The Presidents of the USA



William McKinley
His victory in the Spanish-American War made the U.S. a world and a colonial power. A beloved president, he was assassinated by an anarchist in 1901 and was succeeded by Theodore Roosevelt.

Born Jan. 29, 1843, Niles, Ohio
Political partyRepublican
Education • Allegheny College, 1860
• Albany Law School, 1866
Military service 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, 1861-65
Previous public office ♦ prosecuting attorney, Stark County, Ohio, 1870-71
♦ House of Representatives, 1877-85, 1887-91
♦ Governor of Ohio, 1892-96
Died Sept. 14, 1901, Buffalo, N.Y.
picture of William McKinley

Early Life

McKinley grew up in a small town in Ohio. During the Civil War he enlisted in the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, serving as an aide to Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes. He was promoted to major for bravery in the Battle of Fisher's Hill.

Political Career

After the war McKinley studied law. He was elected prosecuting attorney of Stark County in 1869 but was defeated for reelection two years later. In 1876 he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he gained a reputation for supporting high tariffs.

But the high rates of the McKinley Tariff Act of 1890 were so unpopular with the voters that he was defeated in the next election. He then organized two successful campaigns for governor of Ohio with the help of Mark Hanna, a Cleveland businessman and political fund-raiser.

In 1896 the Republican convention nominated McKinley for President on the first ballot, and Hanna organized his successful campaign. McKinley sat on his front porch in Canton, Ohio, and greeted 750,000 visitors from 30 states while his Democratic opponent, William Jennings Bryan, frantically traveled 18,000 miles by rail. Hanna organized a pro-tariff, pro-business coalition for McKinley, who won by a healthy margin in the electoral college.


McKinley presided over a period of industrial expansion. His amiable personality, his pragmatic approach to issues, his willingness to compromise, and his patient, unobtrusive maneuvering toward his objectives masked his strength of character and his capacity to deal with Congress and dominate his advisers.

After his inauguration McKinley called for a special session of Congress to revise the tariff. With rates higher than the McKinley Tariff, the new Dingley Tariff (1897) also included the reciprocity feature.

Not a doctrinaire supporter of gold currency, McKinley initially favored international bimetallism, but when the British rejected that system, he abandoned it and in 1900 approved the Gold Standard Act.

Soon he had to turn his attention to foreign affairs. Spain was trying to put down a rebellion in its Cuban province that had begun in 1895. The Spanish commander, known as Butcher Weyler, put Cuban civilians into concentration camps and American opinion swung solidly behind the rebellion. The sinking of the battleship Maine in Havana Harbor on February 15, 1898, with the loss of 260 lives, gave the advocates of war a rallying cry, and McKinley made the decision to ask Congress for a declaration of war.

The Spanish-American War was brief, and from it the United States emerged a world power. According to the terms of the Treaty of Paris with Spain in December 1898, the United States became a colonial power, occupying Cuba (temporarily), Puerto Rico, and Guam and gaining Wake Island and Samoa in 1899.

McKinley directed the peace commissioners to demand the Philippine Islands for the United States.

The president also signed the bill to annex Hawaii and supported the Open Door policy in China, thus vigorously advancing the interests of the United States and American commerce. The Currency Act of 1900 consolidated the gold standard policy on which McKinley had been elected in 1896.

McKinley then won a series of victories in Congress for his foreign policy. He got Senate consent for the Treaty of Paris in spite of the opposition of House Speaker Thomas Reed and the Anti-Imperialist League, an American organization opposed to the acquisition of colonies. McKinley's tariff reciprocity policies, designed to encourage free trade in selected markets-trade under low or no tariffs-were accepted by Congress even though they contradicted traditional Republican support for protectionist tariffs. He won passage of the Spooner Amendment, which allowed him to institute military government in the Philippines, and the Platt Amendment, which permitted U.S. intervention in Cuban affairs.

In his annual message to Congress in 1899, McKinley denied the claim of the Philippine leader Emilio Aguinaldo that Admiral Dewey had promised independence to the islands in return for local help against the Spanish. The McKinley administration was determined to keep the islands. This resulted in the unsuccessful and bloody Philippine insurrection (1899-1901) led by Emilio Aguinaldo against U.S. rule. The bloody rebellion that lasted three years was finally put by 120,000 U.S. troops.

In 1900 the McKinley administration intervened in China with 2,500 troops (along with Japan and several Western nations) to put down the Boxer Rebellion against Westerners in Beijing. The United States received a payment of $25 million from China for damages suffered but returned $18 million so that Chinese students could study in the United States. McKinley also intervened twice in Nicaragua to protect lives and property.

McKinley's Vice President, Garret Hobart, died in office in 1899, and McKinley accepted Theodore Roosevelt as the choice of the Republican convention to be his running mate in 1900. Mark Hanna opposed the nomination. “Don't you realize there's only one life between this madman and the Presidency?” he asked convention delegates. McKinley's margin over William Jennings Bryan improved in their 1900 rematch, and he became the first President since Ulysses S. Grant to win a second consecutive term.

McKinley was shot by Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist, at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, on September 6, 1901, and died of his wounds eight days later. Hanna and the Republican party would now have to deal with Teddy Roosevelt and his progressive policies.


McKinley's biographer, H. Wayne Morgan remarks that McKinley died the most beloved president in history.

McKinley's victory in the Spanish-American War made the United States into a world power and transformed the Presidency into an office of world leadership. The victory over shadowed the two important issues of tariff and currency, presenting the United States with new problems of world power and territorial expansion.

However, by 1920, McKinley's administration was deemed no more than "a mediocre prelude to the vigor and energy of Theodore Roosevelt's". Beginning in the 1950s, McKinley received more favorable evaluations; nevertheless, in surveys ranking American presidents, he has generally been placed near the middle, often trailing contemporaries such as Hayes and Cleveland. This ranking is rather unfair as his leadership and his actions affected profoundly the future of the USA.

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