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Early Years

William McKinley, the 25th president of the United States, was born on
January 29, 1843 in Niles, Ohio, a town of about 300 people. He was the
7th child born to William, who leased an iron foundry in Niles, and Nancy
Allison McKinley (of Irish and Scotch descent).

William attended a one-room schoolhouse that stood on the site of this
memorial. When he was nine years old, the family moved to Poland, Ohio
so the children could attend a private school there, the Poland Academy.
There William, who enjoyed reading, debating, and public speaking,
became the president of the school’s first debate club.

At 16, he attended Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania
for a short time before illness forced him to return home. When he
regained his health he did not return to Meadville because of the family’s
changed financial situation. Instead, he gained work as a postal clerk.

When the Civil War broke out on April 12, 1861, William was teaching
at Kerr School near Poland, Ohio. He and a cousin, Will Osbourne, who
later became mayor of Youngstown, enlisted as privates in the 23rd
regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry, under the command of Rutherford B. Hayes,
the future United States president and fought his first battle at Carnifax Ferry,
which at the time was part of Virginia. 

Later he was promoted to commissary sergeant, and while his regiment
was under intense enemy fire at the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862,
and against the advice of his superiors, he took food to the troops. Because of
this act of bravery, he was promoted to the rank of second lieutenant, and by
the time the war ended, he had attained the rank of brevet major.

William returned to Poland, Ohio where he studied law with Judge
Charles Glidden. In 1866 he entered law school in Albany, New York,
but although he did not graduate, he was admitted to the bar in
Warren, Ohio in 1867. He then moved to Canton, Ohio, where two
of his sisters were schoolteachers, and acquired a job working for
Judge George Belden.

Belden, so over-burdened with work, offered a case to McKinley.
When William who won the verdict, the judge was so impressed he
paid him $25.00 for the case, and offered him a job. Later, McKinley
opened his own law office, became active in the politics of the Republican
Party, and was elected Prosecuting Attorney of Stark County in 1869.

While doing business at a local bank he met Ida Saxton, the
daughter of a local banker and also known as the "Belle" of Canton.
They married in January, 1871 and their first daughter, Katherine,
was born on Christmas day of that year. Their second child, Ida,
born in 1873, died at the age of 4 ½ months. That same year,
Mrs. McKinley’s mother also died. Two years later, their first daughter,
Katie, died of typhoid fever. Due to these tragedies, Mrs. McKinley
became ill with depression, phlebitis, and epilepsy, which left her a
semi-invalid who needed constant care. Mr. McKinley was always
concerned about her and was known for his devotion to her.

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Political Career

McKinley won election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1876.
His opponent, Levi Lamborn, had been wearing a scarlet carnation during
a debate. Shortly after this debate, McKinley began wearing a scarlet carnation
in his lapel, which became his trademark, and was rarely seen without it
while serving as congressman and governor. In 1904, Ohio adopted the scarle
t carnation as its official state flower.

McKinley served 7 terms in Congress from 1877-1891, except for a 9-month
period in 1884-1885. In the 1882 election, the House ruled that his opponent,
lawyer Jonathan Wallace, had actually received the most votes, therefore,
Wallace took McKinley’s seat for the rest of the term. But McKinley easily regained|
the office in the 1884 election, and consistently won re-election even though the
districts he represented were heavily Democratic and the district boundaries were
often changed so as to bring about Democratic victories. As a congressman, he
focused his energies on the tariff problem and became known as a protectionist
and as a persuasive speaker. He was generally associated with being on the side
of big business, but he also worked hard for labor and later, as governor of Ohio,
he encouraged employees to join labor unions and criticized employers who refused
workers the right to organize. Also, as congressman he supported gold over silver
as the backbone of America’s money system. In 1889, Thomas Reed of Maine defeated
him for the position of Speaker of the House. McKinley also lost his next bid for Congress,
and returned to Canton in 1891. Reasons for his defeat were gerrymandering of the
Democrats and unpopularity brought about by the McKinley Tariff, which had greatly
increased consumer prices.

As governor, a position he held for two terms from 1891-1895, he proposed laws
to protect railroad workers, addressed the issue of child labor, and established a
state board of arbitration to deal with labor and business problems. It is said that
McKinley defended mineworkers in suits they had against the mine owner Mark Hanna,
millionaire industrialist from Cleveland, Ohio. Mark Hanna was so impressed with McKinley
that they became good friends.

Popular opinion has it that Hanna led McKinley to political power and success.
But some think that McKinley used Hanna to meet his own political goals.  In 1892,
McKinley chaired the Republican National Convention and was almost nominated for
the presidency. Mark Hanna had unofficially opened a McKinley-for-President
headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota (site of the convention).
 In 1893, McKinley faced a personal crisis that almost sidetracked his political career.
He had co-signed bank notes totaling more than $100,000.00 to help a friend start a
business, and when the business failed, McKinley, who did not have the money,
was expected to repay the bank loans. His friends, led by Mark Hanna, raised enough
funds to repay the loans. The public, sympathetic for McKinley, re-elected him as
governor in 1893.

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Presidential Years

   In 1896, the Republicans again supported McKinley and he was nominated
as the Republican presidential contender with Garret Hobart, a New Jersey senator,
as his running mate. McKinley’s platform was based on the protective tariff and the
gold standard, which became the main issue of the campaign. William Jennings Bryan,
a great orator from Nebraska, and his running mate, Arthur Sewall, a wealthy Maine
shipbuilder were the Democratic opponents. Bryan, who favored an unlimited number
of silver coins being made to increase the nation’s money supply, attracted national
attention at the Democratic National Convention with his "cross of gold" speech.

