The 25th President of the United States, William McKinley Jr., was born on January 29, 1843, in the small town of Niles, Ohio. He was the seventh child of William and Nancy McKinley, his father managed a charcoal furnace and a small-scale iron founder.
When William was ten his family moved to nearby Poland, Ohio. He had a loving family and spent his childhood fishing, hunting, ice skating, horseback riding, and swimming. His father instilled a strong work ethic and a respectful attitude in young William. His mother was devoutly religious and taught him the value of prayer, courtesy, and honesty.
William graduated from high school in 1859 and joined the Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania. He became the president of the Debating Society and the Everett Library, but only remained there for one year due to became ill with depression. Financial issues in the family prevented him from returning to college after his health improved.
He worked as a postal clerk and then as a school teacher until 1861 when the Civil War broke out. William enlisted in the Twenty-third Ohio Volunteer Infantry under the command of Rutherford B. Hayes. He started as a private and was a valiant soldier on the battlefield, especially at the bloody battle of Antietam. He ended his four-years of service in the Army as a brevet major, gaining a title that would stay with him throughout his political career.
After the war he studied law at the Albany Law School in New York and was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1867 and started to build a successful legal practice. William campaigned for his Civil War Mentor, Rutherford B. Hayes, who was nominated for governor in 1867. William made speeches and campaigned on his behalf. William won his first election as a county prosecutor in 1869.
William fell in love and married Ida Saxton on January 25, 1871. The couple had two daughters, both of whom unfortunately died in their childhood. Ida became depressed after the deaths of her daughters and also developed epilepsy. McKinley remained deeply devoted to his wife and tended to her for as long as he lived.
In 1876 when William was 33 years old, he was voted to become the northeastern Ohio representative for Congress. He held the seat for 14 years and became a well-known politician who was honest and hard working, he served as the chair for the House Ways and Means Committee in 1889.
He drafted the McKinley Tariff of 1890 which executed high tariffs on imports in order to protect American manufacturers and laborers, but it increased consumer prices considerably. Angry voters rejected William and many other Republicans in the 1890 election and William was defeated. He returned to Ohio and ran for governor in 1891, which he won by a narrow margin, he served two terms.
In 1896 William was in position to run for president and Republicans raised $4 million for the campaign, most of the funds went to printing and distributing 200 million pamphlets. A majority of the contributions came from businesses who supported high tariffs and bankers who wanted to maintain sound money policies.
The Democratic National Convention chose William Jennings Bryan for president. Bryan’s campaign had about $500,000 and campaigned with a whistle-stop political tour by train covering 18,000 miles in just three months.
William, following the tradition of previous candidates who campaigned for President from their homes, delivered 350 carefully crafted speeches from his front porch in Canton to 750,000 visiting delegates. Bryan lost to William by a margin of approximately 600,000 votes, the greatest electoral sweep. William was 54 years old on March 4, 1897 when he was inaugurated as the 25th President of the United States. William denounced lynching in his inaugural address but failed to condemn that practice formally and did little to address the anti-black violence in the South that had reached near epidemic proportions.
Despite his wife Ida’s poor condition, she was still able to accompany her husband in various social engagements in the White House but was mostly a recluse. William adapted his schedule to her needs and his patient devotion and loving attention was the talk of the capital. Senator Mark Hanna commented, “President McKinley has made it pretty hard for the rest of us husbands here in Washington.” They had no surviving children and William spent his evening’s playing cards with his wife or his personal secretary, George B. Cortelyou, answering letters, and taking walks or carriage rides. He enjoyed smoking cigars, but only in private, and liked to take a drink of whiskey before retiring for the night.
He enjoyed dressing up and meeting people and decorated his lapel with a pink carnation, which he would give to acquaintances as a personal token of his affection. He was a Christian who winced at swearing and often prayed before making large decisions. Although some of William’s supporters expressed frustration over his fair-minded approach to life, almost everyone who spent time with him liked him.
William was forced to deal with the problem of Spain’s repressive rule over Cuba which caused the Cubans to revolt in 1895. Spain’s brutal attempts to put down the rebellion infuriated many Americans who raised money and even fought on the side of the Cuban nationalists. American businesses with economic interests worried about the safety of their investments on the island. William pressured Spain to end the conflict and demanded that Spain act responsibly and humanely and that any settlement be acceptable to Cuban nationals. The situation escalated on February 15, 1898 when an explosion sank the U.S.S. Maine in Havana Harbor, killing 266 crew members. William ordered an investigation of the explosion and on March 21, the Navy reported that an external explosion, presumably from a Spanish mine, had destroyed the ship. A team of American Naval investigators concluded in 1976 that the explosion was likely caused by a fire that ignited its ammunition stocks and not by a Spanish mine or act of sabotage.
