William McKinley

William McKinley (1843-1901), former Congressman and Governor of Ohio, won the 1896 election and became the 23rd U.S. President. As had earlier Midwestern Republican candidates, such as James Garfield and Rutherford B. Hayes, McKinley ran a front-porch campaign from his home in Canton, Ohio, greeting thousands of guests who arrived by rail. Unlike Bryan, he did not go out on the stump, but from his front steps he spoke almost daily--often several times a day--to visitors and the press. Through telegraph and telephone, including new long distance telephone services, McKinley was in close touch daily with his campaign manager, Marcus Hanna, and with Republican headquarters in New York.

The text below is from Great Leaders and National Issues of 1896, published during the campaign. Such biographies were popular, both to introduce candidates to the voters (though socialist and other supposedly "minor" candidates were often ignored) and to offer a model of manly achievement for America's youth. On all sides, such laudatory pieces appeared in newspapers, sometimes side-by-side with bitter editorial attacks and exaggerated caricatures directed against the same men.

McKinley's presidency (1896-1901) witnessed the Spanish-American War, and a long guerrilla conflict over the United States' resulting occupation of the Philippines. McKinley was re-elected in 1900, again running against William Jennings Bryan, who emphasized anti-imperialist themes. In September, 1901, while touring the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, McKinley was assassinated by Leon Czolgosx, a young unemployed laborer and anarchist. For many Americans, in particular, this shocking news was a reminder of the deaths of two other Republican presidents, Abraham Lincoln and James Garfield. The three men's assassins had widely varied motivations, but many observers linked the fates of "three martyrs to the nation," and McKinley's assassination intensfied fears of political and labor violence.

For more extensive materials on McKinley's life and presidency, see The Ohio State University's extensive website on William McKinley and His Era.

Life and Public Services of William McKinley

by Hon. John Sherman

William McKinley was born at Niles, O., January 29th, 1843, and is therefore just past 53 years of age. He is now in the prime of vigorous manhood, and his powers of endurance are not excelled by any American of his age. The best evidence of this is the many campaigns which he has made during his public life in behalf of the Republican party....

His education, for reasons that could not be surmounted, was limited to the public schools of Ohio and to a brief academic course in Allegheny College. He taught school in the country and accumulated the small means necessary to defray the expenses of that sort of education. This is the kind of schooling that has produced many of the most eminent Americans in public and private life.

His War Services.

McKinley entered the Union Army in June, 1861, enlisting in the Twenty-third Ohio Infantry when a little more than 17 years of age. This was a noted regiment. Among its earlier field officers may be mentioned General W. S. Rosecrans, General Scammon, General Stanley Matthews, General Rutherford B. Hayes, General Comley and many other conspicuous men.

He served during the entire war, rising from the position of a private to the rank of major. He was a soldier on the front line, served in battles, marches, bivouacs and campaigns, and received the official commendation of his superior officers on very many occasions.

He returned to Ohio with a record of which any young man might well be proud and to which the old soldiers of the country will point with great enthusiasm should he be honored by an election to the Presidency. There are in the United States at this time more than a million soldiers of the late war who served on the Union side still living and voting....

Returning from the war, he found it necessary to choose his employment for life, and without further schooling he entered earnestly upon the study of law in the office of Judge Poland, and was a careful, faithful, industrious and competent student. He entered the Albany Law School and graduated from that institution with high honors. He then began the practice of law in Canton with the same enthusiasm and devotion to duty which he had always manifested.... He was elected Prosecuting Attorney of his county and distinguished himself by his learning, fidelity, and efficiency in the discharge of his duties to the public and his clients.

[The McKinley's Home]

The McKinley Home in Canton, Ohio

Elected to Congress

He was elected a member of the Forty-fifth Congress, and served in that Congress and the Forty-sixth, Forty-seventh, Forty-eighth, Forty-ninth, and was certified as elected to the Fiftieth, but was excluded by a Democratic majority in a contest, but was returned to the Fifty-first, making his Congressional career nearly fourteen years. As a member of Congress he was attentive, industrious and untiring, working his way gradually until he reached the post of leader of the Republican majority of the Fifty-first Congress.

