Paul W Glad. Presidents: A Reference History. Editor: Henry F Graff. 3rd edition. Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2002.
One of the most beloved of American presidents, William McKinley served as the nation’s chief executive during a time when the American people surveyed their world with confidence. Recovering from a severe economic depression after his election in 1896, they dreamed of unprecedented economic expansion. Then the stunning military victories over Spain in 1898 reinforced a sense of national purpose as the United States took its place among the great powers. McKinley received much of the credit for achievements at home and abroad as the nineteenth century drew to a close, and under his leadership Americans welcomed the new century optimistically.
McKinley was the first truly modern president, but his enormous popularity derived from something more than his capacity to move with the times. A man of integrity, he firmly believed that the nation must adhere to the fundamental principles on which it was founded. With copybook truisms, uttered no less sincerely because they were truisms, he managed to convey a sense of fidelity to those principles. Thus, despite the momentous events over which he presided, he was able to reassure the American people that they had not broken with the best of their past.
Soldier and Lawyer
William McKinley, Jr., was born in the village of Niles, Ohio, on 29 January 1843, the seventh of nine children. His father, the manager of a charcoal furnace, worked diligently to house, feed, clothe, and educate his growing family. Placing a higher value on education than on creature comforts, the McKinleys moved to Poland on the other side of Youngstown, where young William was enrolled in the Poland Academy. A good student, though not a brilliant one, he succeeded by dint of hard work and exceptional retention. Reserved and reticent in private conversation, he excelled in public speaking and took an active part in the debating societies that were an important extracurricular activity of the time. In 1860 he matriculated at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania, but he did not remain there long. He ran short of money, and illness at the end of his first term prevented completion of his classes. Home again, he went to work clerking in the post office and teaching school, hoping that he could earn enough to return to college.
Five years were to pass before McKinley resumed his studies, for the Civil War lengthened the interruption of his formal education. After the fall of Fort Sumter, he enlisted in the Twenty-third Ohio Volunteer Regiment, under the command of Major Rutherford B. Hayes. He remained in the army four years, serving with distinction and winning periodic promotions until finally he was mustered out as a brevet major in July 1865. The war broadened McKinley’s experience and strengthened his sense of responsibility, but it drastically modified neither his personal character nor his commitment to the fundamental principles he had learned at home and in school. Like Abraham Lincoln, who became his model, he fought to preserve the Union and to end involuntary servitude. In later years he remained sensitive to human need, and as president he did much to overcome lingering sectional antipathies.
The youthful war hero returned to civilian activities calmly, almost stoically, asking no searching questions about the meaning of life but bearing himself with a grace and dignity that belied his years. He was not without ambition. Indeed, his military accomplishments reinforced his assumption that he could exercise a positive influence in whatever career he chose. The important question for McKinley, then, was what profession he should enter, not whether he would become successful in practicing it. Disdaining the humdrum daily activities of the marketplace, he chose to study law. After reading in the office of Charles Glidden, a well-known Ohio lawyer, he spent a term at Albany (New York) Law School. He was admitted to the bar in March 1867, and he opened an office in Canton, Ohio, later that year.
Entry into Ohio Politics
The young attorney plunged into politics almost immediately, working for Hayes in the gubernatorial campaign of 1867 and for Grant in the presidential campaign of 1868. McKinley’s service to the Republican party brought its initial reward with his election as prosecuting attorney of Stark County in 1869, and for the rest of his life he was either campaigning for public office or carrying out the duties of public office. In 1877, having served his political apprenticeship, he entered Congress from the seventeenth Ohio district. His long tenure in the House of Representatives, interrupted only by his being temporarily unseated after a close election in 1882, was to last until 1890, when he was defeated as a result of the gerrymandering of his district. McKinley returned home to enter the Ohio gubernatorial race in 1891. Elected by a comfortable margin, he won reelection in 1893 with an overwhelming majority.
Despite occasional setbacks, McKinley fared well in the politics of Ohio, a key state for anyone seeking national prominence. With its strategic location, industrial growth, and population expansion, Ohio provided a setting in which the forces shaping modern America could be observed in microcosm. The characteristics that made it a bellwether state imposed unusual demands on political leaders. Having to satisfy northerners and southerners, immigrants and American-born, Catholics and Protestants, laborers, industrialists, and farmers—in short a diversity of economic and cultural interests—a politician in Ohio could seldom afford the luxury of campaigning on a single issue. To become successful in politics required transcending limited causes and defining attainable objectives for a complex, protean society. No one ever performed that service for the state better than did McKinley, and by espousing a form of benign economic nationalism, he appealed to a broad range of interests in the nation as a whole.
The stand McKinley took on issues important to his constituency was never determined by economic considerations alone. Neither was he motivated solely by a desire to win votes. McKinley was a decent, honorable man who genuinely respected people and took pleasure in working with them. To the delight of cartoonists, he resembled Napoleon. His facial features and his sturdy frame were, in fact, strikingly like those of the emperor, but even his harshest critics could find in his manner little that was autocratic or imperial. He carried himself with a decorum that did not interfere with his sensitivity to human need.
The traits of character that attracted nearly all who had personal dealings with McKinley were severely tested early in his career. In 1871 he married vivacious Ida Saxton, whose father was one of Canton’s leading bankers, and within a year the couple announced the birth of a daughter, Katherine. Awaiting the arrival of their second child in 1873, the McKinleys suffered a reversal of fortune. Ida’s mother died, the young wife underwent labor in a state of extreme grief, and there were complications. The infant lived less than a year. Then, to compound McKinley’s anguish, little Katie died of typhoid fever a few months later, and Ida was never again to enjoy good health.
Politics proved therapeutic for McKinley, and he devoted himself wholeheartedly to them. Yet he remained attentive to his wife’s needs, and his humanitarian concern repeatedly led him to identify with persons in difficulty. At the time of his daughter’s death, the nation was undergoing an economic depression resulting from the Panic of 1873. The hard times brought a profound social unrest that often gave way to violence.
Disturbances developed close to home when, in March 1876, coal miners in the Tuscarawas Valley struck for higher pay and better working conditions. Mineowners responded by bringing in strikebreakers from Cleveland, a move that incited the miners to riot. Local authorities were unable to keep the peace, Governor Hayes called out the militia, and a group of miners was arrested for disorderly conduct. Upon hearing of the miners’ troubles, McKinley took up their cause. In a well-prepared legal defense, he argued that, had the operators been reasonable, no strike would have occurred. His persuasiveness secured the acquittal of all but one of the strikers and, characteristically, he accepted no fee for his services. The workers never forgot, and in his political campaigns McKinley could always count on significant support from labor.
