William McKinley



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William McKinley


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William McKinley

William McKinley


William McKinley (1843-1901), 25th president of the United States (1897-1901). McKinley led an administration that marked the beginning of vast changes in American
attitudes and ways of living. During his administration the United States emerged from more than a century of isolation from world affairs to become one of the great
powers of the world. His election in 1896 stifled demands for radical economic and social reforms, but his assassination at the beginning of his second term paved the
way for the moderate reforms that followed.
Although he was extremely popular, McKinley was not a strong president. He was opposed to going to war with Spain to liberate Cuba but took no effective action to
prevent it. He was in sympathy with the plight of farmers and laborers who were being victimized by the growing economic and political power of big business, but he
believed that it was the result of natural forces with which the government had no right to interfere.



McKinley was the seventh of nine children born to William and Nancy Allison McKinley, both of Scots-Irish descent. His grandfathers had both fought in the American
Revolution (1775-1783), and in 1830 his paternal grandfather had settled in Niles, Ohio, and opened a small pig-iron foundry. William McKinley, Jr., was born in Niles on
January 29, 1843. When he was nine he moved with his mother to nearby Poland, Ohio, where the educational opportunities were greater. His father stayed behind for
a few years to manage the foundry.
McKinley enrolled at Poland Seminary, a private school, and studied there for eight years. He was a serious, quiet boy who excelled in public speaking. He was very
much attached to his mother, and her influence on him was great. He accepted without question her strict moral standards and her conviction that wealth was a reward
for virtue and poverty was a punishment for sloth and vice. Extremely religious, she hoped that her son would enter the ministry of the Methodist Church, to which they
belonged (see Methodism).

A Civil War Soldier
When the Civil War broke out in 1861, McKinley enlisted in the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. His superior officer was Major Rutherford B. Hayes, a successful lawyer
and future Republican president of the United States (1877-1881). The regiment was sent to western Virginia, where it spent a year fighting small Confederate units.
McKinley's bravery under fire impressed Hayes, and he was promoted to commissary sergeant. In September 1862 at the Battle of Antietam, McKinley drove a mule
team loaded with meat and coffee through heavy enemy fire to supply troops at the front. For this heroic action he was promoted to second lieutenant and made an
aide on Hayes's staff. In 1865 he left the army with the rank of major.



Returning to Ohio, Major McKinley, as he now preferred to be called, studied law in the office of county judge Charles E. Glidden of Youngstown. In 1866 he attended
law school in Albany, New York, and the next year was admitted to the practice of law in Canton, Ohio. He had only moderate success as a lawyer, but he was active in
civic affairs and soon became one of Canton's most popular citizens.
In 1869 McKinley met Ida Saxton, daughter of a wealthy Canton businessman and banker. Two years later they were married, and they had two daughters. One child
died after five months, and Mrs. McKinley suffered a mental breakdown. The shock of the second daughter's death from typhoid fever in 1873 was more than she could
bear. For the rest of her life she suffered epileptic seizures and bouts of mental depression.


Entrance into Politics

In 1869 McKinley was elected prosecuting attorney of Stark County. He also became active in the Republican Party. In 1876, the year of Hayes's election to the
presidency, McKinley was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.


United States Congressman

McKinley served in the Congress of the United States from 1877 to 1891 with the exception of one term. In 1882 the boundaries of his congressional district were
changed to prevent him from being reelected, but he won reelection two years later (see Gerrymander). As a congressman he was known as a powerful speaker and a
hardworking but very conservative legislator.


McKinley Tariff

In Congress, McKinley became the foremost supporter of a high tax on imports, called the tariff. Tariffs on imports were intended to raise money for the government
and to protect U.S. businesses from foreign competition by increasing the cost of importing those goods. Industries in Northern urban areas and banking interests
tended to favor high tariffs because they helped domestic businesses; agricultural areas in the West and the South tended to oppose them because they made it harder
for people to buy cheap foreign goods such as clothing. McKinley said his belief in a laissez-faire economic system, in which government did not interfere with business,
did not deter him from demanding high tariffs to protect American industry from foreign competition. In 1890 he wrote the tariff act that bears his name. The McKinley
Tariff imposed the highest tariffs that the United States had ever placed on imports.



McKinley took a more moderate stand on the other pressing issue of the day, the demand by Western factions for the unlimited coinage of silver, a position called
bimetallism. Western farmers wanted the government to issue more silver dollars, which would raise the prices for their crops; a larger money supply would also
decrease the value of a dollar and enable farmers to repay their debts with less valuable money. Large banks and industries, located mostly in the East, wanted to
maintain the gold standard, a monetary system in which paper money may be converted, on demand, into gold at a rate fixed by law. This would limit the supply of
money, protect creditors, increase the value of their loans, and keep prices high.
The Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890, which pledged the government to issue more silver coins, was a compromise between silver advocates and supporters of the

gold standard. McKinley voted for it in exchange for support for his tariff bill. His vote angered Eastern bankers and industrialists but helped lessen Western opposition
to his stand on the tariff.


Governor of Ohio

Because he was a champion of protective tariffs, as well as an extremely popular politician, McKinley attracted the attention of a Cleveland industrialist, Marcus Alonzo
Hanna. Hanna was eager to be the maker of a president and to be the man who exercised power behind the scenes. In 1890, as a result of popular reaction against his
tariff and of another Democratic redistricting, McKinley lost his...

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William McKinley

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