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William McKinley

William McKinleyAKA William McKinley, Jr.

Born: 29-Jan-1843
Birthplace: Niles, OH
Died: 14-Sep-1901
Location of death: Buffalo, NY [1]
Cause of death: Assassination
Remains: Buried, McKinley Museum and National Memorial, Canton, OH

Gender: Male
Religion: Methodist
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Head of State
Party Affiliation: Republican

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: 25th US President, 1897-1901

Military service: US Army (1861-65)

William McKinley, the twenty-fifth president of the United States, was born in Niles, Trumbull county, Ohio, on the 29th of January 1843. His ancestors on the paternal side were Scotch-Irish who lived at Dervock, Co. Antrim, and spelled the family name "McKinlay." His great-great-grandfather settled in York county, Pennsylvania, about 1743, and from Chester county, Pennsylvania, his great-grandfather, David McKinley, who served as a private during the War of Independence, moved to Ohio in 1814. David's son James had gone in 1809 to Columbiana county, Ohio. His son William McKinley (b. 1807), like his father an iron manufacturer, was married in 1829 to Nancy Campbell Allison, and to them were born nine children, of whom William, the President, was the seventh.

In 1852 the family removed to Poland, Mahoning county, where the younger William was placed at school. At age seventeen he entered the junior class of Allegheny College at Meadville, Pennsylvania; but he studied beyond his strength and returned to Poland, where for a time he taught in a neighboring country school. When the Civil War broke out in 1861 he promptly enlisted as a private in the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He saw service in West Virginia, at South Mountain, where this regiment lost heavily, and a Antietam, where he brought up hot coffee and provisions to the fighting line; for this he was promoted second lieutenant on the 24th of September 1862. McKinley was promoted first lieutenant in February 1864, and for his services at Winchester was promoted captain on the 25th of July 1864. He was on he staff of General George Crook at the battles of Opequan, Wisher's Hill, and Cedar Creek in the Shenandoah valley, and on the 14th of March 1865 was brevetted major of volunteers for gallant and meritorious services. He also served on the staff of General Rutherford B. Hayes, who spoke highly of his soldierly qualities. He was mustered out with his regiment on the 26th of July 1865. Four years of army life had changed him from a pale and sickly lad into a man of superb figure and health.

After the war McKinley returned to Poland, and bent all his energy upon the study of law. He completed his preparatory reading at the Albany (New York) law school, and was admitted to the bar at Warren, Ohio, in March 1867. On the advice of an elder sister, who had been for several years a teacher in Canton, Stark county, Ohio, he began his law practice in that place, which was to be his permanent home. He identified himself immediately with the Republican party, campaigned in the Democratic county of Stark in favor of negro suffrage in 1867, and took part in the campaign work on behalf of Ulysses S. Grant's Presidential candidature in 1868. In the following year he was elected prosecuting attorney on the Republican ticket; in 1871 he missed re-election by 45 votes, and again devoted himself to his profession, while not relaxing his interest in politics.

In 1875 he first became known as an able campaign speaker by his speeches favoring the resumption of specie payments, and in behalf of Rutherford B. Hayes, the Republican candidate for Governor of Ohio. In 1876 he was elected by a majority of 3304 votes to the national House of Representatives. Conditions both in Ohio and in Congress had placed him, and were to keep him for twenty years, in an attitude of aggressive and uncompromising partisanship. His Congressional district was naturally Democratic, and its boundaries were changed two or three times by Democratic legislatures for the purpose of so grouping Democratic strongholds as to cause his defeat. But he overcame what had threatened to be adverse majorities on all occasions from 1876 to 1890, with the single exception of 1882, when, although he received a certificate of election showing that he had been re-elected by a majority of 8, and although he served nearly through the long session of 1883-1884, his seat was contested and taken (May 28, 1884) by his Democratic opponent, Jonathan H. Wallace.

McKinley reflected the strong sentiment of his manufacturing constituency in behalf of a high protective tariff, and he soon became known in Congress (where he particularly attracted the attention of James G. Blaine) as one of the most diligent students of industrial policy and questions affecting national taxation. In 1878 he took part in the debates over the Wood Tariff Bill, proposing lower import duties; and in the same year he voted for the Bland-Allison Silver Bill. In December 1880 he was appointed a member of the Ways and Means committee, succeeding General James Garfield, who had been elected president in the preceding month, and to whose friendship, as to that of Rutherford B. Hayes, McKinley owed much in his earlier years in Congress. He was prominent in the debate which resulted in the defeat of the Democratic Morrison Tariff Bill in 1884, and, as minority leader of the Ways and Means committee, in the defeat of the Mills Bill for the revision of the tariff in 1887-1888. In 1889 he became chairman of the Ways and Means committee and Republican leader in the House of Representatives, after having been defeated by Thomas B. Reed on the third ballot in the Republican caucus for speaker of the House.