McKinley in Congress
After his election to the United States House of Representatives, McKinley quickly found himself faced with the necessity of taking a position on two issues that had emerged as important ones during the economic troubles of the middle 1870s: the silver and tariff questions. The first pitted the advocates of bimetallism against proponents of the gold standard. Although never a defender of unrestricted inflation, McKinley favored the remonetization of silver. Aware of silver sentiment among his constituents, he sought some means of securing bimetallism without inflation. He therefore rejected the advice of fellow Republicans and voted for the Bland-Allison Act of 1878, which authorized limited silver purchases and instructed the treasury secretary either to coin the silver or to issue silver certificates. Bimetallists hailed the act as only the first step toward remonetization of silver. Yet, with the return of prosperity and with limited silver purchases assured, agitation for soft money declined. When bimetallism again became the center of political controversy, McKinley was a candidate for the presidency of the United States.
While his vote for bimetallism was to cause him some embarrassment, McKinley concentrated his energies on the tariff, a matter he considered of far greater importance than silver. Upon entering Congress, he had wasted no time in making his position clear. He insisted that until the United States was able to meet foreign competition, high tariffs were necessary to the welfare of all classes. The tariff produced high wages, he asserted, and the laboring man had as great an interest in protection as did the manufacturer. McKinley’s first action in the House was to submit a petition from workers who opposed tariff reductions, and in later years his name became synonymous with protection. An admirer of Henry Clay, he urged the extensive collaboration of all sections and classes in a harmonious new American system. The tariff was, in his view, a key measure for achieving national order and tranquillity.
McKinley helped write a protectionist plank for the Republican platform of 1888, and after Republican successes in the election that year, he presided over the House Ways and Means Committee. Because tariff duties were producing a treasury surplus and because disposing of the surplus invited corruption, reformers were demanding that rates be reduced. His mind again moving toward synthesis, McKinley saw the problem as one of reducing revenues without lowering the rates. He therefore proposed to resolve the issue not by accepting tariff reductions but by increasing duties on key items to the point where they became prohibitive.
Passed by Congress in 1890, the McKinley Tariff contained three innovative provisions. To prevent the importation of wheat and other foodstuffs from Canada and Europe, it established a schedule of duties on agricultural products. To satisfy consumer demand for lower sugar prices and to reduce the treasury surplus, it placed raw sugar on the free list while compensating domestic growers with a bounty of 2 cents a pound. Finally, at the insistence of Secretary of State James G. Blaine, it included a reciprocity section permitting the imposition of duties on products from Latin American countries that refused free entry to American products. Although the new tariff met criticism from reformers, who saw it as a measure to favor special interests, it at least helped to reduce the surplus while continuing protection. More important, McKinley became a convert to the idea of reciprocity, and to the end of his life, he urged such commercial agreements with other nations.
The Politics of Depression
The McKinley Tariff, together with lavish expenditures on pensions and pork-barrel schemes, aroused resentment against the “Billion-Dollar Congress,” and as a consequence the elections of 1890 brought a Democratic landslide. Yet the Republican losses, including his own, proved a blessing for McKinley. He quickly rebounded to become governor of Ohio for two terms, thereby gaining administrative experience while avoiding the stigma of further association with unpopular national policies. His growing prominence in the party led to his serving as chairman of the Republican National Convention in 1892 and to his winning enough support to be mentioned as a nominee for the presidency. Aware of unrest throughout the land and within Republican ranks, he rejected the suggestion that he throw his hat into the ring. He thus remained in relative safety in Columbus as Grover Cleveland returned to the White House and as the depression that began in 1893 deepened into one of the worst economic disasters in American history.
The depression brought business failures, industrial unemployment, and low farm prices. As economic conditions worsened, social tensions increased. Heated debates over causes of the nation’s problems pitted the urban East against the rural West and South, the conservative against the radical, and labor against capital. As in any depression, explanations for hard times multiplied. Ultimately, the debates concentrated on money and currency. The Sherman Silver Purchase Act, passed the same year as McKinley’s tariff legislation, had been inadequate to meet the demand for better prices or for an increase in the stock of money. Once again the segments of society that stood to gain from higher prices, especially the farmers of the West and South, reiterated their cries for free and unlimited coinage of silver.
To Grover Cleveland, the arguments of the silverites were anathema. Securing repeal of the Sherman Act, he learned to his sorrow that while repeal did not halt the depression, his stand on the currency question divided the Democratic party. Silver Democrats listened to orators such as William Jennings Bryan elaborate on the iniquities of gold and on ways in which the gold standard benefited the financiers of Wall Street.
Silver was not the only issue that divided the Democrats during the depression of the 1890s. For years officials in the Treasury Department had considered a gold reserve of at least $100 million essential to sound fiscal policy, but that reserve dwindled to $62 million in 1894 and to less than $42 million early the next year. Cleveland’s response was to negotiate an agreement with J. P. Morgan and a syndicate of New York bankers to obtain gold for the treasury by selling bonds. Such maneuvering simply confirmed suspicions that Watt Street was in league with conservative Democrats who remained loyal to the president. To compound the problems of the Cleveland administration, labor unrest summoned up the specter of revolution. Jacob Coxey led an army of jobless workers in a march on Washington to demonstrate for unemployment relief, and violence broke out in Chicago when Attorney General Richard Olney issued an injunction to halt a strike at the Pullman Palace Car Company.
Blaming Grover Cleveland for the depression and facing a divided Democratic party, the Republicans anticipated a return to their winning ways in the elections of 1894. They were not disappointed. After electing a lopsided majority in both houses of Congress as well as in state and local offices, they were confident that with the right candidate they would recapture the presidency in 1896. As plans for the campaign began to take shape, William McKinley clearly emerged as the favorite of most Republicans. Although he had voted for the Bland-Allison Act and the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, his work on the tariff demonstrated an understanding of economic problems that put monetary manipulation in its proper place and satisfied the party faithful.
Content with McKinley’s record in politics, Republicans might have shown greater concern for the depression’s effect on his personal affairs. He had unwisely endorsed the notes of a friend whose tin-plate business failed and left him liable for debts amounting to more than $100,000. Fortunately, with the help of Mark Hanna, William R. Day, Myron Her-rick, and Herman H. Kohlsaat, who took it upon themselves to manage his affairs, McKinley weathered the financial crisis. He made no secret of his difficulties, and sympathetic Democrats as well as Republicans contributed to a fund for his relief. If anything, adversity again worked to his advantage, for it brought him into a closer relationship with Mark Hanna. McKinley first met the Cleveland industrialist in the early 1870s, and Hanna had proved himself to be a reliable associate. Now, having helped to rescue McKinley from financial misfortune, Hanna was prepared to devote his incomparable organizational skills to his friend’s campaign for the presidency.
