"Doesn't our President look marvelous today? So round and prosperous!" William McKinley
(January 29, 1843 — September 14, 1901) was the 25th President of the United States, serving from 1897 until his death in 1901
. He was the 7th from the Republican Party, followed Grover Cleveland
term, and was followed by none other than Teddy Roosevelt
He is mainly known nowadays as the President whose assassination at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York resulted in the much-better-known Theodore Roosevelt
coming into office. His assassination receives little attention in public memory compared to that of Abraham Lincoln
or John F. Kennedy
, despite serving longer than either of them. He is also one of the more famous victims of violence perpetrated in the name of Anarchism; a few short but eventful decades later, the radicals to really be afraid of would be communists
instead. He famously disliked having a security detail
, seeing them as an impediment to interacting with his constituents, and was specifically warned that the event in which he was shot would be impossible to properly secure
. McKinley was unconcerned because he couldn't imagine that anyone would actually want to hurt him (then again, he was also famous for proclaiming that the people should support the government and that the government should not support the people
This debacle led to an informal request from Congress asking the Secret Service—Treasury Department police, until then mostly concerned with fighting counterfeiting
but doing other stuff on the side—with providing security for the President and other high-ranking officials. Theodore Roosevelt
quickly made this arrangement permanent.
Much like James Garfield
before him, technology was right there that probably would have saved him, but several decisions surrounding the operation didn't work out for keeping him alive (the new "x-ray machine" being exhibited at the very expo where he was shot was too untested for doctors to trust it, and apparently they didn't think to do the surgery under the brand-new electric lighting, nor could they use candles because flammable ether was still the best anesthetic available at the time)
Though currently seen as little more than a footnote in presidential history, McKinley was phenomenally popular during his time. A former lawyer, political operator and Governor of Ohio, he gained the presidency mostly by running a "front porch campaign", giving his speeches and addressing his supporters from his own house in Canton, OH.note
He ran mostly on a platform of protecting the economy with high tariffs; he had been chairman of the congressional committee which had drafted the "McKinley Tariff" of 1890, under which the average duty on imported goods rose to almost 50%. He also advocated keeping the gold standard at a time when his Democratic opponent, William Jennings Bryan, was promoting the free coining of silver (and little else
). When that issue failed to excite the nation, McKinley won the election handily. Inheriting a depression from predecessor Grover Cleveland
, the economy significantly rebounded during McKinley's time (in part due to the Spanish-American War), with unemployment dropping by over 10% during his first term. The dollar was placed entirely on the gold standard, tariff rates were increased, and relations with labor unions improved significantly.
The Spanish-American War
broke out during his first term in 1898, mostly over the issue of independence for Cuba. The American victory was quick and decisive with both the army and navy winning nearly every engagement with the Spanish
. Ironically, McKinley tried to avoid war for a long time despite public opinion favoring the Cubans, but he accepted war when it was clear that diplomacy was no longer an option (and Congress essentially forced his hand; after all, Congress declares war, not the President). When the dust had settled, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines came under direct American control (though the residents of the Phillippines spent the next four years fighting a violent guerrilla war against the Americans), while Cuba was granted independence but remained very much under the American sphere of influence. At the same time, the formerly independent nation of Hawaii was annexed after local American plantation owners overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy, further expanding American influence in the Pacific. McKinley also ordered 2,500 troops to China, as part of an international military force, when the Boxer Rebellion erupted to protect both U.S. citizens from forcible expulsion and ensure Asian trade stayed open to all countries. Known as the Open Door Policy, he supported equal trading rights in China but opposed European attempts to colonize the country.
This combination of strong economy, territorial gain, and success on the international stage meant it was relatively easy for him to win a second term in 1900, which he barely got a chance to enjoy before his untimely assassination. He was the last American Civil War
veteran to be president (serving alongside fellow president Rutherford B. Hayes
) and was also the first president to be elected during an Olympic year (the year of the first modern games, 1896), to ride in an automobile, and to campaign by telephone. McKinley is on the $500 dollar bill, but these have been discontinued since 1969. His two elections saw voter turnout above 70% each time, the last time voter turnout was above the 70% mark.
Some historians consider McKinley to be a pretty underrated President. Initially considered to be weak-willed and easily influenced by the general public, there is a growing opinion in the historical community that his leadership successfully helped the United States enter the international stage. The country's first non-continental territories were won during his time in office, and he took steps to restrain European countries when they were on the verge of trying to take parts of China as colonies. Additionally, America recovered from a stinging depression and prosperity resumed. He also set the stage for the Republicans dominating the White House for the next few decades, making him easily one of the most effective party-leader Presidents. On the other hand, he is often criticized for annexing Hawaii and for his administration's actions in the Philippines. In the Philippine–American War, over 200,000 Filipinos died (most of them civilians) in an unsuccessful struggle for independence, with 5,000 Americans also dead.
He was a very kind and well-meaning man - after he was shot, he literally begged the people at the exposition not to form a mob and attack his assassin. McKinley went on national speaking tours in order to stay in touch with voters and held regular press meetings. His wife, Ida, developed epilepsy after both of her daughters died as toddlers. He kept her by his side at all time in case she had a seizure.
The worst natural disaster in American history, the 1900 Galveston hurricane
, happened on his watch. Over 8,000 people in Texas lost their lives to an incredibly destructive hurricane.
One example of how much McKinley was overshadowed by his successor, Theodore Roosevelt: the Buffalo house where Roosevelt was sworn in upon McKinley's death is a national historic site, while the house a block down the street where McKinley died was torn down, the site now a school parking lot. On the other hand, he did get a mountain named after him (although the Koyukon people who live nearby might have something to say about that).
William McKinley in Fiction
- "The hat McKinley was shot in" appears in an episode of The Simpsons.
- Mr. Burns said he survived 5 years of "McKinley-nomics".
- The school in Freaks and Geeks was named after him, as is the school in Glee.
- The arrest of Leon Czolgosz by a racist Buffalo cop was the original point of departure for the Web original Alternate History Reds and remains an important differentiating event in the rewrite. In both versions, McKinley survives and thus history is radically altered.
- He was the inspiration for The Wizard in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.