.
When the Civil War began in 1861, McKinley enlisted as a private in the 23rd regiment of the Ohio Voluntary Infantry. McKinley served a gallant military career moving up to the eventual rank of brevet major of volunteers. He served under Lieutenant Colonel Rutherford B Hayes, the future president of the United States and lifelong mentor and friend to McKinley. He was mustered out of service after serving four years and once again returned to Canton, Ohio.
After returning to Canton, he developed an interest in law and began law school in Albany, New York in the fall of 1866. The following year he was admitted to the bar and began his own practice in Canton and within the next year was elected prosecuting attorney of Stark County. In 1871, he met and married Ida Saxton. Within the first three years of their marriage, they witnessed the birth and death of two daughters, Katherine and Ida. Ida Saxton was crippled by the overbearing grief of losing two daughters and her mother. Her health failed and she developed epileptic seizures, a little understood disease at the time. Throughout his life, McKinley was known for his devotion and service to his “invalid” wife. Amidst the stress of his own personal life, in 1876 he ran for and won a seat in Congress. Thus, he began his long career in politics.
McKinley continued to serve in Congress until 1890. In 1889, he was elected as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. This position allowed him to push for the enactment of the McKinley Tariff of 1890. A tariff is a law imposing taxes on imported goods. It was essentially the only way for the government to collect revenue before the Sixteenth Amendment permitting income taxes was passed in 1913. The tariff was implemented with hopes of protecting homeland manufacturing. Instead of relying on international manufacturers and trade, American farmers and companies were given the opportunity to compete and develop. However, the tariff had a negative effect on rates and wages and caused disfavor with the Republican Party, eventually costing him his seat in Congress in the election of 1890. After leaving Congress, he headed back home to Canton and soon after campaigned for the Governorship of Ohio. In January 1892, he was inaugurated Governor of Ohio.
By 1896, McKinley began his campaign for presidency. Several campaign tactics worked to secure the presidency. He spread his platform through printing and distributing thousands upon thousands of educational materials. By the end of the election nearly 250,000,000 documents were sent out across the states. The printed word proved to be an effective campaign strategy and was used tirelessly. Theodore Roosevelt, McKinley’s future Vice-President, even exclaimed “We have advertised McKinley as if he were a patent medicine.”
While his opponent William Jennings Bryan traveled vigorously in his own private train, McKinley thoughtfully decided against a public speaking tour of the United States. McKinley adopted the “front porch” campaign in which he welcomed people to his home 24 hours a day (except Sundays) to meet him and discuss his platform. It was from his front porch that he delivered most of his campaign speeches. Over the course of the campaign year, he spoke to 750,000 people from 30 states in over 300 delegations. His campaign platform focused on “Patriotism, protection, and prosperity.”
One notable moment from Bryan’s opposing campaign included the “Cross of Gold” speech that he delivered at the Democratic Convention. This speech introduced his position on bimetallism and was in favor of changing the standard of the dollar from gold to silver. Standardizing silver would cause inflation making it easier for farmers to pay off debts by increasing revenue. Republicans wanted to protect against inflation and to protect the moneylenders who it would hurt. In his “Cross of Gold” speech Bryan said, “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.”
McKinley was originally in favor of bimetallism but knowing it would divide his followers adopted the gold standard. As he undertook his campaign, he presented his platform saying that he and his party would “welcome bimetallism based upon an international ratio, but until that can be secured it is the plain duty of the United States to maintain our present standard, and we are therefore opposed under existing conditions to the free and unlimited coinage of silver at sixteen to one.” Thus, McKinley aligned himself with the internationalist interest in maintaining the standard that was adopted by the world at large. McKinley would continue to embrace the gold standard for the rest of his presidency.
McKinley proved to have a strong showing at the polls. William Jennings Bryan received 176 electoral votes to McKinley’s 271.
Several issues and events characterized McKinley’s two terms as president. One of the greatest domestic issues he faced was the question of tariffs. Soon after he arrived in Washington he called congress into a special session to draft new tariff and currency laws. In 1896, the Supreme Court had ruled that the income tax was unconstitutional. Therefore, a huge source of government income was depleted with the elimination of the income tax. At this time the Dingley Tariff was drafted. This tariff raised tax rates on imports to the highest they had been since the Civil War. Thus the government’s main source of financial support came from the tariff and taxes collected on international imports.
Overall, as the country moved into the 1900s the country experienced a time of economic growth and prosperity. Between 1896 and 1901, the profit from U.S. exports increased from $833 million to $1.488 billion.