The Election of 1896
The party conventions of 1896 set the tone for one of the most exciting political campaigns in American history. Meeting in St. Louis in June, the Republicans drafted a platform calling for high tariffs, a large navy, the annexation of Hawaii, and independence for Cuba, but the delegates were most interested in the currency plank. Declaring the party to be “unreservedly for sound money,” the plank opposed bimetallism “except by international agreement with the leading commercial nations of the earth.” McKinley could endorse the phrasing without reservation, but the prosilver faction of the party sought less equivocal wording. When they did not get it, they departed the hall, leaving the convention united behind the gold standard and free to proceed with the nomination of candidates.
The people, thundered Ohio Senator Joseph B. Foraker in steamy St. Louis, wanted something more than a good businessman or fearless leader; they wanted “the exact opposite of the present free-trade, deficit-making, bond-issuing, laborsaving Democratic administration.” In short, they wanted McKinley, and the convention nominated him on the first ballot. Soon after the Republicans had chosen their candidate, the Democrats selected Willam Jennings Bryan at a stormy convention in Chicago. Nominated on a platform that contained a demand for the free and unlimited coinage of silver as its most important plank, Bryan became the standard-bearer of the Populist party as well.
The ensuing campaign developed into one that provided abundant material for a study in contrasts. Determined to take his cause to the people, Bryan traveled eighteen thousand miles, delivering six hundred speeches to an estimated 5 million persons. McKinley remained at home in Canton to greet and talk informally with a series of delegations brought in by the Republican campaign committee. As McKinley’s campaign manager, Hanna was as untiring as the itinerant Bryan. With the help of a well-staffed speakers’ bureau, he made sure that voters heard all the arguments for gold. Identifying McKinley as “the advance agent of prosperity,” Republican orators addressed sympathetic audiences of voters dissatisfied with business stagnation and unemployment. Bryan, the Democrats, and the Populists found themselves constantly on the defensive as they sought to clarify the intricacies and the importance of monetary policy.
In general, the campaign for silver attracted farmers seeking higher crop prices, but urban workers and ethnic groups that had traditionally supported the Democratic party could not be persuaded that they had much to gain from bimetallism. Nothing in McKinley’s campaign alienated ethnic blocs; nothing he said to workers seemed so divorced from realities of the depression as did Bryan’s plea for silver. Neither did McKinley neglect the farmers. His kindly nature, his imperturbable nationalism, and his long experience in Ohio politics had produced a broker politician of consummate skill.
McKinley did not offer a new heaven and a new earth, but as his campaign pronouncements indicate, he at least offered hope for every interest group in a troubled society. “The farmer is suffering today because the number of his competitors has increased and his best customers are out of work,” he told a delegation of farmers. Raising tariff rates would reduce competition and set factories to operating again. Everyone would benefit. “You don’t get customers through the mint; you get them through the factory” was his refrain. For a delegation of Pennsylvania coal miners, he summed up his argument against silver: “We do not want cheap money, any more than we want cheap labor in the United States.”
At the close of the campaign, Republicans had good reason to be optimistic. When the returns were in, McKinley had polled 7,104,779 popular votes to 6,502,925 for Bryan. The geographic distribution of the vote indicates that McKinley’s strength lay in the Northeast, the area of greatest urban and industrial development. Three-fourths of American industry centered in the manufacturing belt east of the Mississippi River and north of the Ohio River and Mason-Dixon Line, where three-fourths of the manufacturing wage earners lived. It was in this region that McKinley won the election. He captured all of its electoral votes as well as those of the upper South (Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, and all but one in Kentucky), those of rural states in the upper Middle West (Iowa, Minnesota, and North Dakota), and those of Oregon and California.
Forming a New Administration
During the interval between his election and his inauguration, McKinley busied himself with selecting a cabinet and setting his administration in place. Cabinet appointments are never easy to make, for they involve considerations that may have little to do with qualifications of candidates. The president-elect proceeded logically enough and in the end satisfied most of the interests desiring a representative close to the White House. His most difficult decisions concerned the future of his campaign manager. McKinley asked Hanna to become postmaster general, a sensible request, but Hanna preferred a seat in the Senate. A way out of the dilemma came with the appointment of John Sherman as secretary of state, which created a senatorial vacancy. Ohio Governor Asa Bushnell then commissioned Hanna to take Sherman’s place on Capitol Hill. The Sherman appointment was not a happy one, for the crusty old senator had long since passed his prime. Fortunately, McKinley secured the skills of William R. Day as assistant secretary. It was Day, along with the second assistant secretary, Alvee A. Adee, who was actually to run the Department of State during the demanding months before the Spanish-American War. Day assumed full responsibility as secretary after Sherman’s resignation in April 1898.
If for no other reason, the controversy over silver made the appointment of a secretary of the treasury nearly as important as the appointment of a secretary of state. McKinley’s first choice was Nelson Dingley, a congressman from Maine; but Dingley’s health was poor, and he was reluctant to sacrifice a sure seat and seniority in the House for the uncertainties of administration. After contemplating several other possibilities, McKinley finally settled on Lyman J. Gage, a Chicago banker and staunch upholder of the gold standard. A man of candor as well as tact, Gage was to become one of the president’s closest advisers.
Other outstanding appointments included John Davis Long as secretary of the navy and James H. Wilson as secretary of agriculture. The highly respected Long, who had gained administrative experience as governor of Massachusetts, proved a popular choice. His assistant secretary, Theodore Roosevelt, was far more controversial. Although disliked by Thomas C. Platt, political boss of New York’s Republicans, “T. R.” had important friends who urged his appointment. No squabbling surrounded “Tama Jim” Wilson of Iowa. Developing a warm relationship with McKinley, he soon became a key member of the cabinet and continued to head the Department of Agriculture until 1913. Also joining McKinley’s official family were James A. Gary as postmaster general, Judge Joseph McKenna as attorney general, Cornelius Bliss as secretary of the interior, and Russell Alger as secretary of war. Except for Alger, who was to demonstrate his ineptitude during the war with Spain, the cabinet was competent; Wilson and Gage were unusually able.
