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
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."
Not 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 Puerto Rico.
"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
His 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.