William McKinley Jr.

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McKinley, William (1).jpg
Portrait of William McKinley, ca. 1890-1899. McKinley was the twenty-fifth President, serving from 1897-1901.

Ohioan William McKinley, Jr., was President of the United States of America from 1897 to 1901.

McKinley was born on January 29, 1843, in Niles, Ohio. In 1852, the McKinley family moved to Poland, Ohio, where William attended the Poland Union Seminary, before enrolling in Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania. Unfortunately for McKinley, he became ill and was forced to leave this institution before graduating. He returned to Poland, where he briefly taught school, before enrolling in the Union Army at the outbreak of the American Civil War. McKinley remained in the military for the conflict's duration, rising from a mere private to the rank of major by the war's end.

Upon returning home from the war, McKinley attended law school in Albany, New York. He returned to Ohio in 1867, where he opened a law practice in Canton, Ohio. In Canton, McKinley embarked on a political career. He supported the Republican Party. The first elected office that McKinley held was as Stark County's prosecuting attorney. Voters elected McKinley to this position in 1869, but he lost reelection in 1871. That same year, McKinley married Ida Saxton, a Canton socialite, who suffered from epilepsy. McKinley was a doting husband, and he actively assisted Ida in coping with her illness. Early in the marriage, the couple's only child died.

In 1876, McKinley won election to the United States House of Representatives. He served his district in the House from 1876 to 1890, with the exception of May 27, 1884 to March 3, 1885, having lost a contested bid for reelection. In the House, McKinley became a staunch supporter of businesses. He especially lobbied for high protective tariffs to protect American businesses from foreign competition. In 1890, he introduced a tariff bill, which became known as the McKinley Tariff, in the House. The McKinley Tariff dramatically increased the tax rate on foreign products. While many business owners supported this legislation, American consumers generally opposed it, as prices increased for goods. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Republican Party and the Democratic Party continuously battled over tariffs. American opposition was so high to the McKinley Tariff that President Benjamin Harrison, a Republican, may have lost reelection in 1892 partly because of his support for the tax. In 1890, McKinley, who represented a predominantly Democratic area of Ohio, lost reelection to the House of Representatives.

In 1891, the Ohio Republican Party nominated McKinley for the governor's seat of the state. McKinley won the election by twenty-one thousand votes. In this relatively close election, McKinley won by less than three percentage points. The governor-elect had Marcus Hanna and John Sherman to thank for his victory. Hanna was a prominent businessman in Cleveland who staunchly supported the Republican Party. Sherman was one of the most powerful Republicans in the state and currently served in the United States Senate. McKinley's first term as governor was uneventful, and he won reelection by eighty thousand votes in 1893. During his second term, McKinley's greatest crisis involved the Panic of 1893. This economic downturn led to the unemployment of fifty percent of Ohio's factory workers. McKinley generally sided with business owners, calling out the state militia on several occasions to put down workers' strikes.

McKinley emerged as one of the leading Republicans in the United States during the early 1890s. His actions as Ohio's governor built tremendous support for him among fellow Republicans. His political alliance with John Sherman and Marcus Hanna also assisted McKinley greatly. McKinley had risen so high in stature that the Republican Party nominated him as its candidate for the presidency in 1896. McKinley called for the creation of high protective tariffs and rejected free silver. Marcus Hanna conducted McKinley's campaign. It was a complete victory for the Republican Party, with McKinley winning by 600,000 votes.

Upon taking office in March 1897, McKinley immediately called upon the U.S. Congress to enact a higher tariff, and the Congress quickly agreed to do so. The major issue that McKinley faced during his first term was conflict with Spain. Throughout the 1890s, many Americans objected to Spain's treatment of the people of Cuba, a colony of Spain. For decades, Cuban revolutionaries had attempted to overthrow Spanish authority. The Spanish government in Cuba forced suspected revolutionaries into prison camps, among other tactics. Some American reporters, the Yellow Press, printed sensational stories regarding Spanish atrocities in Cuba. Many Americans firmly believed that the United States, the bastion of representative government, could not permit Spain's continued subjugation of the Cuban people.

Tensions between the United States and Cuba came to a boiling point in February 1898. President McKinley dispatched a United States battleship, the Maine, to Cuba, purportedly to protect American citizens in Cuba in case a war erupted between the Spanish and the Cubans. In February 1898, the Maine exploded, killing 260 American servicemen. The American people were convinced that the Spanish were responsible, although there was no clear evidence to prove this accusation. McKinley sent a declaration of war to the United States Congress, which approved the declaration on April 25, 1898.

Not all Americans supported the Spanish-American War, as the conflict was called. In 1897, President McKinley appointed John Sherman, his former political ally, as Secretary of State. These two men quickly developed a difference of opinions on United States expansion. Sherman opposed the acquisition of new territory, while McKinley supported it. Sherman objected to the Spanish-American War and resigned as Secretary of State a week after the United States Congress declared war.

The Spanish-American War lasted less than three months and ended in a complete victory for the United States. The United States military easily defeated Spanish forces in Cuba and in the Philippines. The Treaty of Paris (1898) officially ended the Spanish-American War. The United States acquired Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines as territories. Cuba technically gained its independence, but United States soldiers remained in the independent country for years, commonly intervening in the new nation's politics. While some Americans opposed expansion, the United States victory in the Spanish-American War and the acquisition of territory from Spain assured McKinley easy reelection in the election of 1900. McKinley won by almost 900,000 votes.

McKinley's second term began as a celebration of the United States' victory in the Spanish-American War. Economic prosperity had also seemed to return, following the Panic of 1893. The United States was involved in the Philippino Insurrection, as the nation tried to solidify its control over the Philippine Islands, but most Americans remained unconcerned with this conflict. To celebrate these accomplishments, McKinley embarked on a cross-country tour during the summer of 1901. Before returning to Washington, DC, McKinley stopped at Buffalo, New York, to give a speech at the Pan American Exposition. Leon Czolgosz assassinated McKinley at the exposition. McKinley died on September 14, 1901, eight days after being shot. McKinley was the second president from Ohio to be assassinated. He also was the third president from Ohio not to survive his term in office.

See Also


  1. Armstrong, William H. Major McKinley: William McKinley and the Civil War. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2000.
  2. Damiani, Brian P. Advocates of Empire: William McKinley, the Senate, and American Expansion, 1898-1899. New York, NY: Garland Publishing, 1987.
  3. Dobson, John M. Reticent Expansionism: The Foreign Policy of William McKinley. Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press, 1988.
  4. Gould, Lewis L. The Presidency of William McKinley. Lawrence: Regents Press of Kansas, 1980.
  5. The Governors of Ohio. Columbus: The Ohio History Connection, 1954 
  6. Hamilton, Richard F. President McKinley, War and Empire. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2006.
  7. Leech, Margaret. In the Days of McKinley. Newtown, CT: American Political Biography, 1999.
  8. Morgan, H. Wayne. William McKinley and His America. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2003.
  9. Cashman, Sean. America in the Gilded Age. N.p.: NYU Press, 1993.
  10. Painter, Nell Irwin. Standing at Armageddon: A Grassroots History of the Progressive Era. N.p.: W.W. Norton, 2008.