Economic Recovery and Foreign Affairs
Once he had assumed the responsibilities of office, McKinley immediately turned his attention to measures for assuring economic recovery. The tariff received first consideration, and even before his inauguration McKinley had worked with leaders of the House to secure legislation that would be acceptable. Nelson Dingley, who chaired the Ways and Means Committee, submitted a bill that did not drastically raise the duties of the Wilson-Gorman Tariff of 1894. While it passed the House quickly at the end of March, the Senate increased the rates, and in its final form it became the highest tariff in American history. McKinley had reservations, but he nevertheless signed the bill into law on 24 July 1897. One reason he did is that the provision for reciprocity trade agreements, though inadequate, promised an opportunity to bring the United States into an international economic system from which the world might secure extraordinary rewards. The distance McKinley had moved from protectionism to market expansion became apparent during the summer of 1897, when he told the Cincinnati Commercial Club that in addition to serving economic ends, good trade ensured goodwill. “It should be our settled purpose to open trade wherever we can,” he argued, “making our ships and our commerce messengers of peace and amity.”
A second measure for economic recovery involved carrying out the Republican party pledge to secure an international agreement on bimetallism. McKinley appointed a special commission to secure such an agreement, but little came of its efforts. England and France committed themselves to the gold standard, and Japan, Russia, and Germany followed soon after. Apart from positions taken by other nations, however, bimetallism quickly became a dead issue. New discoveries of gold in South Africa, Australia, and Canada brought a dramatic increase in world supplies and a corresponding decline in gold prices. The demand for silver quieted as the need for it disappeared. Production curves and indexes of business activity began to rise during the summer of 1897, and Americans began to turn their attention to other matters.
Economic trends, ideas, and programs interacted during the late nineteenth century. Business fluctuations prompted economic theorists, both professional and amateur, to develop explanations of recurrent crises. Between 1873 and 1896, monetary theories were often central in the arguments of economic analysts, but in those same years an alternative explanatory model attracted increasing attention. That model posited unlimited industrial and agricultural productivity, on the one hand, and a limited home market, on the other. Given such conditions, demand would stagnate while stocks and inventories built up unless American producers found new outlets beyond the home market. Here was a theory that provided not only an explanation of the business cycle but a program for action as well. It was a theory that bypassed controversies over the currency; bimetallists and monometallists could support trade expansion with equal enthusiasm.
No one found overproduction and market-expansion ideas more convincing than did McKinley. In 1895 he had delivered the keynote address to the new National Association of Manufacturers at its organizational meeting. “We want our own markets for our manufactures and agricultural products,” he told a receptive audience. “We want a foreign market for our surplus products.. . . We want a reciprocity which will give us foreign markets for our surplus products, and in turn that will open our markets to foreigners for those products which they produce and which we do not.” During McKinley’s first presidential year his new insight into the importance of commercial expansion provided a frame of reference into which he could fit developments abroad. Increasingly, foreign affairs demanded his most careful consideration.
The first problem in foreign affairs to attract McKinley’s attention was the annexation of Hawaii, a matter that had troubled his predecessor. Hoping for American ownership of the islands, sugar growers there had staged a revolution against Queen Liliuokalani in 1893. President Harrison had forwarded a treaty of annexation to the Senate, but Cleveland withdrew it on the grounds that it did not represent the will of the Hawaiian people. The Republican platform of 1896 had included a plank favoring annexation, and in December 1897, McKinley advised Congress to proceed. Troubles in Cuba were exacerbating tensions with Spain, and the president believed that the need for a base in the Pacific justified taking the islands. Congress finally passed a joint resolution annexing Hawaii, and McKinley signed it on 7 July 1898. By that time the United States was at war with Spain.
The Coming of War
The immediate causes of armed conflict lay closer to home than the islands of the Pacific. Cuba, once the center of Spain’s New World empire and the richest of Spain’s remaining possessions, had long suffered from an oppressive colonial system. During the Ten Years’ War of 1868–1878 and again in 1895, the Cuban people rebelled against the mother country. Spanish troops forcibly quelled the first insurrection, and in the second their harsh treatment of the rebels intensified. American sympathy for the Cubans mounted as the yellow press in the United States published lurid details of Spanish atrocities. Yet the pressure of popular support for Cuban independence, though increasing, was not in itself sufficient to bring about intervention. Also important was the growing economic stake in the “Pearl of the Antilles.” During the thirty years of unrest in Cuba, American capital investments there had risen to $50 million, and trade had mounted to as much as $100 million. To Americans with financial or commercial interests in Cuba, the rebellion threatened disaster, and they urged a speedy resolution of the difficulty. Unlike the yellow press and the jingoes, most businessmen opposed war. They were fearful that armed conflict might interfere with the orderly process of recovery from depression.
As the fate of Cuba became a subject of national attention, McKinley evaluated the forces at work and considered possible responses to them. Lacking complete confidence in his secretary of state, he himself assumed responsibility for developing a policy. Though he kept his own counsel, he did solicit advice and information. Especially important were the reports he received from Fitzhugh Lee, American consul general in Havana, and Stewart Woodford, who had been carefully though belatedly chosen to serve as American ambassador in Madrid. By the time Woodford presented his credentials to the Spanish foreign minister in the fall of 1897, McKinley had determined that neither war nor the annexation of Cuba would serve the national interest. He therefore proposed that he mediate the conflict so as to secure Cuban autonomy under the Spanish crown. A new liberal government came to power in Madrid coincident with Woodford’s arrival, and hopes for a settlement ran high.
The response to McKinley’s suggestions was disappointing. Although pledging more humane treatment of the rebels, the Spanish regime of Práxedes Mateo Sagasta rejected mediation and, instead of real autonomy, proposed a Cuban legislature dominated by a council of Spanish appointees. Few Americans and certainly none of the rebels could detect in the proposal much more than the promise of conciliation, and promises were not enough. Yet McKinley was a man of prodigious patience. In his annual message of December 1897 he repudiated the idea of annexation and urged that Spain “be given a reasonable chance to realize her expectations and to prove the asserted efficacy of things to which she stands irrevocably committed.” Not fully appreciating the warnings that the presidential message also contained, those who favored military intervention were predictably disappointed that McKinley did not take a firmer position.