On the 16th of April 1890 he introduced from the Ways and Means committee the tariff measure known commonly as the McKinley Bill, which passed the House on the 21st of May, passed the Senate (in an amended form, with a reciprocity clause, which McKinley had not been able to get through the House) on the 10th of September, was passed as amended, by the House, and was approved by the President on the 1st of October 1890. The McKinley Bill reduced revenues by its high and in many cases almost prohibitive duties; it put sugar on the free list with a discriminating duty of one-tenth of one cent a pound on sugar imported from countries giving a bounty for sugar exported, and it gave bounties to American sugar growers; it attempted to protect many "infant" industries such as the manufacture of tin-plate; under its provision for reciprocal trade agreements (a favorite project of James G. Blaine, who opposed many of the "protective" features of the Bill) reciprocity treaties were made with Germany, France, Italy, and Belgium, which secured a market in those countries for American pork. Abroad, where the Bill made McKinley's name known everywhere, there was bitter opposition to it and reprisals were threatened by several European states. In the United States the McKinley Tariff Bill was one of the main causes of the Democratic victory in the Congressional elections of 1890, in which McKinley himself was defeated by an extraordinary Democratic gerrymander of his Congressional district.

In November 1891 he was elected Governor of Ohio with a plurality of more than 21,000 votes in a total of 795,000 votes cast. He was Governor of Ohio in 1892-1895, being re-elected in 1893. His administration was marked by no important events, except that he had on several occasions in his second term to call out the militia of the state to preserve order; but it may be considered important because of the training it gave him in executive as distinguished from legislative work.

McKinley had been prominent in national politics even before the passage of the tariff measure bearing his name. In 1888 in the National Republican Convention in Chicago he was chairman of the committee on resolutions (i.e. the platform committee) and was leader of the delegation from Ohio, which had been instructed for John Sherman; after James G. Blaine withdrew his name there was a movement, begun by Republican congressmen, to nominate McKinley, who received 16 votes on the seventh ballot, but passionately refused to be a candidate, considering that his acquiescence would be a breach of faith toward Sherman. In 1892 McKinley was the permanent president of the National Republican Convention which met in Minneapolis and which renominated Benjamin Harrison on the first ballot, on which James G. Blaine received 182 and five-sixths votes, and McKinley, in spite of his efforts to the contrary, received 182 votes. In 1894 he made an extended campaign tour before the Congressional elections, and spoke even in the South.

In 1896 he seemed for many reasons the most "available" candidate of his party for the Presidency: he had no personal enemies in the party; he had carried the crucial state of Ohio by a large majority in 1893; his attitude on the coinage question had never been so pronounced as to make him unpopular either with the radical silver wing or with the conservative "gold-standard" members of the party. The campaign for his nomination was conducted with the greatest adroitness by his friend, Marcus Alonzo Hanna, and in the National Republican Convention held in St. Louis in June he was nominated for the Presidency on the first ballot by 661 and one-half out of a total of 906 votes. The convention adopted a tariff plank drafted by McKinley, and, of far greater immediate importance, a plank, which declared that the Republican party was "opposed to the free coinage of silver, except by international agreement with the leading commercial nations of the world, which we pledge ourselves to promote, and until such agreement can be obtained the existing gold standard must be preserved." This "gold standard" plank drove out of the Republican party the Silver Republicans of the West, headed by Senator Henry M. Teller of Colorado. The Republican convention nominated for the Vice Presidency Garrett A. Hobart of New Jersey.