As McKinley’s time in office passed, his support of isolationism would turn into internationalism as he realized that American success relied on its trade and good standing with the rest of the world. Worldwide communication was improved through the invention of the telegraph machine. With this ability to communicate and strengthen ties with the international community, McKinley pushed for international diplomacy and power.
An issue that captured the attention of Americans at the beginning of McKinley’s presidency was the growing unrest in Spanish-ruled Cuba. Spurred mainly by the media, the American public became more and more disturbed by Spain’s cruel treatment of the Cubans and increasingly called the government to war. “Yellow journalists,” mainly employed by William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal and Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World, were accused of sensationalism and even lying to sell their newspapers. McKinley, who was known for his peaceful, diplomatic, and patient demeanor resisted movement towards war. Tensions increased as the USS Maine was sunk in the port of Havana. In the weeks following diplomatic negotiations with Spain fell through and the U.S. moved into war. The war was rather efficient and effective and in little over one hundred days fighting ceased. The Treaty of Paris was drafted and Cuba gained its independence. Amongst the negotiations, the U.S. also gained the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam. However, many historians criticize McKinley’s leadership in the war believing that he was manipulated by the media to move to action.
Further criticism has been given for his actions in the Philippine-American War. Even while the Treaty of Paris was being drafted tension was rising in the Philippines. A Filipino Declaration of Independence was created by the Filipino forces when Spain fell to American. However, this declaration was ignored by both countries as they continued negotiations for the islands. The Filipinos were aggravated that their desire for independence was thwarted. An official state of war was declared on June 2, 1899, and continued until 1902. The Philippine Bill of 1902 extended the American Bill of Rights to the Philippines, appointed two Filipino commissioners to represent the Philippines in Congress, and lastly allowed the establishment of the Philippine Assembly. Critics at the time were opposed to the president’s imperialistic tactics. His actions were viewed by some to be cruel and oppressive.
McKinley’s presidency included increasing territorial strength through the annexation of Hawaii and settling territorial disputes in Alaska. Throughout the 1800s, American interests increased in Hawaii. In the late 1800’s sugar cane production dominated the Hawaiian economy. In 1893, Samuel Dole a plantation owner, deposed Queen Liliuokalani. In 1894, Dole sought annexation from President Grover Cleveland and was denied. However, during McKinley’s first year in office, Hawaii was quickly annexed, becoming a territory in 1900 and finally a state in 1959.
McKinley’s increased international interest included amplified trading and interactions with China. Secretary of State John Hay enacted the Open Door Policy in hopes that competing European powers would observe equal trading rights and territorial integrity. Tension rose within China in 1900 as rebels rose with initial intentions of overthrowing the government and throwing out foreigners. The empress Dowager Tsu Hsi seeing the rebels as a way of discouraging the presence of overbearing foreign nations encouraged the rebels. The rebels then turned on foreigners including missionaries and their converts. Foreign powers moved in to suppress the rebellion. The United States also sent in special forces to stifle the rebellion as a showing of the United States international influence. The rebels were suppressed and the fall of the Qing dynasty followed.
McKinley may be best known for the manner of his death. In 1901, shortly after his re-election, Mr. and Mrs. McKinley attended the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. The following day he was at the Temple of Music greeting the public when Leon Czolgosz, a young anarchist, approached him with a pistol covered by a handkerchief. He shot the president twice. Czolgosz was motivated by Gaetano Bresci, the assassin of King Umberto of Italy. He did not have any personal objection to McKinley himself, but viewed his assassination as a means of overthrowing the government.
Shortly after he was shot, the president was rushed to an operating room where the surgeons were able to locate and remove one bullet. The other was thought to have torn through his abdomen, lodging in his back. The surgeons could not locate the second bullet and could do little but clean the wound and sew it up. Reports raced through the media that the president had survived and that his condition was thought to be improving. However, around eight days after the surgery his condition worsened, the doctors found that gangrene had developed in the poorly treated wound. On September 14, 1901, President McKinley died.
Overall, McKinley’s term as president is notable for several reasons. First, he assembled an excellent cabinet which included two future presidents and one future vice president. He reshaped the public image of his party and brought them back into favor. Second, McKinley’s administration made large changes in the economy that ensured prosperity for a decade after his death. Lastly, the rise of the United States to world power was based largely on his embrace of internationalism and foreign policy. While some say that McKinley was the last traditional president, others say that he emerged as one of the first modern presidents.