The Life of William McKinley

The 25th President of the United States

William McKinley, The 25th President of the United States

William McKinley, The 25th President of the United States

In 1896, William McKinley became the Republican candidate for the Presidency. He was hailed as “the advance agent of prosperity.”

Born in Niles, Ohio in 1843, McKinley attended Alleghaney College. Following his graduation, McKinley became a teacher in a country school. When the American Civil War broke out, McKinley joined the Union Army as a private. By the time the war ended in 1865, McKinley was a brevet major of volunteers. After leaving the army, McKinley returned to school. He graduated with a law degree, and then opened a law practice in Canton, Ohio. Around the same time, McKinley also married Ida Caxton, the daughter of a local banker.

McKinley’s Early Career

At the age of 34, McKinley ran for Congress and won. His attractive personality, exemplary character and intelligence allowed him to rise quickly and he was eventually appointed Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. Fellow Congressman Robert La Follete once wrote that McKinley was, “generally on the side of the public and against private interests.”

During his 14 years in the House of Representatives, McKinley became the Republicans’ leading tax expert, eventually giving his name to the McKinley-Nelson Tariff Bill, which was passed during President Cleveland’s Administration. In 1891, McKinley ran for Governor of Ohio. He won and would go on to serve two terms.

President William McKinley

In 1896, McKinley became the 25th President of the United States. The depression that had begun under President Cleveland had almost run its course and the concerns over the national silver and gold reserves had abated. Choosing to defer the money issue, McKinley called a special session of Congress and enacted what was then considered to be the highest tax in American history.

Under McKinley’s pro-business administration, industrial expansion in the United States continued at a fast pace. The newspapers ridiculed McKinley, depicting him as a small child being led around by his campaign manager, Marcus Alonzo Hanna, who they mockingly called “Nursie.” The reality was that McKinley was solidly in control of his Cabinet. He also denounced trusts as “dangerous conspiracies against the public good.”

William McKinley and the Spanish-American War

McKinley’s Administration was dominated by foreign policy. McKinley found himself under intense pressure to declare war and intervene in the fighting between the Cuban revolutionaries and Spanish colonial government. Unable to control Congress, McKinley decided on a policy of neutral intervention. In April, 1898, Congress passed three resolutions that were tantamount to a declaration of war.

Known as the Spanish-American War, three months of fighting followed, culminating in Theodore Roosevelt’s famous charge up San Juan Hill. Additionally, the US Navy sank the Spanish fleet off the coast of Cuba. The United States also took control of Puerto Rico and Manilla, in the Philippines.

Republican Congressman and future Speaker of the House, Joseph Cannon, said that McKinley’s ear was so close to the ground that it was full of insects. Uncertain of what to do with the other Spanish colonies, McKinley toured the United States. Detecting a strong imperialist sentiment, McKinley chose to annex the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico.

McKinley’s Death

In 1900, McKinley was re-elected a second time, defeating William Jennings Bryan. McKinley’s second term began well, but came to a sudden and tragic end in 1901. He died a few days after he was shot by an anarchist while in a receiving line at the Buffalo Pan-American Exposition. Following McKinley’s death, Vice President Theodore Roosevelt became President of the United States.


William McKinley. The White House. US Government. Sept.4/09

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