The National Democratic Convention declared for the immediate opening of the mints to the free and unlimited coinage of silver at the ratio with gold of 16 to 1; and it nominated for the presidency William Jennings Bryan of Nebraska, who also received the nomination of the People's party and of the National Silver party. There was a secession from the Democratic party of conservatives who called themselves the National Democratic party, who were commonly called Gold Democrats, and who nominated John M. Palmer (1817-1900) of Illinois for President. In this re-alignment of parties McKinley, who had expected to make the campaign on the issue of a high protective tariff, was diverted to the defense of the gold standard as the main issue. While his opponent travelled throughout the country making speeches, McKinley remained in Canton, where he was visited by and addressed many Republican delegations. The campaign was enthusiastic: the Republican candidate was called the "advance agent of prosperity"; "Bill McKinley and the McKinley Bill" became a campaign cry; the panic of 1893 was charged to the repeal of the McKinley tariff measure; and "business men" throughout the states were enlisted in the cause of "sound money" to support McKinley, who was elected in November by a popular vote of 7,106,779 to 6,502,925 for Bryan, and by an electoral vote of 271 to 176.

McKinley was inaugurated President of the United States on the 4th of March 1897. The members of his cabinet were: Secretary of State, John Sherman (whose appointment created a vacancy in the Senate to which Marcus A. Hanna was elected), who was succeeded in April 1898 by William R. Day, who in turn was followed in September 1898 by John Hay; Secretary of the Treasury, Lyman J. Gage, a Gold Democrat; Secretary of War, Russell A. Alger, who was succeeded in 1899 by Elihu Root; Secretary of the Navy, John D. Long; Attorney General, Joseph McKenna, succeeded in January 1898 by John William Griggs; Postmaster General, James A. Gary, succeeded in April 1898 by Charles Emory Smith; Secretary of the Interior, Cornelius N. Bliss, succeeded in February 1899 by Ethan Alien Hitchcock; and Secretary of Agriculture, James Wilson. Immediately after his inauguration the President summoned Congress to assemble in an extra session on the 15th of March. The Democratic tariff in 1893 had been enacted as part of the general revenue measure, which included an income-tax. The income-tax having been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, the measure had failed to produce a sufficient revenue, and it had been necessary to increase the public debt. McKinley's message to the new Congress dwelt upon the necessity of an immediate revision of the tariff and revenue system of the country, and the so-called Dingley Tariff Bill was accordingly passed through both houses, and was approved by the President on the 24th of July.

The regular session of Congress which opened in December was occupied chiefly with the situation in Cuba. President McKinley showed himself singularly patient and self-controlled in the midst of the popular excitement against Spain and the clamor for intervention by the United States in behalf of the Cubans; but finally, on the 23rd of March, he presented an ultimatum to the Spanish government, and on the 25th of April, on his recommendation, Congress declared war upon Spain. During the war itself he devoted himself with great energy to the mastery of military details; but there was bitter criticism of the War Department resulting in the resignation of the Secretary of War, Russell A. Alger. The signing of a peace protocol on the 12th of August was followed by the signature at Paris on the 10th of December of articles of peace between the United States and Spain. After a long discussion the peace treaty was ratified by the United States Senate on the 6th of February 1899; and in accordance with its terms Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam were transferred by Spain to the United States, and Cuba came under American jurisdiction pending the establishment there of an independent government.

Two days before the ratification of the peace treaty, a conflict took place between armed Filipinos under the leadership of Emilio Aguinaldo and the American forces that were in possession of Manila. The six months that had elapsed between the signing of the peace protocol and the ratification of the treaty had constituted a virtual interregnum, Spain's authority having been practically destroyed in the Philippines and that of the United States not having begun. In this period a formidable native Filipino army had been organized and a provisional government created. The warfare waged by these Filipinos against the United States, while having for the most part a desultory and guerilla character, was of a very protracted and troublesome nature. Sovereignty over the Filipinos having been accepted by virtue of the ratification of the Paris treaty, President McKinley was not at liberty to do otherwise than assert the authority of the United States and use every endeavor to suppress the insurrection. But there was bitter protest against this "imperialism", both within the party by such men as Senators George F. Hoar and Eugene Hale, and Thomas B. Reed and Carl Schurz, and, often for purely political reasons, from the leaders of the Democratic party.

In the foreign relations of the United States, as directed by President McKinley, the most significant change was the cordial understanding established with the British government, to which much was contributed by his Secretary of State, John Hay, appointed to that portfolio when he was ambassador to the court of St. James, and which was due to some extent to the friendliness of the British press and even more markedly of the British navy in the Pacific during the Spanish War. Other important foreign events during McKinley's administration were: the annexation of the Hawaiian Islands (thus ending an independent monarchy) in August 1898, and the formation of the Territory of Hawaii in April 1900; the cessation in 1899 of the tripartite (German, British, and French) government of the Samoan Islands, and the annexation by the United States of those of the islands east of 171 degrees, including the harbor of Pago-Pago; the participation of American troops in the march of the allies on Peking in August 1900, and the part played by McKinley's secretary of state, John Hay, in securing a guarantee of the integrity of the Chinese empire.

