(President from 1897-1901, the 25th)
By Richard E. Noble
McKinley is the last of the Civil War presidents. He enlisted in the Union army, a private, and emerged a major. His commanding officer, Rutherford B. Hayes, claims him to have been one of the bravest and finest officers in the Union army.
In 1871 he married Ida Saxton. Ida had problems with child birth and from then on had problems with depression and epileptic seizures. William is a good friend and cares for his wife diligently. His wife insisted on attending the White House banquets and balls. If she had a seizure poor William grabbed her up, threw a handkerchief over her face and escorted her from the room. Prominent guests often sat in horror and shock. He seems to be the only president for whom the presidency is an escape and a possible therapy for the trials and tribulations of his personal life.
His daughter Ida died at birth and his surviving daughter, Katherine, died at the age of four.
William found a loyal and extremely wealthy patron in Marcus Hanna. Hanna managed McKinley's career, campaigns and his finances. Hanna felt the job of politics was to help and promote big business.
This is the beginning of the age of William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer. Hearst and Pulitzer were given the credit for successfully promoting the Spanish American War.
You remember the Maine, of course, which was mysteriously exploded in Havana Harbor in Cuba. And Teddy Roosevelt in his Brooks Brother's uniform storming up San Juan Hill to victory over the senseless death and destruction of his troops?
The War with Spain begins as a patriotic, humanitarian endeavor to rescue Cuba from Spanish persecution. It ends in the Philippines as a blot and a disgrace to the history of the United States. I have read nothing in U.S. history to rival this action in the Philippines for disgrace and horror on the part of the U.S. military and government.
The issues of the time are still money, civil service reform and tariffs. McKinley's financial acumen comes into question when as Governor of Ohio he loans money to an old friend, Robert Walker, to the tune of 130,000 dollars and finds himself bankrupt. Mark Hanna bails him out, and the incident apparently disappears.
As president, the Gold Standard Act is passed, civil service is really not reformed, and the tariffs go on. The Dingley Tariff of 1897 being the biggest, and most controversial.
McKinley believes that the days of isolationism are over, and internationalism is at hand. He "opens the door" to trade with China, but the Boxers close it.
Twice McKinley battles with William Jennings Bryan for the presidency and wins. William Jennings Bryan is the guy who had the famous debate with Clarence Darrow at the John T. Scopes trial in Tennessee over the teaching of evolution in the public schools.
In 1886 the famous front porch campaign takes place as Bryan travels all over the country and Hanna pays to bring the country to McKinley's front porch.
In 1901 on September 6, another president is shot to death. Now, in less than forty years, we have Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley. This certainly has to be a trying time for anyone whose life happens to span this period.
McKinley was shot by anarchist, Leon Czolgosz and vice president Teddy Roosevelt takes the reins.