Carefully worded though it was, the message also produced some unexpected consequences. Enrique Dupuy de Lôme, the Spanish minister in Washington, found it insincere and hypocritical. He wrote his opinions to a friend in Havana, and in the process, he described McKinley as a cheap, vacillating politician. It was a foolish thing to do. A New York-based Cuban junta had been working vigorously for American intervention, and its spies stole the letter. Anticipating that publication of its insulting contents would add strength to the sentiment for intervention, the junta promptly turned a facsimile over to the New York Journal. It appeared on 9 February 1898, and readers were duly enraged by its insolence. Although Dupuy resigned, and the Spanish government forwarded an apology, the harm had been done.
The yellow press and the jingoes were still seething over the de Lôme letter when an even more disturbing communiqué arrived in Washington. McKinley had been concerned with the threat to American lives and property in Cuba, and he had ordered the battleship Maine to Havana. Publicized as a courtesy call to reduce tensions with Spain, the visit was clearly intended as a show of strength. On the night of 15 February the ship exploded and sank with a loss of 266 lives. Shaken by news of the disaster, McKinley insisted on an official investigation. If nothing else, it would take time and help avoid precipitate action. Despite public clamor for military confrontation, he did not believe that American forces were adequately prepared for war. From Congress he asked for, and received, an appropriation of $50 million for national defense, to be spent at his discretion.
McKinley’s tendency to procrastinate often left doubts about his intentions, and his tendency to keep his own counsel helped to assure neither Congress nor the American people that he had a clear sense of direction. While the nation awaited the report of the Maine investigation, administration supporters less patient than McKinley gravitated toward the interventionist camp. Senator Redfield Proctor of Vermont, a fair-minded opponent of war, addressed his colleagues for several hours on 17 March, describing in clinical detail the concentration camps he had seen on a recent trip to Cuba. His conclusion that the rebels would not accept Spanish rule and that peace and justice required intervention was a warning to the president that Congress now expected bold action.
War with Spain
The report from the commission investigating the Maine disaster was in the president’s hands by 25 March. It concluded that the cause of the explosion was external, and most Americans immediately assumed that Spanish agents had been responsible for it. With war sentiment building up throughout the country and in Congress, McKinley continued to urge caution, still hoping that negotiations might bring an end to problems in Cuba. On 27 March, Secretary Day cabled Woodford outlining the administration’s last plan. The final ultimatum called for an immediate armistice and reiterated McKinley’s offer of arbitration. Shortly thereafter, Day warned that unless Spain capitulated immediately, public pressure would compel the president to ask for a declaration of war. McKinley feared that if he did not respond to the pressure, his supporters would desert him. Congress might then take matters into its own hands and declare war without McKinley’s requesting it.
The Spanish reply to McKinley’s ultimatum arrived at the White House on 1 April. It assented to arbitration of the Maine affair, abandonment of re-concentration in the western provinces, acceptance of American financial assistance, and a relief program for Cuba. Yet Spain agreed neither to suspend hostilities nor to approve American mediation. In Madrid, Woodford thought that the Spanish ministry knew it had lost Cuba but preferred war to mediation. Nevertheless, he pleaded for more time to work out a solution.
For McKinley, time had run out, and he began drafting a message to Congress asking for a declaration of war. At the last minute, on 10 April, he received a communiqué from Woodford indicating that the queen regent had consented to suspend hostilities and move toward autonomy for Cuba. Given the state of public and congressional opinion, it was too late. McKinley asked for intervention on 19 April, and Congress granted his request the next day, adding only the Teller Amendment, which renounced any intention to annex Cuba. A formal declaration of war followed within a week.
Americans greeted the coming of war with celebration. Patriotic fervor stilled the criticism of McKinley, and as commander in chief he found himself enormously popular throughout the land. Men from all walks of life were eager to share in the expected American triumphs, and enlistments soared. Yet it was with good reason that McKinley had questioned the fighting readiness of the armed forces. Despite a year’s warning, they remained unprepared.
Numbering only 28,000 men and officers, the army had watched as the navy, the nation’s first line of defense, received most of the $50 million appropriated in March. Now, suddenly increasing to more than 250,000 troops, land forces faced immense if not insurmountable problems in supply and logistics. Half of the volunteers never left training camps during the war, and many of those who did were issued winter woolen uniforms for warfare in the tropics. If all the troops mobilized had seen combat, some of them would have seen it without ammunition, for there was not enough to go around. Selected as the point of embarkation, the Port of Tampa proved an unfortunate choice. Only one railroad connected the city with its inadequate piers. Boxcars backed up for miles, cargoes disappeared in the confusion, and troops found themselves compelled to take matters into their own hands, relying on their wits for survival.
The navy fared better than the army, in part because it escaped the pressures of rapid expansion, and in part because for fifteen years it had kept abreast of innovations in maritime technology. Beyond that, McKinley and his secretary of the navy could rely on commanders who had given much thought to strategy should hostilities begin. It is not surprising, then, that the navy won the first great American victory. In the fall of 1897, Commodore George Dewey had received command of the Asiatic squadron, and with the declaration of war, he was ordered to proceed from Hong Kong to the Philippines. By 30 April the squadron was at the entrance to Manila Bay, where Admiral Montojo had anchored the sizable but decrepit Spanish fleet. The following day, the American force sailed into the bay and annihilated Montojo’s fleet without sustaining a loss.
Attributing the Maine explosion of the previous February to Spanish treachery may have led many Americans to overestimate enemy strength. At Manila the Spanish were actually incapable of effectively returning fire from their ancient hulks, and mines planted in the channel had no fuses. Yet participants could celebrate the victory as a convincing demonstration of American naval power. When the American people learned of it a week later, they were ecstatic, and they immediately gave Dewey an honored place in their pantheon of heroes. McKinley, more concerned with pursuing the war to a successful conclusion, authorized an expedition to capture and occupy the Philippines. Though the Americans did not take Manila until after Spain had signed a peace protocol, it was clear that the United States had become a power in the Far East. The ramifications of that development were many, and American foreign policy was to undergo momentous changes in the postwar period.
After Dewey’s victory, attention turned to the Caribbean theater and to plans for an invasion of Cuba. Actually carrying out the attack was complicated by the confusion in Tampa, by lack of agreement among high-ranking officers in the army, and by Secretary Alger’s failure to provide either leadership or coordination. Alger’s vanity led him to promise more than was possible, and his arrogance led him to blame others for his inability to meet commitments. In the army itself, supervision of all operations, at least theoretically, rested with Major General Nelson Appleton Miles. The appointment he held provided very little real power, he disliked McKinley personally, and he nurtured hopes of using his military reputation to gain high political office. More important for the moment, Miles opposed rushing off helterskelter to invade Cuba. He favored postponing the assault until fall, when cooler weather and better training of troops would assure success. A third principal in the military drama that was taking on some of the characteristics of comic opera was General William R. Shafter, who by reason of seniority took command in the field. Cautious and corpulent, he was a prototypical product of the army’s bureaucracy. Yet he showed good sense, and while he did not inspire the troops to heroic achievement, his caution reduced casualties.