In 1900 McKinley was unanimously renominated by the National Republican Convention which met in Philadelphia on the 19th of June, and which nominated Theodore Roosevelt, Governor of New York, for the Vice Presidency. The Republican convention demanded the maintenance of the gold standard, and pointed to the fulfillment of some of the most important of the pledges given by the Republican party four years earlier. The intervening period had been one of very exceptional prosperity in the United States, foreign commerce having reached an unprecedented volume, and agriculture and manufactures having made greater advancement than in any previous period of the country's history. The tendency towards the concentration of capital in great industrial corporations had been active to an extent previously undreamt of, with incidental consequences that had aroused much apprehension; and the Democrats accused President McKinley and the Republican party of having fostered the "trusts." But the campaign against McKinley and the Republican party was not only "anti-trust" but "anti-imperialistic." William Jennings Bryan, renominated by the Democratic party in July (and in May by the Fusion People's party) on a free silver platform declared that imperialism was the "paramount issue" and made a second vigorous campaign; and the opposition to McKinley's re-election, whether based on opposition to his economic or to his foreign policy, was not entirely outside of his own party. As the result of the polling in November, 292 Republican presidential electors were chosen, and 155 Democratic electors, elected in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, and the Southern states, represented the final strength of the Bryan and Stevenson ticket. The Republican popular vote was 7,207,923, and the Democratic 6,358,133. Since 1872 no president had been re-elected for a second consecutive term.

In the term of Congress immediately following the presidential election it was found possible to reduce materially the war taxes which had been levied on the outbreak of the Spanish-American War. Arrangements were perfected for the termination of the American military occupation of Cuba and the inauguration of a Cuban Republic as a virtual protectorate of the United States, the American government having arranged with the Cuban constitutional convention for the retention of certain naval stations on the Cuban coast. In the Philippines advanced steps had been taken in the substitution of civil government for military occupation, and a Governor-General, Judge William Howard Taft, had been appointed and sent to Manila. Prosperity at home was great, and foreign relations were free from complications. The problems which had devolved upon McKinley's administration had been far advanced towards final settlement. He retained without change the cabinet of his first administration.

After an arduous and anxious term, the President had reached a period that promised to give him comparative repose and freedom from care. He had secured, through the cooperation of Congress, the permanent reorganization of the army and a very considerable development of the navy. In these circumstances, President McKinley, accompanied by the greater part of his cabinet, set forth in the early summer on a tour to visit the Pacific coast, where he was to witness the launching of the battleship "Ohio" at San Francisco. The route chosen was through the Southern states, where many stops were made, and where the President delivered brief addresses. The heartiness of the welcome accorded him seemed to mark the disappearance of the last vestige of sectional feeling that had survived the Civil War, in which McKinley had participated as a young man.

After his return he spent a month in a visit at his old home in Canton, Ohio, and at the end of this visit, by previous arrangement, he visited the city of Buffalo, New York, in order to attend the Pan-American Exposition and deliver a public address. This address (Sept. 5, 1901) was a public utterance designed by McKinley to affect American opinion and public policy, and apparently to show that he had modified his views upon the tariff. It declared that henceforth the progress of the nations must be through harmony and cooperation, in view of the fast-changing conditions of communication and trade, and it maintained that the time had come for wide-reaching modifications in the tariff policy of the United States, the method preferred by McKinley being that of commercial reciprocity arrangements with various nations.

On the following day, the 6th of September 1901, a great reception was held for President McKinley in one of the public buildings of the exposition, all sorts and conditions of men being welcome. Advantage of this opportunity was taken by a young man of Polish parentage, by name Leon Czolgosz, to shoot at the President with a revolver at close range. One of the two bullets fired penetrated the abdomen. After the world had been assured that the patient was doing well and would recover, he collapsed and died on the 14th. The assassin, was promptly seized, and was convicted and executed in October 1901.