   Bryan traveled all over the country, traveling 18,000 miles, giving whistle-stop
speeches, while McKinley conducted a "front-porch" campaign in Canton, Ohio, partly
because he didn’t want to leave his ailing wife. Over 750,000 people visited Canton
to hear him speak, and newspapers nationwide reprinted his speeches. This campaign
is noted for being the first one to hand out campaign buttons and memorabilia such
as walking sticks, umbrellas, ribbons, soap babies, etc. McKinley won the election with
more than 7 million of the nearly 14 million votes.

   His priorities as president were to increase the protective tariff and make gold the
standard of our money system. The passing of the Dingley Tariff in 1897 increased the
tariff, and in 1900 Congress passed the Gold Standard Act.  Although domestic issues
dominated the campaign, foreign affairs would occupy a large part of President McKinley’s
terms in office. Because of growing interest in Cuba, which was fighting for independence
from Spain, the president sent the battleship USS Maine to Havana to protect American
interests. Earlier he had tried to get Spain to negotiate with the rebels, but on
February 15, 1898, the Maine exploded, and 266 of its 354 men were killed. 

   At this time, there was much anti-Spain sentiment in the U.S., partly because of the
"yellow journalism" brought about by the sensational headlines in the newspapers of
William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer. Greatly pressured by public opinion,
McKinley asked Congress for authority to take action. Subsequently, the U.S. declared
war on Spain.

   The war last approximately 110 days. During this time, the U.S. blockaded the
Spanish ships inside Santiago Harbor, Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders
stormed up San Juan Hill and took possession of the area, and in the Philippines,
Commodore George Dewey sailed into Manila Bay and sank all the Spanish ships t
here.  At the ensuing "Treaty of Paris," Puerto Rico and Guam became U.S. possessions,
and, for $20 million we acquired the Philippines as a territory. With the accession
of these lands, the U.S. became a world power under President McKinley. 

   Because of its new possessions in the Pacific Ocean, the U.S. became more involved
in Asian politics. In 1898, McKinley’s administration issued the "Open Door Policy"
in trade relations with China, a policy which supported equal access to the profitable
Chinese trade. In 1900, a secret Chinese society known as the Boxers began an
uprising to drive out foreigners. President McKinley sent 5,000 troops to help Germany,
Japan, Russia, and others put down the Boxer Rebellion. By using his authority
as commander-in-chief, McKinley helped to strengthen the office of the presidency. 

   When in 1899, Vice President Hobart died in office, McKinley chose Teddy Roosevelt
as his running mate for the 1900 election. In this election, McKinley again faced
William Jennings Bryan as his presidential opponent. Bryan attacked McKinley on the
issues of American imperialism (in regard to our overseas acquisitions), free silver, and
the growth of big business and illegal monopolies, called trusts. But the major campaign
issue became prosperity. McKinley asserted that, "We have prosperity at home and
prestige abroad." McKinley won the election with a relatively easy victory. In this same
year, the Hay Pauncefote Treaty gave to the U.S. the right to build the Panama Canal.

   By 1901, McKinley no longer supported the growth of big business. Business trusts
and monopolies had hurt competition and kept prices high for the consumers. Also by
this time, he had modified his views on tariffs. He no longer supported protective
tariffs to help businesses, but instead, favored free commerce through reciprocal t
rade agreements. 

   During McKinley’s presidency there were also civil rights violations, murders,
and torturing of blacks. McKinley was unhappy with these events but he was
reluctant to return to the methods of control used during the Reconstruction.

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Assassination

   In Buffalo, New York, on September 5, 1901, at the Pan American Exposition which
celebrating 100 years of progress in North and South America, President McKinley
gave a speech. The next day, September 6th, McKinley was shaking hands with the
public at a reception held at the Temple of Music. One man in the line was Leon
Czolgosz, (pronounced Tchollgosh) an anarchist, whose right hand had been wrapped
with a handkerchief concealing a .32 caliber revolver inside. When Czolgosz reached
the president, he shot McKinley twice. A button deflected one bullet that struck the
president’s chest, but the other bullet pierced the president’s stomach, went through
the colon and kidney, and lodged in the muscles of his back. As the president was
awaiting medical aid, he said to his secretary, "My wife, be careful, Cortelyou, how
you tell her-oh, be careful." He also told the aide not to let the crowd hurt the assassin.

   McKinley was rushed to a nearby hospital for emergency surgery. Of the doctors
qualified to perform the surgery at the hospital at that time, Dr. Mann was chosen
as the best.  Surgery was performed, and although the bullet could not be located,
McKinley was stitched closed and sent to the home of the president of the Exposition
to recover. For several days he improved, but eventually took a turn for the worse and
died on September 14th from infection. One of the items on display at the exhibition
was an X-ray machine, recently invented by Thomas Edison. Ironically, doctors had
decided not to use Edison’s machine to find the bullet because they were not sure
of what side effects it might have had on the president.

   The president’s body was first moved to the Buffalo City Hall to be viewed by
the public for several days, then to Washington D.C. for two days, and finally to
Canton, Ohio on September 18th where he was buried at Westlawn Cemetery.

   He was the third president to be assassinated, the others were Lincoln and Garfield,
and his death was mourned both at home and abroad. The assassin was tried,
found guilty, and electrocuted in Buffalo shortly after the shooting.  

   McKinley’s wife, Ida, returned to Canton where a sister cared for her until her death in 1907.

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This article was prepared by the Reference Staff at McKinley Memorial Library  

Last Updated on Monday, 11 February 2013 21:59
Copyright @2012 McKinley Memorial Library - All Rights Reserved