Although McKinley might have recognized the merit in arguments for postponing an invasion until fall, he was acutely conscious of political pressures that called for immediate action. Furthermore, the navy was to share in the operation, and Secretary Long strongly urged that it get under way. McKinley’s patience with Alger and the army was wearing thin, and he finally decided to move. The fleet of Admiral William T. Sampson and Commodore Winfield Scott Schley blockaded Santiago on 6 June, and the following day McKinley ordered Shafter to transport his troops to Cuba. The operation was scarcely a model of military efficiency, but by 29 June it had come within a mile and a half of Santiago.
The Battle of San Juan Hill, which took place on the city’s outskirts during the first two days of July, was bloody but inconclusive. Shafter grew despondent and thought of retreat, but then the navy saved the day. Contained in Santiago Bay, the Spanish squadron of Admiral Pascual Cervera y Topete began sailing out of the harbor on 3 July to challenge the ships of Sampson and Schley. Within hours the destruction of Spanish sea power was complete. “The fleet under my command offers the nation as a Fourth of July present the whole of Cervera’s fleet,” read the cable from Sampson.
The victory at Santiago Bay signaled an early conclusion of hostilities. Rather than attack the city itself, Shafter negotiated its surrender on 17 July. With that surrender the fighting in Cuba petered out, and only Puerto Rico remained as the last vestige of Spanish empire in the western hemisphere. McKinley had already authorized operations to take the island, and an American expedition quickly accomplished that objective a few days before Spain sued for peace. After meeting with the cabinet, McKinley laid down the American terms: Spanish evacuation of Cuba; cession of Puerto Rico to the United States as an indemnity; and American occupation of Manila, pending final treaty agreement. Spain balked at the last provision, but McKinley would not budge. The Spanish finally capitulated on 10 August, and the war came to an end.
The Treaty of Paris
The close of hostilities brought the United States to a critical juncture in international affairs, and along with that development came some important personnel changes in the Department of State. William R. Day cheerfully resigned as secretary—it was an assignment he had accepted with reluctance—and became chairman of the American peace commission that went to Paris to work out the treaty with Spain. To take Day’s place, McKinley named John Hay, the brilliant ambassador to Great Britain and a man of long experience in international affairs. Hay was to exercise a profound influence on the shaping of American foreign policy in the twentieth century, but for the moment McKinley and the nation were preoccupied with the treaty negotiations in Paris.
On 16 September the commissioners met with McKinley in the White House and received their instructions. The president reiterated his opposition to the annexation of Cuba and his insistence upon acquiring Puerto Rico. The final disposition of the Philippines presented a more difficult problem. Filipinos under the leadership of Emilio Aguinaldo had, like the Cubans, revolted against Spanish authority and welcomed American assistance in their effort to win independence. Yet McKinley had doubts about the wisdom of independence for the islands. For one thing, many Americans had caught a vision of commercial possibilities in the Orient, and an American outpost in the Philippines might well serve the interests of trade. For another thing, the United States was not alone in its enthusiasm for expansion in the Far East. Germany, in particular, appeared ready for a colonization effort if the United States withdrew.
Characteristically, McKinley reviewed the alternatives for American policy in the Philippines and rejected all but one. Returning the islands to Spain was out of the question. The Spanish had already demonstrated their administrative incompetence, and the American people would oppose such a move. To grant independence without provision for defense of the islands would be tantamount to turning them over to Germany or some other imperialist nation. Taking only one island or establishing an American protectorate would mean accepting responsibilities without power. By such reasoning, McKinley concluded that the only course was to take the Philippines, improve conditions of life for the Filipinos, and eventually grant them independence when they had achieved viability as a nation.
In the end, the American negotiators in Paris followed McKinley’s wishes. Signed on 10 December 1898, the treaty provided that Cuba should become independent and that Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines should be ceded to the United States. To placate the Spanish, whose pride had been wounded, the United States agreed to a payment of $20 million for the newly acquired territory. The terms of the Treaty of Paris did not meet universal approval in the United States, but to enthusiasts and critics alike, they marked the path of empire that McKinley had apparently chosen to follow. The acquisition of the Philippines, along with the annexation of Hawaii and, later, of Wake Island and American Samoa, provided coaling stations and bases that could prove useful for the commercial and missionary penetration of Asia. The proponents of empire also found Puerto Rico an admirable possession from which to defend a proposed isthmian canal, should it be completed.
Submission of the treaty to the Senate rekindled old debates over the nature of the Republic and the advisability of territorial expansion. In the discussion of ratification, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge led the fight for the treaty, while his colleague from Massachusetts, Senator George F. Hoar, rallied the opposition. A lively debate also took place outside the Senate chamber as expansionists confronted anti-imperialists on a wide range of issues. Opponents of the treaty argued that it was both immoral and unconstitutional for the United States to impose American rule on an alien people without their consent. Expansionists countered with moral arguments of their own, contending that the United States had a duty to uplift and educate backward populations in order that they might properly appreciate the blessings of liberty. Expansionists also believed that by fulfilling the American destiny in the Pacific, they would assure the economic well-being of the American people at home. Yet neither American manufacturers nor American workers unanimously favored expansion. Andrew Carnegie thought, for example, that acquisition of the Philippines would threaten the peace and security that were necessary for foreign trade. And Samuel Gompers feared that imperial expansion would open the way for cheap contract labor to enter the United States and drive down the wages of American workers.
On 6 February 1899 the debate in the Senate came to an end, and senators passed the treaty by a vote of fifty-seven to twenty-seven, one vote more than the necessary two-thirds. Except for Hoar and Senator Eugene Hale of Maine, Republicans voted with the majority; although twenty-two Democrats voted no, ten voted for the treaty. Willam Jennings Bryan, front-runner for the Democratic nomination in 1900 and an anti-imperialist, had urged that the treaty be approved in order to end the war and ease the way for Philippine independence. His influence over Democratic senators was important in securing ratification. Yet it was McKinley who had framed the debate so as to make ratification appear to be the only logical alternative. In December he had asked the crucial question: “If, following the clear precepts of duty, territory falls to us, and the welfare of an alien people requires our guidance and protection, who will shrink from the responsibility, grave though it may be?”
