At the 1896
Republican Convention, in time of depression, the wealthy Cleveland businessman
Marcus Alonzo Hanna ensured the nomination of his friend William McKinley as
"the advance agent of prosperity." The Democrats, advocating the "free and
unlimited coinage of both silver and gold"--which would have mildly inflated
the currency--nominated William Jennings Bryan.
While Hanna used large
contributions from eastern Republicans frightened by Bryan's views on silver,
McKinley met delegations on his front porch in Canton, Ohio. He won by the
largest majority of popular votes since 1872.
Born in Niles, Ohio, in
1843, McKinley briefly attended Allegheny College, and was teaching in a
country school when the Civil War broke out. Enlisting as a private in the
Union Army, he was mustered out at the end of the war as a brevet major of
volunteers. He studied law, opened an office in Canton, Ohio, and married Ida
Saxton, daughter of a local banker.
At 34, McKinley won a seat in
Congress. His attractive personality, exemplary character, and quick
intelligence enabled him to rise rapidly. He was appointed to the powerful Ways
and Means Committee. Robert M. La Follette, Sr., who served with him, recalled
that he generally "represented the newer view," and "on the great new questions
.. was generally on the side of the public and against private interests."
During his 14 years in the House, he became the leading Republican
tariff expert, giving his name to the measure enacted in 1890. The next year he
was elected Governor of Ohio, serving two terms.
When McKinley became
President, the depression of 1893 had almost run its course and with it the
extreme agitation over silver. Deferring action on the money question, he
called Congress into special session to enact the highest tariff in history.
In the friendly atmosphere of the McKinley Administration, industrial
combinations developed at an unprecedented pace. Newspapers caricatured
McKinley as a little boy led around by "Nursie" Hanna, the representative of
the trusts. However, McKinley was not dominated by Hanna; he condemned the
trusts as "dangerous conspiracies against the public good."
prosperity, but foreign policy, dominated McKinley's Administration. Reporting
the stalemate between Spanish forces and revolutionaries in Cuba, newspapers
screamed that a quarter of the population was dead and the rest suffering
acutely. Public indignation brought pressure upon the President for war. Unable
to restrain Congress or the American people, McKinley delivered his message of
neutral intervention in April 1898. Congress thereupon voted three resolutions
tantamount to a declaration of war for the liberation and independence of Cuba.
In the 100-day war, the United States destroyed the Spanish fleet
outside Santiago harbor in Cuba, seized Manila in the Philippines, and occupied
"Uncle Joe" Cannon, later Speaker of the House, once said
that McKinley kept his ear so close to the ground that it was full of
grasshoppers. When McKinley was undecided what to do about Spanish possessions
other than Cuba, he toured the country and detected an imperialist sentiment.
Thus the United States annexed the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico.
In 1900, McKinley again campaigned against Bryan. While Bryan inveighed against
imperialism, McKinley quietly stood for "the full dinner pail."
second term, which had begun auspiciously, came to a tragic end in September
1901. He was standing in a receiving line at the Buffalo Pan-American
Exposition when a deranged anarchist shot him twice. He died eight days later.