Diplomatic relations with Spain disintegrated and Congress gave the authority to intervene and the U.S. Navy blockaded Cuba’s ports. On April 23, Spain declared war on the United States. William operated a war room from the White House, complete with detailed maps and a battery of telephones which kept him in constant contact with his generals in the field. On May 1, Commodore George Dewey destroyed Spain’s ten-ship Pacific fleet in Manila Bay without losing a single man. In Cuba, U.S. forces, including the Rough Riders led by Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, captured Santiago. The U.S. Navy destroyed Spain’s Atlantic fleet in the waters between Cuba and Jamaica, and U.S. troops captured Puerto Rico. On August 12 Spain surrendered and a cease-fire was declared. The war lasted just over three months with less than 400 Americans killed in action, although many more died from malaria, yellow fever, and other diseases.
When Spain signed The Paris Peace Treaty on December 10, 1898, the United States obtained Puerto Rico, Guam, and for $20 million, the Philippine Islands. Spain also renounced its claim to Cuba, which remained under U.S. military occupation until 1902 and was a U.S. protectorate until 1934.
Vice President Hobart fell into poor health and died on November 21, 1899, he was only 55 years old. William told the family, “No one outside of this home feels this loss more deeply than I do.” The vice president position was not filled for the rest of William’s presidential term.
William’s image as the victorious commander-in-chief of the Spanish-American War and the nation’s return to economic prosperity easily won him the nomination in 1900 as the Republican candidate for president. The Governor of New York, Theodore Roosevelt, was selected as the vice presidential candidate. William faced his previous opponent, William Jennings Bryan, who he would defeat with a greater margin of victory than he had four years earlier.
The Republicans spent several million dollars on the campaign and mailed millions of postcards and placed written inserts in over 5,000 newspapers weekly. Once again, William stayed at home and gave speeches from his front porch. His running mate, Theodore Roosevelt, traveled across the nation and campaigned. William and “Teddy” received 7,218,491 votes (51.7 percent) to Bryan’s 6,356,734 votes (45.5 percent), they also received nearly twice as many electoral votes. He was inaugurated for his second term as the president on March 4, 1901.
After his second inauguration in March 1901, McKinley embarked on a tour of western states, where he was greeted by cheering crowds. The tour ended in Buffalo, New York, where he gave a speech on September 5 in front of 50,000 people at the Pan-American Exposition.
William McKinley traveled more than any American President up to that time, and he was on the road again on the morning of September 6, 1901 to gave a speech at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. He attended a public reception at the exposition’s Temple of Music that afternoon and was shaking hands with greeters as the moved through a line, he was smiling and enjoyed the public contact. The reception was only supposed to last ten minutes, due to exposing the president to danger, but William commented, “No one would wish to hurt me.” He continued to greet people and had a kind word for each one of them.
At 4:07 pm William reached for another hand to shake when Leon F. Czolgosz, a Detroit resident of Polish heritage and an unemployed mill worker, fired point blank into the President’s chest. William doubled over and fell backward into the arms of his Secret Service escorts and told his private secretary, “My wife, be careful, Cortelyou, how you tell her—oh, be careful.”
The furious crowd managed to overpower Czolgosz before he fired again. They would have beat the assassin more badly if McKinley did not shouted, “Don’t let them hurt him!”
The doors to the Temple of Music where closed to secure the area, so the public couldn’t see what was happening. Once they saw William brought out on a stretcher the crowd started crying and wailing, he was rushed to a nearby hospital by ambulance. Thomas Edison sent a brand-new X-ray machine to be used to find a bullet inside William’s body, but doctors never used it because William was improving. Gangrene set in around the bullet wounds and he went into shock and died on September 14, 1901, just six months after his second inauguration. His last words were, “It is God’s way; His will be done, not ours.” He was 58 years old and was the last veteran of the American Civil War to serve inside the White House.