... He was a candidate for Speaker of the House of Representatives of the Fifty-first Congress. Mr. Reed, the successful candidate, appointed him as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, and he entered upon the duties incident to that position with energy and intelligence.... The Republican party had come into power by the election of Mr. Harrison, with the understanding and pledge that tariff revision should be accomplished at once.... In 1890 it was decided to present a complete revision of the tariff, and to this work McKinley devoted himself with untiring industry.

... It is fair to say that McKinley mastered the whole subject in Congress in detail. He has made the subject of protective tariff a life study. Born and reared within the sound of the rolling-mill and beneath the smoke and flame of furnaces ... he has grown up from childhood a student of economic questions involved in American legislation, and so he brought to this task in the Fifty-first Congress remarkable knowledge of details and thorough equipment for the great work devolved upon him....

[Wm. McKinley]
William McKinley

from Great Leaders and Issues of 1896

The Campaign of 1892

It was the misfortune of the McKinley Act that it took effect at the opening of a presidential contest, and when "labor troubles" excited the public mind. The election of 1892 fell with demoralizing and almost crushing weight upon the Republican party of the country. The law of 1890 was everywhere, by Republicans and Democrats, denominated the McKinley Law.... At that time Major McKinley not only did not seek to evade the responsibility of his position, but frankly and openly admitted it, and he counseled courage and fortitude, and gave assurance of his strong faith in the ultimate triumph of the Republican party upon the very principles which then seemed to be repudiated by the people....

His Work as Governor

The office of Governor of Ohio was to McKinley a new field of action. It was the first executive office he had ever held.... He was Governor during a period involving excitement and intense commotion in Ohio, the strikes among the coal miners, the organizing of bands of tramps, and the passage across the State of great bodies of turbulent people. All these things tended to prcipitate commotion and disorder. His administration as Governor was without reproach or just criticism.... When necessary, he called out the troops and crushed disorder with an iron hand, but before doing so he resorted to every proper expedient to maintain order and the law....

The great depression of 1894-95 brought a condition of suffering to many of the leading industries of the State. Charity was appealed to by the Governor, and aid rendered promptly and efficiently. In January, 1896, he retired from the office of Governor at the end of his second term....

In his domestic life Governor McKinley is a model American citizen. It is not the purpose of the writer of this sketch to use fulsome language or to comment upon his private life, beyond the mere statement that he is and has been an affectionate son of honored parents still living, a devoted husband and a true friend. In his family and social life, and his personal habits, he commends himself to the friends of order, temperance and good morals. In private he is exemplary, in public life a patriotic Republican.

From Great Leaders and National Issues of 1896


Mrs. McKinley at Home.
Study of the Great Republican Leader's Wife.

Mrs. McKinley is not adapted to days of handshaking nor to bows from car platforms. She is not only an invalid, but a woman of strongly domestic preferences. . . . In her youth, Ida Saxton was the belle of Canton, O., and the mature graces of Ida McKinley amply bear out this earlier reputation. . . .

In a quiet and unobtrusive philanthropy Mrs. McKinley takes keen pleasure. Her comprehensive friendliness includes many of the sick and suffering, and there are hospitals, asylums, families, and individuals for whom she labors constantly. She is not a scientific philanthropist, and her charitable impulses are probably never checked by the modern fear of "pauperizing" their objects. But she likes to give where she knows the gift is needed and will be welcome.

While Mrs. McKinley is always contented and cheerful, at present she is radiant, though calm. She is more than ever interested in Mr. McKinley's speeches and Mr. Hanna's maneuvers, and if her husband is a little too busy at present to avail himself of his usual privilege of helping her select her bonnets, she feels that there are ample compensations.
--Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 13 September 1896

McKinley in His Study


© 2000, Rebecca Edwards, Vassar College