Czolgosz professed an anarchist justification for the assassination, though it was at the time suspected that he had been inflamed by the editorials and cartoons of the demagogic opposition press. William Randolph Hearst's New York Evening Journal had waged a continuous assault on McKinley since the election of 1896, which was only inflamed by his reelection. As recently as April, an editorial in the paper had railed: "If bad institutions and bad men can be got rid of only by killing, then the killing must be done." After the assassination of Kentucky Governor William J. Goebel in February the Journal printed the following stanza, later revealed to have been penned by Ambrose Bierce:

The bullet that pierced Goebel's breast
Can not be found in all the West;
Good reason, it is speeding here
To stretch McKinley on his bier.

McKinley's conduct and utterances in his last days revealed a loftiness of personal character that everywhere elicited admiration and praise. Immediately after his death Vice President Roosevelt took the oath of office, announcing that it would be his purpose to continue McKinley's policy, while also retaining the cabinet and the principal officers of the government. McKinley's funeral took place at Canton, Ohio, on the 19th of September, the occasion being remarkable for the public manifestations of mourning, not only in the United States, but in Great Britain and other countries; in Canton a memorial tomb has been erected.

Though he had not the personal magnetism of James G. Blaine, whom he succeeded as a leader of the Republican party and whose views of reciprocity he formally adopted in his last public address, McKinley had great personal suavity and dignity, and was thoroughly well liked by his party colleagues. As a politician he was always more the people's representative than their leader, and that he "kept his ear to the ground" was the source of much of his power and at the same time was his greatest weakness: his address at Buffalo the day before his assassination seems to voice his appreciation of the change in popular sentiment regarding the tariff laws of the United States and is the more remarkable as coming from the foremost champion for years of a form of tariff legislation devised to stifle international competition.

His apparently inconsistent record on the coinage question becomes consistent if considered in the same way, as the expression of the gradually changing views of his constituency. And it may not be fanciful to suggest that the obvious growth of McKinley in breadth and power during his term as President was due to his being the representative of a larger constituency, less local and less narrow-minded. He was an able but far from brilliant campaign speaker. His greatest administrative gift was a fine intuition in choosing men to serve him.

McKinley's private life was irreproachable; and very fine was his devotion to his wife, Ida Saxton (d. 1907), whom he had married in Canton in 1871, who was throughout his political career a confirmed invalid. He was from his early manhood a prominent member of the Methodist Episcopal Church.


[1] John Milburn House, Buffalo, NY.

Father: William McKinley (b. 15-Nov-1807, d. 24-Nov-1892)
Mother: Nancy Campbell Allison McKinley (b. 22-Apr-1809, m. 6-Jan-1829, d. 12-Dec-1897)
Brother: David Allison McKinley (US Consul to Hawaiian Kingdom, b. 23-Nov-1829, d. 18-Sep-1892)
Sister: Anna McKinley ("Annie", grammar school principal, b. 24-Sep-1832, d. 29-Jul-1890)
Brother: James Rose McKinley (b. 27-Sep-1833, d. 11-Oct-1889)
Sister: Mary McKinley May (b. 22-Sep-1835, d. 20-Jun-1868)
Sister: Helen Minerva McKinley (school teacher, b. 13-Mar-1838, d. 9-Jun-1924)
Sister: Sarah Elizabeth McKinley Duncan (b. 1-Oct-1840, d. 22-Nov-1931,
Sister: Abigail Celia McKinley ("Abbie", b. 1-Jun-1845, d. 26-Jan-1846)
Brother: Abner Osborn McKinley (attorney, b. 27-Nov-1847, d. 11-Jun-1904)
Wife:
Ida Saxon McKinley (b. 8-Jun-1847, m. 25-Jan-1871, d. 26-May-1907)
Daughter: Katherine McKinley ("Katie", b. 25-Dec-1871, d. 25-Jun-1875 typhoid fever)
Daughter: Ida McKinley (b. 1-Apr-1873, d. 22-Aug-1873)

    High School: Poland Academy
    University: Allegheny College

    US President (1897-1901)
    Governor of Ohio (1892-96)
    US Congressman, Ohio 18th (1887-91)
    US Congressman, Ohio 20th (1885-87)
    US Congressman, Ohio 18th (1883-84)
    US Congressman, Ohio 17th (1881-83)
    US Congressman, Ohio 16th (1879-81)
    US Congressman, Ohio 17th (1877-79)
    Freemasonry
    Knights of Pythias
    Military Order of the Loyal Legion
    Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity
    Bankruptcy 1893
    Shot 6-Sep-1901
    Autopsy
    Portrait on American currency $500
    Lain in state at the Capitol Rotunda
    Irish Ancestry
    Scottish Ancestry


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