American Influence in Cuba and the Philippines
While McKinley accepted congratulations on ratification of the treaty, the reaction in the Philippines was less enthusiastic. Indeed, two days before the Senate voted, Aguinaldo had again taken up the fight for independence. This time it was the Americans rather than the Spanish who stood in the way, and it was the Americans rather than the Spanish who were charged with committing atrocities in a long, bloody guerrilla war. American forces eventually captured Aguinaldo in March 1901, and by 1902 his insurrection had been crushed. The rebellion in the Philippines had turned out to be much more costly in both lives and dollars than the Spanish-American War itself.
The Philippine Insurrection was but the first of many difficulties that were to confront the United States in distant parts of the world after the Spanish-American War. Victory brought to the McKinley administration responsibility for establishing orderly government in the newly acquired possessions. To the administration came, as well, responsibility for perfecting a foreign policy to guide the United States in the intricate diplomatic maneuvering that took place at the turn of the century. As he wrestled with the problems of policy formation, McKinley came to rely heavily on two new members of his cabinet: John Hay, who assumed office as secretary of state on 30 September 1898, and Elihu Root, who replaced Alger as secretary of war on 24 July 1899.
With governmental arrangements for the former Spanish colonies entrusted to the Department of War, Root immediately set his orderly mind to the task of working them out. His recommendations included removal of tariff barriers between Puerto Rico and the United States so as to promote economic development and “avoid trouble in the island.” Although Congress, in 1900, considered a bill to carry out the recommendation, its free-trade provisions offended supporters of tariff protection. A compromise bill then restored a tariff, albeit with reduced rates. It also provided that all duties should cease when a new civil government’s system of taxation had become operative. Congress passed the bill, and McKinley signed it on 12 April 1900. Civil government for the island was established on 1 May, and a legislative assembly convened on 3 December. McKinley issued a proclamation removing the tariff on 25 July 1901.
Turning to Cuba, Root insisted that its new constitution include the Platt Amendment, which gave the United States the right to intervene in Cuban affairs, bound Cuba to avoid commitment to another power, and imposed limitations on the size of the Cuban national debt. Though Cubans always resented the intrusion on their national sovereignty, Americans hailed Root’s program as a model of efficiency. The military governor under Root’s direction, General Leonard Wood, achieved physical, medical, and educational improvements to benefit the island and create a stable regime. In the Philippines, Root acted to strengthen the army, subdue the rebellion, and establish political institutions through the supervision of an American commission. To set the Philippine government on a solid base, McKinley in 1900 selected William Howard Taft as commissioner. It was Taft, acting on instructions from Root, who guided the transition from military to civilian government.
American Foreign Policy and the Open Door
Developing a viable foreign policy for the United States was a responsibility that rested largely with John Hay, but McKinley worked closely with his secretary of state and kept himself well informed of points at issue in the complex series of negotiations that Hay conducted. “The one indispensable feature of our foreign policy,” observed Hay in 1899, “should be a friendly understanding with England.” McKinley agreed, though he was more reserved in stating the point. Both understood that in relations with Canada and the Latin American nations, the United States and Britain had common objectives. Common interests extended to the Far East as well. Central in McKinley’s thinking was the idea that American prosperity had come to depend on healthy commercial relations with the rest of the world. Trade, in turn, depended on international security and the avoidance of war. Security for American trade, not territorial expansion, should therefore be the major objective of American foreign policy. These, then, were the principles that governed McKinley’s position in international relations after the Spanish-American War. They found application first in negotiations to assure the construction of an isthmian canal and then in working out an American policy toward China.
The interoceanic canal had long been an objective of naval enthusiasts, and a dramatic demonstration of the canal’s importance captured national attention during the war with Spain. The USS Oregon had required ninety-eight days to make the voyage from Juan de Fuca Strait around Cape Horn to Cuba, and it was clear that military security required a shortening of the journey. Furthermore, a canal would facilitate trade with nations on the west coast of South America. McKinley had emphasized the desirability of such a “maritime highway” in his annual message of 1898, and Hay set about clearing the way for its construction. One obstacle was the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty of 1850, by which the United States and Britain had agreed to joint construction. Faced with more immediate concerns elsewhere, Britain was now prepared to have the United States proceed alone. Together with Sir Julian Pauncefote, the British ambassador, Hay therefore drafted a treaty in 1899 to provide for American construction of the canal, but the Senate so amended it that the British rejected the pact. Eventually, in 1901, Hay and Pauncefote drafted a new treaty, which both nations found acceptable. Yet by that time McKinley had died, and credit for completing the canal negotiations went to his successor.
Of greater importance, because of the way Americans perceived it, was development of the Open Door policy for China. At the time the United States gained its Philippine foothold in the Far East, the great powers were busy establishing spheres of influence for themselves in a China weakened by internal divisions and by defeat at the hands of the Japanese in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895. Japan extended control over Formosa and the nearby Pescadores, and other nations found themselves attracted to the fabled markets of China itself. Russia obtained special rights in the Liaotung Peninsula; France staked out a sphere of influence on Kwangchowan Bay; Germany secured a leasehold on the Shantung Peninsula; Britain leased the port of Wei-hai, enlarged its leased territory of Kowloon, and secured recognition of economic interests in the Yangtze Valley.
American expansionists, captivated by the thought of economic penetration of the Far East, were perturbed by the partition of China. In 1898, McKinley had informed the peace commissioners in Paris that they could not be indifferent to commercial opportunities in Asia, adding that “we seek no advantages in the Orient which are not common to all. Asking only the open door for ourselves, we are ready to accord the open door to others.” What McKinley meant when he referred to an open door became clearer after Hay had sent two sets of notes to the great powers. The first set, sent in September 1899, requested that each recipient avoid interfering with the commercial rights of other nations within its sphere of influence, permit Chinese officials their right to collect existing tariffs, and avoid railroad-rate and port-dues discriminations against the nationals of any country operating within Chinese leaseholds. Receiving an indifferent response, Hay announced in March 1900 that since none of the powers had raised serious objection to his note, he considered their approval “final and definitive.”
Through his first Open Door notes, Hay had intended to promote trading opportunities in the Far East, and to that end he had also hoped to prevent the dismemberment of China. Unfortunately he had reckoned only with the great powers, and a society of Chinese nationalists known as the Boxers had other ideas about Chinese affairs. Launching a drive to rid their land of all foreigners, they occupied the city of Peking, cut telegraph lines, and laid siege to the British compound, where members of foreign legations had taken refuge. An international force of eighteen thousand men, including twenty-five hundred Americans, managed to rescue the beleaguered diplomats on 14 August, but the disturbance increased the possibility that China would be carved up by powers determined to secure broader and more binding commitments than they already had.