Upon hearing the news, William’s friend and colleague, Mark Hanna commented, “Now that damned cowboy is in the White House!”The nation was plunged into grief at the news of William’s passing, he had been a loved and respected president.
Czolgosz shot the President because he believed him to be an“enemy of the people, the good working people.” His trial began onSeptember 23 and a guilty verdict presented the next day, he died in the latest method of execution – the electric chair, on October 29, 1901.
William’s wife Ida lost much of her will to live and couldn’t bring herself to even attend his funeral. Her health worsened and she was cared for by her younger sister. She made daily visits to her husband’s burial vault in West Lawn Cemetery until she passed away on May 26, 1907.
In September 1907 the McKinley Monument, and the 26 acres surrounding it were finished in Canton Ohio. William and Ida rest in the monument on an altar in the center of the rotunda in a pair of marble sarcophagi. Their young daughters rest in the wall directly behind them.
William McKinley’s picture was on the $500 bill from 1928 to 1934, which can be worth over $4,000 in today’s collector’s market.
“In the time of darkest defeat, victory may be nearest.”
“War should never be entered upon until every agency of peace has failed.”
“The more profoundly we study this wonderful Book, and the more closely we observe its divine precepts, the better citizens we will become and the higher will be our destiny as a nation.”
“Unlike any other nation, here the people rule, and their will is the supreme law. It is sometimes sneeringly said by those who do not like free government, that here we count heads. True, heads are counted, but brains also . . .”
“The American flag has not been planted on foreign soil to acquire more territory but for humanity’s sake.”
“That’s all a man can hope for during his lifetime – to set an example – and when he is dead, to be an inspiration for history.”
“Our faith teaches that there is no safer reliance than upon the God of our fathers who has so singularly favored the American people in every national trial and who will not forsake us so long as we obey His commandments and walk humbly in His footsteps.”
“The path of progress is seldom smooth. New things are often found hard to do. Our fathers found them so. We find them so. But are we not made better for the effort and scarifice?”
“The liberty to make our laws does not give us the freedom nor the license to break our laws!”
“Finally it should be the earnest wish and paramount aim of the military administration to win the confidence, respect, and affection of the inhabitants of the Philippines by assuring them in every possible way that full measure of individual rights and liberties which is the heritage of free peoples, and by proving to them that the mission of the United States is one of benevolent assimilation substituting the mild sway of justice and right for arbitrary rule.”
“I do not prize the word cheap. It is not a word of inspiration. It is the badge of poverty, the signal of distress. Cheap merchandise means cheap men and cheap men mean a cheap country.”
“I am for America because America is for the common people.”
“I have never been in doubt since I was old enough to think intelligently that I would someday be made President.”
“What in the world had Grover Cleveland done? Will you tell me? You give it up? I have been looking for six weeks for a Democrat who could tell me what Cleveland has done for the good of his country and for the benefit of the people, but I have not found him…. He says himself…that two-thirds of his time has been uselessly spent with Democrats who want office…. Now he has been so occupied in that way that he has not done anything else.”
“The people of this country want an industrial policy that is for America and Americans.”
“I went down on my knees and prayed to Almighty God for light and guidance and one night late it came to me this way. We could not leave (the Philippines) to themselves-they were unfit for self-government-and they would soon have anarchy and misrule over there worse than Spain’s was. There was nothing left for us to do but take them all and educate the Filipinos, and uplift and Christianize them.”
“Strong hearts and helpful hands are needed, and, fortunately, we have them in every part of our beloved country.”
“We go to war only to make peace. We never went to war with any other design. We carry the national conscience wherever we go.”
“The army of Grant and the army of Lee are together. They are one now in faith, in hope, in fraternity, in purpose, and in an invincible patriotism. And, therefore, the country is in no danger. In justice strong, in peace secure, and in devotion to the flag all one.”
“The American people, intrenched in freedom at home, take their love for it with them wherever they go…”
“Let us ever remember that our interest is in concord, not in conflict; and that our real eminence rests in the victories of peace, not those of war.”
“I am a tariff man, standing on a tariff platform.”
“The free man cannot be long an ignorant man.”
“Illiteracy must be banished from the land if we shall attain that high destiny as the foremost of the enlightened nations of the world which, under Providence, we ought to achieve.”
“Our earnest prayer is that God will graciously vouchsafe prosperity, happiness, and peace to all our neighbors, and like blessings to all the peoples and powers of the earth”
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