William McKinley was born in Niles, Ohio in 1843. He attended Allegheny College and was working as a teacher when the Civil War broke out. He enlisted and became a private in the Union army. After the war, McKinley went to law school and eventually married the daughter of a local banker, Ida Saxton McKinley. When he was 34, McKinley was elected to the House of Representatives. He was in Congress for 14 years, eventually becoming the Republicans’ tariff expert and serving on the powerful Ways and Means Committee. He was then elected Governor of Ohio and served two terms.
During the brief depression of 1896, William McKinley was nominated for president at the Republican Presidential Convention. The Democrats in this campaign were advocating the “free and unlimited coinage of both silver and gold,” which would have mildly inflated the dollar. They nominated William Jennings Bryan, a former congressman from Nebraska, based largely on his stirring “cross of gold” speech. Bryan proceeded to tour the country making fiery speeches for free silver and against wealth, privilege, and business control of the government. Many big business owners, afraid of the Democrats’ stance on silver, contributed huge sums of money to McKinley’s campaign. Refusing to compete with Bryan’s countrywide campaigning, McKinley met with delegations on his front porch in Canton, Ohio. His upright, business-supporting image helped him sweep the election with the largest majority of popular votes since 1872.
McKinley continued to support his support base, big business, with protectionist measures and high tariffs. Foreign policy, however, dominated McKinley’s administration, especially after the United States entered the Spanish-American War. When the battleship Maine sank in Havana harbor in 1898, most Americans were convinced it was the work of Spain. When McKinley delivered a message of neutral intervention, Congress seized an opportunity to declare war on Spain. Although the Spanish-American War lasted less than four months, the United States destroyed the Spanish fleet and seized the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam. This marked the beginning of an imperialist phase in US history.
In 1900, McKinley campaigned against William Jennings Bryan again. Bryan’s campaign was based on opposing McKinley’s imperialistic policies. McKinley was re-elected on his slogan of promising a “full dinner pail” for the next four years. In the beginning of his second term, the United States’ new position in the international economy changed policies from protectionism to reciprocal grade. To discuss the United States’ new trade position, McKinley was invited to the Pan-American Exposition in 1901. While greeting visitors at the fair, anarchist Leon Czolgosz shot McKinley twice in the torso. The president died eight days later on September 14, 1901, succeeded by his vice president Theodore Roosevelt.
The White House.
Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2005
"William McKinley was our first African-American president. If this were true, it would have been an incredible achievement for all African-Americans."
- from America (The Book), by The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, p. 40.