To avert that possibility, Hay issued the second set of Open Door notes in July 1900. He instructed American envoys in foreign capitals that the United States would adhere to a program of peace for China, that the nation would hold the Boxers accountable for injuries to American citizens, and that in the future the United States would uphold “the principle of equal and impartial trade with all parts of the Chinese Empire.” Hay was not committing the United States to the defense of China against other powers; he was pledging only that in the promotion of American interests the United States would maintain respect for China. Through his secretary of state, McKinley had become identified with a policy that was neither as clear nor as forceful as most Americans believed it to be. To his successors he left the difficult task of coping with realities that did not always conform to popular suppositions.
For all McKinley’s preoccupation with foreign affairs, he never lost sight of domestic problems, especially if they were likely to become issues in elections. In 1899, for example, he began to study the growth of large business combinations, a development that agitated the minds of reformers and that appeared to require his attention if all citizens were to share the benefits of a restored economic prosperity. Referring to the dangers of trusts and monopolies in his annual message that year, he indicated that the growth of combinations was a matter to which Congress should turn its attention. McKinley’s method of handling the trusts was typical of his method of dealing with all potentially controversial matters. He waited until interested parties and persons had discussed the issues and taken positions. Then he acted to find policies for satisfying as many interests as possible. It was an approach that had served him well in the complex politics of Ohio and in Congress. It was also an approach that led to his enormous popularity in all sections of the country and among all classes of people.
McKinley’s Reelection Campaign
During his campaign for reelection in 1900, McKinley followed his natural inclination to let the record speak for itself. Garret Hobart, who suffered from a serious heart ailment, had died the previous November, and selecting the vice presidential candidate provided the only real excitement at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia. McKinley had quietly asked Root and Senator William B. Allison to consider becoming his running mate, but both had refused. In the meantime, sentiment for Theodore Roosevelt was growing. Though the president could not avoid misgivings about the Rough Rider, who had returned from Cuba a national hero, he did not wish to disrupt party unity by opposing his candidacy. McKinley therefore refused publicly to express a preference, saying only that his running mate should be the choice of the convention. Dismayed by this turn of events, Mark Hanna reportedly fretted that if Roosevelt were nominated, only “one heartbeat” would separate “that damned cowboy” from the White House. Nothing could stop the convention’s ardor for Roosevelt, however, and when he received the nomination McKinley cordially sent his congratulations. As it turned out, the two made a good team. Roosevelt was a sparkling success on the hustings, allowing McKinley to remain in Canton as the dignified chief executive whose leadership had brought a return to prosperity as well as universal recognition of the nation’s importance in world affairs.
For McKinley’s opponent, Bryan, the campaign was a disappointing one after the exhilaration of 1896. Deprived of the silver issue by the return of prosperity, he persisted in calling for bimetallism and the inclusion of a silver plank in the Democratic platform. Yet it was imperialism that he hoped to make the paramount issue of the campaign. “History furnishes no example of turpitude baser than ours,” Bryan warned, “if we now substitute our yoke for the Spanish yoke.” Despite his eloquence, he was unable to persuade voters that American control over the former Spanish colonies remained a live issue after ratification of the Treaty of Paris. The upshot of a lackluster campaign was that McKinley increased his popular vote of 1896 by more than 100,000, and he captured 21 more electoral votes than he had won in 1896.
“Your duty to the country is to live for four years from next March,” Hanna had written McKinley following the Republican nomination. After his second inauguration, the president decided to go on an extensive tour of the western states, capping it with a visit to San Francisco. To him the journey seemed an appropriate gesture. It would offer abundant opportunities to demonstrate confidence in the future of American leadership among nations of the world. The journey fulfilled McKinley’s hopes. Although his wife fell seriously ill in San Francisco, she recovered miraculously, and all along the way cheering crowds greeted the presidential entourage. Resting at home in Canton after his return, McKinley finished preparation of an address he had agreed to deliver at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo on 5 September.
The fair was dedicated to peace and amity in the western hemisphere, and a festive spirit prevailed at the exposition when the McKinleys arrived to celebrate President’s Day. Their host was John G. Mil-burn, a leading member of the Buffalo bar. More than 116,000 people had come to greet them, and nearly half that number gathered in the Esplanade to hear what McKinley had to say. His remarks were appropriate to the occasion. Urging an enlightened policy of commercial reciprocity, he argued that the United States could not forever sell the products of American industry abroad without also buying the products of other countries. “The period of exclusiveness is past,” cautioned the man who had once been the foremost spokesman of protective tariffs. Capable of adjusting to changing times, he now conceded that “the expansion of our trade and commerce is the pressing problem.” Yet he also argued that such expansion must take place under conditions of world peace. “Commercial wars,” he warned, “are unprofitable.”
It was McKinley’s last public utterance. The following day he toured Niagara Falls before returning to the Temple of Music to greet thousands of sight-seers and well-wishers. Inconspicuous in the crowd was Leon Czolgosz, who carried in his pocket a.32-caliber Iver-Johnson revolver. Brooding over social injustice, he had been attracted to anarchism, and he had come to kill the president. The day was hot, and handkerchiefs were much in evidence as people mopped the perspiration from their brows. While Czolgosz waited, he surreptitiously wrapped the revolver in his handkerchief. The long line lurched forward as McKinley shook each hand with practiced efficiency. When the assassin reached the head of the line, he fired two shots. The president fell, grasping at his chest and abdomen.
Within minutes McKinley was taken to the emergency hospital on the grounds of the exposition. The physicians who clustered about the operating table saw instantly that the abdominal wound was very serious indeed. Patching it up as best they could under the circumstances, they removed McKinley to the Milburn house, where he had been staying since his arrival in Buffalo. For a week the president seemed to be doing well, and hopes for his recovery ran high; but gangrene gradually spread along the track of the bullet, and by the afternoon of 13 September the attending physicians had abandoned hope.
“Good-bye, good-bye all,” murmured the dying man to a small group of friends who had gathered in the room. With his invalid wife at his bedside, he whispered the words of a familiar hymn, “Nearer, My God to Thee.” He died shortly after two o’clock the next morning. William McKinley, whose political popularity betokened the skills of a sensitive and experienced political craftsman, was in his personal life a simple man who reiterated platitudes without embarrassment. He had lived with dignity, and with dignity he died.